This election, digital campaigning has brought us trending hashtags, viral memes and spoof videos, but it has also been used to mobilise supporters and localise campaigns.
Millions of potential voters, thousands of volunteers and hundreds of donors – political campaigning is about managing and engaging with these groups, and social media and digital tools are playing an increasingly important role in facilitating the process.
Voters care about the big issues like the NHS, the economy and immigration to varying degrees, but they all care about local issues which affect them directly. From major transport and development plans to lack of parking spaces – these are issues that candidates should be focusing their campaigns on.
Each of the main political parties claim to have embraced digital campaigning, yet we still see the same broadcast style messages being pushed out on social media nationwide. Old politics is simply being re-hashed for the digital world. The Conservatives have by now probably spent at least £1million on Facebook ads – promoting the same key messages over and over again. The #LongTermEconomicPlan might be important but it would be very easy and much more cost effective to target education messages at teachers and NHS messages at nurses, which is exactly what the LibDems are doing with their latest “Operation Manatee”.
Parties have failed to recognise the importance of canvassing their growing number of online supporters.
However, as NationBuilder’s Toni Cowan-Brown rightly points out, a strong digital and social media presence is not enough, you need to engage people and get them to take action – and technology allows you to do so at scale.
Software developments – which now make it possible to integrate social media followers into campaign databases and match them up with electoral rolls – offer unprecedented opportunities to reach target voters. Most of the major political parties are now using the Community Operating System (COS) NationBuilder in one way or another. The Conservatives’ use it to organise and manage their #Team2015 – with volunteers even being sent reminder text messages on campaign days. Labour uses the platform to track levels of support and voting intentions and have (successfully) used digital campaigns such as How Many of Me to persuade you to surrender your email address. The LibDems launched their new NationBuilder website with quite some fanfare and use it to run all of their websites but it was actually the SNP who became NationBuilder’s first paying customer.
Unfortunately, most of the time the email messaging is not adapted to the individual subscriber. Sometimes little more than the headline is changed and inevitably the majority end up in the same place – Junk Mail.
Parties have failed to recognise the importance of canvassing their growing number of online supporters. Asking your subscribers whether they actually support your policies or would ever consider volunteering locally would be a good start. The General Election is a national election, but it is being fought locally. Adapting messages to focus on local constituency issues would make such email campaigns much more effective.
So, which party wins the digital election?
According to recent analysis, on social media Labour are “winning”, as its policymakers have been broadcasting nearly double the number of posts as the Conservatives. But if the Scottish referendum taught us anything, it was that counting tweets is not a reliable form of polling. Counting emails is equally ineffective.
The answer is, there is no “digital election”. There is only the General Election – which none of the parties are set to win outright – in any sense.
If the question was “which party has led a winning digital campaign?” I would have to say the LibDems have probably made the most of their limited resources and have tried the hardest to engage with their grassroots supporters. They are also trying out new digital campaigning concepts, such as geo-targeting their websites so they appear different depending on your location. This will be the standard by 2020.
Measurement and evaluation