Are UK politicians right to concentrate on Facebook?

Take a look round Facebook, and you’ll find multiple examples of all the main political parties, and their MPs, making use of it to promote their wares and network with supporters. However, look at other social networking sites such as Bebo or Myspace and you’ll find only a relatively sparse party presence, with very few MPs around.

Is this concentration on Facebook justified? After all, it is only one of several social networking sites, and as recently as June last year it only got 16% of the UK social networking site traffic, lagging behind Myspace on 29% and Bebo on 34%.

However, Facebook has see its share of traffic grow very quickly, with the latest figures giving it 45%, well ahead of Bebo on 25% and Myspace on 15%. No-one else breaks 2%.

Conclusion? Whether or not the heavy concentration on Facebook was right in the past,* it is increasingly looking like the right decision, particularly when you factor in the higher proportion of much younger users on Bebo and the number of conflicting demands on politicians’ time, which usually means having one active social networking presence is the most they can squeeze in.

(Figures from Hitwise)

* Of course, in the case of the Liberal Democrats, I put that past decision down to quality forecasting of future trends 🙂

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23 Comments

  • Dinti Batstone 22nd Jul '08 - 10:37pm

    My understanding is that the demographic profile of the typical Facebook user is more likely to be favourable (i.e. interested in politics) than that of the other sites…?

  • passing tory 23rd Jul '08 - 12:25am

    Dinti, that is my understanding too (or maybe it is just the status feature on Facebook that appeals to the self-publicising tendencies within the political class).

  • Whoever runs Facebook should just get rid of the majority of applications. Perhaps the more liberal way is to educate users so they’ll stop clogging up their pages with utter bilge, but that quite plainly isn’t happening.

    I always try to vote “No” on the “Are you interested” thing, but it keeps telling me that I have to sign up, which I won’t do 😀

  • It was colonised by prospectors.

  • Grammar Police 23rd Jul '08 - 12:52pm

    One of the things I don’t like about the motivational groups is that I get the distinct impression that the people writing the report think they’re pioneers and think that the “best” people are pioneers . . .

  • Hywel Morgan 23rd Jul '08 - 1:22pm

    Those percentage figures are little meaningless in the abscence of any absolute reference point (45% of what?) but I think it’s safe to conclude that Facebook is now the leading site.

    As well as the event co-ordination discussed above I think Facebook can be used to target several groups.
    1) Party activists – which will help keep them motivated and involved.
    2) Strong party supporters who have “befriended” an MP or councillor – in a similar way to activists
    3) People with general interest in local issues – particularly if they befriend a local politician through their involvement in a particular campaign
    4) Community leaders who may want to be kept informed of councillor/MP activity. This can be particularly significant as it can lead to “secondary communication” as they pass on information about what an MP/Councillor has said and done.

    Involving and communicating to those groups can have benefits that are disproporationate to their numbers – ie you have a few hundred people but they are the people you need to work/pay for your re-election or who carry significant weight in their communities.

    I don’t think they represent numbers that are, in themselves, significant in electoral terms.

    Mark’s closing comment about active presence is I think crucial. Just about any internet activity needs updating pretty regularly – even weekly can look pretty out of date and it also needs to promoted a two way dialogue – that’s how you engage people. If it’s genuine and people are interested in politics and local issues I suspect they will come and find you whatever format it’s in.

  • Hywel Morgan 23rd Jul '08 - 1:42pm

    The Conservatives in Glasgow East (Cllr David Meikle) claim they got round “its relative weakness in the area by using the networking website Facebook to get people involved.”

    Silly claim really – but a bit indicative of the way the media swallow any social networking site nonsense. The Facebook group “Davena Rankin fighting for Glasgow East” claims a total of 192 friends – of which only a handful are in the Glasgow network.

    By the looks of it it has been a good activist motivator tool but it’s impact on the electoral maths is going to be on the low side of nil.

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