As the UK continues its supercharged, unstoppable ascent into the digital age of the 21st century it was never going to be a seamless adjustment, and certain parts of life as we know it were always destined to struggle and play catch-up. Politics is one of those archaic areas, although not through a complete lack of trying.
While most of the main political parties in the UK operate informative, attractive websites complete with social media campaigns and email newsletters, they are yet to realise the potential that is possible with email marketing and social media, namely a grassroots vehicle through which to finally awaken and mobilise the young, disillusioned and apathetic non-voters.
With the importance of digital media in 2015 Britain not up for debate, we thought it was important for there to be be a critical analysis of how it has been used during the UK’s 2015 General Election Campaign, and what better day than on election day, May 7th.
We will also pose an intriguing question; if we lived in a hypothetical digital world where the election would be won or lost purely on parties’ and politicians’ digital campaigns, who would the winners and losers be when the digital votes are electronically counted and the results come through instantly as polling closes?
We decided to put each of the top 5 parties to the test by signing up for email updates and newsletters. We did not expect to encounter anything too surprising, since email newsletters are not only extremely important to anyone, be it a business or a political party, when promoting something, but they are also easy to run effectively thanks to their one-way nature, unlike social media where engagement is essential.
Upon visiting the websites of the top parties, the first thing we noticed was how tricky it was to distinguish between whether you are submitting your email for updates and newsletters, to pledge your vote for their party, or even to join their party. The best performing parties in this regard were the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP. For all of Labour’s otherwise successful attempts at a simplistic user-friendly party website they performed disappointingly, reducing their email submission section to a neglected position in the website footer.
While the Conservatives and Labour allowed visitors to sign up to email updates using only simple pieces of information, such as their first name and email address, others require you to create a profile. The parties requiring the setup of a profile are the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. While we’re sure there is a benefit for the parties in gathering as much information about their followers as possible, we’re not convinced it is a worthwhile trade-off for over-complicating the conversion of new followers and potentially future voters.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for a party experiencing much success (relatively speaking of course), was the SNP’s lack of any clear email newsletter. The only means of submitting your email we could locate was by joining the SNP, and making a donation accordingly.
When it comes to social media there is a noticeable difference in how the various parties use each channel. To keep things simple we focussed on analysing their Twitter and Facebook usage, starting with raw numbers of followers, tweets, posts, and likes. Here’s where they stand:
Looking at the platforms used to manage their social accounts Labour also go against the grain by using Sprout Social, while everyone else is using either Tweetdeck or the native Twitter client. The SNP have also embraced mobile, making a large percentage of their tweets while on the road.
Finally, as far as being “social” on Twitter goes, the Conservatives are definitely lagging behind. On the face of it they’re the most active, with an average of over 90 tweets per day since the start of April (compared with an average of 50 for the other parties). That’s where the good news stops though as they’ve only replied to one Tweet (from Ed Milliband) and mentioned others a paltry 56 times. Compare that with the SNP who, of their 35 Tweets per day, have mentioned others over 1000 times and there’s a way to go.
Moving on to Facebook, the Conservatives and UKIP are a mile ahead with raw “Like” counts, but Labour come into their own when you look at the number of people “talking about” them. The messaging on the About section of the various pages is interesting too, with the Conservatives and UKIP choosing to push their message while others preferring a softer approach.
UKIP are posting links, Labour have a far heavier reliance on video, and the Conservatives are pushing a far more even mixture that includes a lot of images. You can also see in these graphs a slow but sure increase in engagement for all three as the election nears.
WINNERS AND LOSERS IN A DIGITAL WORLD
In order to determine the winners and losers of the 2015 General Election in our imaginary digital world, based solely on social media and email marketing, we would first need to determine which channels are more and less important. As imaginary worlds are, well, imaginary, we make the rules and we’re going to keep things simple and assume equal weight and importance to all 3 channels we’ve looked at in this article.
Email Marketing – The email marketing winners for us were the Conservatives, followed by Labour in second place. Solid losers were the SNP who are missing out on a great means of promoting their party policies in the election.
Twitter – It was more difficult to distinguish the parties on their Twitter performance. In an unexpected twist after a poor performance for Email Marketing, the win this time goes to the SNP, with the other 4 parties on a level footing in second place.
Facebook – The final round sees Labour and UKIP jointly coming out on top. The Conservatives bring up second place, followed by Liberal Democrats and SNP.
Result – In the end not all that much changes. In the digital world the 5 main political parties rank in an order not completely dissimilar to where they currently stand in the polls. Perhaps when the results of the real election are announced tomorrow, they may match our digital world experiment, you never know.
- Conservatives & Labour
- Liberal Democrats & SNP
If we’re to take anything from this, it’s that UKIP have over performed in email marketing and social media, while Liberal Democrats and SNP have not performed on par with their political standing, something they might do well to take stock of next time around.