Will the 'Tory Momentum' fail?

After Momentum marshalled the youth vote with enviable mastery of social media, youthful Tories have hatched a plan to try to emulate Labour's success in the UK, with some hiccoughs along the way...

Mitchell Labiak
18 September 2017

Activate. Source: Twitter. Fair use.According to the popup on its website, “Activate is not a “Tory-momentum””. Nevertheless, if you’ve not heard of Activate, that’s the expression which sums it up best. A grassroots movement which is not officially affiliated with the Conservative Party, Activate’s aim is “to engage young people in the right of centre politics”.

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Things have not gotten off to a great start. The group came under fire for talk of “gassing chavs” and “shooting peasants” in messages leaked from its WhatsApp group. Activate’s response was that these members did not represent it, but this did little to appease commentators like Owen Jones and others.Then, things got strange – fast. The group came out on Twitter in support of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Tory leader in a move that wasn’t exactly shocking. After all, as a popular, outspoken, long-time backbencher of the Tory party, it’s fair to label him the Conservative equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn. Momentum and its members were Corbyn’s biggest backers during his leadership campaign, so it made sense that Activate would back Rees-Mogg during his leadership campaign.Except that there is no Tory leadership campaign and Rees-Mogg has already made it clear that he has no interest in being the leader of the Tory Party. As it turned out, this was all an elaborate ruse. Activate’s account had been hacked, something which became clear as the increasingly cringeworthy Rees-Mogg memes kept just kept coming. Rees-Mogg memes. Source: Twitter. Fair use.In a statement to The Guardian, the group claimed that the attack was performed by a “he or she”. However, when I emailed Activate about the attack, it claimed that it was performed “by a Momentum activist who has been identified.” Activate went on to state: “we are in contact with both the Police and Twitter over this cyber attack”.

Other problems haven’t helped matters, either. The group is currently Tweeting from @ActivateBritain, but accounts like @ActivateUK_ and @Activate_uk_net are also posing as the original Activate. In between this and the whole hacking affair, it’s been difficult to figure out where parody ends and the group’s genuine efforts begin.

If all of this sounds confusing, you’re not alone. The Independent originally reported on Activate’s support of Jacob Rees-Mogg as serious news, having no reason to believe otherwise. It has since removed the article. In short, it’s been a surreal first couple of weeks. As someone who makes a living in digital marketing, I would argue that things can improve.

All press is good press?

When social media jumps on something, it’s hard to tell whether it will wind up being a good thing or a bad thing for the brand involved. Nando’s was the biggest meme of 2015 when an American asked what exactly made eating there “cheeky”, but the real question is whether or not it sold more chicken as a result.

Right now, the group looks — for lack of a better expression — extremely stupid.

Just over a year after the Cheeky Nando's phenomenon, the restaurant chain announced a surge in profits which it attributed to lower costs and a rise in sales over the previous 12 months. Correlation is not always causation, but it’d be hard to argue that being the most frequently Tweeted or shared brand for an entire summer was bad publicity.

With Activate, things are different. For a start, the cheeky Nando’s meme was ambivalent towards the quality of the chain itself. The open mockery of Activate, even from right-wing publications such as Conservative Home and Guido Fawkes, is far from ambivalent. Right now, the group looks – for lack of a better expression – extremely stupid.

However, Activate’s aim is not to sell more chicken or to sell more anything. As much as it might argue otherwise, Activate’s aim is to rival Momentum. Or rather, that’s what it should be. One of the biggest mistakes Activate has made so far is to take so seriously the comment that it is a Conservative equivalent to Momentum. By doing so, it only helps to fuel the meme machine which is already running at full capacity against it.

Activate’s digital marketing strategy

Because Activate claims its aim is to “engage young people in the right of centre politics”, it’s hard to argue how well it’s doing. Certainly, some young people have come together against it. Still, if we are assuming that its aim is reach, then this can be measured.

The group is attracting followers at a blistering pace, but that’s not necessarily a measure of success. What matters is not how many followers you have, but how many people are engaged with what you are posting relative to the number of followers you have.

If I have 100 followers on Twitter and my post gets 100 likes, that’s some incredible engagement. If I have a million followers on Twitter and my post gets the same number of likes, that’s pretty terrible. The average engagement rate on Twitter and Facebook is roughly less than half a percent. That sounds very low, but it makes sense. Someone with a million followers should be getting around 500 likes or retweets per post.

Measuring Activate’s engagement at the moment is difficult because the group has only recently recovered from being hacked. However, the whole fiasco has attracted a lot of attention. As such, the group’s tweets currently have engagement rates of around 1-5%. That said, it only has a handful of tweets left after deleting all the false ones.

