Social Media and the UK Election
or the dog that didn’t bark in the night
The dust has now settled on the 2015 UK election and I feel now is time to write about something that stood out for myself and my colleagues at Havelock; the total disregard for the capabilities of Facebook as an electioneering tool.

While there was lots of individual posting going on, as well as some rather general advertising, I don’t believe that we saw targeted Facebook advertising used with any level of sophistication during the campaign. I don’t really know if political parties understand just how powerful a trick they are missing.

In this first part, of a three-part series, I aim to set out what happened or more precisely what didn’t happen, Part 2 will cover how I believe Facebook should have been used and Part 3 will show the projected uses and effects of a targeted Facebook campaign in one constituency.

Social media and in particular Facebook is an election game changer
if used right.

It is my opinion that it wasn’t used right in 2015, although the following maybe somewhat unscientific and hugely anecdotal. From Havelock’s collective experience and from the acres of print and digital commentary that has followed, we have yet to see anyone articulate the obvious uses for Facebook targeting, yet alone hear anyone report on its actual use in the election.

In short the subtleties and uses of Facebook seem to have been lost on the major parties – the minor ones too for that matter.

Anecdote No.1

During the course of the election no one in our office, the staff roughly divided between three marginal constituencies saw a single targeted Facebook advert – we’d have noticed, Facebook adverts make up approximately 40% of our business and there are at least two areas of Facebook lead generation in which we are industry leaders.

Anecdote No.2

A colleague of mine – in their own time – approached the incumbent party in their home town with an offer of help with regards to Facebook advertising strategy; they were even prepared to fund the campaign from their own pocket. They were treated with great discourtesy – on two separate visits – so much so that they left the office heartily disillusioned: keeping their skills and advertising war chest to themselves. Note: This person of one of the country’s leading social media advertisers and the incumbent lost by fewer than 400 votes – knowing my colleague’s skill set as I do, I think someone made a grievous error in not taking her up on her generous offer.

Maybe some of the big players were using Facebook correctly during the election and our teams in London and Stirling were just unfortunate to miss the good stuff.

Here is why Facebook is extremely useful and why I strongly believe that a political party failing to use it is missing a very useful tool in their canvassing arsenals.

Facebook means that you can leave your dog whistle at home.

Dog-whistle politics is a phrase mentioned heavily in elections these days. The subtleties and nuance of language can give shrewd politicians the ability to say very different things to different voters in one communication. Politicians from time immemorial have had to tailor their words to attract as many voters as possible, avoiding offending others and sometimes if they are very good, sending a strong, coded message to a particular target group with words that don’t cause offence the general electorate.

Saying what you really want to say

Facebook removes the need for such subtly, with Facebook you can speak to whoever you want directly. Whether it is university leavers worried about housing or an ethnic minority upset be foreign wars, with Facebook you can tell them exactly what they want to hear: guarded phrases, hidden meanings, coded language can all be dispensed with. You can leave your dog whistle at home because you’re speaking to them and just to them. You can be direct in what you say and therefore hit harder with your message.

The black arts of Facebook electioneering

And most interestingly of all, you can drive voters to parties other than your own. You can run up vote leaking false flags, you can create bogus special interest groups; a strategic ability more useful than ever with the growing number of 3 way marginals.

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