My recent publication Me, You, AND Us: Constructing Political Persona on Social Networks during the 2015 UK General Election, examined the Twitter and Facebook presence the seven leading political parties. Based on this, I want to suggest a number of things we should look for in the coming days in terms of the transformation of social media performances and construction of persona on Twitter specifically.
In the next week, I’ll focus on the leader’s of each party in turn and suggest how their performances will be shaped (or not) by those of the leaders who fought the last campaign. Given she’s already off to a head start as the only leader who knew an election was coming, let’s start with Theresa May.
The short campaign period before a General Election (which will start officially on May 1st) can be understood as a period of heightened activity for not only social media but also in terms of display of the relationships with mainstream- and particularly news – media. In this instance, given the snap call, we should extend that period of activity from now until voting day.
Theresa May’s social media presence is about to extend considerably, with a significantly higher number of posts, using a broader range of production tools. She has much ground to gain on Cameron in terms of followers with just 281,ooo today compared to his 948,632 at the beginning of the 2015 short campaign and the Conservative campaigning team will focus on raising her profile.
Given this reduced presence – and following the pattern shown by political leaders with fewer followers at the last GE – her followers should increase significantly by percentage in a relatively short period of time. An excellent showing would be the 30% lift Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed during the short campaign. Increasing by just 5.8% as Cameron could be considered a poor show, and will give us an indication of whether her message is resonating with Twitter users.
As the Conservative campaigning team kicks into gear, we should expect to see around the same levels of performance using the same ranges of technologies – with video pieces to camera and professionally taken pictures from the campaign trail – tweeted and posted to Facebook using clear production and dissemination patterns across each campaigning day.
The pattern of Cameron’s performance, gives us a guide of what we might expect. Conservative HQ consider the last campaign a success and certainly it worked well in terms of shifting news agendas and keeping them on course during the campaign.
Cameron’s social media presence dominated discourse largely due to the coverage of it in mainstream media. The social media team are likely to keep the same framework for levels and times of tweets, framing them in relation to the campaign trail.
However, there will be some differences. As the text cloud of all of Cameron’s tweets during the short campaign demonstrates, his social media persona was placed as a “Me” to “You” conversation linked significantly around the “family”. His own family was a part of that conversation, linking him as a family man to the prosperity and security of the nation.
Without children to base discourse around, May’s performance will be around the values of “ordinary” people. This can already be seen on her Twitter landscape which carries the slogan, “A Country Which Works for Everyone“.
Rather than as a “mother”, her team may also construct her persona performance around discourses of “daughter” and “wife” as a means to attempt to create familial bonds with the electorate which is a key component of successful social media performance.
There will also be a stark choice given to voters, building from the success of the Conservative campaign in undermining Miliband last election. She will ask voters to choose between her stable hand for negotiating Brexit or “chaos” with Corbyn. We should expect a tweet along these lines within the next few days as it will be a key talking point throughout the election campaign.
Tomorrow, I will consider what Corbyn might learn from Miliband’s social media persona construction during the short campaign – and contemplate whether his team has the capabilities, manpower or will to do what is necessary on social media to shift the news agenda to his terms.