How Labour and Jeremy Corbyn won the UK social media election, in three charts


By   |   June 13th, 2017   |   Reading time: 5 minutes Digital Journalism

We look back on the UK election to see how party messages were shared and discussed on social media, and find an engagement gulf between the Labour party and Conservatives. 

The results of last Thursday’s UK election came as a surprise for many observers.

After trailing in the polls for most of the campaign, the Labour Party pulled off an upset by gaining 30 seats and denying the Conservative government an overall majority in parliament.

In the weeks before the vote however, our analysis showed that on social media at least, the interest scale was tipped in Labour and Jeremy Corbyn’s favour.

Looking back at the data now, it’s undeniable that the Labour party and its politicians outperformed their Conservative rivals in the engagement stakes, on Facebook and elsewhere. In the days that followed the election, Labour’s success in reaching young people through social media was noted.

“[Labour] were circulating memes claiming Tories love ripping foxes to bits and it is very powerful. Particularly social media. You can’t give people that kind of ammunition,” one Conservative MP told Politico in the aftermath of the count.

Using NewsWhip Analytic’s database of content engagement, we took a closer look at how the engagement battle turned out for Labour and the Conservative parties on social media.

Corbyn vs May: How the leaders’ pages compared

Engagement with UK party leaders’ Facebook pages, May/June 2017

This graph tells its own story. Engagement levels with posts from Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May’s official Facebook pages in the run up to the vote were markedly different.

Overall, Corbyn’s Facebook page saw 4,360,000 engagements from May 8 to June 8. Theresa May’s page saw just 554,000 interactions.

For extra context, Corbyn’s social media team posted much more than May’s – 217 times from May 1 to June 8. May’s page saw 57 posts in the same time period.

The posts themselves were mixed in messaging and format. By far most popular post from either page in the time period was a video clip posted to Corbyn’s page challenging Theresa May to a televised debate (119,000 engagements).  While Corbyn’s page was ahead in engagement throughout the month of May, the final week of the campaign saw a particularly huge uplift in interactions.

The most popular election day post was this message from Jeremy Corbyn, exhorting his followers to vote Labour, which saw over 88,000 engagements and over 1.6 million views. By contrast, Theresa May’s election morning message, a lengthy status update, attracted 12,000 engagements.

Labour vs Conservatives: More output works for Labour 

Engagement with Labour and Tory Facebook pages, May/June 2017

Looking now at the official party Facebook pages, there was again a gulf between the two. In the month leading up to the vote, the Labour page pulled in 2.56 million engagements on 450 posts, while the Conservative page saw 1.07 million interactions on 116 posts.

Theresa May’s decision not to partake in a May 31 TV debate was cited as a turning point in the campaign, and the Labour social media team made the most of the situation. On the day of the debate, there were a barrage of posts highlighting May’s absence. 

The Conservative page did leap ahead briefly around May 27th, with a video that encouraged Facebook users to share if they did not want to see Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. It saw almost 150,000 engagements, and over 8 million views. 

It’s also interesting to look a bit closer at the actual interactions on the two pages’ posts. Labour outperformed the Tories in shares, likes and ‘Love’ reactions, while the Conservative page saw more comments on less posts (159,000 vs 143,000), as well as more ‘Angry’ reactions to their posts (20,700 vs 17,900).

In both cases from the Labour and Jeremy Corbyn pages, it’s interesting to note the huge ramp-up in engagements once election week started. That’s largely down to an increase in output from both pages. The Labour page posted 112 times between June 5 and June 8, compared to 38 posts from May 8 to May 11. Meanwhile, the Conservative pages saw much more modest increases in output.

Following the election, it was reported that the Conservatives had been trying to geographically target their posts to social media users in marginal constituencies, which may help explain their smaller reach, and consequently, engagement levels.

Native video: reaching people directly on social media

UK Party Leader Facebook Pages: Average Engagements Per Video, May/June 2017

Anyone in social publishing will know how much social video can boost their engagement and quickly go viral across social feeds.

For politicians, native video offers an added dimension – the opportunity to be seen to directly address people, on their own terms. This definitely seemed to be borne out by the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s page.

Looking at the average engagement rate per video for the two leaders’ pages, it’s clear that the Corbyn page was seeing a much higher average engagement rate than Mays’.

Of the 217 posts on Jeremy Corbyn’s official Facebook page from May 8 to election day, 109 were Facebook videos – just over 50% of the total. The average engagement rate was over 23,000, versus 16,100 for each of the 54 images posted. Seven of the top ten most engaged videos featured Corbyn himself, either speaking at rallies, or addressing the camera directly. 

Meanwhile, the Labour party page also leaned heavily into video, posting a whopping 326 videos from May 8 to June 8, compared to the Conservatives’ 31. In this election, native video on Facebook was the message of choice for the political social media managers, and their reach far outstripped that of most other formats.

Of course, likes, comments and shares don’t equate exactly to votes. But could social data analysis teach us more about how political messages are received online? We’ve already seen how content creators and newsrooms can take editorial input from social engagement data, by taking note of the stories and themes resonating with audiences, and using the feedback loop to tie into their own editorial plans.

Similarly, political organisations can take cues from reviewing their social media data in the aftermath of a campaign. By testing communications and reviewing the social data to see what’s resonating, it’s possible to build a pretty effective messaging campaign to reach people that you want to influence. And that sounds a lot like political campaigning.

See the hard data behind what messaging is working on social media with NewsWhip Analytics

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