CNBC, an American cable and satellite television channel, recently posted a feature story on its website entitled, “UK election: Why the world is watching.” Hey, I’m not making this stuff up. So, when did Americans suddenly develop an interest in politics in the United Kingdom?
As part of our weekly Tubular Labs Insights series, I took a look into how the 2015 candidates and political parties are faring with online video. For those outside (or indeed inside) the U.K, that are confused about first-past-the-post system, or which party stands for what, take a few minutes to watch this excellent video from Mashable. The UK goes to the polls on May 7 and if the only thing you understand about British culture is “Game of Thrones”, then this is a perfect overview:
2015 UK General Election: Video Trends
Politics in the United Kingdom is just as gripping, captivating, fascinating, enthralling, absorbing, exciting, and forceful as an American fantasy drama television series created for HBO. So, why are the UK elections as compelling as Game of Thrones? Well, as CNBC explained: “It’s an election that refuses to play by the rules, and pollsters are still scrabbling for a reliable forecast”.
So, if the pollsters can’t predict the outcome of this election, let’s look at the latest video trends for each of the YouTube channels for the seven parties mentioned in Mashable’s “Game of Thrones guide to UK elections” to see if we can find a reliable forecast. Let’s look at the YouTube activity of the main political parties in the past 90 days:
The Tories: 3.7 Million Views, But No Likes
We’ll start with the Conservatives channel, the party in current power, led by Prime Minister David Cameron. There have been 77 uploads in the past 90 days. They’ve received 3.7 million views, 778 comments, 0 likes, and 4,793 new subscribers. Note the inflection point in views and subscribers that started April 7-8.
The Greens: A Huge Spike in Views & Subscribers
The Green Party of England & Wales are no longer the minority party they once were. They have uploaded 100 videos in the past 90 days. They’ve received 823,000 views, 3,240 comments, 11,000 likes, and 3,191 new subscribers. Note the spike in views and subscribers that also started April 7.
Labour: Impressive YouTube Channel Growth
Labour, led by Ed Miliband, have uploaded 69 videos to the Labour Party channel in the past 90 days. They’ve received 523,000 views, 4,473 comments, 5,733 likes, and 2,559 new subscribers. Note the spike in views and subscribers that started March 30-April. Nevertheless, Labour’s channel has received fewer views and new subscribers than the Green Party in the run up to the election.
However, in the past few days, Russell Brand has released a couple of videos urging the electorate to vote Labour this week, which have attracted over 1.6M views. And, the Labour Party also released a video featuring actor and comedian Steve Coogan a couple of days ago, which has already generated 60K plus views but also a created a LOT of buzz in the UK press:
The Lib Dems: A Drop in Views
Now, let’s check out the Liberal Democrats channel. The party who are currently leading the country in coalition with the Tories have uploaded 90 videos in the past 90 days. They’ve received 376,000 views, 1,036 comments, 2,043 likes, and 715 new subscribers. Note the drop in views on April 25. That’s when the LibDems removed “Uptown Funk: Liberal Democrats (unofficial) Election Anthem,” their most watched video with 327,000 views.
UKIP: The Party with the Most Subscribers
Next, we’ll look at the UK Independence Party (UKIP) channel. They have uploaded 26 videos in the past 90 days. They’ve received 176,000 views, 3,194 comments, 4,725 likes, and 1,389 new subscribers. Note the drop in views on April 7. That’s when “UKIP Nigel Farage Immigration speech – GE March 2015,” which had 8,584 views, became unavailable.
Scottish Nationalists: No New Subscribers in 90 Days
The Scottish National Party (SNP) are ruffling an enormous amount of feathers in this year’s election.They have posted 30 videos to their YouTube channel in the past 90 days and they’ve received 110,000 views, 367 comments, 2,482 likes, and 0 new subscribers. So, does this mean that the SNP is preaching to the converted?
Welsh Nationalists: Very Low Engagement on YouTube
Finally, we’ll look at the Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru (PC) channel. There have been 44 uploads in the past 90 days. They’ve received 18,000 views, 50 comments, 174 likes, and 142 new subscribers. Note the bump in views on March 14.
Election Campaign Management: Is Video Even Working?
Just by looking at the video trends, we can see why this is an election that refuses to play by the rules. Two parties have removed videos from their channels which were probably embarrassing gaffes. One channel hasn’t added any new subscribers in 90 days. And an inflection, bump, or spike in views back in March or April doesn’t tell you which of these YouTube channels are more likely to influence voters on May 7.
So, how can a campaign manager in the UK – let alone one in the US – tell which YouTube channels helped their parties, which ones hurt them, and which ones had no impact whatsoever?
This brings us to some critical data from Tubular Labs. It’s called the Tubular Influencer Score (TIS) and it’s still in beta. TIS measures a channel’s ability to influence its audience members. Scores range from 0-1000 and are recalculated weekly from the previous 90 days of data. This score takes into account over 10 different metrics including the following components:
- Reach: How many people and influencers does the channel reach (e.g., views, subs)?
- Engagement: How engaged is a channel’s audience (e.g., comments, likes)?
- Channel Activity: How active is the channel creator in engaging with his fans and uploading new videos?
So, based on this metric, which of the YouTube channels for the seven parties in the UK are good (a score of 600 to 700) and which ones aren’t so good? Drum roll please.
