Social media is sprawling, evolving, fluid.
But a successful digital campaign always has three simple components: decent creative output, high levels of engagement, and intelligent use of tools and mechanisms like hashtags and video.
The Labour Party has long understood this, but now we’re seeing the Conservatives cotton on. They’re starting to tap into the potential of social media – albeit with mixed results so far.
And given that half of the membership is over 65, it’s hardly surprising the Conservative Party have been slower on the uptake.
But with an 11-horse leadership race in full flow, those candidates with an effective social media strategy might just get their noses ahead.
Of course, if they get it wrong, it can be costly. The now-infamous ‘behind-the-scenes’ montage at the Tory Conference in 2017 will forever be remembered for its awkwardness. It fell so flat that it generated wall-to-wall coverage, from Buzzfeed to the BBC. The kind of coverage you’d rather avoid.
Recent campaigning by wannabe-Prime Ministers has – in most cases – shown a marked improvement. But it has also highlighted the varying degrees of success to which the party has employed its digital capabilities.
There have been varying levels of commitment to social media from the 11 candidates across the various channels. Nearly half have chosen to have a separate campaign account – Hunt, Johnson, Raab, Javid and Leadsom.
This is an effective way to separate your campaigning with your day-to-day work (particularly if you’re a Cabinet Minister), but in such a short campaign period the challenge will be to whip up a decent number of followers. @BackBoris has the most– but the size of that following is pretty paltry at around 5,500.
And then there’s the hashtags. With the exception of Esther McVey, all 11 leadership candidates have a unique campaign hashtag – a great way to gauge engagement and group content.
While #BackBoris leads the way with nearly 20,000 mentions since the 22nd of April, Rory Stewart’s #RoryWalks is surprisingly second with over 15,000, and both are well ahead of the other candidates. Mark Harper’s #TrustedtoLead has barely had 180 mentions. The rest sit between 3,000 and 7,000, although Gove has been let down by his decision to use two hashtags – #Gove4PM and #ReadytoLead. Had he just deployed one, it would have placed him third with nearly 13,000 mentions.
Rory Stewart’s surprising social media success can be attributed to his “man of the people” approach which has involved him roaming the streets of London, setting up meeting places, and inviting the public to join him and ask questions. Videos posted from his account, often poorly filmed in ‘selfie mode’ and uncaptioned (a big no-no on social media) have had nearly three quarters of a million views.
It should be said though that this approach could only be undertaken by someone with a degree of anonymity. And this approach was a risk as it could have gone either way in terms of engagement. The Foreign Secretary could hardly take the same approach. Inviting the public for a chat when flanked with protection officers is a rather different vibe.
As it currently stands, Boris appears to be leading the way on social, tending to stick to social media best practices, putting out effective creative and generating engagement. He’s even started a ‘twibbon’ – a frame you can add to your twitter profile. At time of writing, there are 287 twitter users sporting a “Back Boris” slogan.
Whatever the outcome of the leadership race, the scramble to succeed Theresa May has focused Tory minds on the importance of getting social media right.