In the 'Facebook election', voters are not being campaigned to - they're being lobbied

Almost two thirds of UK voters are now on at least one social media platform, meaning national messages are being linked to individual voter desires.

In April I was on holiday in China and South Korea - and proudly proclaimed that I would be enjoying a 'digital detox'. No email, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for me for 10 days.

The detox was rudely interrupted when the PM walked out into Downing Street while I sat in Beijing airport and my phone started ringing off the hook with news of the election. I hit Twitter when I landed in Seoul.

PRWeek caught me at it and called me out for packing it in...

My profound desire to get away from it all was probably a portent of what was to come. Without doubt this election really has been the most digital yet and one where voters are actually being lobbied rather than campaigned at in a torrent of Facebook targeting.

After the Obama win in 2008 in the US, political campaigners everywhere pored over his operation – and elections have never been the same since. That was the first poll that used Facebook or Twitter to any degree but #Indyref, #Brexit and #Trump have changed the game.

Strangely, the 2010 UK General Election – following that initial Obama win - ended up being the most analogue for years as the first ever party leaders debates on British TV re-invented the town hall meeting for millions. Those debates electrified the campaign and all that planned social fire missed its target.

In 2015 we did have a digital poll – Labour satisfied itself with Twitter followers and Facebook likes while the Tories poured money into Facebook ads. With evidence that almost two thirds of UK voters are now on at least one social media platform, this election has been the most digital yet. In a short campaign, that makes some sense for all the parties.

So let me dub the 2017 poll the 'Facebook election'.

Those controversial data analytics now available to all the parties – just as they have been to campaigners and corporates for some time - means a digital ‘leaflet’ drop is landing in a digital letterbox. It’s being read and shared and amplified, reaching millions. It's a move from macro media to micro media.

So the medium is different, but is the message?

This time round, national messages are being linked to individual voter desires. Next time round – in 2022, perhaps - there will be further change to very localised, constituency, even ward-by-ward messages. That’s where the data boffins will take this.

The question is whether this makes politics more relevant and thus increases participation and turnout. This evolution could re-energise politics. Perhaps it already has on the alt-left and alt-right.

At the moment, this is a largely unregulated space for politicians and corporates.

Spinmeisters should enjoy it; it won't last. At some point regulation will come in. I think it’s coming soon – and that will be the point at which the potential for this new means of communication is determined.

Iain Anderson is executive chairman of Cicero Group

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