Will Facebook Ads really swing the UK General Election?

During the 2015 election, the Conservatives spent £1.2m on micro-targeted Facebook advertising – more than seven times the £160,000 spent by Labour. Labour also made the mistake of viewing lots of likes and shares as a way to measure the success of their Facebook campaign (a common mistake made by many businesses!). While Labour was seduced by vanity metrics, it was the Conservatives who were using their significant digital budget to show ads targeted at undecided voters in key areas. For next month’s general election, Labour is aiming to match the Conservatives’ £1m social media war chest in the hope of reaching more people.

Labour has also reportedly developed a new system for the general election called Promote. This new platform apparently uses big data to tailor more than 1,000 different versions of its core policy proposals to deliver what it calls ‘hyper-local messages’ on Facebook. In my opinion, the party that invests the most money into Facebook advertising will ultimately see the greatest results – more money equals more people reached.

According to official data from the 2015 general election, Labour reached almost 16 million people on Facebook in their best month. However, the Conservatives consistently reached a staggering 17 million people each week. If you are not aware of Facebook advertising, it allows you to serve highly specific adverts to highly specific groups of people, and it is claiming to have revolutionised politics as we know it.

In a similar vein to TV and radio broadcasts, billboards and broadsheets, Facebook adverts are a powerful tool for spreading your key message to the masses; the platform is viewed by many as being on a par with major news outlets. However, one critical difference is with that you have complete control of the end product.

Facebook advertising is by large, almost entirely unregulated, which means it is incredibly difficult to work out exactly what messages and facts campaigns and political parties are using to gain support. As a result, there have been numerous pleas from the likes of The Guardian and The BBC for people in different constituencies across the UK to send in screenshots of the ads they see on Facebook.

If you have ever used Facebook Ads to promote your business before, you will know that you can promote your business to very specific, custom audiences. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can target people by location, age, gender, job title, interests, household income, the number of credit cards they have and even the type of car they drive!

If you want to see a list of things Facebook thinks that you like, click on your ad preferences (facebook.com/ads/preferences); you will then be shown all the things that Facebook uses to target adverts towards you. They can be eerily accurate, but it can also get things completely wrong.

I think it is incredibly bold to claim that Facebook ads will completely sway the 2017 General Election in any party’s favour. Yes, Facebook advertising will play a big part in next month’s election. However, I certainly don’t think we are in the realms of mind-control as some of the conspiracy theories would have you believe.



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