Ain’t no party like a YouTube party

Step aside dancing cats. Political parties are taking to YouTube to win your vote, says Kate Joynes-Burgess

(Image source: The Independent)

Step aside dancing cats. Political parties are taking to YouTube to win your vote.

If votes were measured in YouTube views, the United Kingdom would be waking up to a UKIP-led government on 8 May. The upstart party has drawn more than 7.5 million views to its UKIP Media channel, despite joining the global video-sharing network later than all the others except the SNP. That’s more than 37 percent of the total 20.5 million video views recorded by the UK’s rainbow of political parties on the Google-owned platform. Surprisingly (or not, depending on your politics), UKIP is achieving YouTube domination without any particularly playful or creative content, which audiences on the platform tend to favour. Instead, they’ve grown strong by nurturing a loyal subscriber base of over 22,500 thus suggesting they are effectively joining up their grassroots approach to campaigning both on- and offline. The SNP has come late to the party and despite their reputation as one of the most active parties on social media – due to activity of the ‘cyber Nats’ on Twitter and other platforms – they are trailing behind on YouTube.

Total YouTube channel views
UKIP 7,604,299 37.05%
Conservative 4,964,332 24.19%
Labour 4,175,862 20.35%
LibDem 1,672,750 8.15%
Green 1,340,040 6.53%
Plaid Cymru 427,615 2.08%
SNP 337,754 1.65%


At the other end of the political spectrum, the Green Party has recently grown its YouTube audience exponentially through a spirited spoof video – Change the Tune. Their playful parody of rival parties, approaching 700k views and counting, features a crooning ‘coalition’ of leaders planning to ‘frack this green and pleasant land’ and other perceived offences. Labour’s YouTube output, meanwhile is awash with stirring music, calls to action – subscribe, volunteer, share – and data capture all reminiscent of Obama campaign tactics.

Taking steps to pep up the LibDems’ jaundiced YouTube presence their campaign team struck YouTube gold in March with the party’s (unofficial) election anthem – Uptown Funk with Nick Clegg – securing 321k views (and more than a few cringes). Concurrently, the Conservatives have moved on from the days of Webcameron into a (social) advertising age where they are arguably doing the most to capitalise on the granular targeting options through paid social media – mirroring their Facebook strategy.

Video killed the TV spot

YouTube not only blurs the boundaries between editorial and advertising it has also become a new home for party political broadcasts on an unrestricted scale. In parallel, broadcasters, for so long the domain of party political messages, have developed a presence on the online platform with, for example, The ITV leaders’ debate securing 343,767 views on Sky’s YouTube channel. Political parties then ‘broadcast’ their TV spots across their own network of YouTube channels, most likely supported by social media spend too.

As media consumption habits change – and shift towards mobile and video content thanks to 4G smartphones and widespread wifi – so must political campaign strategists get to grips with new channel- and content formats. A Google survey in the US last year indicated that digital video is becoming a media preference for voters as fewer people watch live TV. Those patterns are emerging in the UK to which the online viewership of the leaders’ debate testifies.

Going native – and everywhere

As video consumption increases, so do the platforms through which we voters can get our fix – and political parties can reach us with a targeted approach rather than broad-brush, typically negative, traditional advertising. Facebook is challenging YouTube for video hegemony since introducing native ‘auto-play’ function in newsfeeds for video that is uploaded directly into the platform, massively boosting engagement with that content. Facebook prioritises this ‘native’ content and, with razor-sharp targeting, can carry highly tailored real-time messages to local audiences. Facebookers in marginal constituencies will be sifting through a lot of content in the run-up to May 7.

After lagging behind in video, Twitter just raised its game by launching live-stream capabilities with Periscope – cue citizen broadcasts from queues at polling stations; Sheffield Hallam take note. In tandem, parties are starting to work with programmatic technology partners to automate the targeting of key audiences in real-time by demographics, location, interests and user behaviour, time of day – or night, and mobile or desktop device. This indicates that the era of real-time marketing of personalised political video content to voters is close at hand – with the right budget. Perhaps UKIP better enjoy its YouTube party while it can.