23 Apr 2015

Social media and the election

With the UK general election campaign in full swing, what effect will social media have on the outcome? While traditional media battle grounds are still important, the influence of posters, television and especially newspapers have diminished with the rise of the online world.

Social media in particular is seen as critical for this election, but just how much sway will it have? The 2008 presidential election in the USA is often cited as the first social media election, but social media has grown exponentially since then.

There were 1.8 million tweets in total on the day Barack Obama won in 2008, but there are now around 500 million tweets made every day.

In the UK elections, the Tories are allegedly spending around £100,000 a month on Facebook alone, over ten times more than the Labour Party. They are using Facebook’s location data to help boost individual constituency campaigns.

The Labour Party are trying to out-organise the Tories, using more cost-effective strategies. For example, their ‘How common is your name’ tool, designed to encourage people to register to vote, encourages sharing on social media while allowing the party to build up a database with the email addresses of voters.

Brandwatch, an online social media monitoring service, has released data showing that the economy and living standards are the biggest election issues on social media. Labour’s ‘cost of living’ focus has been doing well in this area.

However, social media users have been responding more positively to David Cameron than Ed Miliband. Furthermore, this election is not a ‘two-party’ affair, and the smaller parties also have plenty of influence on social media.

Some commentators overestimated the effect social media would have during the 2010 general election campaign. While social media will undoubtedly have a bigger influence than ever on this election, it does have its limitations.

Social media is not representative of the electorate, with younger people in particular being over-represented. Younger people are less likely to vote than their older counterparts, and so the voices heard through social media are not necessarily the voices of those who will vote come May 7th.

Despite the increase in the popularity of Twitter and Facebook etc., only around a third of people in the UK are estimated to be regular social media users. While social media will undoubtedly be more important than ever before, it’s still just one of many factors that will decide the outcome of this election.

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