Politicians in Social Networks

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During the heat of the General Election campaign, when everybody who apparently knew about these things predicted a hung parliament, I took it upon myself to carry out my own peoples’ social media poll by analysing which of the party leaders was taking digital seriously. Interestingly, in my article’s results David Cameron came out easily the best, with an impressive use of LinkedIn to show his business credentials as well as the more predictable Twitter and Facebook presences. Ed Milliband and Nigel Farage were nowhere on LinkedIn and lacklustre elsewhere; and although Nick Clegg did put up a reasonable showing, it was perhaps better than his party as a whole managed – at least he kept his seat.

Well I see that my approach has just been copied in the USA where a commentator has been horrified by the widespread ignorance of LinkedIn among those who seek a nomination to run for President. Most of the runners do not even have their own page. And since we now have a very different scene here, with a 4-way battle for the Labour leadership, a new Lib Dem leader, a possible future Tory race to succeed Cameron and of course the highly visible Scot Nats (who I shamefully ignored last time) I felt it was time I reviewed in more detail just how seriously our leading politicians take social networking, and ask whether they really ‘get’ the importance of digital media.

Politicians on Social Media

The black hole of LinkedIn

Frankly, the results are shocking.  Only Cameron (once again) comes out consistently well. Of course he is PM and you would expect him to gain more attention than other MPs, but you have to admit, 1.77 million followers on LinkedIn is impressive and he – or let’s face it, his scriptwriters – keep the page fed with articles (although it’s slackened off a bit lately). Consistent output is the key to keeping peoples’ interest.

By contrast, Boris Johnson is nowhere – a basic placeholder page with no picture or profile, and what – no followers at all? You run the mightiest financial centre and one of the World’s great cities, and you don’t encourage anyone to follow you on the most important business-related network? What does that say about your attitude to social media and especially to the professional classes that should be your key supporters?

Politicians on Social Media

George Osborne – exactly the same. You have the nation’s finances in your grip – and you don’t use the most powerful network on the planet to talk to bankers, investors, insurers and industrialists? Who is advising you? While over at the Home Office, Theresa May hasn’t even bothered to put up a page.

 In Scotland, where the increasingly devolved Parliament is wont to extol the virtues of investing north of the Border, neither of the leaders is to be seen at all on LinkedIn. Now I’m a proud Celt, and I lecture on the need to do LinkedIn well. I also point out how easy it is to change your information at a moment’s notice – and why you should regularly refresh your content. I’d love to get some of these political figures in a lecture room…

When we turn to the Labour hopefuls, the surprise is that the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn is the only one to make any effort on LinkedIn.

Happy Tweeters

The truth is that politicians only really relate to Twitter. They love being able to issue soundbites on all and sundry topics, and to seem up-to-the-minute with the press and the people. And on this stage, leaving all behind in his wake is Boris. Easily outpacing the Prime Minister’s tally, his 1.39 million followers will make up a very important virtual constituency, come the day that he makes his bid for power.  And he entertains them with more than twice the number of tweets than his friend David. As for the other most senior figures, we see George Osborne keeping pace with the man next door in terms of his tweeting: but look at the response – a frankly derisory 3,700-odd following. Time for a new adviser? Hannon Digital awaits your call…

The case of Theresa May is even more illuminating and it illustrates the destructive power of Twitter, if you are not careful in its use. At first I thought that Mrs May had put up an active and good-looking page with the help of the Home Office, @TheresaMay_MP

Politicians on Twitter

But then I looked at the actual tweets. This is a well-executed example of a spoof site that lampoons and criticises the person (or organisation) in question. And this one has put out nearly 5,400 tweets and has more followers and favourites than any real Theresa May page (it’s hard to find an active one). Clearly her job has made her an unpopular figure to many and they have ways of trolling and undermining her, online.

Before I leave Twitter, I must make an honourable mention of Tim Farron, the new Liberal Democrat leader – he has his work cut out but he clearly intends to get in as many tweets as humanly possible – he’s issued some six times as many as even Nicola Sturgeon, who is more active than any of her other peers in tweeting terms. It’s obviously one way in which he and she work to stay in the public eye. But one note of warning, Mr Farron – whenever someone’s outgoing messaging exceeds one’s incoming likes and follows, you’re possibly trying a bit too hard. Build your fanbase so that it always comfortably exceeds your outward traffic.

Facebook Fanbases

Finally, let’s look at Facebook. All politicians like to ‘get down with the kids’ even if they can be a bit embarrassing in the process. No-one highlighted here gets as many Facebook likes as they have Twitter followers, although Alex Salmond comes close: you have to say that given the limited Scottish population, the leading ScotNats have amassed a big following, which was reflected in the actual polling.

By contrast, all the Labour wannabes have work to do to achieve visibility. Liz Kendall may be tweeting heavily but in Facebook terms she’s a poor fourth. Jeremy Corbyn is ahead in Facebook, although he could do with accelerating his Twitter activity to get that up to a similar level: Andy Burnham currently leads on that measure. Yvette Cooper also needs to tweet more heavily.

Frankly, if any of them were to start work on LinkedIn and put up decent pages, they would be unopposed and it could do their credibility, visibility – and electability – a lot of good. Ballots go out in mid-August, ladies and gentlemen: so there’s no time to waste. “Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government” (but then that was David Steel talking at a Liberal assembly, so maybe I should draw a veil over it…)