27 Sep 2016

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With the results for the Labour Party leadership presented on 24th September, Social360 analyses the contenders’ social media support and activity and looks back at trends in the previous context.

Special Election Report: Labour Leadership

• Incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn’s official following on social media eclipses Owen Smith’s

• Corbyn also has a much bigger unofficial following who are much more active online

• If social media followers and activity are a good indicator of popularity then the outcome of this race looked clear before the vote…

Recent poll reports said Jeremy Corbyn was on target to be re-elected with a larger mandate than in the 2015 election, when he received 59.5% of membership votes; a YouGov survey of eligible membership voters now puts the Corbyn’s support at 62%, to the challenger Owen Smith’s 38%.

In the 2015 leadership context Corbyn dominated social media in the run up to his initial election, his Facebook following alone was 64% larger than the other three candidates combined. Form that seems to have been carried into this campaign…

A New Statesmen’s piece ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s media strategy is smarter than his critics realise’ suggests that Corbyn’s strengths are not dependent on PR via traditional media outlets, “but on his ability to nurture a social movement that can truly articulate the concerns and hopes of millions of British people”. This point is exemplified by the popularity of unofficial support groups for the Labour leader.

Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister is the biggest unofficial and unaffiliated group and was responsible for the #jezwecan and #jezwedid campaigns during Corbyn’s first leadership challenge. Owen Smith’s official and unofficial total of 74,142 followers across all presences pales in comparison; Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister has a combined total of 1.02 million followers across all social media platforms. Corbyn’s official following shows an even larger gap between the two candidates in the battle for social media domination, with the sitting leader’s profiles garnering over 1.4 million followers.

Corbyn’s unofficial following is also more active online than Smith’s legitimate team, with the Twitter account @JeremyCorbyn4PM tweeting/retweeting 109 times between 1st and 4th September. The challenger’s certified campaign account @owensmith2016 posted and shared on ninety-four occasions over the same period. By contrast, the Labour leader only posted twenty times from his official account, and Owen Smith only shared a singular post over the same timeframe.

Official channels on other platforms also show a disparity in support and activity; on YouTube, both leadership hopefuls have official associated channels (subscriber numbers unavailable) but whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s account has attained over 458,000 total video views, Owen 2016 trails behind at 56,000. It is worth noting that the latter’s account has only been active since July 2016, whilst Corbyn’s account was created three years earlier in February 2013. However, Corbyn’s channel is currently more active on the site, with at least one video posted per day between 1st and 4th September, whereas Smith’s official campaign had not uploaded a new video in the 6 days running up to 5th September.

Interestingly, despite the popularity of Instagram, only one candidate has official presences on the platform. The current party leader has a personal following of 9,336 on Instagram, with the non-affiliated Jeremy Corbyn for PM campaign bolstering that support with a further 12,500. There is an unofficial Instagram page for Owen Smith, which has accumulated 38 followers thus far, and he is absent from Snapchat in both official and unofficial capacity; Corbyn’s camp joined the platform in April 2016 with the username jeremycorbynmp.

It seems the public is also more actively voicing their support for the current leader of the Labour Party on social media, with the popular hashtag #votecorbyn being tweeted approximately 1,353 times in 24 hours from the 4th -5th September. Over the same period, the official hashtag for Owen Smith’s campaign #owen2016 saw approximately 983 mentions.

This all begs the question, though: Does social media support equate to polling popularity?

There are still a lot of variable factors to consider and each contest is unique, but if we consider the previously mentioned membership polls alongside social media statistics, including a 2016 Warren Knight report noting that over half of U.K. citizens are now active on social media, it’s a fair assumption that – at least for this election process – the outcome of the leadership challenge could have been predicted by analysing social media usage and support.

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