What next for social media after #GE2017?

Weber Shandwick held a panel event yesterday morning bringing together experts from across the political and digital space to consider how social media was used during the 2017 General Election, and what it means for future elections and political campaigns.

The panel, chaired by Ben Burton – MD of Weber Shandwick’s Corporate and Public Affairs Practice – included:

  • Nick Pickles, Head of Public Policy UK & Israel, Twitter
  • Sam Jeffers, Founder, Who Targets Me?
  • James Moulding, Game Producer, Games for the Many
  • Kate Shouesmith, Associate Director, Weber Shandwick

Here’s 10 things we learnt:

  1. 2015 is considered the first instance in the UK where online targeting helped deliver an election result – online targeting via social media is viewed by the Conservative Party as central to their victory.
  1. Online campaigning is only as effective as the message and campaign offline – the Conservatives also used online targeting during the 2017 General Election but it wasn’t sufficient to overcome the shortcomings of their wider campaign.
  1. The 2017 General Election was all about organic sharing and user-generated content – particularly among Labour supporters, where there was a very strong support base online.
  1. Paid media campaigning is no substitute for user-generated content – the Tories just couldn’t compete with the sheer passion and volume of content created and shared by Labour activists.
  1. There is always a tension between party HQ trying to maintain message discipline centrally and desire to express personality – this is where content generated by grassroots supporters can bring personality and levity to a campaign.
  1. Tone of voice was crucial – the Tories ran a highly negative campaign which not only failed to resonate with voters but also made Jeremy Corbyn more credible as it presented him as a genuine threat.
  1. Political campaigns need to think about what content works best in engaging voters and how it reflects on the campaign – the way Theresa May produced online content was seen as too controlled and rehearsed, only serving to reinforce perceptions offline that she was unable to connect with voters. In contrast, Labour seemed to understand how to use social media in a more human, engaging way which encouraged the grassroots to engage and harnessed voters’ passion.
  1. There was a ‘shy Tory’ effect online – Tory supporters were much more reluctant to express their support online than Labour supporters – this may also contribute to the echo chamber effect.
  1. Digital first campaigning will become standard in election campaigning – but more analysis is needed of what impact online campaigning has on the voter journey.
  1. There is more innovation to come in digital campaigning – Obama led the way on this (e.g. 2008 campaign billboards featured in video games released at the time) but there is more opportunity to engage voters in this way.