Monday 31 August 2015

Astro-turfing does not win a referendum

Twitter is a hugely overestimated political constituency. For starters one has to be of a particular disposition to even start a Twitter account and fairly opinionated to get the full benefit. Consequently, what Twitter thinks is not necessarily what the public thinks. I think this why the hack-o-sphere was largely caught out by the general election result. They fail to make the distinction between the mood of their own little self-referential circles and ordinary people. People who are not like them.

A focus on social media can be misleading and give false readings, budgets are misdirected and in the end there is no substitute for human intuition. It's one thing to claim you have five thousand followers but just a quick inspection shows at least half of your followers have blue backgrounds (ie not regularly frequented accounts) in turn having followers only in double digits. Thus retweets as a force multiplier are not necessarily as powerful as we might assume.

There are limits to what social media marketing can achieve. We have heard from several marketing gurus about the value of big data targeting, but as we often repeat, politics is not marketing, especially where the referendum is concerned. What has been tried and tested in US primaries does not carry through to UK referendums.

As per my last few articles, the people that social media marketing can reach are precisely the last people we want to talk to. Were we selling a product we would be seeking out those talking about hat we want to sell and those most likely to buy. Our swing voter target are those the least likely to buy and the least likely to be taking about what we are selling. With Facebook we can identify our core demographic of swing voters and we can push messages into their feeds, but inauthentic, spammy and kipperish nonsense cannot secure a victory.

In terms of what is effective, I will take the thousand followers I have cultivated over the last year over five thousand followers generated by targeted advertising, of which a great many are useless. An article found here explains why even one hundred thousand Twitter followers can be completely worthless. At least a quarter will be inactive accounts and another quarter only used sporadically. Incidentally, the Ukip account has roughly one hundred thousand followers. Make of that what you will.

Looking at The Know's following we see a mixture of smammy accounts, dormant accounts and the usual suspects whom I routinely find cause to block. "Kippermongs", as my previous blog would have called them. Similarly this experience replicates on Facebook, where the numbers are higher, but still largely reaching people we already have in the bag.

Thus in presenting any case to the Electoral Commission, followers and likes achieved by way of targeted advertising should be viewed with suspicion. It does not represent a grassroots movement and it is far from a genuine sample. Taking into account the multiplier effect and at best you're speaking only to a quarter of a million people if you're lucky - and never all at once. Probably not even half that. 

When it comes to building a political movement (and we are running very short on time to do that), it must be done the old fashioned way. By that I don't mean just bunging identikit leaflets through letterboxes to no measurable. In order to win we need to build a genuine following who will actually follow the message rather than simply like and retweet in that oh-so-bovine way.

Any leafleting must be done with an objective in mind, to promote a local meeting which will in turn promote bloggers, not big ticket websites. We need individuals with their own organically grown constituencies and genuine followers, and we need to recruit and train more of them. In that regard, The Referendum Party pulled off some commendable local campaigns prior to mass adoption of the internet. It was just bad timing for them that the public were so heartily sick of the Tories - but there are some aspects of that campaign we can learn from.

Our activities need to be focussed on seeking out and motivating people who can direct others to blogs and online communities where they will find the convincing material and one-to-one interaction. Crass jingoistic kipper memes are of little value.

No organisation can make claim to a genuine movement by way of internet bragging rights as Mr Banks does. In this regard, The Know is very much an astroturf production that has achieved little that anyone else with a large enough budget and a flash website cannot in a matter of a few clicks. Where spammy mailshot are concerned, you're lucky to get ten percent who will even open the email let alone read it.

In terms of the value of The Know's website, it is no more a campaign resource than Matthew Elliot's miserable effort. There is little reason for visitor to return nor is there a community. Who honestly gives a monkey's what Boris Johnson thinks either?

Of course, this post will likely be received as an attack on The Know, but given that I'd like to see us leave the EU I would prefer it be taken as constructive criticism. It is said that fifty percent of all marketing budgets are wasted. The reason you hire marketing gurus is to tell you which half. In this regard Mr Banks may as well be flushing all of his budget down the toilet without any coordinated grassroots effort. It may win him the No campaign nomination, but it won't win the votes.

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