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General election 2015: From YouTube to Facebook – why the key parties need a lesson in social

The Greens' successful #ChangeTheTune campaign

This article is one of a series from global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi assessing key aspects of the main political parties’ digital strategies in the run up to the General Election.

Social can’t turn your manifesto into gold, says Lost Boys managing director Nadya Powell, as just being in social won’t automatically make you brilliant.

The election is coming. You’re a political party, and you want to win it, or at least not lose it, for all the traditional political reasons. But social has come barging rudely into your life. And you know you should get involved in it, because Obama did, and because this is ‘the first digital election’, and so on.

So what do you do? You take the content you already have – your manifesto, some quotes, some TV appearances – and you ram them straight into social. There, that wasn’t so hard.

Except you’ve totally missed the point. The content you publish in social has to have value. It has to give people something they cannot get elsewhere, and it needs to be designed for the environment it is appearing in. Otherwise, you’ve just made another trivial but terrible contribution to 'sharemageddon'.

Obama, yes often mentioned, is pretty much the best role model for a politician in social. He doesn’t rely on just having social channels, he makes it work by originating content that is perfect for the social generation. He talks intellectually about key points he believes in and combines this with internet-derived humour that is perfect for distribution through social.

Watch his recent Correspondents’ Dinner address with his anger translator. That hilarious and brilliant content was not written for the correspondents at the dinner. It was written for all the people who would take it and share it and do Obama’s ‘social’ work for him.

Sadly, judging from the output of our main parties, we don’t have an Obama on our hands over here just yet:

Conservatives

The Conservatives operate a slick, pretty corporate social presence, with well-made, regularly updated copy, images and video. But other than repetitive, rather desperate calls to share content, there’s not much effort to encourage engagement. Instead, the focus is purely on broadcasting the party’s manifesto.

Their Facebook approach, meanwhile, has seen it running up bills of £100,000 on the distinctly old-fashioned practice of buying page likes and email addresses, while recent research suggested senior Tory MPs are the most likely to have fake Twitter followers.

Labour

Like the Tories, Labour’s social channels are heavy on policy slogans and re-tweet/share requests. The tone and quality of the content feels relatively un-corporate, but they don’t seem to want to converse that much and the party’s Facebook post frequency would surely annoy the most loyal of supporters.

A brief #WhyImLabour series of posts on Instagram, however, was a rare sighting of a party doing something inherently social. There have also been also tweets promoting an MP’s live stream on Periscope, while last year’s data-capturing ‘baby number’ NHS quiz was a smart piece of work on Facebook. Decent content, made for social - it’s not that outrageously hard.

Lib Dems

Compared to the other two main parties, the Liberal Democrats come across more relaxed in their approach to social. Their Facebook timeline and Twitter feed present tidy, concise updates and there are fewer pleas for users to spread messages. Of all the parties, only the Lib Dems have had the wit to use general hashtags like #GE2015 and #leadersdebate to preach beyond the converted, and the videos from Nick Clegg’s election tour bus are a good touch. If a politician happens to be honest, relaxed and interesting, social ought to be their friend.

Greens

The Green Party feels like the only party to have seriously considered social media in terms of the eyeballs it could provide their key messages. They launched their #ChangeTheTune campaign with a successful ‘Boy Band Election’ satirical music video, and the range of candidates on show offers refreshing variety from the Greens’ leader-focused rivals, though they have a frightful tendency to re-tweet anything minutely positive about themselves.

Plaid Cymru

Little can be said about Plaid Cymru’s social media efforts because they’re almost entirely focused on providing their audiences with a day-by-day update of where the party leader has been, rather than what she stands for. Would they sift through this stuff, if they weren’t making it? So why would anyone else?

SNP

Like the Greens, the SNP features a range of personalities on its YouTube channel, although over on Facebook and Twitter you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve accidentally stumbled onto a Nicola Sturgeon fan club.

Surprisingly, the SNP appears to be the only party to have run a live Facebook Q&A, but that’s about as far as the moments of real audience engagement go.

UKIP

UKIP maintains a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel, though the content across these leaves a lot to be desired, with copy often very long and re-tweet frequency irritating. Of all the leaders, Nigel Farage personally achieves the highest average number of favourites per tweet (79).

Political parties are marking their place in social, rather than mastering the art, and it’s a damning sight. Which bubbles up the real challenge for the political parties in social: it works best when it is powered by the kind of personality that generates great content.

And if your personality relies on spouting on and on about your manifesto or leader, then no matter how many fans you stupidly buy, social won’t work for you - it will expose you.

DigitasLBi has also carried out a social data study which reveals surprising facts about the political parties and their supporters. For more information visit www.wearewhatsnext.com

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