TV party political broadcasts have always struggled with the adverts when vying for viewer attention. On the surface, content marketing on UK political party websites should have a doubly hard time. Yet election time is probably the one occasion when it needs to be on its game. Party sites should fulfill a crucial role in capturing floating voters researching how to cast their vote.
With this in mind, we looked at how the main parties were using content marketing to sell themselves in the run-up to the election.
The Conservative Party
The first view of the site is a picture of Mr and Mrs Cameron on a walkabout, but it is dominated by a request for email details.
Besides the manifesto, much of the content has been formed into regular posts of around 200 words. They are largely in bullet-point form and appear focused on the economy.
One criticism: the posts appear too short and lacking in substance. Another issue – the Tories are not alone in this – is that the posts appear to be appealing to the converted rather than convincing the waverers. Much of it concentrates on Conservative policy and record rather than the opposition. The “Ed Miliband, propped up by the SNP” line appears so frequently it could have been set up as an SEO keyphrase.
The major gripe is that all of this is wrapped within what appears to be a social media campaign. Dubbed ‘Share the Facts’ it uses ‘gameification’ to encourage people to share the posts via their social networks. For this you receive points: 100 here or 50 there. Finish in the top 3 and you receive a ‘reward’. Whether this is £1 million or a full English cooked by Samantha Cameron, it is not explained* on the site.
However, the fact some people have as much as 170,000 points must mean it’s worth chasing, either that or they have some very bored followers.
Labour’s approach to content marketing appears to be fairly similar to the Conservatives. The content is largely issue-focused and uses numbered lists rather than bullet points. Areas covered include immigration, housing and the arts. One key difference is an increase in negativity, largely directed at the Conservatives.
Again the content appeared to be tailored to the converted. One piece, titled “Seven days one million conversations” is mainly about how hard party activists are working. There were also numerous requests for email addresses, to which we finally succumbed stating that we were on the fence. However, less than a day later we received an email of thanks for the support and requesting funds and help on the road.
Notably, there was very little from Ed Miliband in terms of images or general content.
One the good side, the site was straightforward. And it lacked anything like the awful Share the Facts campaign.
The Lib Dems site is the first to actually look like it was designed to bring people into the fold. The home page resembles that of a news site with headlines such as “NHS needs extra £8bn” and “Increasing the personal tax allowance is a red line”.
One piece to stick out is “12 policies that you will only find in the Lib Dem manifesto”. This uses web graphics to hover and reveal key policies. Although the Lib Dems also tend to use bullet points to illustrate points, each article is longer and has more text and quotes.
But if there is more meat to the content, it is also fairly negative with the Tories again largely in the firing line. Interestingly there is a request to use location data, although no changes occur to the content when this is approved.
Essentially though, this is a simple site to navigate and obviously designed to help inform people about the party.
Once your eyes get used to the purple, the first thing you’ll notice is the obligatory request for email details. But there is plenty of new content on the front page, much of it bylined by leader Nigel Farage and the UKIP economics spokesman. The negativity to policy ratio seems the highest of any of the party sites. Three out of four articles were focused on Labour, Conservatives and of course, the evil EU.
However, it’s the fourth piece that catches the eye. It is a scan of a letter to Farage from an HIV patient which backs the UKIP leader in his recent argument that HIV healthcare resources are being taken up by immigrants. Whether it is tasteless or not to run it, the letter is possibly the most memorable element on all of the sites.
For all the SNP’s success at the opinion polls, this site looks like it’s had the least amount of effort put into it. Besides the manifesto, there is a blog containing articles around visits that the party’s key players have made. Each one starts using a template introduction about where the politician is before running into what looks suspiciously like a copy of the speech.
Still for all its supposed differences to UKIP, the SNP also has an online store. ‘Yes’ campaign 2015 calendars are going for £3 reduced from £8.
Ultimately, these sites could have missed an opportunity. Most, with the exception perhaps of the Lib Dems, appear to be targeting their own supporters. Barring video, there is little in the way of interviews or features, only policy boiled down to the bottom of the pan.
The most interesting point is how little the three main parties seem to use their own leaders. In our view, content marketing should be handled by people who have been trained as journalists. And all of the parties must have access to that sort of resource, but it hasn’t translated to the screen.
The Conservatives make an effort to be different but in the wrong way with the Share the Facts campaign. More telling are recent stats showing Labour candidates have tweeted twice as many times as their Conservative counterparts.
A retailer would see its site as an extension of its shop window – political parties should think the same way. Sadly, in this high street the displays could have been better.
*A request for more information was swiftly answered. The prizes include “campaign posters signed by the Chancellor, 2015 Manifestos signed by the Prime Minister and William Hague’s book on Wilberforce, signed by the author”.