Social media: the election weapon of the underdog?

Jeremy Corbyn delivered a rousing maiden election speech in Croydon last Thursday, in which he portrayed himself as an anti-establishment figure – the persona of choice for today’s outsider candidates.

As Labour begin to scale this electoral mountain, it is clear that they must also adopt other election tactics used by recent electoral insurgents. I speak of course of digital marketing and harnessing the power of data analytics to reach those crucial swing voters.

For a leader often criticised by the Government as preaching the politics of a bygone era, Corbyn has pioneered the use of social media to reach out to his voters. He and has team are prolific users of Snapchat and he often live streams his events on Facebook. While it is undeniable that getting out on the doorsteps and on the phones is a crucial part of any successful general election campaign, one needs only to look across the Pond to see the influence the effective use of social media can have on an election, particularly for an outsider.

In the build-up to the US election critics of Trump pointed to Clinton’s superior TV advertisement spend as evidence that she was working harder to change the minds of voters. But while she was spending vast sums on TV ads, Team Trump was working with Brad Parscale, of digital marketing agency Giles-Parscale constructing a winning online strategy. While you may be sceptical of the genuine impact this had on the shock election result, Andrew Bleeker, president of Bully Pulpit Interactive – which helped lead Hillary Clinton’s digital marketing efforts – is not.

Let me be clear, this is not praise for Trump as a politician, nor is this an attempt to advocate manipulating social media to peddle “fake news” or “alternative facts”. This is a call for Labour to replicate and improve on demonstrably effective campaigning tools.

When volunteers in phone-banks dial up every registered supporter or potential supporter of the party, this is an example of the party using available data to concentrate its efforts most effectively. If done ethically, using data analytics and digital marketing tools to identify and target those voters likely to be sympathetic to Labour’s views is no different.

The Tory’s have yet again wheeled out Lynton Crosby, the election veteran who pulled Cameron over the line in 2015. But his flop of a campaign with Zac Goldsmith has proven his divisive tactics are outdated and wearing thin with the electorate.

In an era in which the British people will spend more of their lifetime on social media than they will spend in the pub, it is glaringly obvious that this platform is a key battleground in the upcoming war. Social media is the secret weapon the underdog has had in recent elections, and long may that continue.

Jasper Thompson is a volunteer writer for Future Labour and tweets at @jasperthompsn

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