The General Election: Lessons in Social Media

The General Election: Lessons in Social Media

It’s been a long week at Armadillo Towers. I love an election, and the past few days have consisted of too little sleep and too much David Dimbleby. I’ve retreated from Twitter for the past 24 hours for the sake of my sanity, but it’s given me a little bit of perspective.

I take my politics seriously, as any of you who follow my ‘other’ Twitter identity and blog will know. It was politics, which brought me to social media in the first place and is still often what keeps me there, long after I should turn my iPhone off.  I don’t support a particular party with any consistency, but I do enjoy a good ding dong about things that matter to me.

Social Media has undoubtedly played a huge role in this election. Whether it had impact on the result is a matter for debate, but it certainly shook things up a bit for all the right and wrong reasons. And there is no doubt about it that it will play an even bigger role next time round.

I genuinely believe that social media is changing politics for the better. The archaic playground fight that is the House of Commons looks increasingly irrelevant and it brings a far wider chorus of voices to inform and challenge.

But this is supposed to be primarily a marketing blog. Therefore I shall attempt to keep my observations to the professional.

Here are my 7 lessons (not carved in stone) that you, and they, need to learn from this election.

1. It is beautifully democratic

I have written about this before, but it bears repeating.

Social media gives everyone the chance to be heard. In the olden days it was only the big parties and the big companies who could pay to reach a mass market. Now everyone can do it. Everyone speaks in the same font. Everyone’s text is the same size. It’s what you say that matters.

Russell Brand was a massive focus in this election. David Cameron was playing to his own crowd when he dismissed him as “a joke” he didn’t have time for, not Brands 9 million Twitter followers (Cameron on 1million).  However, Twitter is a reflection, not a cause of his fame; he was famous already. A far more interesting example is Jack Monroe (@MsJackMonroe). Far from basking in fame and fortune, she was a single mother struggling to feed her child. She started her blog, www.agirlcalledJack, on how to eat on a tiny budget. Soon she had built up a massive following and currently has over 70,000 Twitter followers – built from nothing. She’s appeared on Question Time and is an outspoken campaigner. In the opposite corner is Katie Hopkins. The less said the better.

2. People want authenticity

People want to feel a connection with people, to feel engaged. Where politicians fall down is that they still don’t quite get this. Shallow lines and empty gestures are shot down in flames.

At other end of the spectrum, UKIP candidates were actually banned from Twitter by their own party? Why? Because they were genuine, they were authentic, they did let their real views and opinions shine through – and it was an embarrassing and shameful car crash. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Your business is no different.  I have this pinned to my wall and I share it often.  Who you are matters.

Simon Sinek

It’s important that people know what you believe in. That doesn’t mean you have to tell them who you vote for, but it does mean that your business has to have core values and principles that are clear to see. You’re not going to please everyone, and some people won’t like it. However those that do will be far more rewarding (and valuable) than those persuaded by a clever gimmick as you can bet your life they’ll be persuaded by the next one that trundles along.

3. People do their homework

People do their research, and have that research more accessible than ever before. Obviously there are still many people who just used social media for the dog videos and the LOLZ, just like some votes can be bought for a handshake and a sausage roll, but that is changing.  Every manifesto policy that was announced by any party was deconstructed, debated and detailed by columnists, bloggers and campaigners. Not only do I know what parties want to do, I know what teachers, doctors, mental health workers, businesses and experts think of those ideas.

“Liar liar pants on fire” is always waiting in the wings. It’s the same for your business. Clients want proof to back it up, evidence of your claims. If you can’t, you’ll be found out.

4. Customer Service Matters

Ah, poor Liberal Democrats. He is the living proof that slick marketing will not make up for truly atrocious customer service. Nick Clegg won the 2010 election. Everybody and his dog ‘agreed with Nick’. He was slick, articulate, seemed to care in the right places and made people believe in what he had to say. But he didn’t deliver what he promised. Much like Willy Loman “riding on a smile and a shoeshine” he made the sale but failed to follow it through. The very fact that so many believed in him so eagerly made the disappointment all the more raw. Look where that got him.

Similarly with the rise of the SNP is Scotland.  The Labour Party (and the Conservatives) promised the earth during devolution and, more recently, the Independence referendum, but they didn’t look after them.  Scottish voters felt like second class citizens, that they no longer mattered.  Complacency cost the Labour Party dear.  Nichola Sturgeon did care, and she was able to steal them away in a heartbeat.

5. Do good listening

Social Media, and Twitter in particular, is the very definition of confirmation bias. You follow people you like. Who think like you and talk like you, believe what you believe. It’s incredibly easy to think that is what the world is like. I have had a few glimpses of this. One particular tweet about Jeremy Clarkson a few months ago opened the city gates. Over 1000 retweets and 200,000 views later, I received replies from all corners of Twitter that I had never visited before (and neither, it appeared, had grammar).

But it’s vital that you listen to people you don’t like, or don’t agree with. That’s how you learn and that’s how you grow. People don’t believe in parties, or businesses, they believe in the things that matter to them, what makes their lives better or worse. What I love about social media is the ability to see real opinions of real people. Everybody would be wise to remember this.

It’s not about you.  Stop believing your own hype and find out what people are really thinking.

6. Don’t write off Facebook

Ok a technical point here, but rumours about Facebook’s demise have been much exaggerated. The most startling statistic of the recent months is that the Conservatives spent a whopping £100,000 a month on Facebook advertising. That’s £1 in every £17 spent during the election. They segmented, targeted, analysed, built their database. The Labour Party, by contrast, spent just £10,000.

Don't forget to vote

7. Social Media doesn’t really count

Votes do. Social Media is merely the means to that end and it doesn’t matter how great your engagement is if you can’t convert them when it matters. Social media popularity can be deceiving (see point 5.). Nigel Farage has twice as many Facebook likes as Ed Milliband. UKIP have nearly as many Facebook likes as the Conservative Party but they don’t have the votes to match. The vast majority of voters don’t use Twitter. Millions of social media users don’t bother to vote. What matters is the people who believe what you believe, wherever you may find them. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, on the contrary, but being ‘a big deal on Twitter’ isn’t enough.

So there you have it. In 5 years time, who knows where we’ll be. I’ll confidently predict that social media will become ever more important. As two major parties are looking to reinvent themselves, and the other still hasn’t whipped up enough support to feel cosy, they would all do well to turn to social media to listen, react and engage.

Journalist, columns and bloggers are using social media to do this far more effectively than politicians at the moment and they need to catch up.  This video by Owen Jones is a great example, whether you agree with him or not.


You may say that noone really cares, and nothing makes a difference, but it’s a thought that depresses me beyond belief so I refuse to accept it. In today’s world, there is really no excuse to not know what you’re talking about.  I for one, shall still be there trying not to resort to capitals during #bbcqt.

In the meantime, I shall go for a bit of a lie down and listen to The Archers.

As you were.