Labour or Conservatives: Who’s making the best use of Facebook?


In the UK, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have been the main political rivals since the start of the 20th Century. Today they are vying to capture the hearts and minds of voters on Facebook. But how well are they doing? Here’s a nonpartisan analysis of what these two parties are doing using this social network, and what we can learn from them.

We used the  Engagement Analytics tool by Socialbakers to compare both pages. Audience size for the parties is relatively even, but the Conservatives have certainly taken a lead here.

Conservative and Labour Party Facebook statistics

However, at FreshNetworks we believe that the real indicator of success of a Facebook page isn’t its audience size but the level of engagement. More on that later…

1. Content strategies

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour seem to have developed the type of content strategy that we would always recommend for our clients.

In fact, it appears that both pages seem to be almost purely focussed on sharing links to blog posts and articles on their respective websites. We find that a rich mixture of content, including photos and albums, as well as short, punchy status updates and questions are great for engaging audiences. Our experience is that links shared direct to the newsfeed are often the least engaging of all Facebook post types.

2. Post frequency

Conservative and Labour Party Facebook post frequency

Probably the biggest difference between the parties in how they use Facebook is the frequency at which they post content, and as far as we’re concerned, neither is getting quite right.

We’d say that it’s Labour who have got it most wrong however, as they are almost certainly over-sharing. Take a look at the graph above – now, we think there’s nothing wrong with posting every day if the message is right, but 11 posts in one day? Even the most ardent fan of your brand (or in this case political supporter) is going to suffer from at least mild fatigue at all those updates. In total over the three month period we monitored, Labour posted 284 times – an average of three posts a day, seven days a week.

At the other end of the spectrum, is the Conservative party who definitely seem to have a ‘less is more’ attitude to sharing content with their Facebook fans – never posting more than once in a day, and often with several days between posts. Over the same three month period they posted just 10 times.

With a proper content plan to support their social media strategies, we think both parties could probably do with meeting somewhere in the middle on post frequencies. It’s all about putting out the right content, at the right time of day for your audience, without over-sharing, but whilst maintaining an ongoing flow of conversation with your audience.

3. Engagement

So what about the all-important engagement rate?

It seems by posting so much less than Labour, the Conservatives have won-out in terms of engaging their audience with an engagement rate of three and a half times that of that their rivals. The number of total interactions by Labour’s Facebook fans might be six times higher, but that’s not so great when you think that they’ve posted 28 times as many posts to Facebook.

So what have we learned?

Well, the Conservatives do have a better engagement rate AND more fans, but we don’t think they’ve delivered any knock-out punches with their Facebook page. They would probably benefit from posting a little bit more than they do, and Labour definitely needs to stop posting so much. Most importantly though, is the content. Content is king and neither party has got it right. Politics is an emotive topic, and over 50% of eligible voters will vote for one of these parties at the next election. There are huge issues to debate out there, and both sides could do with striking up more of a debate with their audience by asking more questions and relaying soundbites of party leaders. More photos shared into the newsfeed can really help tell more of a story, not to mention catching the eye of fans in their newsfeeds.

Major events influenced BBC’s news online


It seems that major events were the impetus for most steps forward the BBC has taken in engagement. At yesterday’s Social Media Influence conference in London, Pete Clifton, Head of Editorial Development for Multi-Media Journalism at the BBC, spoke about the lessons they had learnt and the steps taken. And to me it seemed that major events were the catalyst for much of this change.

Event 1: The 1997 General Election Campaign

The BBC news website grew out of an experiment during the 1997 General Election in the UK - an important time and a major campaign which saw the Conservative Party being replaced by Tony Blair‘s New Labour after 18 years in power. The BBC put up a few pages to cover the event as an experiment of how news could work online. The plan was to take this down over the summer following the campaign, but a second event stopped this.

Event 2: The death of Diana, Princess of Wales

Just as the site was to be wound-down, a second event occured that would also merit from some special treatment online. The death of Diana, Princess of Wales in the summer of 1997 led the BBC news team to set up a second set of pages - updating these and letting viewers email in their tributes and opinions. The first interactive news article on the BBC’s site was born and the site was not taken down. The importance of news online was realised and so the full BBC news site launched later that year.

Event 3: 7/7 bombings in London

By 2005, the BBC News website was well used and formed an integral part of the channel’s news outlet. The events of 7th July of that year in London helped in the shift of perception from multi-media news being something that sat apart from main editorial activities to something more integrated. When news-wire and London Underground reports were still reporting a power surge on the tube network, and nobody really knew what was happening, BBC News received an email containing a picture of a bus where one of the bombs had exploded and an eye-witness account of the events. Interacting with viewers through multi-media and online was now making the news. In fact the opening sequence on the main TV news bulletin the following evening was entirely UGC - videos shot on mobile phones from inside trapped Underground carriages.

These major events seem to have shaped the BBC’s activities and strategy for news online. In fact it is now an integrated part of the news offering and will soon no longer be a separate team, but will sit with the rest of the newsroom.

Informing the debate: Boris vs Ken


So tomorrow morning I need to decide if it’s to be Boris or Ken. The mayoral elections in London (where actually ten candidates are standing) is almost certain to be a fight between two parties, or rather between the two candidates. Both of whom are known only by their first name.

It’s certainly been a tough campaign - nobody is quite sure what the outcome will be, and the opinion polls are equally as divided. Getting out information and informing the debate is more critical than ever in a contest like this and that’s why it’s surprising that we haven’t seen either candidate really embrace social media to help build advocacy for their campaign.

Both candidates have sites which serve mainly to broadcast news on what the candidates think, have said and done. And both sites ask you to sign up when you first land there - although this is more to do with building their contact list than a way to help you interact with the site. Facebook fares slightly better - there are a couple of hundred groups for each candidate (although not all of them positive) and both candidates have ‘pages’.

What’s really missing from all of this though, is real interaction with the voter. Where can I post a question to all the candidates and see their responses? Where can I truly compare their manifestos? Where can I see what they’ve been doing and where they’ve been going? Has either of them actually visited my neighbourhood? None of this seems readily available and the candidates aren’t making it easy for us to find.

Moreover, the online campaigning often feels either like a new way to convey a traditional message (often with the feel of paper manifestos put into html format) and is very much a push marketing message. I’d like to see more interaction because it would help me to make a decision. The age of townhall debates that people go to is over and TV debates really don’t let most people interact. We should be encouraging our politicians to engage voters and others online and holding the debate there - listening and feeding back as much as using the medium to just push out their message.

Much has been done, and more could be done. Voter-generated content is a big tool now in the US Presidential elections. But tomorrow when London elects it’s mayor too many people will be voting without really having had an opportunity to interact with and engage with the candidates. Me included!