THE BLOG

Can Social Media Really Be the Future for Jeremy Corbyn?

01/10/2015 10:08 BST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:12 BST

It is no secret that Jeremy Corbyn won the social media battle among his party leader challengers over the summer. Having appealed to a younger and more tech-savvy audience, Corbyn had a bigger social media presence and was even the source of several social media trends (such as #Jezwecan).

But could this strong start on social media continue once he was in the top job? And would Corbyn fare better than Miliband did during his conference speech 12 months ago? With the support of the Centre for Analysis of Social Media (CASM), Ipsos MORI set out to measure the reaction of the Twittersphere to his first Labour Party conference speech as leader.

We analysed more than 41,000 tweets posted during the speech - a rate of 685 a minute, which is broadly in line with Ed Miliband's 2014 conference speech. However that's where the comparison ends, as the reaction on social media reaction bucked the trend in two ways.

Over the past 18 months, our live analysis of political speeches and debates has shown an overwhelming bias to negative reaction, and to commenting on aspects of personality rather than policies. Only Nicola Sturgeon showed any real sign of challenging the norm during the televised general election debates. Hitting similar heights, Jeremy Corbyn received more than three times as many virtual cheers than he did boos during the speech ; in contrast, Ed achieved four boos for every cheer. Moreover, commentary steered clear of the usual barrage of comments about ties, sweat patches and bad jokes that normally befall discussion about politicians on social media, with the vast majority of reaction citing specific policies and pledges he made during the speech. As a point of comparison, 89% of the Twitter reaction to the televised debates during the election cited personality, just 11% focused on politics.

Perhaps right on cue, his biggest virtual cheers arrived after his passionate pledge for a greater focus on digital communication: "it's social media that really is the point of communication for the future - we've got to get that." However, his decision to quote Maya Angelou and Ben Okri received mixed reactions.

Interestingly, the three Tweets (shown below) which were retweeted the most over the course of the speech were all from accounts belonging to political commentators, and the Labour Party itself.

Unfortunately for Jeremy Corbyn, if the Milifandom has taught us anything, it's that popularity on social media is no guarantee of success when it really matters. This is mainly because Twitter users are not reflective of the general voting public: less than one in five (19%) of adults have a Twitter account, and this is skewed further towards males, younger adults and those from more affluent backgrounds. If Jeremy's vision for social media holds true, the data collected today suggests that his claim to represent a different type of politics does hold some appeal; however it's important that they continue to reach out beyond the social media bubble.

Technical note:

Data based on analysis of 41,146 Tweets published during Jeremy Corbyn's speech to Labour Party Conference on 29th September 2015.

Analysis was conducted by Ipsos MORI researchers using the Method52 ,developed by the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) and the University of Sussex.

Steve Ginnis is Head of Digital Research, Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI