It’s often said politics is the art of the possible, and advertising the art of persuasion.
Taken together, the UK general election has given us some useful fodder for thinking about the role of influencers in social media campaigns.
Since the wobbly launch of the Labour Party’s election manifesto last month, there has been a massive swing in support for them. This has in no small part been driven by their social media campaign, which has outspent and outperformed their rivals.
Recent episodes like PewDiePie being accused of anti-semitism, and the disastrous celebrity-endorsed Fyre festival have definitely forced marketers to ask how influence works, what influencers really are, and the benefits and risks working with them can bring.
So, what could brands learn from the apparent success of the Labour’s social media influencer campaign?
It seems their influencer campaign is working because it follows five key strategic principles, essential for any brand strategy or campaign.
Have a clear strategy and objective
Any social media influencer campaign needs to be built on a clear strategic objective. Political strategist Benedict Pringle believes Labour’s primary campaign goal is not to win the most seats in parliament, it’s to massively increase their overall share of the popular vote to strengthen the party and Jeremy Corbyn post-election. To do that, they need to get more people to register and vote for them – in effect, a penetration strategy. Everything else flows from this.
Identify who can help you achieve that
The next step is to clarify what role your audiences will play in achieving your objective. Much of Labour’s surge in appeal is coming from new voters under-25, so they have focused on seizing this growth opportunity. Since their campaign began, 1.5 million young people have signed up to vote, with 246,000 people under-25 signing-up to vote on the last day of registration, and polls suggest most of these new, young voters favour Labour. Any successful strategy, whether in business or politics, needs to be clear about whether their growth growth (votes, sales, etc.) will come from.
Understand your audience’s values, motivations and culture
Once you know who you are trying to reach, and why, you have to ask yourself: why should anyone listen? Are you saying something your audience wants to hear, in the way they want to hear it? In the case of the Labour Party’s social media campaign, they seem to have understood their young audience’s values, concerns and passions better than the other parties. By focusing on issues salient to younger people like scrapping end college fees, Labour’s messages have resonated strongly. Of course, it helps that Jeremy Corbyn is a ‘real person’ and not a ‘lizard‘ in the eyes of young voters – Jeremy Corbyn’s fashion sense has been a talking point, and Labour’s, association with the UK’s grime scene is well Brands must know their audience their audience inside-out if they are to stand any chance of creating a credible, and effective influencer campaign.
Find someone with a genuine connection to you and your audience
It’s only at this point should you identify who those influencers might be. Done well, influencers can generate talkability, credibility and deepen the connection with your audience in the hope that it influences people’s behaviour in your favour. It can be wasteful, or worse. Labour’s influencer campaign has been working because they have linked in with musical artists whose values closely overlap with Labour’s and their audiences, like JME, placing their messages in trusted media like like Fact magazine, and at gigs, generating relevance and conversation about the issues they raise.
But we need to dispel a myth at this point, that ‘influencers’ are those rare people with superhuman powers of persuasion. They’re not. Research has shown that word-of-mouth marketing really works at the level of small, primarily offline, social networks and is amplified by social media. Well-chosen, culturally influential celebrities can help generate talkability and shift brand perceptions, but persuasion, linked to behaviour, occurs most powerfully at the micro-level. So, any influencer strategy is really about leveraging credible celebrities to build an army of ‘influencers next-door’ – individuals who are looked to by their peers as passionate experts, whose opinions they value, and who sway their actions.
Slip into conversations, don’t dominate them
The aim of campaigns, and influencer campaigns, is to generate talkability, but people don’t talk to others about brands they way brands might think they do. People won’t tell a friend about the great ‘brand benefits’ or a party’s manifesto’s detailed expenditure plans – that’s boring. People want to talk about things that are important or interesting to them and worth sharing. It’s better to aim to have your party or brand come up in conversation when it’s relevant.
By connecting with culturally relevant influencers, Labour’s social media campaign seems to be succeeding in fitting their messages more organically in younger people’s conversations around politics and the general election. This is much better than attempting to barge into people’s conversations with bland, formulaic mantras, whether you’re a political party or a brand. As research has shown, in this way, word-of-mouth’s lower reach is more than made up for by its greater depth and impact.