Social media is a tool that no organisation can afford to ignore and nowhere is this more true than in politics. With a president known for his late night Twitter storms and a world in which twenty-four hour news has taken on a life of its own, the social media presence of a party is equally as important as its presence in the mainstream media. The average voter is more likely to have checked (and been influenced by) their Facebook and Twitter feeds long before they think of opening up the likes of BBC News, The Times or Spectator.
Labour, particularly since the growth and success of Momentum, has always been more vocal online. This has never been more clear than during the general election, in which David Davies described Labour’s online campaign as “ferocious and powerful”. By comparison, the Conservative Party’s electoral social media left something to be desired. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn was active across various social media platforms - ranging from Twitter to Snapchat – Theresa May’s main source of social media presence came in the form of a Facebook Live interview, during which Corbyn managed to return the narrative back to himself by submitting a question to the prime minister. It was perhaps the most memorable and shared moment of the entire interview. Social media needs to be engaging; far more than just an article or a highly scripted video discussing an idea (such as Brexit).
While the presidential-style campaign may not have worked for a British electorate, the social media trends adopted by both the candidates in the 2016 US presidential campaign offer an insight into how political parties should approach social media as a means of attracting voters. Whilst Donald Trump was infamous for his uncensored Twitter storms, Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a polished image of carefully selected photos and videos that worked for the narrative her campaign intended to deliver and really got to the heart of her message. Both candidates appeared approachable, with each of their supporter bases being able to interact with not only their candidate but their respective movements, such as ‘Hillary for America’.
There is no denying that the Conservative Party has begun to improve its presence online, but there is still clear evidence of its lacklustre approach to social media. In September 2017, months after the general election, the majority of the party’s (and the prime minister’s) official social media accounts still carry the banner of ‘Theresa May: Strong and Stable Leadership in the National Interest’. I think the majority of Conservatives can agree that ‘Strong and Stable’ is one phrase we can do without.
Organisations aimed at engaging with the youth membership of the party online are beginning to appear. Unfortunately they seem to exist primarily as a response to Corbynism, as opposed to separate movements built around attracting youth voters by giving a positive, achievement-based outlook of the party.
The emergence of ‘Activate’ as an attempt to oppose Momentum, as well as several other ‘movements’ that have appeared alongside it, shows the clear desire amongst young Tories for an online outlet. It is my belief that only a movement fully supported by the party itself can be successful. The first thing it would have to address is the need for a network to be formed amongst Conservatives who can support one another in delivering a positive narrative of what the party can offer. This would serve to increase engagement between supporters and the party itself. How long can an organisation survive if its sole purpose is to take on Momentum and Corbynism? Corbyn will not last forever.
Any movement or organisation amongst grassroots Conservatives, especially young Tories, needs to address the primary aim of bringing people together and dealing with the ‘shy Tory’ issue that has plagued the party for years. It needs to create its own narrative, as opposed to responding to an opposition party’s grassroots movement with memes. A Conservative presence and voice online needs to be as organic as possible, built on engagement and interaction between grassroots supporters.
Momentum has already launched their targets for the next general election, which include plans to “launch new technological platforms that make it easy to get involved with the Labour Party” and to “create more viral video content”. A twenty-second video is easier to share than a lengthy article published by a party leader and is more attention-grabbing than some graphic they are likely to have seen before. Momentum and the Labour Party engage with social media more successfully than the Conservative Party. The social media plans for the party are something that myself and plenty of other young Tories hope to see developed and improved over the coming weeks and months.
If the Conservatives continue to avoid social media they will leave a void in the control of online narrative that Labour will all too easily fill. In an age where many voters get their news from social media, leaving this void open can only do long-term damage to the party. It is time for the positive, achievement-based narrative that was absent from the general election campaign to take form. It is time for a Tory presence online.