Labour is failing on digital media when it could do so much better

Ed Miliband speaking at Labour's 2012 Manchester conferenceOne of the most interesting things about the US election campaign was the breadth of digital use and how the use of social media by the two parties evolved. Few stones were left unturned as the Obama and Romney campaigns progressed and even now that the election is over the Obama team continues to evolve its use of social and digital media with, for instance, its launch onto Pinterest earlier this week.

There is little the Obama team have not tried or experimented with from Tumblr, to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs and Foursquare.

Then take a look back at what is happening in the UK with Labour and it seems that social and digital media campaigning appears to be going backwards. I’ve noticed a few things recently that have left me scratching my head. I saw another one yesterday and have rounded up a few things in this post.

Yesterday Labour has launched It’s the party’s campaign to highlight the true scale of David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic failure.

The idea behind it is good, it is what the party should be doing, and follows the approach that Labour has been pursuing lately in that it is about people’s stories — about people telling how they are being hit by Conservative Party policies.

But the execution is pretty poor. It looks dated and rushed and because of that its impact is going to be far more restricted than it could have been.

It’s a shame as story led campaigning, about how politics affects lives, is very effective and it will become more important as the election machines gear up closer to 2015. However, it needs to be done right. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but this Labour campaign could have been done better using a Tumblr blog, or any kind of blog, with much greater effect.

The campaign echoes what the Obama team did in the US 2012 election with its blog. People told stories about why they were donating. More than that people told detailed stories, stories that could be shared.

They did it again with #40dollars campaign, which was launched in response to Republican tax plans. President Barack Obama encouraged people to Tweet what $40 meant to them. He encourage people to tell their story. is a series of pull out quotes, as you can see above, and it is begging for more detail.  You can share the page, but not the stories themselves. That’s a shame as individuals connect with particular stories rather than pages with a series of quotes. Pensioners might want to hear about the struggles of people  in a similar position as will  students and mothers (Mumsnet is testament to that).

There are quite a few quotes so far, but less with more detail on a blog is better by far. Pictures too are needed. Things that make sharing easier and make it more social could have ultimately made the campaign more successful.

There’s no hashtag either on the web page  supporters are being asked to share — although @UKLabour has been tweeting one as has  @Ed_Miliband.

It is the same story in the email that Labour has sent out to members from Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. No hashtag and no follow Labour on Twitter (although there are links to share your story as well as share on Twitter and Facebook).

Political parties must make email work harder. Email as Thomas Gensemer, managing partner at Obama’s agency Blue State Digital, told me me recently in an interview remains “the killer app” not only for fundraising, but for building support.

UK Labour on Twitter 

I noticed it back during the party conference season looking at Labour’s Twitter feed and you can saw it again in the recent Corby by-election, which Labour won.

During its conference @UKLabour was entirely unresponsive with few @replies even around Ed Miliband’s key One Nation speech. It just spewed out tweets and is doing the same still. Other than retweeting Ed Miliband and a few others it was entirely unengaging. It is exactly what a Twitter presence should not be. No round-up of reaction. No Storify of the things that people were saying. Nothing.

I’m sure that has to count in part for Labour’s Twitter following being relatively small — just 69,837. It should be substantially bigger.

During its conference there must have been many tweeting at it, but @UKLabour was not tweeting anything back. It is a perfect picture of poor engagement and missing as a string of simple Twitter tricks to grow the Labour Party account.

To give them credit there is a little more engagement taking place on the @Conservatives account, but not much.

I noticed it with Tweets going out during the Corby and East Northamptonshire by-election, which was sparked by Twitter favourite Louise Mensch standing down.

“Watch Andy Sawford’s video from Corby &East Northamptonshire…”.

I know it is only one tweet, but it should have been tweeting @AndySawford’s Twitter handle to help him grow his following as part of the campaign.

Maybe they didn’t know what it was? No problem a quick look at @AndySawford’s campaign site will surely answer that question, right? Not so much then and not so much now.

Sawford’s website looks like it was built sometime five or six years ago. There is a complete lack of social media anywhere on the site save some buttons to let you share articles.

There is a page of YouTube videos and a small gallery, but it looks like a site created before social media came along with nothing at all on the home page or contact page. No follow Andy or support him on Facebook, there’s no blog or link to Pinterest.

You would think that he wasn’t on Twitter, but @AndySawfordMP is pretty active. Although Google Bing is the easiest way to find him.

The thing is you shouldn’t have to be searching on Google Bing to find the Twitter details of someone who was running and is now in Parliament in 2012.

We don’t really know what Tweets and followers count for when it comes to political campaigning, but we do know that you have to be there. At the moment Labour seems to have a bit of a social problem.

Andy sawford's social media free website

Labour on Google+

The problem doesn’t stop there. Labour made some noise last year when Ed Miliband joined Google+.

He was getting a lot of comments on his posts, but the enthusiasm for Google+ has waned somewhat. The Miliband team have not posted since July. It has just been abandoned. Again very disappointing.  Labour itself doesn’t have a Google+ page.

Some really needs to get a grip of what the party is doing online as that doesn’t appear to be happening at the moment. It is messy and inconsistent at a time when it is in a strong position in the polls.

That lead needs to be reflected in its digital and social communications, but at the moment that’s just not happening.

  • Eoghan O’Neill

    Good article Gordon.

    One problem which I suspect political parties have is that most of their followers are going to be naturally highly engaged in politics – in other words most of their followers are probably pretty died-in-the-wool anyway. The key question is “how can we get our content visible to an audience who aren’t just political activists and bloggers?” Clearly you’re only going to get something as inspired as MyDavidCameron once in a while, but what was key to MDC was the fact that it was very easy for ANYONE to make a humorous and visually appealing contribution of their own with minimum effort.

    If your social media efforts are restricted to spewing out a stream of vitriol about the other parties then that’s not going to suddenly get a “mainstream”/apolitical audience interested.