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What social media data tells us about political activity this summer

When John Prescott weighs in, you feel it. The former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is a political heavyweight and doesn’t mince his words, especially when he’s hectoring from the pages of the Sunday papers.

In last weekend’s Sunday Mirror, he accused Shadow Cabinet members led by Ed Miliband of deserting their posts this summer. In a tub-thumping 720 words packed into 32 bombastic paragraphs (at an implausibly tiny average of 22-words each), he claimed the summer is traditionally a time used by the Opposition to launch policy initiatives. This summer, by contrast, he claimed Labour has been absent, and ”even Shadow Cabinet ministers stopped tweeting at the end of July”.

Is this a true state of affairs? Or has Prezza been suckered into a line of argument put forward by his opponents over recent weeks?

What’s so great about the field of communication we all work in today is that we can obtain data about anything we like, all the time. You just need to know where – and how – to look.

Using Listening Post, a software tool we developed a couple of years ago to map online influencer networks and track conversations, we took a look at the tweeting performance of the Shadow Cabinet. We decided to check Lord Prescott’s facts for him, and see whether or not the team has really gone to sleep over the summer.

Who’s been letting the side down?

On looking into the data (details of our data set are below), our first discovery is that the overall Twitter activity of a list of 400 or so UK politicians that we have been tracking for 18 months is up 30 per cent on last year (rising from 17,687 to 25,993 tweets).  Meanwhile, the number of tweets posted by members of today’s Shadow Cabinet has risen by 39 per cent.  On this broad metric, they are ahead of the general growth, and Prescott’s claims look false.

But if you dig a little deeper, it begins to look like the former Deputy Prime Minister has a point. While some Labour members, such as Stella Creasy (38k followers) and Chukka Umuna (57k followers) have been on fire this summer, increasing their tweeting by 97 per cent and 72 per cent respectively, the Labour party’s leaders themselves seem to have switched off.  Ed Miliband (233k followers), Ed Balls (97k followers) and Harriet Harman (48k followers) are down an average of 45 per cent from last summer, having posted a rather measly 60 tweets between them in the past month. The two Eds were particularly paltry, posting just 36 tweets in the past month, against 101 in the same period last year.

At the other end of the scale, Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, has been on a crusade this summer, tweeting 745 times in the past month. Creasy’s approach to Twitter is worth a second look.  She carefully selects fronts she wants to campaign on, and goes out with highly effective tactics to drive her issues from Twitter into the news agenda of the BBC’s Today programme with increasing regularity. Last summer, for example, she was campaigning against payday lending. Her most retweeted post of the 2012 summer was about the repayment rates used by It was retweeted 430 times, out of a total 2178 retweets she received in total during last summer.

This summer, Creasy joined the campaign against abuse on Twitter, particularly that levelled at women. Her most retweeted post in the past month, generating 137 retweets was a shout out to men to stand up to people who abuse women on Twitter.  In both these cases, Creasy’s vocal campaigning played a part in driving these stories up the news agenda, for which she then benefited as a prominent supporter of a popular cause.  This is a lesson that other politicians, as well as brands and businesses, could learn.

Lessons from the data

There’s a powerful lesson here for marketing and communications professionals in all lines of work – it’s time to put live, everyday data at the heart of your strategy. The data you need to help you make important decisions, to provide the insights that should drive your content marketing campaigns, and to measure your performance are all out there, just waiting to be harvested. If you want us to help you find them, please just give me a tweet, and we’ll be more than happy to show you where they lurk.


Notes on our data

We have been tracking the MPs as listed by Blogminster for roughly 18 months.  This list is slightly out of date, and we have created our own up to date list of all current MPs to track for issues and sentiment shared on social media, particularly Twitter.

For this analysis, we used the Blogminster list because we had data for last year and this.  We looked at the date range 18 July – 18 August for both years. We then analysed the Twitter activity of most prominent members of the Shadow Cabinet today, as listed on Wikipedia.  The names we paid particular attention to, and whose tweets provided the bulk of our analysis were:

  • Ed Miliband
  • Ed Balls
  • Harriet Harman
  • Yvette Cooper
  • Sadiq Khan
  • Andy Burnham
  • Caroline Flint
  • Chukka Umunna
  • Stella Creasy
  • Hilary Benn
  • Stephen Twigg
  • Angela Eagle
  • Rachel Reeves

Listening Post is a proprietary technology that underpins most of the work we do for our clients, helping us to identify clusters of influence among online groups that aligns to issues or areas of interest. It also allows us to pay particular attention to any groups using social media, which provides interesting data into what they talk about and how often.


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Peter Sigrist wrote this on August 20, 2013
It's filed in the 33 Digital, News box.
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  • Fantastic post guys (although an author’s name would help so I can congratulate the right person!). Really good illustration of why you’ve got to go deeper into data to make it mean something as surface impressions can actually be misleading.

    One tweak I’d make based on that is to keep the comparison strictly accurate Rachel Reeves’ tweeting rate needs to be ‘weighted’ to take account of the fact she’s on maternity leave, so in theory not tweeting. Although in reality she is still doing some work which includes tweeting.

    By Stuart Bruce on Aug 20, 2013

  • Thanks Stuart, it was me and that was a mistake, so we’ve made it clearer. And thank you for pointing that out – I’m sure there are other factors we’ve missed, but it’s good to get them out in the open here :)

    By Peter Sigrist on Aug 21, 2013

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