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Tories fall behind on social media ‘battleground’ despite significant spend

The three main parties have stepped onto a new electoral battleground during this General Election campaign – TikTok (Yui Mok/PA)
The three main parties have stepped onto a new electoral battleground during this General Election campaign – TikTok (Yui Mok/PA)

While the Labour Party has found its home on TikTok and Reform UK is reaching the most Facebook users, the Conservatives have trailed behind in their effectiveness on social media throughout the General Election campaign.

Despite forking out more than £700,000 on Facebook adverts since the election announcement, the Tories and Rishi Sunak have managed just a quarter of the total interactions earned by Reform and Nigel Farage (according to the latest available Meta data – May 29 to June 27).

Meanwhile, there has only been one winner on TikTok since the country’s leading parties launched on the video sharing platform in May, with Labour racking up more than five million likes to the Conservatives’ 780,000.

“Social media is absolutely key to getting a message out to the UK voter,” Drew Benvie, a social media expert and chief executive of social media consultancy Battenhall, told the PA news agency.

“It is one of, if not the most, influential types of media around today.

“In particular for the younger voters, those disenfranchised or disengaged or apathetic, those who just haven’t voted before – social media is the way to reach them.

“If we look to four years, eight years to the future, there will be a legacy there that is being built right now so it is a major battleground.”

– TikTok

The three main parties have stepped onto a new electoral battleground during this campaign – TikTok – with the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all launching their accounts within days of the General Election being called.

Labour has taken the platform by storm with about five million likes on their page so far, while the Conservatives have notably trailed behind with about 780,000 likes.

The Liberal Democrats have earned more than 600,000 likes, while Reform, which launched on TikTok in 2022, has nearly two million.

Labour’s popularity on the platform could be due to their use of internet culture to share their messages with their 208,000 followers, where they have leant heavily into viral trends and popular memes.

A screenshot from the Labour Party's official TikTok page of a video of Cilla Black singing Surprise! Surprise! with a caption reading 'POV: Rishi Sunak turning up on your 18th birthday to send you to war'
Labour’s TikTok poking fun at Rishi Sunak’s policy on national service earned more than 700,000 likes (UKLabour/TikTok/PA)

One example, which earned more than 700,000 likes and was posted on May 26, aimed to deliver a blow to Prime Minister Sunak’s policy on national service.

The party posted a clip of Cilla Black singing Surprise! Surprise! with a caption reading: “POV: Rishi Sunak turning up to your 18th birthday to send you to war”.

The TikTok account for the Conservative Party, which has about 70,000 followers and launched three days after Labour’s on May 26, has mainly steered clear of implementing viral trends or memes.

Their account has instead favoured using members of the party, such as Lord David Cameron and James Cleverly, as well as Sunak, to provide explainers and speak to viewers about their key policies.

Briefly dipping a toe into the comical, the account shared a set of pictures to their page on June 8 which set to poke fun at Sir Keir Starmer by presenting three different toy doll versions of the Labour leader.

A screenshot from a TikTok on the Conservative Party's official account
The Conservatives presented Sir Keir Starmer as three different toy dolls on their TikTok account (UKConservatives/TikTok/PA)

The dolls were accompanied with names and attributes such as Remain Kier, Corbyn Keir and Eco Keir, and while users felt the post was a “nice concept”, earning about 4,000 likes, it left some feeling Labour’s “TikTok game is better”.

The Liberal Democrats, who launched their account on May 28 and have about 24,000 followers, appear to have taken a leaf out of Labour’s book by posting videos focused around memes to land digs at the Conservatives – scattered in amongst posts of Sir Ed Davey paddleboarding and going down a water slide on the campaign trail.

A screenshot of a TikTok on the Liberal Democrats official account
The Liberal Democrats have shared images of Sir Ed Davey along the campaign trail on their TikTok account (LibDems/TikTok/PA)

Rumbling on in the background is the TikTok account for Reform UK, which first launched in 2022 with former leader and current chairman of the party, Richard Tice.

Since then, the account has gained about 203,000 followers and earned nearly two million likes, with leader of the party Farage fronting the majority of the videos with clips from his speeches along the campaign trail.

Mr Benvie said: “Because of the size of the user base (on TikTok) and the ease of which information can be consumed and shared, we’re looking at very much a TikTok election this year.

“All of the parties will be looking at ways to engage an audience at all costs, and that will be with memes, trending sounds, clips that are funny – because a typical user who might be under the age of 24 might not be after a serious political clip.

“Broadly it’s a good thing, I think all of the parties are trying to strike that balance of being funny, engaging and viral whilst also getting a serious point across.”

– X

Formerly known as Twitter, X is more familiar territory for the parties, with the Tories and Labour launching on the platform in 2008, while Lib Dems’ account goes back to 2007.

Again, Labour leads the way on the discussion-based platform with one million followers, compared with about 625,000 for the Conservatives, 340,000 for the Lib Dems, and 360,000 for Reform.

The number of interactions on posts – namely comments and reposts – however does not always equate to support from users.

For example, since the election was announced a top-performing post on the Conservatives’ X account was a video showing two people carving the world “WELCOME” into stones on a beach in Britain and rolling out a red carpet – a dig at Labour’s immigration policies.

The clip, which was posted on June 20 and captioned “Don’t wake up to this on July 5”, gained about eight million views and 9,000 comments, with some X users finding it “offensive”, while others said the video was “hypocrisy” and “unbelievable given what has happened over the last 14 years”.

For Labour, their X tactics appear similar to their approach on TikTok, with the party sharing frequent posts based on viral memes to poke fun at the Conservatives.

However, one of the party’s top-performing posts on X since May 23 was a simple text post responding to Sunak, who wrote on X on June 10: “If you’re a criminal, the law should show you no mercy.”

Labour quoted the post on the same day and replied: “Says the man fined for breaking the law twice”, which earned more than 30,000 likes and 1.5 million views.

The Liberal Democrats have also had success since May 23 with posts aimed at landing blows to the Tories.

Their top-performer in that period earned 11,000 likes by taking a social media swipe at Sunak for not being in attendance at the D-Day 80 International Ceremony at Omaha Beach.

The party shared an edited photo on June 7 of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden with Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron – who was in the original photo – cut out of the picture while his silhouette was instead marked with a black dotted line.

The post was captioned: “A dereliction of duty.”

For Reform, their two top-performing posts since May 23 have amassed about 8,000 likes each, including a video clip of Farage discussing immigration and a post encouraging their followers to vote for the party on July 4.

– Facebook

Facebook is the oldest of the three social media platforms included in our study, but it is the newest of the four main parties which has enjoyed the most success during the election campaign so far.

According to figures from Meta’s Ad Library Report platform from the period May 29 to June 27 (the latest available data) the Conservatives forked out more than £700,000 on about 2,500 advertising campaigns for their Facebook page and that of Sunak.

In that period, pages for Farage and Reform spent less than half that amount (just over £300,000) on fewer than 200 ads, but earned more than four times as many interactions on their pages (2.23 million) than the Tories and Sunak (521,000) according to social monitoring platform Crowdtangle.

The combined following of the two pages for Sunak and the Tory party is around 1.72 million, compared with 1.38 million for the two pages of Farage and Reform.