Labour’s View: The Word-of-Mouth Election

Editor’s note: This column is part of a series dedicated to looking at the digital strategies and tactics being employed in the U.K elections. This series will explore how each of the parties are using search and display advertising, social media, and other digital tools, techniques, and platforms — as well as how they measure the results of their efforts.

Wow! So, it’s all over. For now.

We were told that the Tories were going to walk it — having the bulk of the press backing them, a 13-year incumbent government, and pots of cash to spend. But the Labour word-of-mouth campaign just wouldn’t roll over and let it happen.

There’s been much excitable debate over here about whether this was the Internet election. We’ve always said that this is an over-simplification. Society has changed and voters want to interact with politicians and each other in completely different ways. The Internet is part of that, but only as a facilitator.

Our choice was to use the Web to motivate and mobilise our supporters and activists. This was an important core strategic decision we made two years ago.

Everything we did in terms of new media campaign was about creating real-world actions — largely doorstep contacts, phone banking. and event organising. It’s important to note that we achieved treble the number of weekly doorstep contacts (about 450,000 a week) versus the same stage in the 2005 election at a time when, you could argue, it’s harder for us to get our people out knocking on doors.

No single shiny initiative has led to all this. Rather, it’s indicative of a core thinking at the heart of the party organisation.

Labour has invested in the right technology, such as our virtual phone bank tool that generated 60,000 calls (a big number in a U.K. context), the kind of CRM system that catches any indication of interest in joining and volunteering online by ensuring a human being contacts that person and gives them real-time information on what they can do in their local area to make a difference. This leads to immediate real world actions.

There’s also the e-mail strategy. Again, adapted in technology and approach from Barack Obama, but also reworked for a British context.

We no longer harvest as many e-mail addresses as possible so we can broadcast messages to people. The lists have been worked and worked and worked so that now we send finely targeted e-mails to people who have given us permission to talk to them on a specific topic and we have a deep understanding of what they’ll respond to.

The result: e-mails with open rates of 80 percent and action rates of 20 percent. These are big numbers in the context of e-mail marketing.

Then there are the cultural changes:

  • Giving materials to bloggers at the same time or in advance of mainstream media.
  • Producing an iPhone app that just has features that activists have asked for rather than what HQ think looks clever.
  • Making our manifesto accessible and shareable online so that 110,000 people read it versus only 8,000 in 2005.
  • Having a blogger introduce the manifesto launch.
  • Sending out social reporters to showcase best practice at grassroots via the website.
  • Consulting our activists on how our members networking site should work so that it’s genuinely useful in campaigning (30,000 members regularly use this versus 10,000 for the Tory equivalent).
  • Amplifying and assisting (where appropriate) innovation at grassroots (e.g. #MobMonday and the MyDavidCameron posters).

We recognised that not all the clever people worked at HQ, that members should be facilitated to organise their own campaigns and shape the message. We should help wherever possible but also recognise that people respond to “people like them,” not sound bites and officialdom.

For us this wasn’t the Internet election, it was the word of mouth election, where, finally, the people were involved.

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