The three main political parties in the UK are failing to take advantage of the digital media revolution in their attempts to reach voters.
In a report compiled by advertising agency Cheetham Bell JWT, the websites of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties were tested for use of social media, accessibility compliance and search engine activity.
The report revealed that none of the parties’ websites ranked before page four on Google in a "local election" search. It also found that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, despite being used by large swathes of the UK public, are under-utilised by political parties. The research found that only 68 Facebook updates and 79 tweets were made by all three parties’ main accounts in the whole of April.
According to YouGov, 95% of 16-20 year olds and 74% of 21-24 year olds accessed Facebook in March this year.
Key findings of the Digital MOT report
- None of the 50,000 Google searches per month for "local elections" lists any of the three major parties in pages one to four.
- Search terms including "immigration", "NHS" and "foreign policy" failed to find a single mention of the three parties.
- Neither Labour nor the Lib Dems have a mobile website, and the Conservatives' mobile site is uninspiring and difficult to read.
- The parties are just replicating existing activity on social media platforms by posting updates about activities and news rather than using them to really interact with voters.
- Labour and the Liberal Democrats are failing to check that their website articles are using alt text that can be read by visually impaired voters. Some pages featured 12 accessibility errors.
The Cheetham Bell JWT Digital MOT report, as it is known, used the same methodology to assess the performance of the parties as it does for hundreds of household brands each year.
The Conservatives were the best of a bad bunch, with 57 out of a possible 105 points, the Lib Dems were second with 54 points, and Labour trailed in last with 51 points.
“We were genuinely shocked at the lack of understanding and strategy this digital MOT has revealed among the major political parties. The rest of the world is embracing the digital age, but politicians are clinging to the same old clumsy, environmentally unfriendly and scattergun electioneering approach – door drops, newspaper inserts, posters, etc,” said Cheetham Bell JWT CEO David Bell.
“With political party funding under scrutiny, politicians have to look to digital media as a much more cost-effective and targeted way to reach voters, particularly the digitally savvy electorate, who are far more likely to engage with a candidate on Facebook or Google than read a leaflet that comes through the door with a handful of pizza menus,” he said.
But there were some good practices the report found. The Liberal Democratic party was praised for its blogging; Labour’s website was reported as being easy to use with clear strategy and purpose and good links to social media and opportunities for data collection; the Conservative party was found to be the best when it comes to video content, both on its own website and YouTube.