Facebook is a key battleground at this general election: the parties are ploughing thousands into buying targeted ads to reach voters in particular demographics and constituencies.
The social network was quite a cool place to be in 2010 and maybe somewhere you’d go to reach younger voters. Now it’s about as ubiquitous as email and its user base probably skews towards the middle-aged and older generations – precisely the sort of people who vote in large numbers.
The parties have all taken different approaches in their adverts so far, however. With a week to go, I’m going to run through the state of the parties’ Facebook ground game.
If you’ve been following the Conservatives’ real-world campaign at all, their strategy probably won’t surprise you: their adverts are overwhelmingly different variations of wanting to “get Brexit done”. Some feature politicians on a parliament background, some are festooned with patriotic flags, and some have wholesome looking pictures of families. It really depends what they think you’d like.
There are a couple of other auxiliary messages too: a bit on tax cuts (though these ads are light on policy detail) and of course the “cost of Corbyn” tax bombshell style campaign, which purports to tell voters how much more they’d pay under Labour.
Labour’s strategy is very different. The opposition party is essentially using adverts to push individual policies to voters who it believes would like them. So adverts about the Waspi women policy are pushed to, you guessed it, women over 55+ – nobody else is shown them. Students get shown adverts about the party’s tuition fee policy, that sort of thing. There are dozens of variations of these adverts promoting different polices.
There are also two other types of adverts coming from Labour. One that has started to emerge in the last week of the campaign is driving turnout. Labour thinks it can win with a superior ground game and by better mobilising its supporters – partly relying on its huge reserve of activists who pound the pavements. But it has digital infrastructure to match and one of its adverts sends voters to a “nearest polling station finder”.
The last big category of Labour adverts is about countering a Tory type of advert: a “fair tax” calculator purports to tell voters how much more they would pay under the Labour spending plan.
The Liberal Democrats’ online ad campaign is perhaps the most consistent: in that it is relentlessly negative. The party adverts are almost totally against either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, depending on the kind of voter and seat targeted. So some voters are told “only the Liberal Democrats can beat Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in seats like yours” while others are told “Only the Liberal Democrats can beat Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in seats like yours”.
It’s worth saying that this isn’t the whole picture: it’s an overview of paid advertising from the parties themselves. All the parties, particularly Labour, have some degree of organic support and can get people to look at their content for free. That’s less targeted than these ads, but can be more authentic. There are also other groups running paid ads in support of the parties outside their official strategies.
Do these adverts really make a difference? It’s hard to say, but the parties are spending thousands of pounds on them… with the exception of the SNP. For some reason the Scottish nationalists haven’t really got into the Facebook ad game. They have run a couple of adverts, but they haven’t been pushed out to many people and are on nothing like the scale of the other parties. Sturgeon’s team may have chosen to spend their campaigning resources elsewhere – it doesn’t seem to be doing them much harm.