The first social election – why politicians are taking to social media to reach the electorate

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Having worked at the UK’s leading think tank in the heart of Westminster, and being a bit of a political geek, early election fever has always gripped me! From a young age, the importance of voting was consistently drummed into me and I still remember that feeling of excitement and responsibility the first time I held a ballot paper in my hands.

This week, we passed 100 days until the general election – probably one the most unpredictable in a generation, as well as the first election following a coalition government since 1945. With the latest polls showing that the two main parties are neck-and-neck, it is all to play for. And with more young women stating they would back TOWIE star Joey Essex in an election over Nick Clegg, the results are bound to be interesting!

So, as the election battle heats up, politicians will be hitting the campaign trail hard, but what alternative tactics are being used to tap up the electorate for those precious votes? This election has already been dubbed the first real social media election, and it’s easy to see why. Although Facebook and Twitter had taken the world by storm during the 2010 election, their reach has grown exponentially. The channels have become embedded into our daily lives and have a significant influence on the way we consume news and engage with each other.

While the Conservatives are favouring Facebook, Labour is more adept at using Twitter, according to a new study. Research by social media agency ‘We Are Social’ found that the Tories had 320,766 Facebook friends at the end of December 2014, while Labour only had 202,538. Tory posts were favoured with 3,718 likes, comments and shares compared with Labour’s 3,438.

However, Labour won the Twitter battle boasting 165,759 Twitter followers and tweeting eight times a day over the study period versus the Tories’ 1.68 tweets.

It’s not just the political parties that are battling for election ground, Twitter has introduced a form of geo-targeted advertising in a bid to become the main electioneering platform by letting advertisers focus campaigns on individual postcodes, to enable politicians to target swing seats. In a blog post, Gordon MacMillan, editorial manager of Twitter UK, wrote: “For political parties fighting on a national and constituency level, such exact targeting is another useful tool in the campaigning arsenal. In the UK, political parties or brands can already target nine different regions. This includes the ability to focus Twitter Ads on distinct geographic regions areas, such as the East Midlands, the North West and South East England.”

Broadcasters are also ramping up their election efforts. We are all used to the dramatic televised showdowns amongst the leaders of the three main political parties, but it looks like 2015 may see broadcasters being given the go ahead on a seven-party debate. The Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru are now expected to join the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP in the televised leaders’ debates.

Already looking ahead to the 2020 general election, House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, has called for electorates to be given the chance to cast their vote online. With the 2012 elections for police and crime commissioners seeing just 14{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of voters turn out – the worst in British political history for a nationwide poll, this could be a way to reach the digital generation and those voters who find it difficult to get to a polling station. However, it should be noted that I wrote a blog for the Llantrisant and Pontypridd Observer during my work experience in 2005 calling for this #trendsetter

Will politicians kissing babies be replaced with Twitter debates and Google hangouts? Probably a step too far for this election year but politicians of the future could be bringing further digital developments to the world of voting and taking their campaigns online rather than door to door.

So, don’t forget to cast your vote on 7 May 2015 and in the meantime whatever party you are voting for, you can follow the debate online…#generalelection