The Importance of UGC in the Election

Social media was a key battle ground for all parties in the recent UK election, one month on, we've asked Mark Doyle to look into the role UGC played in changing opinions of potential voters.

The recent election in the UK stirred up some interesting conversations about the power and influence of the mainstream media, and more interestingly, the growing power of social media. This power came from social channels ability to share and disseminate user generated content, and react almost instantly to advertisements and posts from parties wishing to influence.

Two powerful examples of this occurred during and after the election, with often hilarious but always very caustic reactions to Theresa May’s announcements – wheat fields will never be the same again, and magic money tree’s are apparently arbitrary things, that occupy time and space rather like subatomic particles as explained by Schrodingers Cat. They exist for some parties, but not for others, apart from when that party wants to offer ‘incentives’ to stay in power. 

The UGC (user generated content) produced over the course of the election was far from just mindless trolling, most of it was from an informed, engaged population no longer believing what both the mainstream politicians were saying to them, or their cheerleaders in the mainstream media. As one friend of mine said to me the day after the election result, “well, that’s the mainstream media dead then – young people don’t read newspapers.” Whatever your view on the traditional media, the outlook is bleak for the likes of Murdoch and Dacre et al.

It is fairly evident that UGC had a massive influence on the election result, powered almost entirely by social sharing. The Conservatives chose to bombard people with targeted ads, which the young especially ignored, whilst the organic UGC lead movement on social allowed for greater audience penetration via sharing, and also quicker countering of messages seen as ‘propaganda’. It was clear from observing this behaviour, on even a rudimentary level, that things were going to be very different and so they proved to be.

If NLP (natural language processing) technologies and sentiment analysis tools had been used during the campaign, they would have given a more accurate analysis of the changing voice of the population over the seven weeks or so of campaigning.  The dependence on old media and online advertising failed catastrophically for the Conservative party, who made the assumption that vitriol and scaremongering coupled with targeted advertising would sway people. This was naive at best. One thing is for sure, times have changed, and the UK election definitely represented a tipping point in the transfer of power between the old media institutions and the people via social sharing. Even the power of adtech to serve behaviourally targeted ads took a mighty smack on the nose – their influence was blunted by the torrent of user generation content. But it was also naive to expect adtech to influence the electorate in the way the Conservatives especially believed. Adtech is, after all, a technology employed to influence buying decisions based on inferred intent – a transactional relationship with the end user. Political messages are not transactional, but its not just in the political arena that UGC is set to dominate – in retail and B2B business sentiment analysis will play a larger and larger part in understanding and influencing audiences in real time.

The conclusions from the UK election in June are stark – in summary:

  1. Spamming people with ads conveying negative messages doesn’t work and never will.  It doesn’t work in business, as we all know, and it has now be proved to be ineffective in politics.

  2. Old media is dying – media barons as influencers amongst those aged 40 and below is over, and is on life support for those over 45.

  3. UGC is the single most important medium for messaging – understanding this is key to delivering on understanding audiences in the future 

  4. Pollsters need to look long and hard not only about how they gather info, but WHERE they gather it.

And the same applies to businesses looking to get in front of customers.

Talk to us about how you can understand your audience.

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