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General Election 2017: Labour's advance on Facebook

Thursday, 01 June 2017

Digital marketing experts investigating the social media popularity of political parties ahead of the General Election have seen a huge swing towards Labour on Facebook – gaining more than 320,000 likes in just six weeks.

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Beattie, the creative communications group, took a light-hearted look at the parties and their leaders, in terms of Twitter and Facebook popularity, in the week that Theresa May announced we were going to the polls.

Back then, Beattie discovered Facebook was a more right wing haven, with UKIP and the Conservatives ruling the roost, while Corbyn was the Twitter king.

But with just seven days left before we have our say at the ballot box, the social media landscape has changed considerably, with Labour gaining 323,000 extra likes on Facebook.

This would appear to confirm reports Jeremy Corbyn’s party is aiming to match the Tories’ £1m social media war chest, and is succeeding in directing candidates to make better use of Facebook.

Jessica McAndrew, digital communications director at Beattie, said: “Six weeks ago we saw a major social media divide – with Labour winning on Twitter while UKIP and the Conservatives were striding ahead on Facebook.

“But Labour has turned things around significantly, making 10 times the gains of their competitors on Facebook – competitors who have added between 4,000 and 24,000 likes on this platform over the last six weeks.”

Labour insiders who worked for former party leader Ed Miliband insist that the 2015 UK General Election was lost on Facebook. While Labour built an impressive army of followers, the Conservatives were quietly using their bigger digital budget to target undecided voters in key marginal seats.

The Electoral Commission reported that the Conservatives spent £1.2m during the 2015 General Election on Facebook advertising — more than seven times the £160,000 spent by Labour. The Liberal Democrats spent just over £22,000.

If followers on Twitter were an indication of total number of Westminster seats, there would be a Labour coalition government, with the most likely parties to join forces being The Greens and the Liberal Democrats. And the story would be similar if the future of Westminster was in Facebook’s hands – but Labour would need to make an alliance with the SNP for a majority.

“While we would expect all of the main political parties to ramp up their use of social media in the run-up to polling day, Labour has obviously invested considerably in Facebook,” said Jessica.

“Of course, we don’t know for sure how parties are spending their social media budgets. But any spend is a smart spend on platforms such as Facebook, because it allows parties to target people based on family income, gender, marital status, religion and even viewpoints on certain key issues.

“A party can be very strategic in messaging specific groups in order to create an echo chamber where users will engage with content and strengthen its message within a key demographic. Campaign managers are waking up to the fact that Facebook is one of their most powerful political weapons – but we will have to wait and see on June 8 if Labour’s social media boost will be reflected at the ballot box.”

More than half of the UK population has a Facebook account, and users globally spend an average of 40 minutes per day on the platform.

Strategies are being developed by using so-called “big data” provided by companies such as Cambridge Analytica, which supported Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign last year. By building up an ever-more accurate picture of voters’ personalities and behaviour, parties are able to work out the most effective way to appeal to them.

Labour insiders say the party has used data to develop a new system called “Promote”. The system tailors more than 1,000 versions of its core policy proposals in order to deliver what it calls “super local” messages on Facebook.

But it’s not all about spending money. Labour insiders say the party is also putting out free content on candidates’ Facebook pages about popular issues which are likely to be widely shared and liked.

Beattie’s digital marketing business Only Digital operates from 12 offices across the UK and Ireland including London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. With a team of more than 30 digital communications and marketing specialists, services include social media, PPC management, search engine optimisation and digital strategies.