Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy to bypass the traditional media in favour of social media is certainly brave, but will it work? His election as Labour leader feels as though it’s a shift; much of the support generated during his campaign was centred online without mainstream media support. But the ongoing 24 hour news cycle and dominance of the media in day to day political conversation might mean his aversion to the media isn’t a help but a hindrance. Can he develop support without the press?
96% of the UK public is on Facebook. With those kind of number who needs the press, right? Well, OK but there’s more to do with social engagement that putting up posts and hoping the majority of the UK public sees it. Facebook has spent much of the past two years tinkering with its news feed algorithms to create a more personalised service (more of that later). How hard is it to get right, though?
A quarter of the UK’s internet users are on Twitter. The ONS says 38 million adults in the UK are online so we’re talking around 10.5 million adults on Twitter (Twitter says there are about 15 million which is probably over-enthusiastic). That’s a lot of people but it isn’t everyone. However Twitter is a powerful force; increasingly what trends on Twitter tends to catch the eye of the media so it might be a minority of the population but it’s a gobby minority with more power than it probably deserves.
Let’s look at demographics on Twitter, because this is where it gets interesting. 23.9% of 18-24 year olds are on twitter, 25% of 25-34 year olds, 35-44 year olds it’s 18%, 10% of 45-54 year olds and 5% of 55-64 year olds. So in no way is Twitter representative of the public at large. It is skewed towards a much younger audience.
This younger audience is reflected across many social networks. 90% of those using Instagram are under 35. There are 100 million Snapchats a day, a third of US millenials regularly use it (that’s under 34 year olds). Snapchat is also 70% women.
There’s a big problem with this, though. Young people don’t vote. Well, let’s clarify that, young people don’t seem to go to polling stations. Take the ONS data from the 2015 elections.
67% of men turned out to vote, and 38% of them voted conservative, 30% voted Labour. 66% of women turned out to vote, 37% voted Conservative, 33% voted Labour. So you want to target women, right? More of that later.
Labour voters are younger. 43% of 18-24 years olds voted, 43% voted labour, 27% voted Conservative. 54% of 25-34 year olds voted, 36% voted Labour, 33% voted Conservative. 64% of 35-44 year olds voted and it was bang equal – 35% versus 35% Conservative versus labour. 72% of 55-64 year olds voted and 37% voted Conservative, 31% voted Labour. 78% of over 65s turned out to vote and 47% voted Conservative.
For men over 55, 79% voted and 40% of them voted Conservative. For women it’s much closer, 76% of them votes and a quarter of them voted Labour.
You are more likely to vote if you are over 55 and male. You are more likely to use social media if you are under 35 and female. So that’s a huge uphill struggle for Corbyn (for Labour as a whole, actually). They need young people to turn out and vote. Tweet as much as you like, trend as much as you like, but are any of those people likely to walk to a polling booth for you?
What might have translated the voting for Corbyn in the leadership campaign making the social media strategy look quite successful is something quite simple; the voting mechanism was online. You didn’t need to physically go anywhere. If Cornyn wants to translate his online support into actual votes, and not rely on the older traditional voters he needs to lobby for one big thing this year; online voting in general elections. The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, are likely to drag their feet on that one.
What else do we know about the social media audience that could help Corbyn? Well, it’s largely female, largely young and largely urban. In 2012 the Pew Institute did a socio-economic breakdown of social media users. Twitter is largely more urban than Facebook, women mainly use Instagram and they’re way more urban and young that other social networks. On twitter it’s audience that has studied less than high school and is online is 15%, 17% have some college, 15% went to college. Instagram and Facebook have a generally educated to a higher level. Snapchat tends to be from a wealthier demographic, Facebook is the lowest socioeconomic group.
So, either, Corbyn has to kill off a lot of over 65s or he needs to mobilise people on Facebook and mainly women. It is a far larger audience than Twitter, which seems to be working well just as it is but far more people are actually on Facebook. And remember, he doesn’t need to win over his supporters, he needs to change people’s minds. So he needs to target Baby Boomers are are mainly on Facebook (how the Women’s Equality Party will split his left-wing female vote is a serious risk and one that still needs to be determined)
This is where it gets tricky. If you want to actually mobilise people Facebook is a better way to do it. But Facebook know how powerful their news feed is. The algorithm changes of the past two years are designed to help you link with people who have interests you might like and suggest other interest you might be into. Corbyn needs to align with others and ideas. You cannot spout on social media and not team up with other issues and ideas. Collaboration is going to be very important.
Facebook’s algorithms are now largely focused on letting you show off what you’re interested in. This is going to be much easier for Corbyn than it was for Ed Miliband; people aren’t embarrassed to support Corbyn. However Facebook is also a platform of 2 million advertisers. You can reach around 1500 posts every single day in your Facebook feed but really, most people only see around 300. So Corbyn needs one in 300 people to be posting about him (that ignores friend crossover, but the more of your friends that post something, the more chance you have to see it – that’s the minimum). He needs around 206,666 to be Liking, sharing and posting his stuff daily.
He only has 146,000 Likes, which isn’t nearly enough for his supporters to be sharing his posts and get that reach through his own content alone. Because Facebook isn’t just showing you random posts based on what your friends splurge out. If you click on a Post you’re likely to see more of them. If your friend posts something with the word “Congratulations” in it, you’re more likely to see it because Facebook thinks it’s likely to be an important life event. Facebook is a behavioural platform; the more you click on links the more variety you’ll see. Content that has a wide engagement will, Facebook thinks, have a wider appeal, so more people will see it.
Corbyn needs an army of people posting, creating and sharing content. he can’t rely on his own feed (for context on his Like stats, Cameron has 750k Likes, Obama 44m. I’m not saying he’s Obama but you know, context).
So how does Corbyn get enough people to create content to reach women who are baby boomers to convince them to change their vote and support him? Chances are these people say a lot about him in the feeds in the run up to the election but we’re talking everyday, the daily political grind. Who is going to create than content?
This is the bit he’s not going to like.
The most shared sites on Facebook in January 2015 were as follows; PlayBuzz, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Fox News, NBC, the Guardian, The New York Times, the Mail Online, the BBC and Yahoo. Yup, the people who created the most content that was shared and liked is the media. So if Corbyn wants to use his social media army to create content and share post and bypass the traditional media he is either going to have to establish a media army with the reach of the world’s most popular news site, the Mail Online with a computer readership of 11.3m and a mobile and tablet readership of 9.9m, or he’s going to have to talk to the world’s most shareable content creators; the media.
Corbyn’s younger audience is valuable and passionate. We won’t see the demographics of his audience just yet (we’ll have to compare the Labour Party member breakdown before and after the 12th September) but if he’s relying on this younger audience he needs to make sure they get out and vote. If he’s relying on social media, particularly Facebook, to reach them he needs to create much more varied content and build his own audience. And, I’m sorry Jeremy, but you’re going to have to get involved with the media. Because they’ll share content whether he talks to them or not.