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Social media didn’t win anything

parliament

Social media was used poorly as a campaigning tool during the 2015 General Election.

My Facebook and Twitter news feeds woke up with a headache in the UK this morning. A lively post mortem of the election broke out on my Facebook page.

The Conservative party has defied opinion polls throughout the 2015 election campaign and is on its way back to Westminster to form a majority government under the leadership of David Cameron.

All but the final exit polls predicted a hung Parliament with a combination of Labour and the Scottish National Party (SNP) holding the balance of power. Social media analysis called a similar result.

It’s easy to be wise after the event but the pollsters and social media predictions look foolish.

People don’t tell the truth to pollsters. It is a business ripe for disruption.

Meanwhile we’ve learnt yet again that social media is a useless predictor unless it accurately reflects the make-up of a constituency. Sentiment analysis is questionable at best.

This was billed as a social media election much like 2010 before it. Indeed Facebook and Twitter were awash with conversation and comment and the #GE2015 hashtag has been loud and noisy.

But this wasn’t a social media election in anyway whatsoever.

Propaganda not community

Yes activists and politicians used social networks to broadcast recycled propaganda from traditional media but there was no effort whatsoever to build communities.

Content needs to be created for 140 characters or a Facebook post. It should amplify a single message that is integrated across all media.

Asking people to like a page, how they plan to vote or targeting them with an advertisement isn’t a conversation. That said the Conservative’s use of tactical Facebook advertising in marginal seats looks like it was a smart move.

There’s been a gaping chasm between the efforts by the political parties and the conversations that I’ve participated in during the campaign with friends in my network.

There have been notable exceptions where would-be MPs have used email newsletters, blogs, Facebook and Twitter to engage with their voting publics.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative candidate in my own contingency in Northumberland is a good example. She won Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Carshalton-MP Tom Brake hosts his weekly surgery online via Facebook. He is one of only eight Liberal Democrats to keep his seat.

The SNP won in Scotland with a single-minded vision and purpose.

That vision came too late for Labour and when it finally did it was delivered via a stone tablet – a prehistoric form of media that isn’t in the least bit social.

It could have been so different.

Barrack Obama showed how social media can be used effectively as part of an election campaign in 2008.

He built an online community as a platform to set out policies and engage with grassroots. His team engaged in a conversation in the truest sense.

Obama captured data and used email to communicate, share content and fundraise with activists and supporters.

No UK political party has ever followed the Obama campaign blueprint. Instead old tactical approaches are forced onto new channels.

It clearly doesn’t work.

Rob Smith has included some of my comments in a longer article about the use of social media during the election, on the CIPR Conversation. You’ll also find comment from Weber Shandwick EMEA CEO Colin Bryne and Working Word director Dan Tyte.

Photo via Wikimedia with thanks.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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