It was Facebook what done it: Did the Tories win over middle-England voters on Facebook?
The dust may have settled on the UK election, but many of us have been left still trying to come to terms with how the Conservative managed such an unexpected landslide victory.
Experts predicted that social media would play a key role in the 2015 elections, but this was quickly dismissed following the unprecedented Tory win.
But actually, could it have had a bigger impact than we thought?
Despite losing by over 100 seats, there was just a 6% difference in votes between Tory and Labour. Ultimately Labour lost because they failed to win over the middle England marginal seats. These people are suburban, middle aged and quietly aspirational, with no strong political leanings either way.
Take one look at the Conservative Facebook page and it’s obvious that their intent was to sway these voters.
Leaked Facebook invoices have already revealed that the Tories were far outspending Labour in the year leading up to the election (£100,000 per month compared to less than £10,000). And it certainly shows –high quality content adhering to best-practices; sophisticated targeting and a strategy that far outshone the competition. Anything but an after-thought; social seemed to be an integral part of the Tory campaign strategy.
But could it have won them the election?
How the Tories got it right in Social:
- A tight strategy centred around one clear message.
The Conservative strategy was centred very tightly around the economy. At the heart of their campaign was one clear message: the Tories are the only party with a long-term economic plan. They are the only party that can, and will save the UK economy.
All other messaging hung off and laddered back up to this one core idea.
The foundations were laid in 2010 when they came into office and immediately attacked Labour’s economic record. “They are the party that crashed the economy,” the message ran. “We are the ones with the long-term economic plan.”
The next 5 years were about hammering home this message; backing it up with evidence, and then developing it – into what it means for your job, your family, your everyday. They translated it into real benefits that real suburban people cared about.
Social’s role in this was vital; a medium where they could package this message up in a hundred different ways, and target it to different interest groups.
The angle flexed and shifted: sometimes it was rational, other times emotional. Covering issues both serious and trivial; appealing to parents, to the elderly; the middle and working class.
But the key takeaway was always the same. Britain needs a strong economy, and Tories are the only party that can offer that.
Why was this important? Because it essentially gave hundreds of logical reasons to vote Tory which 1) helped appeal to as many relevant people as possible and 2) sparked WOM –these were reasoned arguments backed by facts that could be passed on to family and friends.
Labour’s Facebook strategy was far less robust. With no core message that could be flexed and shaped, their content was centred on a series of tactics and promises. Labour will protect the NHS; it will protect child benefit; and tax credits.
But these were all arguments that had been repeated a thousand times before in debates, and manifestos. There was no new information or new angles. No attempt to link these issues back to real people; no new reasons to inspire fence-sitters.
By focusing on tactics rather than strategy, Labour really limited the depth and breadth of their possible content.
- A focus on the right channels
Twitter users tend to be more left leaning than right and Conservatives understood this. They paid less attention to this platform (1.5 posts per day compared to 8-15 from other parties) and focused resources on Facebook; a much more appropriate network for middle-aged suburban voters.
- Cultural ‘memes’ that pushed the right buttons
Politics always gets personal. It preys on insecurities and drives fear.
The Conservatives did a great job; not only of pointing out the right weaknesses at the right time. But also executing it in just the right tone to appeal to their target.
They knew just the right buttons to push; the right parallels to draw and the satires that would really hit home.
The result was highly sharable content, both to stark Tory supporters and the undecided.
- Creative use of data.
A sophisticated use of data helped the Tories keep tabs on the electorate, adapt and target messaging to specific interest groups, and presumably* direct attention to more marginal constituencies.
Invoices showed the bulk of Facebook spending went towards email collection. And a significant number of Facebook posts directed users towards the party website where they could learn further details about particular manifesto policies (once they’d handed over their email address of course).
After identifying potential voters, Facebook data about age, location, job habits and preoccupations was used to tailor messages to specific groups. This was cross-referenced with existing voter databases to ascertain whether or not a user is in a marginal seat –which again, was used to adapt messaging.
*So did it win them the election? That we’ll never know. But with just 6% difference between the parties, it’s possible.
But as with marketing, while actual Social ‘cause-and-effect’ may be hard to pin down, a well thought-out social strategy often indicates a more focused and holistic overarching strategy.