Photographer: Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images

U.K. Conservatives Prepare for Election, and Social-Media War

  • Party re-hires digital team behind Cameron’s 2015 victory
  • May lagging behind Corbyn in Facebook battle of leaders

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has re-hired the digital experts who ran her Conservative Party’s successful 2015 election campaign as she prepares for a social media war with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Craig Elder and Tom Edmonds, who were in charge of digital strategy and branding during the 2015 Tory campaign, are back in the party’s election team under the direction of political strategist Lynton Crosby, a person familiar with the matter said.

The duo spent 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) on Facebook advertising alone in the year before the 2015 general election, vastly outstripping the reported 16,000 pounds of Labour’s outlay on the social networking site in the same period, according to official spending returns.

The investment paid off for the then Tory leader David Cameron. Highly-targeted Tory advertisements, sent to small groups of as few as 1,000 undecided voters in marginal seats, helped to sway the results and deliver Cameron an unexpected parliamentary majority.

“Facebook is a marketing platform and Craig Elder and Tom Edmonds have got form on this,” said Charlie Beckett, professor in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics. “They know about using the data to reach parts of the electorate that need to be nudged into voting, and voting Tory.”

Race for Voters

Social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, are now seen as an indispensable form of direct communication between politicians and voters. While opinion polling suggests May is on course to win easily in the June 8 vote, both sides will be using social media to communicate directly with activists and voters.

With no time to prepare, digital campaigning is likely to be even more important this year than in the run-up to the 2015 vote, according to Giles Kenningham, founder of Trafalgar Strategy communications consultancy, who ran Conservative media operations during the last election. 

“It’s all about the race to get to the voters and the quickest way of getting to them will be through digital channels,” he said.

There are signs that Labour is better prepared for the digital campaign than it was two years ago. At the time of the 2015 election, Cameron’s Facebook page had 500,000 “likes” from other users, compared with the then Labour Leader Ed Miliband’s 80,000.

Corbyn’s Followers

Now, however, the positions are reversed. May’s own Facebook page has 350,000 likes by Friday, fewer than half of Corbyn’s tally of 843,000. The Tory party’s main Facebook account has 567,000 likes, only slightly more than Labour’s 549,000. Corbyn himself won the Labour leadership after a mass social media campaign that galvanized party members.

“The Corbynites love digital and they think it’s going to save them,” said Beckett. “It’s one thing to be active and have lots of likes and retweets, but are they reaching the swing voters they most need?”

Kenningham said Labour needed to start with a clearer message about what they are offering voters. “Without a clear message, a digital strategy is redundant.”

After their 2015 victory, Elder and Edmonds launched their own company and went on to work on the unsuccessful referendum campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. They declined by phone to comment on their new role.

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