Labour won social media election, digital strategists say

Party’s use of Facebook and Twitter to motivate voters, rather than attack Conservatives, regarded as key to success

Labour outflanked the Conservatives in the battle for votes on social media for the first time in a major election, according to digital strategists close to both camps.

The opposition may even have outspent Theresa May’s party with a strategy that harnessed Facebook and YouTube to bolster Jeremy Corbyn’s swelling support.

While a former press adviser to David Cameron, Giles Kenningham, applauded Labour’s “very polished social media presence”, the Conservatives’ digital campaign was described by one insider as unprepared and unresponsive.

Several observers suggested that Labour dominated the digital election because the party used Facebook, Twitter and online videos to build and motivate its voter base, rather than to attack the Conservatives.

By contrast, even in the final hours of the campaign the Conservatives were using social media to target Labour marginals rather than defend its own vulnerable seats, many of which it went on to lose.

“The Tories were advancing further into Labour territory but weren’t defending their own marginals,” said Sam Jeffers, the co-founder of Who Targets Me, which tracked more than 7,000 political Facebook adverts sent to nearly 12,000 voters.

“In the final stages we saw lots of Labour ads in Hastings and Rye [where the home secretary, Amber Rudd, almost lost her seat], but no Tory ads.”

Jeffers said that in the last 48 hours, the Conservatives’ social media video encouraging people to get out and vote was viewed less than half as many times as Labour’s.

Labour also cast its net wider with its voter suppression ad about “dementia tax”, which Who Targets Me picked up in more than 200 constituencies. The Tories’ anti-Corbyn ad, focusing on his comments about shoot to kill, were seen in only about 100 seats.

Labour’s campaign ad targeting the Tory ‘dementia tax’.

Jag Singh, the founder of MessageSpace, which buys social media, internet and print advertising and provided services to the Conservative campaign, confirmed the Tories spent less money on Facebook ads rallying their own supporters than targeting ads at soft Labour voters.

The Conservative campaign ad targeting Jeremy Corbyn.

That was based on voter prediction data provided by the party’s hired strategists, Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina, which suggested, even until Thursday morning, that May was on course to seize Labour seats.

Singh said: “That [tactic] was different to any other election I have been on, where you normally spend more money making sure your vote goes out.”

By contrast, on polling day Labour spent considerable money promoting its hashtag #forthemany on Twitter. Twitter is considered Labour’s online stronghold and while buying the rights to promote a single hashtag can cost as much as £50,000, the expense may have been worth it to rally the younger vote, which appears to have played a significant role in Labour’s performance.

“Labour had a positive, hopeful message,” Singh said, 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.”

Kenningham added: “There has been repeated talk about getting young people out to vote, but clearly this time Labour’s social media strategy worked. It energised people and got the base out.

“[The leftwing group] Momentum were pushing out slick attack ads which allowed the Labour party to stay above the fray and the Tories didn’t have the equivalent third-party campaigning group in the rightwing space. That was really important for attracting floating voters [who were] not engaging with parties.”

The Tories also failed to harness the rapid reaction capabilities of social media campaigning, according to Singh. Some adverts took as long as four days from production to publication.

“Unpreparedness,” he said, combined with a culture of strict message discipline made it hard for Tory campaigners to be as freewheeling with their online messaging as Labour.


Robert Booth and Alex Hern

The GuardianTramp

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