During the last election in the US, digital technology was at the forefront of the candidates’ campaigns.
We saw targeted advertising in a way that had never been done before, engaging with voters on an individual level through social media and this was shown through the image of President Obama embracing his wife being the most retweeted image ever in 2012.
It has indeed totally changed the way that the UK electorate have embraced social media as a means of political discourse. It is also telling that David Cameron once said that you needed to be a ‘twat’ to engage with social media. Since saying that he has now sent out over 1,500 tweets himself, clearly showing the importance of social media since the previous election.
None of the major parties are now looking at social media as a secondary outlet, today everybody is using it and everybody is engaging with content from it.
The impact that this could have on political parties is immense. From the ways that their campaign adverts are received, to the live updates on how people think of them, each will have real-time response with any single previously anonymous individual having the ability to turn a campaign on its head.
This could be from the thousands of mobile phones that will be at campaign events filming everything, to somebody mocking up an advert of Photoshop, much like the Conservative party adverts from 2010 being defaced and shared online. It means that parties need to always be aware of this new form of citizen journalism and media outlets need to constantly monitor it to pick up on potential stories.
Equally, the expectations of the general public from both national and local media has increased, meaning that they now expect to see the news as it happens. They no longer want to wait for a daily update in print, they want to know the barebones of a story as soon as it happens, then a fully written explanation within minutes.
Simply put, the media companies who do not do this are the ones who will lose readers and have little impact on their audience.
It also requires the media organizations with the smallest budgets to have the best presence. This is because when it comes to voter issues, people do not generally care about national issues because it will not have as much impact on them. Therefore local news outlets need to be able to quickly and accurately communicate how these changes will impact on local services and policies. What does it mean for a local hospital if certain funding is cut?
The 2015 election is going to be the first truly social election in the UK. Although platforms like Twitter and Facebook existed in 2010, the truth is that they were the only ones and had a smaller base of users. In fact at that time, the only demographic where the majority were using it were the under 25’s, the same demographic that had only 44% voting compared to the 64.7% turnout throughout the entire population.
Parties should have been aware of this (making David Cameron’s twat reference even more bizarre) and even if this uptake had only been this generation, it would now make up anybody under 30. As it turns out 66% of the entire population of the UK now has some kind of social media presence, making it one of the most important elements to concentrate on in any election campaign.
We have also seen the current Conservative led coalition push through a 23% increase in the amount of money that can be spent on campaigning. In fact they are expected to be able to outspend the second largest party, Labour, by 3:1 in the upcoming election. This means that where the Conservatives will be able to use far more traditional advertising space, the other parties will need to look at things like social media where the maximum impact can be had with the minimum amount of spend.
This actually works well for many, as the lowest uptake in social media use is amongst the 65+ demographic, the same demographic that have the highest support rate for the Conservatives.
So with the election only 2 months away, we are going to be seeing a marked increase in the number of social media posts from most of the main political parties and with social media usage as it is at the moment, the success of these may well decide the next UK government.