UK Election 2010: Lessons Learned from Watching First Social Media Battle of Britain

I started my coverage of UK Election 2010 by quoting part of Winston Churchill’s famous speech, “We shall fight them on the beaches.” Well, the original Battle of Britain ended up being fought in the air by “the few.” So, as I try to figure out some of the lessons learned after watching the first social media Battle of Britain, it’s worth remembering that Churchill also said, “we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.”

Winston wears helmet during air raid warning

Image via Wikipedia

The “air campaign” in UK Election 2010 was fought during the three leaders’ debates, each in primetime.

The first leaders’ debate was held April 15 in Manchester on ITV. Instant polling after the event unanimously declared Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats the winner.

The second leaders’ debate was held April 22 in Bristol on Sky News. Clegg and David Cameron of the Conservatives came out best in the instant polls with Gordon Brown of Labour very closely behind.

The third leaders’ debate was held April 29 in Birmingham on the BBC. Cameron was widely regarded as the party leader who made the best impression to the audience at home.

The American-style televised debates — and another Yankee innovation, instant “dial groups” — turned British traditions upside-down and inside-out. As a humorous editorial in The Boston Globe put it, “Thanks to practices borrowed from American presidential campaigns, a two-party race has become a three-party affair and instead of choosing a stodgy party, as they are accustomed to doing, British citizens are being asked to vote for a charismatic prime minister.”

So, is that the only lesson to be learned from watching UK Election 2010 (part 1)? Oh, if only it were so simple.

Conservatives ended up getting 10,683,787 votes, 3.8 percent more than they did in 2005. Labour got 8,604,358 votes, 6.2 percent less than it did in 2005. And Liberal Democrats got 6,827,938 votes, 1.0 percent more than it did in 2005.

In other words, the “swing” from the last election to this one was in the single digits. That’s why Great Britain has a hung parliament.

That’s why I’m not convinced that “It’s the Sky Wot Won It.”

What about endorsements by the national newspapers in the United Kingdom? Well, the Daily Express (and Sunday Express), Daily Mail (and The Mail on Sunday), The Sun (and News of the World), The Daily Telegraph (and The Sunday Telegraph), The Times (and The Sunday Times), the Evening Standard, and the Financial Times all endorsed the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror (and the Sunday Mirror) endorsed Labour.

The Guardian (and The Observer) endorsed the Liberal Democrats.

Oh, and The Independent (and The Independent on Sunday) advocated tactical voting to maximize the chance of a Liberal Democrat – Labour coalition, in order to make electoral reform a possibility.

In other words, the Tory Press also failed to deliver a clear victory for the Conservatives.

Which brings us back to the first social media Battle of Britain.

Winning the Facebook vote didn’t help the Liberal Democrats win more seats in parliament. But it may have helped the LibDems gain seats in constituencies like Bradford East, Burnley, Eastbourne, Norwich South, Redcar, Solihull, and Wells.

Now a skeptic might quip, “As Facebook goes, so goes Wells.” But, until the first past the post electoral system is reformed, what is a LibDem supporter expected to do? Tactical voting for Labour remains a realistic option.

This may help explain why none of the 11 organizations that released polls in advance of UK Election 2010 nailed the actual results: Conservatives 36.9 percent, Labour 29.7 percent, and Liberal Democrats 23.6 percent.

Yes, yes, all of the pollsters in the UK allocate out undecideds rather than leave them be as we do in the US. But, as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight observes, “That may not be the pollsters’ fault if voters changed or made up their mind while casting their ballots, as sometimes happens for third parties whose viability is questionable.”

In other words, Clegg’s victory in the first leaders’ debate combined with the Liberal Democrats’ victory in the Facebook election plus their clever use of #nickcleggsfault to win the first real “Twitter moment” got them to the “evaluation” step in the decision-making process. But they didn’t seal the deal.

So, what stopped Cleggmania?

Cameron did better in the second leaders’ debate and won the third. As expected, the Conservatives won the endorsements of the Tory press. But there was another part of the first social media Battle of Britain that’s gone underreported.

It’s the YouTube election.

Although the LibDems performed exceptionally well in Facebook and Twitter, they came up short on YouTube. And YouTube is also a social medium.

In fact, Hitwise United Kingdom reports that Facebook is the top social networking website with 53.64 percent of visits, YouTube is second with 16.70 percent, and Twitter is third with 2.19 percent.

Take a look at the YouTube channels for the three parties.

WebCameronUK’s Channel increased from 1,614,187 to 2,584,584 total views over the course of the campaign. And it’s most popular video with 160,581 views was This is a historic election – together, we can bring the change Britain needs.

Compare that to UKLabourParty’s Channel, which increased from 1,117,786 to 1,530,697 total views over the course of the campaign. And it’s most popular video with 121,003 views is Labour Manifesto 2010: A future fair for all.

In contrast, LibDems’ Channel barely budged from 94,834 to 127,197 channel views over the course of the campaign. In fact, the party’s most popular video was Labservative General Election Manifesto, which was on a spoof channel.

After the 2008 U.S. presidential election, I interviewed Arun Chaudhary, New Media Road Director of Obama for America, for my book, YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day. Chaudhary told me, “Folks really seemed to respond to being allowed to see the candidate unedited. In a sense they wanted to see the candidates in the raw and make their own decision, not to feel like they were being fed media. With a candidate as compelling as Barack Obama was, it made a lot of sense to let them see him in this manner. The more people actually saw him speak and hear his views, the more likely they were to vote for him. With a different candidate one might need to take a different strategy, but for us Barack Obama was always the star; we were just the backup singers.”

It would seem that the Conservatives have read my book, while Labour and the LibDems haven’t because the only candidate to star in his party’s most popular YouTube video was Cameron.

So, what are some of the lessons learned after watching the first social media Battle of Britain?

Let’s go back to what Churchill actually said: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.”

In other words, Facebook and Twitter won’t win elections — by themselves. The battle must be fought in all of the sources of information that voters refer to on the General Election, the candidates and issues. According to Echo Sonar, a division of Echo Research, this includes TV, word of mouth, family and friends, newspapers, radio, the Internet, social media, and the pub.

That’s right, the pub. Now there’s an information source that you won’t see in America.


Based on my research as a student at the University of Edinburgh, the pub is a very social medium.

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