If Activate can continue this level of engagement now the hacking scandal is over, it may find itself being covered by The Guardian and The Independent again. Ideally, of course, Activate would want this to be because of some serious stance it was taking, not because it was a laughing stock for the political media.

Over on Facebook, where Activate has always had control of its own social media account, its posts receive even more engagement. Of course, as with Twitter, this engagement is far from positive.

Still, Activate can take pride in its website. Despite not officially having launched yet (that will happen on 10th October), its web traffic has gone from nothing to 40,000 visitors in one month. While the vast majority of that traffic will likely derive from intrigue in the group’s recent press coverage, it’s still more than the 35,000 people who visited the Momentum website last month.

Long term, of course, Activate may not be able to maintain that same level of traffic. However, the multitude of links pointing at it will help the website in the long run. One of the many ways Google and other search engines decide to “rank” a web page in their search results is by the quality and quantity of links pointing to the web page. With so much news coverage about Activate recently, it has accumulated a lot of links from authoritative sources.

This helps with the prominence of the website. It means, for example, that if you were to Google “Tory activism”, “Conservative activism UK”, “Conservative youth UK”, or even just “Activate” at some point in the future, Activate’s website would appear. The group’s long-term aim should be to top the search results for queries like that.

Finding Conservatives on social media

Here are two fairly obvious but fairly important pieces of information. Young voters leaned towards Labour and Instagram users tend to be young. We already know that this is why Momentum and Corbyn himself continue to do well on Instagram.

However, while Momentum has an Instagram account with over 6,000 followers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Activate should do the same. The aim shouldn’t be to join every social media channel but to join the right social media channels. With that in mind, is social media even really the right route for Activate?

It could be. As much as some older Tory commentators might view the whole notion of social media outreach in the name of Conservative politics unnecessary, there is a lot to be gained by looking at what Momentum is doing right.

What is missed is how Momentum and the rest of the Labour movement are using Instagram and their other social media channels. It’s not simply about jumping on the most popular social media bandwagon; it’s about properly engaging yourself with the right social media community.

Instagram tends to be used by young people – we know this. More than that though, the median Instagram user is an 18-29 year old woman, who earns less than £22,000 a year, has some form of educational qualification past high school, and lives in the city.

And the median Labour voter in 2017? An 18-29 year old woman, who has some form of educational qualification past high school, and lives in the city. It’s almost a perfect match, except that the demographics for voting in the 2017 election show a more or less even split for the Tories and Labour when it comes to income and class. This could be because Labour’s message still didn’t quite resonate with the working class as much as it hoped it would, or it could be that party affiliation has moved beyond class entirely.

The demographic data isn’t in Activate’s favour when it comes to Twitter.

All that said, Momentum’s targeting of Instagram is spot on. Based on an average accumulated from its last 12 posts, the account has a 5% engagement rate which is more than double the average Instagram engagement rate of 2.2%.

The demographic data isn’t in Activate’s favour when it comes to Twitter. The median Twitter user is once again an 18-29 year old woman, who earns over £56,000 a year, has a university degree, and lives in the city. This was not the average Tory voter in 2017.

On the one hand, this might not matter. Social media networks are often accused of being echo chambers, but this is especially true for Twitter. With that in mind, it would be quite easy for Activate’s work to go viral in its own right of centre bubble.

On the other hand, Activate would likely benefit by mastering the social media channel where its audience already is assembled. If being locked out of its own Twitter account teaches us anything, it’s that this group is not Twitter savvy. So, perhaps it’d fare better elsewhere.

Most YouTube users are 25-34 years old. The next most popular age bracket is 35-44 followed by 45-54. The 18-24 age bracket is the fourth most popular. YouTube is also predominantly male. This demographic is perfect for Tory activism. LinkedIn is also a great place to connect with an older audience, with the vast majority of users being 25-64. Also, as with YouTube, it’s a much more male network than many others.

Activate states that its aim is to engage “young people” with Conservative politics. While this is an admirable aim, it might be better to target people in their late 20s to early 30s. This age group is still “millennial”, it’s still young, but it’s more likely to lean Conservative than 18-24 year olds.

If Activate can keep the current interest in its movement and turn it into a social media presence on the right social network, it could rescue itself from the embarrassing start it’s had. It’s easy to mock Activate’s social media presence now, but there is a gap in the social media landscape the size of a British, centre-right, youth-led movement. Activate has as good a chance at filling that gap as anyone else.

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