Social Media Marketing

Labour’s got 8 times more likes than the Conservatives on TikTok. Here’s why

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By Thomas Walters, Founder & CEO

June 10, 2024 | 7 min read

We are witnessing the ‘first TikTok election’ in the UK. Billion Dollar Boy’s Thomas Walters has been keeping a close eye on this vital battleground. Here’s what is working.

Starmer and Rishi on TikTok

The ITV and BBC debates brought election campaigning on to our screens for the first time last week, but it’d be negligent to ignore the vital role TikTok is playing this cycle.

Gone are the days when Labour invested more in a single print ad in the Financial Times than digital media (2015). Instead, we’re consuming more digital media whose audiences offer more breadth and depth than ever before.

This influence is evidenced by social media’s role in elections worldwide - for good and ill. Notably the Cambridge Analytica scandal during the 2016 referendum and, more recently, in 2020 when Snap helped over 1.2 million US users to register to vote.

Therefore, the prominence of digital campaigning this year, including Facebook, YouTube, X, WhatsApp, Instagram, and email and text messaging, is no surprise.

However, one difference this year is the emergence of TikTok. The platform was operational during the 2019 election but boasted a fraction of the nine million users in the UK today.

It’s no coincidence that the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats opened TikTok accounts shortly after Sunak’s announcement–following the Green Party and Reform, which already had a presence.

It’s why this election is being dubbed the ‘first TikTok election’. But how is it influencing the parties’ social media and communications strategies?

Conservatives and Labour: different approaches to TikTok

With political advertising banned on TikTok, the parties’ strategies need to focus on high-quality and engaging content to gain visibility through the platform’s powerful algorithm.

In addition to sharing 30-second clips of frontbenchers explaining policies, Labour has largely focused its output on ridiculing the opposition through a combination of voter reactions and popular online memes of Lord Farquaad and Cilla Black. Browse the channel here.

The Conservative Party, however, has adopted a more sterile approach, including its first post which they used to announce a new policy of National Service.

Who’s winning the TikTok battle?

A quick number-crunching exercise points to a clear Labour win. At the time of writing on Thursday, June 6, Labour has more than three times the number of posts (82 v. 26) and followers (189,000 v 58,000).

Given that Labour’s current digital media spend is reportedly four times that of the Conservatives, you could argue the difference is unsurprising and even that the Conservatives are getting better return on investment (if followers were the metric of success)… [Editor’s note: Conservatives have reportedly halted spend since this piece was written.]

But any good advertising professional knows to look beyond vanity metrics, especially on TikTok. Labour has accrued eight times the number of likes (4.4m v 546,000) - that’s cut through!

Labour’s core voter demographic naturally means it’s more aligned with social media and TikTok specifically. Labour currently enjoys a lead in the polls with all age groups except the over-65s, while TikTok is used by 42% of adult internet users in the UK - primarily by young people - with those aged under 25 spending an hour a day on the app.

They’ve capitalized on that affinity with light-hearted content that’s more likely to be shared by a younger demographic and boosted by the algorithm.

Room for improvement?

As with any media channel, you have to adapt your content to the audience and the host channel’s optimal format.

The vertical format of TikTok, its allegiance to short-form video and the typical audience demographic mean it’s not an ideal platform for communicating complicated policy messaging. This is one of the reasons why Rishi’s National Service post was mocked. It felt staged and awkward–not in keeping with TikTok’s raw and natural aesthetic. Equally, if you’re not grabbing the audience’s attention immediately, then you’re fighting an uphill battle!

It doesn’t mean serious content can’t work on TikTok. With almost a third of young people using social media to get news, including 10% of Britons, TikTok has the capacity to reach audiences with a more serious message - it’s all about the delivery. For example, providing short and clear explainer videos to common questions like: “What is Labour’s offer on housing?”.

At the other end of the spectrum, Labour’s irreverent, comic content has generated laughs, shares and views, but it’s difficult to tell whether it will actually improve voter turnout. Not only that but overstepping the mark also risks patronizing audiences - a dangerous game to play at such a critical time of serious cost of living pressures.

The growing influence of creators in elections

Labour has already reportedly appointed a dedicated role to coordinate its influencer strategy. It seeks to use a range of personalities, from micro-influencers to celebrities, including comedian Jon Richardson parodying Margot Robbie’s famous bathtub scene in Big Short.

It’s clear why, as more consumers turn to influencers for news and opinion, they can be highly impactful. Satirist Munya Chawawa, for example, has 1.3 million followers, dwarfing The Times’s print readership of 365,880.

Just as influencers facilitate consumer engagement for brands, they can relay political messages in a far more relatable way than a party ever could, reaching niche audiences while they scroll.

Influencers are also trusted sources, particularly among younger audiences. 61% of Gen Z and millennials trust them over brands. When trust is a commodity in short supply among politicians, influencers are a valuable resource.

The challenge is using those influencers authentically. With TikTok banning paid political advertising, any creator partnerships must be organic, reducing the degree of risk associated while making TikTok a potentially low-spend, high-reward platform for smaller parties with a smaller budget. With all of these valuable qualities, 2024 may be the first TikTok election, but it’s unlikely to be the last.

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