- TIS for the Green Party: 667
- TIS for UKIP: 641
- TIS for Labour: 628
- TIS for the SNP: 604
- TIS for the Conservatives: 593
- TIS for the LibDems: 590
- TIS for Plaid Cymru: 534
Political Video Marketing: Strategic Insights
Now, YouTube isn’t the only medium with the ability to influence its audience members. TV debates and newspaper endorsements are still influential. Other social media – including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine – play key roles. In fact, when I covered the last UK election in 2010, I discovered a social medium in Great Britain that doesn’t have as much of a presence over here in the States. It’s called “the pub.”
While covering the 2010 UK election, I also learned that the national polls are fairly poor predictors of the number of seats that a party ends up with in Parliament.
Now, if the election were held May 1 (and it won’t be held until May 7), then Conservatives would have won 34% of the vote, Labour 33%, UKIP 14%, LibDems 9%, and Greens 5%. But, because of the British first-past-the-post electoral system, these percentages would not be reflected in the 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom.
According to the FiveThirtyEight UK forecasting model, Conservatives will win 280 seats, short of the 326 seats needed for a majority. Labour will win 269 seats. The SNP will win 50, despite being a regional party. The LibDems will win 26. Plaid Cymru will win 4, despite being a regional party. The Green Party will win 1. And UKIP will win only 1. The remaining seats will be divided among other minor parties. Now, before Americans get on their high horse, remember that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but George W. Bush got more electoral votes — following a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court that ended the Florida recount. This means the electoral systems on both sides of the pond should be reformed.
So, can we use the Tubular Influencer Score to predict the outcome of the 2015 UK election? Will having a channel with a TIS that’s 77 points higher swing a significant percentage of disillusioned LibDems to cast their votes for the Green Party? Will having channel with a TIS that’s 44 points higher swing a smaller percentage of disenchanted Tories to cast their votes for UKIP? Do the Tubular Influencer Scores for the SNP and PC channels understate their influence because they are for regional, not national parties?
We won’t know how useful a metric it is until after Thursday night. But, don’t surprised if the Greens, UKIP and Labour end up doing better, while the Conservatives and LibDems end up doing worse than expected in the polls. Yes, yes, the UK will get a hung parliament, which means the selection of the next Prime Minister could resemble Game of Thrones.
Nevertheless, if TIS turns out to be a good measure of a channel’s ability to influence its audience members, then the campaign managers for the five Democrats (Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley, Webb, and Chafee) and 13 Republicans (Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Bush, Walker, Christie, Huckabee, Santorum, Perry, Graham, Jindal, Fiorina, and Carson) who are running – or have expressed in interest in running – for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination in the US will have a useful benchmark. This may be another reason why so many Americans have suddenly developed an interest in politics on the other side of the pond.
Online Politics Campaigning: Tactical Advice
What other tactical advice can American campaign managers glean from their British counterparts? If you look at the Green Party of England and Wales channel, you’ll see five more Green Party Channels featured on the right. This means the numbers above understate the party’s presence on YouTube. It’s also a smart tactic when you are trying to turn 5% of the vote into more than 1 seat in Parliament.
While we’re on the channel, let’s check out the Green Party’s most popular video. It’s entitled “Change the Tune – The Green Party Election Broadcast.” The description says, “When every other party – Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP – seems so similar it’s like they’re in a boyband, it’s time to stand for what you believe in, and vote Green.” That’s a creative concept worth stealing.
If you look at the UK Independence Party (UKIP) channel, you’ll also see six related channels on YouTube on the right. This may be a lucky accident, but it also means the numbers above understate the party’s presence on YouTube.
If you look at the metadata for “Ed’s Mystery Guest” on the Labour Party channel, you won’t find the name of the English professional snooker player that Ed Miliband played a few games of pool against. So, this video won’t appear in YouTube search results if a voter searches for “Ronnie O’Sullivan”, “The Rocket”, and “The Essex Exocet”. Now, I know optimization is spelled with an “s” instead of a “z” in the UK, but hasn’t anyone taught video SEO to the Brits?
If you look at the Scottish National Party (SNP) channel, you’ll see what happens when you don’t choose to promote Featured Channels or have enough of your own Related Channels to get lucky. YouTube will choose what channels will appear on your channel page. And, as you can see, YouTube has selected channels for the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, PlaidTV, Peter Curran, Channel 4 News, and UKIPmedia. It’s odd, but Labour wasn’t selected.
If you look underneath “Welcome to our YouTube Channel” on the Conservatives channel, you’ll see “Comments are disabled for this video.” This not only kills engagement on YouTube, it also sends voters the message: “I want your vote but I don’t want to be bothered with responding to your comments.” That’s not a clever way to win friends and influence people.
If you look at the Liberal Democrats channel, you’ll see that following the removal of “Uptown Funk,” the most popular video remaining was uploaded two years ago. It’s entitled, “There’s no easy way to say this…” and it offers an apology for not keeping a promise to not raise tuition fees. If that’s now your most popular video, then get ready for a “shellacking.”
Finally, if you look at the Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru (PC) channel, you’ll see the trailer is entitled, “I’m Voting Plaid: The Party of Wales’ 2015 General Election PPB.” The description says, “Many people the length and breadth of Wales will be voting Plaid for the first time in May’s election. This is how a talented team of creative people envisaged what it’s like to tell friends, family and colleagues that you’re ready to take the positive step of voting for a progressive party that always puts the interests of Welsh people first.” This is another creative concept worth stealing.
What to Watch For on Election Night 2015
So, the drama in the United Kingdom heading into election night is as compelling as Game of Thrones. But, the tension can be broken with some comic relief. A day after Mashable published its guide the UK elections, Monty Python’s Flying Circus jumped on the bandwagon, cleverly “curated” content “created” for the BBC in 1970, and published their “Election Night Special” on Friday, May 1.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see how this turns out.