Revolutionary Measures

PR and the election – living in interesting times

Given I’m writing this post a couple of days before the UK General Election, there are clearly risks that I’ll both annoy everyone who is already fed up with the campaign, and end up with egg on my face through predictions that turn out to be completely wrong.

person dropping paper on box

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

So, I’ll sit on the fence when it comes to the result, and instead look at the public relations around the election itself. In my view there are four interesting topics and trends:

1. Everyone wants to talk about ‘their’ issue

Just as Teresa May (remember her?) spent the last election chanting that the Tories would bring ‘strong and stable’ government, this time around the two main parties are focusing on one key issue above all. For the Tories it is ‘getting Brexit done’ whereas for Labour it is all about austerity in general, and the NHS in particular. Every opportunity is brought back to these key topics, whatever the start point of the question.

2. No-one wants to talk about their leaders

Without being party political it is clear that both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are divisive figures. Their handlers have therefore tried to be careful about when and where they appear in public and in front of the media. Even the leaders themselves have admitted they may be an issue, with Jeremy Corbyn (and multiple Labour candidates) pointing out that this is not a presidential campaign, and voters are choosing their local MP, not the Prime Minister. This may be true technically, but it is also a trifle disingenuous. Nevertheless, in all the election leaflets I’ve had I don’t think any (except the solitary missive from the Liberal Democrats) had a picture or endorsement from the party leader.

3. No-one knows what’s happening

We’ve had predictions from a whopping Tory majority to a hung parliament and the truth is, thanks to the first past the post system and the focus on every step (and misstep) of the parties, it would be a brave person who said the election was over before the votes were counted. Add in tactical voting and you can see why all parties are still pushing hard, with leaders criss-crossing the country and new policies appearing seemingly out of thin air. In my (extremely safe) Tory constituency I’ve not seen a single candidate on the doorstep, but have had lots of leaflets telling me what a good job my MP is doing. And this is despite the fact that it would take an electoral upset of gargantuan proportions to stop the area remaining blue.

4. Online is a key battleground

The traditional left/right division between Labour and the Conservatives has been turned on its head by Brexit. Hence Boris Johnson spending time wooing the leave-voting constituents of Northern seats. This also means that whereas in the past people might have been within a social media bubble of those with the same opinions, this time it isn’t necessarily the case. Hence the push to use online channels by all parties to reach and convince voters – at least £2 million has been spent on social media advertising up until now. And this is likely to grow – traditionally donations to parties ramp up towards the end of campaigns. Given that physical media such as billboards and newspaper adverts are either already booked up or cannot be created in time, the majority of this extra cash will be spent on targeted online ads.

5. Campaigns are not being legal, honest, decent and true

From the first leader’s debate, when Tory Central Office turned its Twitter handle into a supposed fact-checking resource, underhand tactics have been rife. Independent body the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising has highlighted that at least 31 campaigns from parties across the political spectrum have been indecent, dishonest or untruthful. This is probably a by-product of the generally chaotic nature of the campaign, and the rise of online, which makes it easier to quickly launch ads or claims without necessarily worrying about the consequences.

What can we learn from these points? Sadly, that whatever the result, such tactics are probably here to stay. So given the overall political landscape, I expect I’ll be writing a new version of this blog well within the supposed five year life of the next parliament….

December 11, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Would we Like a social media election?

We’re now well into the General Election campaign and commentators are examining which media politicians are going to use with engage with voters. I’ve already talked about the debacle around the televised debates, which David Cameron is doing his best to scupper, but what of social media?

Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Conservative Party l...

Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Conservative Party leader, during his visit to Oxfam headquarters in Oxford. Full version. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Predictions that the last election would revolve around social media were wide of the mark, proving less like Obama’s #Yeswecan campaign and more akin to a series of embarrassing mistakes perpetrated by politicians and their aides who’d obviously never used Twitter before. This has continued with further gaffes, such as ex-shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry’s patronising tweet during the Rochester and Strood by-election that cost the Labour frontbencher her job.

However, there are already signs that social media will pay a bigger role in this election. For a start, social media is a good way of reaching the core 18-24 demographic that is currently disengaged from politics. 56% of this age group didn’t vote at the last election, so winning their support could be crucial in a contest that is currently too close to call.

We are also in an election where the core support of the traditional big two parties is being swayed by the rise of UKIP, the SNP and the Greens. So, rather than just appealing to floating voters in a certain number of swing seats, the Conservatives and Labour both need to demonstrate to their supporters that they understand their concerns and have policies to win them over. This means that they are likely to be more aggressive than in the past, judging that alienating the middle ground is a price worth paying for retaining traditional voters.

How this plays out generally will be fascinating, but what can social media provide? Early indications suggest there are six areas where it will be most used:

1. Attacking the opposition
Unlike offline or TV advertising, social media is largely unregulated. Which means you can get away with more online – for example, the Tory party is financing 30 second pre-roll “attack” ads on YouTube the content of which would be banned on TV. Given the desire to reassure core voters, expect tactics like this to be used even more as the campaign unfolds.

2. Managing the real-time news cycle
CNN brought about the 24 hour a day news cycle. Twitter has changed that to give minute-by-minute, real-time news. Stories can gain traction incredibly quickly, and fade with the same speed. Parties will therefore look to try and control (or at the very least manage) social media during the campaign, monitoring for trends that they can piggyback and starting stories of their own. And given that the media will also be monitoring what politicians are saying, expect a rash of stories with a shelf life of minutes and hours, rather than days and weeks.

3. Reaching voters
One of the most powerful parts of social media is the demographic profiling it provides advertisers with. This means that spending on advertising can be extremely targeted towards potential supporters, with little wastage. Figures obtained by the BBC show that the Tories are on course to spend over a million pounds on Facebook during the course of the election, based on current activities. Of course, reaching voters is one thing, the next step is to actively engage with them, starting conversations, listening and responding to their concerns. That takes time and skill, so expect a lot of effort to be thrown at content and conversations.

4. Monitoring voting patterns
There’s a lot of excitement about Big Data, and in particular how you can draw insights from the conversations happening on social media. Party strategists will be able to monitor what is trending on networks, and then use this feedback to evolve or change their strategies to focus on areas that are resonating with particular groups. However this sort of monitoring is still in its infancy, so results will need to be cross-checked before parties decide to do a U-turn on key policies.

5. Amplifying success
Third party endorsement is always welcome, so politicians will look to share and publicise content, such as news stories, that position them in a good light, and also encourage their supporters to do the same. This has already happened with celebrity interviews with the likes of Ant and Dec and Myleene Klass. However, as journalist Sean Hargrave points out, the Tories have a problem here – much of the right leaning media (The Sun, The Times and Daily Telegraph) are behind full or partial paywalls, making sharing difficult. In contrast the likes of The Guardian, Mirror and Independent are completely free and design content to be as shareable as possible. That just leaves the Tories with the Daily Mail……..

6. Making it bitesize
Like any modern digital campaign, the election will run on content. And to appeal to time-poor voters it will need to be carved up into bitesize chunks, such as blogs, Vines, Tweets and Facebook posts. Politicians are meant to be masters of the soundbite, so this should be just a question of transferring their offline skills to the digital world.

Social media will definitely be more of a battleground at this election, if only because more people are on Twitter, Facebook and other networks compared to 2010. Parties and politicians will look to adopt the tactics above, but with varying degrees of success. Some, such as those that have been engaging with voters for years, will do it well, but expect more gaffes from those that don’t understand the difference between a public tweet and a private direct message and decide to show the world pictures of their underwear…………or worse.

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment