Are the Tories really better at social media?
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Are the Tories really better at social media?

Arun Sudhaman

This story explores how the UK's three major political parties are using social media in terms of a range of metrics. It is easy to make pat judgements about these things. The most common one, judging from mainstream media coverage, is that the Conservatives 'get' social media whereas Labour is still some way behind. There is some truth to this but I'm not sure it tells the whole story. There is no doubt that the Conservatives have set the agenda when it comes to certain aspects of its digital presence. It uses Adwords well and has mimicked the Obama campaign's 'donate your status' drive on Facebook. Importantly, they have been able to influence the mainstream media in a way no other party has. But I think that you also need to look at what the specific goals of each party are. Labour, for example, has not had much success in swaying undecided voters via social media - that may be because it has focused its efforts on campaigning and fundraising. Its virtual phonebank is a good example of this. The Tories, meanwhile, certainly seem more interested in undecided voters, rather than mobilising its base. As the election nears, I expect that will change. With this in mind, it may be the Lib Dems that have most to gain from a better social media strategy - given the benefits it could reap from a more direct approach to supporters and floating voters. Alas, the departure of the party's digital supremo Mark Pack does not bode well, and funding remains an issue. Any look at digital political strategy now occurs through the prism of Barack Obama's awesome campaign last year. So it's worth listening to the views of the agency that handled his social media work - Blue State Digital. Its senior strategist in the UK is Dan Thain, who is ex-Labour. Rather interestingly, he thinks there is one criteria alone for measuring social media success, and all the rest could be window-dressing:
"By how many votes they gain.  The goal of social media is not to develop the funkiest online component; it is to identify ways in which new media can help the party win votes, thereby winning elections. Existing online solely for the sake of being there...can simply be a distraction."
And it's also worth remembering that the digital tool that proved most important for President Obama was one of the least social: email. There are many people I spoke to for the story who charged that the Tories digital strategy is too focused on 'gimmicks' at the expense of this kind of infrastructure. That is probably a tad unfair. Either way, if the Tories do take power next year, expect plenty of plaudits for its digital work. And if you look at it from a vote-winning perspective, it could be hard to argue otherwise.
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