By Tom Rowsell
The UK general elections are only a couple of weeks away and the future of Natalie Bennett’s eco friendly party is uncertain. The Greens have had a rough time in the mainstream media recently. They have been fending off criticism that their citizen’s income policy is unworkable, that they want to abolish the monarchy and that MP Jenny Ross has made a tasteless cancer joke aimed at a political opponent.
But as UKIP have proven, the mainstream media doesn’t always reflect the opinions of the voting public. Social media is a more grass roots medium of mass communication and its role in May’s election must not be understated. A poll by Ipsos Mori revealed that a third of 18-24 year-olds think social media will influence their vote. YouGov polling showed that the Greens find more sympathy among young voters than the electorate in general, so engaging them via social media is a wise move on their part.
The Ipsos Mori poll also showed that young people were the most positive about the potential of social media platforms to break down the barriers between voters and politicians. 60% of young people agree with the position, while only 39% of those aged 55 and over agree.
The Green’s social media strategy went into overdrive recently, as the party encouraged non-members to sign up as social media promoters. This has resulted in a flurry of Green Facebook groups and pages popping up, with varying degrees of success. The Greens for a Better Future group boasts 5,660 members at the time of writing, while the Green Business group has 13 and the Green teen group, surprisingly, has only 10. This initiative follows the recruitment of a new Social Media Officer earlier this year. Their job description says that they need to “enhance the social media activities of the party in the build up to the General Election and perhaps beyond.”
The official Green Party social media pages are more popular than their independently managed regional groups. The main Facebook page has about 157,000 likes, while leader Natalie Bennett’s page has 10,700. They are also successful on Twitter, with the main account accruing 112,000 followers and 54,000 for Bennett’s account. Even the London Green’s Twitter account has over 8000 followers.
Although these statistics bode well for the Greens, a comparison with rival parties paints a different picture. UKIP’s Facebook page has more than twice as many likes as the Greens’. PR week conducted a study in conjunction with We Are Social, which identified UKIP as the most talked-about party on Twitter, with a 30% share of the conversation over the three months from November to February, followed by 29% for Labour and 25% for the Conservatives. Even the SNP, with just 11%, were still ahead of the Greens.
They fared no better when it came to the most talked about party leaders on social media. Prime Minister David Cameron was first with 32%, UKIP’s Nigel Farage second with 25%, Labour’s Ed Miliband third with 20%, then the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon with 12 per cent, the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg with 8% and Natalie Bennett trailing behind with a measly 3% share.
Are things looking black for the Greens? Not necessarily, when you consider that their social media strategy is actually more dependent on community organising than on hashtags and likes. All their logos and branding can be downloaded from their website and used in unofficial initiatives by both members and non-members.
By encouraging this kind of DIY activism, the Green’s nurture the independent growth of online communities and discussion groups, such as the Green Party Home Ed Campaign Group. This is a group for concerned Green Party members who want the party to reform its home education policies. It is alleged that the policies currently allow state interference with home schooling and that this could disrupt the education of vulnerable children, such as those who are home schooled due to being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
Then there are initiatives like the Green Party Memes page, which, despite the apparently frivolous name, is almost entirely devoid of internet memes. Instead, the admins post promotional infographics, and in so doing have amassed over a thousand likes.
Due to the partially unofficial and nebulous nature of the Green Party social media strategy, it is quite difficult to determine just how successful it has been. From just 28,000 Facebook likes in April 2014, the main page rose to more than 128,000 likes by the end of January this year. That’s about 8,333 likes per month, and they’ve become even more popular since then, with about 14,500 likes per month in February and March. Despite this, they are still a long way behind UKIP, Labour and the Conservatives. But even if the Greens do spectacularly well on all social channels, the translation of social media success into votes on election day is as uncertain and dubious as fortune telling.