I took a look at the Twitter profiles of the top three political parties in the UK recently, examining them purely from a communications/marketing perspective. The bios and profile pictures say a lot about each party, not always to their benefit.
Yikes. That is a seriously stern face. Mid-speech, frowning, aggressive. All the focus is placed on the face – the background is a blurry-nothing. There’s nothing friendly about Theresa May in this image; instead, she’s being shown to be a serious, no-jokes politician who is here to do a difficult job, and someone who doesn’t care whether people like her or not.
The bio and the header share the same text:
Building a country that works for everyone.
It’s a nice, simple message. Short, easy to digest. It’s pro-active, kicking off with a strong, optimistic verb. It has a utilitarian aspect, in that this is a country that works for everyone, rather than one which is fun, or welcoming, or prosperous, etc. There’s no dreaming or aspirational quality – no American dream-style rhetoric. It’ll just work. In the UK’s current political/social/cultural situation the idea of stuff actually working does appeal, though, given the general sense in 2016 of things falling apart.
Then it mis-steps, by claiming that this vision is for everyone. By definition, a political party cannot be ‘for everyone’, because it’s tribal. If it were for everyone, it’d be a communist state and there’d be no other parties. No matter how good a job the Tories are doing, there will be people who strenuously disagree and even hate them for it.
This is doubled-down at the moment due to Brexit. Given that the electorate is genuinely split in half (48%/52% in any other context would be regarded as simply ‘half-half’), and that the Tories are dedicated to carrying out ‘hard Brexit’, it’s ideologically impossible for them to create a country that works for everyone. Quite the opposite – they’re actively engaged in making a country that doesn’t work for 48% of people who voted.
By over-stating, they undermine their own point.
On the plus side, they keep the bio short and effective, without needing to over-explain anything. That makes them seem confident, and assured, and important.
The first question for a lot of people would be who is that guy? Tim Farron is not an instantly recognisable politician, compared to Theresa May’s stark image. The style of the photo is vastly different to the carefully processed and framed Conservative header – here, it’s clearly a promo photo selected mostly at random from a larger collection, rather than an image crafted specifically for this purpose. A comms person opened up a folder of Tim Farron images, found one where he looked smiley and was surrounded by other smileys, and uploaded it.
Which is fine. Social media likes natural authenticity. The fewer barriers between followers and leaders, the more loyal and engaged they become. Looking at the Theresa May photo, the impression is that the Conservatives are a super-professional, advanced, powerful party that doesn’t need your help. The LibDems with this image are presenting a party of relatively normal folk, who look like they could do with a bit of a hand.
The bio does a fairly good job. It opens by clarifying that they’re the Liberal Democrats, which is a little redundant right beneath the title ‘Liberal Democrats‘. If they’d removed that bit they could have opened much more strongly:
The only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.
Their name stuck on the front only serves to lessen the impact of the sentence.
However, they immediately set themselves up as something special and intriguing. They’re the only party doing this. Quite a bold claim! They then do something quite clever, which is mixing an aggressive word such as ‘fighting’ with soft, friendly words like ‘open’, ‘tolerant’ and ‘united’. It creates the sense of a political and social movement; of people with drive and purpose, who know why they’re doing what they’re doing.
It’s not quite true – the LibDems have been in the wilderness since leaving the Coalition. But you can’t get people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself, and if they can keep stealing headlines with talk of a ‘resurgence’ while connecting it up to this message of fighting for tolerance, they could be onto something with the Remainer portion of the electorate who are otherwise feeling like they’re flapping in the wind.
They slightly undermine the good, confident, efficient tone of the copy by then feeling the need to append “Led by Tim Farron”. By including that extra detail they’ve revealed a concern that you might not know who he is, entirely unravelling the bold tone they’d just established.
JOIN OUR PARTY! BIG MOUSE POINTER ARROW IMPLYING IT’S A CALL TO ACTION!
Except, you can’t click on Twitter headers. They’ve designed a button with a pointy ‘click here’ arrow, but you can’t click it. Also, using a mouse pointer icon to denote “this is a thing on a computer!” is very Nineties.
Then there’s that horrible, ominous, oppressive red filter – a slightly different and clashing red to the one in the Labour logo, notably (in fact, they seem to use a different shade of red each time they create a logo or graphic). Having that red splashed across the smiling young people makes it feel like a horror movie from the 80s. It makes me feel sad, like something awful is about to happen.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Labour party were so slow to engage with Twitter back in the day that they don’t even own @labour – that’s instead the Irish Labour party, which comes up in searches for ‘@Labour’. Awkward. Instead, they have @UKLabour. Uckle.
It gets worse. The bio is the worst-written copy of these three by quite some measure. Let’s break it down. Brace yourself.
Wait, this is a Twitter feed? On Twitter? Holy crap! I wondered what I was going to find here, on @UKLabour’s Twitter profile.
of the UK Labour Party
Just like the LibDems, Labour feels the need to tell us what we already know. It says ‘Labour Party’ literally just above, guys! Although I suppose you do need to clarify that it’s the UK Labour Party, given people might be looking for the Irish one.
keeping you up-to-date
Sigh. So many organisations want to keep us up-to-date. If I was interested in the Labour Party, let alone a member, I think I’d already be up-to-date, so I hope they’re going to give me more than that.
Thrilling. This is good, actually, because it’s hard to find political news anywhere other than the Twitter feed of the UK Labour Party.
I’m so excited. Talk at me, Jez.
The dictionary definition of ‘events’ is: a thing that happens or takes place
I’m glad that Labour are going to keep me up-to-date on things that happen or take place. It would be ethically dubious to keep me up-to-date on things they just make up in order to make a point, like a lack of train seats.
Yay, videos! Again, something that’s super rare on the internet.
There’s no passion.
No ideology, or intent.
No active, engaging verbs to get behind.
Nothing about their audience or voters. Maybe I’m someone who would consider voting Labour, but I’m not going to do so just so I can watch some videos and find out about things that happen.
Tell me why I should care.
This Twitter bio could be copied and pasted, with the name adjusted, to genuinely ANY OTHER TWITTER PROFILE. It’s placeholder, generic copy that an organisation can use while they’re trying to write real copy.
Thing is, it’s entirely honest. The Labour Party is an organisation which has lost control of its own narrative. For the best part of a year it’s made headlines only for its own in-fighting. It’s impossible to know what the party stands for, because the politicians inside the party don’t seem to know either, and definitely can’t agree on where to go. That the Twitter bio is so vacuous and bland is testament to a party which has strayed from the path and forgotten where it was going in the first place.
Therefore, you can learn everything you need to know about UK politics from three pages on Twitter. Both the Tories and the LibDems have strong narratives emerging from their Twitter profiles, and from their press coverage and actions in general – the LibDems on a smaller scale, of course. Labour’s profile reflects its troubled and fractured nature: smiling faces obscured by blood-red anger, with nobody at the wheel and no destination.
Alternatively, I might have just spent too long over-analysing Twitter profiles.
While I’ve tried to be non-partisan in this analysis, I’m sure some bias will have crept in – for the record, I don’t like the Tories, I used to like the LibDems and I have no idea what to think about Labour.