As the dust settles on the UK election, it’s time to take stock on a shock result largely believed to be powered by young people in a way never seen before, with a reported turnout of 72% amongst under 24s helping Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to gain 30 seats. It was also the first election result where we could genuinely say that social media had a huge say in the outcome, with the plethora of Corbyn memes, GIFs and videos propelling the Labour party to an astonishing 44-point lead over the Conservatives amongst 18-24 year-olds. Let’s take a closer look at how the social media battle was won and lost.
Number of Followers
Corbyn’s original success in the 2015 Labour leadership election was also helped along by his powerful social media campaign, something which he identified at the time as a key player and which has gone from strength to strength since then. He currently sits with 1.2m Twitter followers and 1.2m Facebook likes – dwarfing the follower numbers of any other UK politician. With thousands more followers on his Instagram and Snapchat, the potential reach and influence of his social media should not be underestimated - though it appears the Conservatives already did that.
If we compare this with Theresa May, we can see that the sitting Prime Minister boasts just 353,000 Twitter followers and 425,000 Facebook likes. Her Instagram following adds just 13,000 extra followers, and with 34 posts to date it’s hard to say that this had any influence whatsoever. So it’s clear that Corbyn dominates on followers, but clearly there’s a lot more to it than that. What were the two candidates posting about over the campaign?
Let’s start with Theresa May. It’s like a horrorshow of how not to run a social media account. The content was repetitive, predictable, not shareable and extremely uninspiring. Whether it was low-quality videos, tweeting for the sake of it, or plainly terrible this-will-come-back-to-bite-me-in-the-arse arithmetic, a 5-minute scroll through her Twitter feed is time enough to figure out that social media was very much at the bottom of Mrs. May’s priorities during her election campaign. Her bio says ‘Tweets by Theresa signed TM’, yet I was unable to locate a single tweet signed ‘TM’ since last July. But the worst thing about all of this? The comments section beneath every tweet, Facebook post and Instagram photo were full of Corbyn supporters bashing her, with May followers seemingly thin on the ground. That actually suggests a strong percentage of her followers were merely Corbyn supporters keeping an eye on her social media.
The contrast with Jeremy Corbyn’s social media presence couldn’t be more marked. Facebook Live is extremely popular right now and consistently gets the biggest reach out of any type of post – and this was utilised throughout the campaign as the live manifesto launch, campaign launch and campaign rallies were all available to view live on the Jeremy Corbyn Facebook page.. The most popular example of this was an event in Birmingham which was streamed to 6 other public rallies throughout the country and featured live music, celebrity speakers and 10,000+ present at the main rally itself. Streaming it on Facebook meant this was viewed by a total of 2.4 million people. Elsewhere, the content was far more regular, varied, interesting and – most importantly – it was shareable.
But Corbyn’s most popular piece of content throughout the campaign captured the essence of social media to a tee. During Theresa May’s belated first attempt to engage with a younger audience, she decided to join a Facebook Live event, hosted by Robert Peston, where she would answer questions submitted by viewers. However, it proved to be a disaster. Halfway through the event, Corbyn sent in his own question to May, questioning her record as Prime Minister and criticisng her cuts to public services.. It got almost 5 million views on Corbyn’s Facebook page alone, with millions more on the social media channels of the BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4. Social media is all about being reactive to the latest events, not merely scheduling in a bunch of posts to be trotted out but actually listening and engaging with what is going on. And this was a perfect example of that.
Despite me just butchering May for the half-arsed content trotted out on her social media pages, a lot of her posts and tweets did actually draw some decent engagement – regularly drawing over 1,000 retweets or likes. However, as I’ve already mentioned, this positive engagement was regularly drowned out by thousands more Corbyn fans commenting on her posts. It made her social media presence look totally futile.
By now, it’s very clear which side of the debate won on social media. Corbyn regularly drew massive levels of engagement, with millions of video views and some posts drawing an engagement rate of up to 5% when pitched against total page likes. That is an enormous figure and displays the level of enthusiasm that was whipped up by a powerful, persuasive and ultimately effective social media campaign.