It’s time for the Green Party to get serious about digital communications
The world has changed significantly since social media has taken over our lives. It almost seems like the entire of the world’s discourse isn’t taken in physicality, but instead happens on Twitter in a violent storm of outrage, and if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you too have taken part.
But social media opens up possibilities for political discourse that for those who campaigned in the 20th century could have only dreamed of. Whereas leaflets might lie forlorn, damp and unread in the vestibules of great inaccessible tower blocks of, social media allows for businesses, the media, political parties and anyone with a phone to interact with your average voter on a mass scale while they sit in the comfort of their own home.
If there’s one thing that has marked the world’s electoral campaigns since the 2008 US Presidential election, it has been how social media has become the great battleground in electioneering. If we look back at the 2015 General election, and it isn’t brilliant canvassing operations which marks the winners, it’s how they took social media seriously as a tool to win.
How this battleground, how this turbo charged swiss army knife of tools is utilised, has defined almost every British electoral exercise since 2010. 2015 with the Conservative and SNP’s “relentless focus” on Facebook. 2016, with Vote Leave’s data harvesting and targeting of not only their voters with lie strewn graphics, but non-voters, the previously uninterested. 2017 saw the rise of an interesting decentralised social media campaign from Labour described by their opponents as a “very polished social media presence”, in an election which rendered the Conservatives in power but without it, with Labour producing endless slick videos of their messianic leader speaking to his adoring crowds while the “Strong and Stable” message delivered by the Maybot on attack mode rendered battered voters in to a dull stupor. And 2019, which saw the Conservatives win their first significant majority in almost 30 years, with a social media campaign that saw them absolutely master the art of dark ads and middle aged trolling, taking advantage of platform’s recalcitrant attitude to fact checking to produce more content in a day that the Green Party would in a week.
Put simply, a party that doesn’t engage in this new field is not serious about doing that which all political parties are founded to do, win.
How are the Greens doing on social media?
One would assume that a party such as ours – the Green Party of England and Wales – which claims to be the party of the future, of radicalism and transformative policies aimed at the young would embrace this new field of play. You’d think such a party would be at the forefront of such a movement, creating beautiful, informative, inspiring content that shows people the aforementioned radical policies we love to tell us make us the best party.
I’m sorry to tell you that such an assumption is not borne out by the evidence, and that when it comes to social media, the Green Party is very much late to the game. Look at our big three party social media accounts, Facebook (311k), Twitter (305k) and Instagram (50k). At the time of writing, our feeds are not what one would expect from a party serious about campaigning. Our feeds are dominated by static content, i.e. not video, when video is the leading form of content on the internet. There’s a reason that Youtube has almost 10 times as many users as Twitter. It’s because it’s a video based platform and that engages users the way text never can. Contrast this with, say, the Conservatives’ feeds, and you will see far more video content, you will see Conservative politicians talking to people, connecting with people.
This makes sense when you think about it, think about the cultural phenomena that capture the zeitgeist on a mass scale, or go viral, and they tend to be video based. Movies, TV shows, the News, video clips of natural disasters. Rarely do columns in the Independent go viral and change the political conversation. Because video can capture an emotional energy that text never can.
This is all the more important in 2021, when pandemic restrictions are likely to continue for months unending. Our campaigning strength currently lies in face to face interaction, but with more people unwilling to engage in person, we still need to find a way to connect and engage with voters, to build support for our candidates, to find new activists and inspire them to help us elect Greens, and turning our social media feeds into a silent, black and white “In Memoriam” quote fest ain’t it.
Where should the Greens go from here?
I’ve spent quite a while criticising and not a lot of time on fair praise and proposing solutions, and while I could spend a lot more time telling you how our party establishment and multiple external communications coordinators have failed to prepare us for the future that would take up time, so I’ll do that now.
The party has seen an incremental improvement over the past few years. Our, incredibly infrequent, video productions, have started, slowly, to bring in new faces, and by new, I mean not pale, stale and based in London and the South East. A recent Party Political Broadcast featured Azzees Minott, co-Chair of Greens of Colour, Dez Dell, a Green Campaigner from Kettering and Cllr Paul Turpin from Sheffield. It was a production rooted in communities and yet addressing a national crisis. It spoke to our values as a party and its roster defied the media stereotypes of us. But social media algorithms reward regular and frequent uploads, so we need to build the party infrastructure to produce this content regularly.
During the pandemic and the subsequent Zoom-rush, we saw the party organise talks with speakers on a number of important topics, engaging with members and non-members alike. But these talks were dominated by the familiar party faces that you know, and the valuable content sits in hour long videos which most people aren’t going to watch, rather than shorter, more accessible, social media friendly ones.
So how would I change it?
Our communications need to be election focused, we should actively platform our target seats, councils, and candidates, at every available opportunity. For too long our party’s public face has been taken up with the same faces we’ve seen for the past decade, it’s time to actively build our candidates up rather than expect them to sink or swim. It’s time to stop platforming people who, while knowledgeable about various policy areas, aren’t in target seats and aren’t standing for election, we are a political party, not a campaign group. We should platform people that show the party to be geographically and ethnically diverse, the Greens that are elected across the country and that make a difference in people’s lives.
Any person that has spent a significant amount of time on social media or works in the industry knows that to build a loyal audience, one that’s willing to buy your merch (be that bland influencer coffee or a Green Party reusable cup), turn up to your events (from obviously fake conventions to Green Party action days), you need to produce regular, popular content that engages your audience. You need to have personalities to emotionally connect and get your audience to invest in you. To achieve this we need the creative skills necessary to produce content, and we need them 365 days a year. If our communications are to achieve any cut through at all we cannot afford to back off for a second.
We need videographers, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, motion graphic artists and editors, to produce content that will educate, inspire and activate. And we need that content to redefine the public perception of the party, that of old, white, middle class people in London and the South East that want to fill the world with endless committees and hummus. And while there are elements of truth in that stereotype, it isn’t the Green Party I know and love, and it isn’t the Green Party that will deliver the climate justice we need.
The stakes are high, no other Westminster parties have the radical policies we do, and failing to rise to this challenge is to abdicate our responsibility as the political wing of the environmentalist movement. Every election where we don’t win more seats is another parliament that manufactures meaningless crises and fails to act on the one that will literally define this century.
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Image credit: Bristol Green Party – Creative Commons