UK 2015 Election: How Each Party Is Faring In The Run-Up To May 7
For months, commentators have been predicting that May’s general election will be the UK’s first social media election.
While social media momentum famously bolstered campaigns like the Scottish National Party’s triumphant win in 2011 and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid, the internet is taking on unprecedented importance as we near voting day, especially with the polls favouring a tight election.
Whether politicians like it or not, the battle for Number 10 is increasingly taking place on newsfeeds, timelines and social networks across the web.
To understand why this is, the figures speak for themselves: 59% of the UK’s population have active social media accounts, while recent polling by Ipsos MORI revealed that 34% of 18-24 year olds believe their voting sympathies will be influenced by social media, compared to just 13% of the general population. With so much talk of gaining the ‘millennial vote’, it’s evident that parties will neglect social media and online advertising at their own peril.
In the wake of the recent televised debates, the online struggle has only become more embattled. Just this week, The Green Party released ‘Change The Tune’, a bitingly satirical (but nonetheless catchy) take on the political homogeneity threatened by a possible Westminster coalition. While that sounds bone dry, the spot (which takes the giddy form of a boyband video) is anything but and has already been seen 200,000 times in the short few days since its release.
The Greens’ success with ‘Change Your Tune’ enacts for political parties what consumer brands have known for years: that engaging, shareable online content has a measurable effect on the image and reception of a brand.
While in this case the brand may be Natalie Bennett rather than Innocent Smoothies, the song remains the same. In this article, we take a deep dive into the major parties’ online video output and see who’s coming out on top.
David Cameron’s party have, in terms of budget at least, given the most attention to the social web. When it was revealed in January that the Conservative Party planned to spend at least £100,000 a month on Facebook advertising alone, there was no denying the party meant business. Enthusiastic digital ad spend was accompanied by a method previously unseen in the UK: American-style ‘attack’ ads, kept off the telly by British advertising laws, but fully free to ignite conversation across the web.
In 2015, Conservative campaign videos have received 6,500,000 views, over 4,000,000 more than Labour in second place.
But the recent debates demonstrated how fragile that grip can be. Going into the March 26th’s head-to-head between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, the incumbent’s intense focus on social media was paying off, with Conservatives boasting an impressive 55% of share of voice for shares, compared to 23.6% for Labour.
Following Cameron’s perceived loss in the first TV debate, Labour’s share of voice took an incredible jump from 22.4% to 41.5% of share of voice, while the Conservative share dropped from 31.1% to 21.7%. This was only slightly improved by Cameron’s performance in April 2nd’s seven-way debate and at present, the overall Conservative share rate sits at a disappointing 3%.
Miliband’s party certainly lacks the Conservatives’ financial commitment to online advertising, and for a time it seemed Labour could suffer dearly for this. Without the bombast of Cameron’s attack ads and lacking the rhetorical appeal of the SNP’s output, Labour was struggling to define itself online. However, despite having had its share of social media gaffes in the past, this hasn’t stopped Labour reinvigorating their online presence in recent weeks.
Hooking into the popularity of the televised debates was key to this about-turn. The Jeremy Paxman-hosted debate attracted massive online attention, the hashtag #BattleForNumber10 shooting to the top of both UK and worldwide trends. As previously outlined, Miliband’s win did wonders for the party’s share of voice, particularly in conjunction with a popular new campaign video starring Martin Freeman. A highly shareable encapsulation of their campaign message, the spot was perfectly timed for Miliband’s debate success.
Secondly, a boost in shares likely indicates an increase in online video ad spend from Labour, implemented to compete with the social-happy Conservatives. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Labour’s chief digital strategist is Joe Rospars, the same man who piloted Obama’s digital campaign to the White House in 2008.
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have been notable primarily for their non-presence in this year’s election run-up, and their online profile indicates nothing different. While the Conservatives tend to rule on Facebook and Labour finds their home on Twitter, the Lib Dem campaign demonstrates a lack of attention paid to the importance of social web outlets. Their video campaigns have suffered as a result, nowhere to be seen in this week’s most shared political ads. At the beginning of March, Lib Dem could boast only a 2.2% share of voice for shares.
Clegg’s lacklustre performance in the seven-way debate only seemed to worsen matters, with their share of voice dropping to 1.2%, trailing behind the Green Party and the SNP. While recent Lib Dem campaign ads have reached for a shareable brand of earnestness, sometimes sorry just isn’t enough.
Scottish National Party
April 2nd’s seven-way debate obviously sent shockwaves through each parties’ online profiles, and this was certainly the case for the debate’s perceived champion, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon.
Following on the party leader’s refreshingly rousing effort, the party’s share of voice of shares soared from 21.7% to 45.7%, gleefully stealing the limelight from the major parties.
Sturgeon’s success in the debate reflects an online campaign that has always focussed on issues, and attentive to user experience. Following on from the party’s massively viral campaigns for last year’s unsuccessful independence referendum and the 2011 Parliamentary election, the SNP’s fiercely patriotic online advertisements understand the strength of emotion necessary to create shareable content online.
The Green Party and leader Natalie Bennett had their fair share of critics going into the debates, but in general, the televised showdown left the party in good stead. As with the SNP, Natalie Bennett’s strong performance (already snipped up and being shared across Facebook Video) benefited the party’s social campaigns hugely. Following the broadcast, the party’s share of voice more than doubled from 5.5% to 11.4%.
While the party’s advertising has mostly avoided the vitriolic, ad hominem attacks of the larger parties, the viral success of ‘Change The Tune’ indicates the party is willing to get their hands dirty but do it with a sense of humour.
Finally, UKIP demonstrate another example of small parties pulling ahead in the televised debates, as well as an example of assiduous attention to online output. Social media has been central to UKIP’s popularity from the start, whether through the party’s massively-followed Facebook page or through the constantly-updated stream of videos sent to its 22,000 YouTube subscribers. This output, most of which features party leader Nigel Farage berating people, rallied the party to fourth place for overall views this year, just behind the SNP, Labour and Conservative Party.
Like the Green Party and SNP, Farage took a small boost from the debates, with share of voice bumping ever so slightly from 6.0% to 7.1%. While this marginality is almost certainly reflective of the extremity of some of the party’s policies, it also shows that quantity of online advertising does not equate to quality. One carefully timed ‘Change The Tune’ or sentimental appeal from Martin Freeman may be worth more than a ceaseless montage of Farage zingers.
As May 7th approaches, at Unruly we’ll be keeping up with how each party is faring online and what they can do to maximize their presence on the social web.