The Electoral Commission has released details of the different parties’ spending on the snap election and it doesn’t make pretty reading for the Conservatives. Not only did they manage to lose their majority in that disastrous election, they also managed to spend the most money of any party in the process.
The Tories spent a record £18.5million on their campaign, while Labour spent just over £11million and the Lib Dems around £6.8million. It’s already well documented that the Conservatives misallocated their resources and spent money in seats they wanted to win (and didn’t) when they should have been focussing on a defensive campaign in seats like Kensington, which they lost by a handful of votes. However, there is still data here that illuminates the current Conservative woes and that relates to social media.
The Tories spent £2.1million on Facebook advertising during snap election where Labour £577,000 and the Lib Dems £412,000. Meanwhile, Momentum – the grassroots campaign group which supports Corbyn – spent just £3.7k on Facebook. Yet despite this, it is Labour that had the greatest reach online. In terms of ‘likes’, Jeremy Corbyn’s page has 1.3m, and the Labour official page has over 1m. By comparison, Theresa May has 459k likes and the Conservatives’ 653k.
Nicky Morgan complained this month that her party’s bad result was in part down to the fact no one had anything positive that they wanted to share online. The fact that the party spent so much money on targeted advertising with little gains shows that it is third party endorsements that can have the greatest effect – people wanting to share the message organically. If the Conservatives are to cut through online, it isn’t enough to sound like a quote from a party press release. Labour and Momentum are making content that people want to share – that tap into people’s’ values. During the snap election, the Tories were not.
This is the big challenge for the Tories: working out how to adapt to the new rules of engagement. Inspiration could be found in Michael Gove – the government’s resident eco-warrior – and his work at Defra. Thanks to a range of good new policy announcements you can go online and find endorsements for government policy from the kind of organisations that people trust far more than political parties. There’s also questions over whether they should take I’m a Celebrity… jungle Queen Georgia Toffolo up on her offer to utilise her millions of followers on Instagram. Whether or not you think she should be the poster girl for the Tories, there’s no way a group like Momentum wouldn’t work out a way to bring in someone with over a million social media followers.
Whatever they decide to do – and work is underway, with the size of the digital team almost doubling – what must underly it all is a positive message. All the good machinery in the world can’t fix the Conservatives’ problem is there is no central message. If they are to compete with Labour online, they must remember that it’s the message, not just the medium that matters.