This time last week, Britain were yet again attempting to come to terms with a surprising voting outcome, and it’s safe to say we’re still all a bit baffled. One thing I think we can at least make some sense of is how we arrived at this outcome – is it actually that surprising? On the surface, yes it is. Theresa May called a snap election because she, and many others, believed she was untouchable. A landslide victory was predicted. Yet as a 24 year-old with my head regularly in social media, Corbyn’s success came as less of a shock. Twitter loved him. And not just my Twitter ‘bubble’. Celebrities, that by their own admittance had never voted or taken the slightest bit of interest in politics, loved him – he even had the backing of Danny Devito.
Theresa May, on the other hand, had the more traditional backing of a large share of the press – most notably, The Daily Mail and The Sun.
In previous elections, backing from of one of these papers basically guaranteed you victory. So why not this time? Taking a look at the papers’ demographics is telling. The Media Briefing found that in 2014, a huge 63% of the Daily Mail’s readership were over 55, whilst a mere 14% were under 34. The Sun’s audience were somewhat younger – 36% fell into the over 55 bracket and they boasted 29% in the under 34 section.
The latest stats from Newsworks show a shift. Only 11.9% of Daily Mail readers are now under 34, whilst the over 55 demographic has significantly grown to 70.8%. The Sun shares a similar story. Whilst their audience is still younger, the under 34 demographic has dropped to 24%, and the over 55 demographic has increased to 43.6%.
Over-55s still vote – in fact, they’re more likely to than anyone – so why did the campaigns led by the press fail? A decline in millennial readership teamed with the ever-growing rise of social media meant traditional print press lost this round. Millennials don’t get their news from newspapers, they get it from Twitter. Whilst our grandparents read ‘the latest’ in their morning paper, we were over it 12 hours ago.
The Conservative Party knew this. And they rightly assumed that their voters would be the over-55s who read the papers that praised May and attacked Corbyn. What they didn’t count on was the notoriously-crap-at-voting under-25s becoming politically engaged. Here’s how it unfolded.
Register to vote…or don’t
The Labour Party’s campaign kickstarted by urging people to register to vote – namely people in that 18-25 bracket. Tweets, Facebook posts and Snapchats encouraging people to register to vote before 22nd May came from both Corbyn’s and Labour’s accounts. A study by the Press Association found that in the week leading up to the cut-of date, Labour were by far the most active party in encouraging social media users to register, and did so in more than a third (36%) of their posts on Facebook and Twitter overall. And it was no secret that the focus was on young people in particular:
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) May 20, 2017
The Labour Party also utilised celebrities, featuring videos across social media of young public figures, such as Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell, EastEnders’ Maddy Hill, and singer Kate Nash, all discussing the importance of voting. In addition, Corbyn met with grime artist, JME, for VICE’s i-D magazine to discuss the issue of young people’s lack of interest in politics.
JME himself admitted he’d never voted before and quickly became a spokesperson for many young people who felt the same. He used his own Twitter account to educate his 715K followers and inspired the #Grime4Corbyn movement.
And it worked. On the last possible day to register to vote, over a quarter of a million under-25s did, compared to 137,400 on that last day before the 2015 election and 132,029 on the last day before the EU referendum.
The same study by the Press Association found that the Conservative Party, on the other hand, did not encourage people to register to vote across their social media platforms – aside from one post reminding British citizens living abroad to register. This was a seemingly clever tactic by the party. Knowing that the majority of their voters are older (an average of 50.5% of Conservative voters are over 40) and therefore less likely to be active on social media, encouraging voter registration did not form an important part of the Conservative campaign. In addition, the party knew that young people are more likely to steer to the left, so encouraging them to register to vote could be damaging. For the Conservative Party, a rise in youth engagement was bad news. The Conservative-backing, The Sun, even published a guide on how to stop young people from voting (yes, really).
Unfortunately for them, the Labour Party’s voter registration campaign was one of the biggest successes of the campaign.
“The Conservatives and Theresa May really missed a trick over the past six weeks,” said Andre van Loon, research and insight director at We Are Social. “They would have seen the data as it came through and yet they didn’t change anything. They could have tried to be more appealing to young people from the start.”
Hope vs. hate
As you would expect, the messaging across the two parties’ social media platforms greatly differed. The Conservatives played on Corbyn’s unpopularity, and their most successful posts across social media were direct attacks on Labour’s leader. They even spent £1m on negative Facebook adverts attacking Corbyn. The posts were intended to influence swing voters, with more adverts targeting marginal constituencies, commenting on local jobs and policies that could be negatively affected by a Labour government.
Labour’s posts also focused on new voters, but as detailed above, young voters who dominate social media. The messaging was very different with a greater focus on the party’s mission and ethos, building and motivating their voting base, rather than attacking their opponents. The repetition of the manifesto slogan ‘For the many, not the few’ permeated every post – on polling day, the party sponsored the hashtag, #forthemany. Can you even remember the Conservatives’ manifesto slogan? No, it’s not ‘strong and stable’. ‘Forward together’, anyone?
Jag Singh, the founder of MessageSpace, which buys social media, internet and print advertising, and provided services to the Conservative campaign told The Guardian:
“Labour had a positive, hopeful message,” adding that a similar strategy was used by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the former US president Barack Obama, “and even with Trump”.
“It’s about building a movement, and social media can provide the glue for people to bound together. If your strategy is to poke holes in the other side you don’t evoke that emotion of togetherness which is an important factor in getting people to vote.”
Both leaders also utilised personal accounts across social media platforms, with Corbyn posting 925 messages over the election campaign, and receiving 2.8 million shares, and May’s pages posting 159 times and receiving 130,000 shares. In my quick on-the-day take last week, I discussed in more detail the effect the differences between Corbyn’s and May’s personalities had on their respective campaigns.
The facts and figures
So how did those all-important social stats look for both parties in the week before the country went to the polls?
Follower gains on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during campaign period
Labour – 1.3m
Conservative – 848k
On Facebook, Labour has seen a 61% increase in followers since the election was called (from 540k to 868k), compared to 6% for the Conservatives (from 564k to 596k).
Labour averaged 30 posts a day across its social platforms combined versus 10 to 20 posts a day for the Conservatives.
Engagement on Facebook
Labour – 80-100k
Conservatives – 30-40k
Shares made up 30% of Labour’s total engagements versus 19% of the Conservatives’.
Whatever your thoughts on the current state of UK politics, it’s been fascinating to watch the impact social media has had. Will traditional media still be important for future elections, or will social media continue to win? From Digital Glue’s perspective, integrating social media and PR is key, something neither party did perfectly. If you want advice on running an effective integrated campaign, drop me an email.