Downing Street

What the General Election taught us about the power of social media

Strictly speaking, the General Election of 2017 wasn’t a win for anyone, but it could be seen as a victory for social media- -and through that democracy.

The snap election really should be remembered as a game-changer in media influence – more specifically, the influence of social media to organically share a message.

A more level playing field in politics can only be welcomed. Whichever side of the political fence you sit, the idea that the country’s leadership could be strongly influenced by a handful of media owners is troubling.

News influences. Campaign developments, policy points, facts and quotes all, as a general rule, reach the electorate through the mainstream news media – be that TV, radio, newspapers, or news websites.

How much influence have the media had in politics?

A handful of newspapers continue to have agenda-setting influence, reaching millions in print – and millions more online. And there is very much an argument to be had that that influence is a decisive factor in election outcomes.

When Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ swept to power in 1997, ending more than a decade of Tory rule with a landslide victory, he did so with the backing of the country’s best-read newspaper.

With 10 million readers at the time, The Sun blazed the headline ‘The Sun backs Blair’ across its front page, ending two decades of traditional Tory support. That can’t have hurt his chances.

At this year’s election, Theresa May was secure in her support from the traditional right of the press, such as The Mail and The Sun, which, in turn, launched stinging attacks against rival Jeremy Corbyn at every opportunity.

But amid speculation the election was called to secure a stronger government majority and predictions of a catastrophic Labour defeat, the tables turned – led in no small part by an organic social media fight back against those tabloid attacks.

Ushering in a new era of engagement via social media

Throughout her campaign Teresa May was dogged by complaints she was not publically available. Journalists complained of being denied access at company visits, while she also skipped televised debates. Corbyn on the other hand is Social media - phone screen apps
known for standing on top of vehicles to address the hundreds of supporters he draws when he visits towns and cities.

This was reflected on social media. As Corbyn reached out to the public, they reached back through the accessibility social media affords. Teresa May met with a more frosty reception.

Nostalgic pictures of Corbyn at rallies, memes sharing quotes, graphics of Corbyn ‘dabbing’, and the backing of the Grime music scene gave the Labour campaign a kudos and relevance with a younger audience that just kept on giving, establishing brand Corbyn, the authentic man of the people.
The Tory’s traditional campaigning was left for dust, indeed a campaign mocking the party slogan was so successful the party stopped mentioning ‘strong and stable’. Even with mainstream support its brand failed to gain momentum on social media to engage younger voters.

The generation game: Shifting media influence will dictate brand strategy

What the General Election really showed is the power of social media to essentially make or break a brand.

Voters ready for a change in mainstream politics revelled in helping Corbyn share the message of the Labour Party.

So while a more staid presentation from the Tory party drew ridicule from Millennials posting on social media, Corbyn’s status continued to grow.

It was perhaps the first clear cut demonstration of how a shift from traditional media to digital media will manifest itself through the generational divide.

With social media still a relatively new concept, the majority of the population still turns to traditional outlets for news, yet younger generations, who have grown up in the digital age, have a very different experience of media and where they get their information and influences from.

It is unlikely the power of social media in securing votes will be underestimated in future.

It’s time to adapt to the changing media landscape – make sure social media is more than an afterthought in your campaign. Don’t embrace one audience at the expense of another.

How did you follow the General Election – online, on TV, or in the newspapers?

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