THE BLOG

How Corbyn On A Rainbow Unicorn Won The Election (Kinda)

12/06/2017 13:20
PraxisPhotography via Getty Images

One of the major factors in the Corbyn Labour resurgence appears to be the increased turn-out of young voters. How much that increase has been is still up for debate (as high as 72% turn-out is claimed but unverified) but, broadly, those constituencies that had the highest percentage of 18-25 year-old voters had the highest swing to Labour.

Young people means social media, right? It's easy to start saying 'It woz Facebook what (kinda) won it,' but it's far from that simple. The Conservatives went big on Facebook and still managed to lose 12 seats anyway.

The Conservatives spent £1.2m on Facebook ads during the last election and their push in 2017 was clearly even bigger. But the huge difference between the Conservative and Labour work in Facebook wasn't one of scale of spend it was one of approach. The Conservatives treated Facebook like another broadcast medium, building videos and then paying to have them appear alongside people's feeds. In contrast Labour collaborated with its target audience and got them to do the work for it.

The Conservative's work was largely grainy footage of Corbyn saying something outrageous with ugly titles over the top. While some people would no doubt resonate with the outrage and firmly set themselves against Corbyn as a result, others will have found it irrelevant to them for a whole host of cultural and messaging reasons. It was a singular message and singular tone being sent out to, what we now know is, an incredibly diverse national audience.
In contrast, Labour's approach wasn't to do the work themselves, but to inspire and empower their young social audience to create on their behalf. This generated a huge diversity of creative with three key advantages over the Tories. First, it created work where the tone was set by the audience not the campaign. It turned out the audience wanted rampant positivity and joy so that's what was produced. Secondly, it allowed the digital space to be flooded with a ton of creative work that you'd never be able to officially put out on behalf of any candidate and keep your job. (Corbyn on the back of a rainbow unicorn for example -- https://www.instagram.com/p/BVHXOXHhBVJ/). And thirdly, it meant individuals were making micro creative work that they liked and sharing it with people who were like-minded -- the very essence of the promise of a social platform. It didn't matter that some meme-work was only seen by 20 people, they were the right 20 people for that meme. They would key into it, and it would often inspire one of those 20 people to make something of their own to share with another micro community. It's not just raw social engagement, it's building a true community, it's using the true power available in the digital space.

And this is the crucial lesson for all of us wanting to use that digital communication space for our own brands and projects -- if you want people to care, let them be part of something. Telling people what you want them to think and then banging them over the head with it is far, far less effective than creating something relevant people can believe in and be part of, and letting them do the work for you. It wasn't Facebook wot (kinda) won it, and gave Corbyn his surge, it was partly the Labour strategists but mostly the active young creative community across the country.

An interesting extra thought is that for this approach to work, your leader has to be of a certain bent. An Obama works, so does a Sanders or a Corbyn, but would a Boris Johnson or a Sadiq Khan ever be able to pull off the same trick? Doesn't feel right. It isn't just about policies, there's a certain x-factor needed to inspire and it's that 'digital resonance' that I think politicians will increasingly look for when choosing someone to lead their party. People initially thought Corbyn was a comms disaster because they were measuring him in the wrong way, a twentieth century way -- he didn't wear the right clothes, he didn't play the soundbite game. Turns out that in the twenty-first century what really matters is how you look on the back of a rainbow unicorn.

Digital Corbyn for the win.

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