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Update: Social media in the UK general election

Back in August, I tossed up a quick survey of the social media tools being used by the major political parties in the United Kingdom. This is a topic of high interest to me: The use of social media by large citizen groups is where the rubber meets the road in any examination of the real-world effects of new media on the structure and operation of government. In August the proposed election was still months away; now we have less than three weeks to go until the polls open May 6. It seems like a good time to revisit those sites and see what’s going on. Quite a lot, it turns out.

By US standards, British election campaigns are compressed, high-intensity contests that attempt to rally large numbers of voters in a short period of time—excellent testbeds for social media deployment. There’s evidence that all the major contestants are devoting increasing time and resources to online outreach, and that the public is responding to the efforts. Alexa offers an interesting perspective on the election. The web-traffic tracking site suggests a close race. Here’s the Alexa Traffic Rank of the Tories, Labour, the LibDems and the Greens as of Sunday afternoon:

I note that traffic has climbed sharply at all four sites as the election draws closer, which is to be expected, and I also notice that traffic at the Liberal Democrats site exploded last week, this apparently because of a widely remarked-upon performance by party leader Nick Clegg during last week’s televised debate.

Here’s the Labour online community. This is Conservative Future, which sure looks like an online community to me, and here’s Craig Elder’s (excellent) blog; he’s the Tory online community editor. I attempted to register with a couple of communities, but the templates require a postal code and reject non-UK applicants. I’m reaching out to a couple of people to see if I can find a way in; anyone with good contacts across the water who might be able to expedite things will have my gratitude.

Another crude-but-useful metric is Twitter follower-counts. Here’s a comparison of the party follower numbers from this weekend to the numbers from August:

Conservative Party: 11,035–-27,030

Labour Party: 6,738—20,019*

Liberal Democrats: 4,358—14,318

Green Party: 4,218—9,516

British National Party: 883—2,180

Scottish National Party: n/a—806

UK Independence Party: 138—669

* Combined followers of Labour’s two Twitter accounts. I still think it’s unwise to split the audience with two accounts.

I’d like to conduct brief email interviews with the SM people managing some of the above sites and blog about them here, but it’s possible everyone is too busy at the moment to stop and talk. Perhaps I can collect some after-action insight once the election is concluded.

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Arvind Nigam

Very interesting, indeed 🙂 It is definitely possible for political parties and individual leaders to gain a lot through social media.

And it is also very likely that social media is gonna replace traditional media to a great extent.


Sam Allgood

Is something screwed up with the chart? It looks to me like the Liberal Democrats went from just under 100,000 (visits, I assume) around Mar 20th to just over 10,000 around Apr 16th.

Patrick Quinn

I think that’s correct. Today’s GUARDIAN reports the LibDems have jumped to a 10-point lead in the polls, dropping Labour to third place for the first time in the poll’s history. There’s a legit third-party threat in play less than three weeks out.

Patrick Quinn

Oops… my bad. misread the axis. We’re graphing Traffic Rank trend, so a lower number means a higher traffic rank. The LibDems went from a ranking of 100K+ to a ranking of about 10,000. These rankings, incidentally, are global. The major party websites rank around 1,000 in traffic in Great Britain.

Adriel Hampton

Patrick, connect with Dominic Campbell, a member here and a UK social media strategist volunteering with Labour. He likely has contacts in all of the parties on the web side.