In writing about the Liberal Democrat recruitment for a Head of Digital Content, I pointed out that nearly every Lib Dem digital channel is run independently of HQ – and that should determine HQ’s own approach. Running the channels it is responsible for is necessary, but the smart strategy involves working with the huge number of other channels too.
It’s not only that there are, literally, hundreds of channels around the country run by volunteers for each official channel from federal party HQ in London. It’s also that the audiences for all those other channels rapidly add up to being a significant player in total compared to the national channels.
Take Facebook, whose huge usage in the UK makes it a vital channel for political campaigning. The current public figures for a sample of six different Lib Dem Facebook pages are fairly typical of what I regularly see:
The ‘Total Page Likes’ figures are only of limited value as they are more an indication of potential audience reach for the pages rather than actual reach. The engagement figures – how many people have actually engaged with content – are much more meaningful.
Two things are notable about that column. First, the untapped potential of both the Nick Clegg and Tim Farron pages (especially when you also look at the number of Likes that the Nick Clegg page has). There is of course a bit of semantic debate about how official or not these pages are, but they do both make the point about how much more there is to the party’s online presence that just the official federal party channels.
Then look down to my own Liberal Democrat Newswire page, run part-time (very part-time) by one person. The party’s own page only typically engages around five times as many people as my own solo effort. Start adding in the pages run by other members, and especially on behalf of local parties and councillors, and – even excluding those which are aimed at internal debate – you rapidly see how much of the audience that is being reached with Liberal Democrat messages is reached via people other than those at HQ running the official central channels.
This is nothing new. It was the case back when I was running the party’s online operations, and hence my strategy then of taking a diversified approach which supported unofficial channels. But the lack of novelty in this lesson makes it all the more important as it is a permanent feature of how online politics works for the Liberal Democrats. The right digital strategy is one that recognises this (and so no prizes for guessing what I set out in more details in Targeting Plus).