The announcement of Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to change the way in which the Facebook news feed works will undoubtedly have sent shivers down the spines of digital strategists and social media publishers worldwide, but it provides huge opportunities for Labour, charities, non-profits and campaigns.
Zuckerberg is right: Facebook should be about community, connecting with peers, and having conversations. It’s easy for marketers, campaigners and content creators to forget this while competing to reach audiences and striving for better engagement.
The shift towards peer-to-peer engagement on the world’s biggest social network should be seen as a massive advantage for organisations or campaigns whose biggest assets are the size of their supporter base and their ability to build a sympathetic narrative around their cause.
Big, active supporter base? The ability to create a sympathetic narrative around the injustice against the average working person? The Labour Party should be jumping with joy.
It’s exactly what made the 2017 election campaign so successful on social media. It wasn’t due to the central team broadcasting content, although they did this well. It was down to the hundreds of thousands of supporters who shared stories, GIFs, memes, and opinions from a broad spectrum of sources, from the many pro-Labour Facebook groups and multiple left-leaning blogs. It was a de-centralised campaign where the power of people as content creators and content sharers was absolutely key.
Even with the Tories’ renewed focus on beefing up their digital campaigning ability, they just don’t have the same narrative arc to play on in the same way that Labour does, and they don’t have Labour’s active, digital natives amplifying their message.
Sure, the Conservatives can throw millions of pounds at advertising on social media, but this can never surpass the value of peer-to-peer engagement. At a time when voters’ levels of trust in politicians are so low, people are 16 times more likely to click on the post of a friend than an organisation, and 135 dedicated supporters sharing a post on Facebook can reach as many people as the same post on a page with 1,000,000 fans.
This evolution means the role of campaigners, digital strategists and social media managers for politicians and campaigns is changing. We must become facilitators and empower our audiences and communities to be at the very heart of our future campaigns.
Mobilising packs of micro-influencers is fast becoming the future of organic social media campaigning. Progressives need to employ the credibility, passion and voice of our supporters. By harnessing supporters’ influence on social media we’ll effect real change. Zuckerberg’s announcement only serves to cement the place of peer-to-peer communication as central to any successful social media strategy.
Labour must organise their packs of micro-influencers in an effective and innovative way and not rely on broadcasting messages from the centre. They must organise and equip supporters with the tools, content and confidence they need to be the voice of their campaigns. With that, Zuckerberg’s news feed changes will inevitably expand Labour’s reach and increase their effectiveness as a campaign force online.
Tom Lillywhite is chief executive of Wilder Digital, digital strategist for Labour MP Keir Starmer and founder of social media campaigning tool Pack. He tweets at @tomlillywhite.