The Labour Party on Facebook: 21st Century Canvassing

Julie Abbott | March 6th 2015

The Labour Party has embraced Facebook as a way of online canvassing – soliciting your opinion online, rather than by banging on your door – and it’s really clever how they’re doing it.

Top 3 of unwanted doorstep callers – which of these are you least happy to see when you open your door? Number 3 is likely to feature on most peoples’ list…

    • “Chuggers” or charity muggers – those over-cheery, super-talkative youngsters whose aim is to sign you up for a charity direct debit. Just ask them how much of your donation will actually reach the charity.
    • A couple of besuited, sincere Americans wanting to chat to you about your chances of going to Heaven. Or not.
    • Someone with a rosette, a pen and a clipboard asking if they can count on your vote in the election?

Well, now the Labour Party is canvassing in your Facebook timeline. Along with “How Welsh are you?” and “What tropical fish are you?” your friends may be sharing “How many of the 42m registered voters in Britain do you share a name with?”

Quite a fun idea, this – maybe less so if you have a very unusual name, but how many Julie Abbotts would there be?

Name, address, email: So you go to fill it in – name (of course!), email address (so you can get the result, fair enough), hang on, what’s this?

Postcode – aha!  This is where it gets clever! Give them your postcode and combined with your name the Labour Party now knows where you live. They know if you are in a marginal constituency, for example, which is very important, as voters in marginal constituencies are a thousand times more important to politicians than anyone else.

Are you registered to vote?  Absolutely key to this piece, as identifying your voters and getting them out on the day of the election is the whole purpose of canvassing. Think back to the old-fashioned door-knocking canvassers with “can we count on your vote?”. 

The chances of converting someone to your cause on the doorstep are slim, as most people are fairly fixed in their voting.  If you can convert someone it’s a plus but the main aim is to identify those who have made up their minds.  This is so that on the day of the poll you can ensure as many as possible of your core voters remember to vote for you.

Ever come across the people just inside the polling station doors who ask you for your polling number (or address)? This tells them who has voted.  Any in the list of “ours” that haven’t voted get a reminder phone call, knock on the door etc from 4 p.m. till 10 p.m. until they do get off their backsides and vote. If you’ve never been asked for your polling number, you probably live in a safe seat – so no-one really cares whether you’ve voted or not.

Get your number (i.e. the number of registered voters who have the same name as you). They are not going to be so crass as to ask how you vote at this point (that comes later), the key thing is to not ask too many questions – after all, they want you to fill in the form.

Results: 27 Julie Abbotts registered to vote, apparently, quite interesting to find that out on Facebook, but the follow up was even more interesting…

Follow up 1: An email (from Harriet Harman, no less!) asking me to fill in a survey about my political views. I did not fill in the survey, but I emailed back and said I found the campaign very interesting, and would they be publishing the results in the Marketing press?  No reply to that!

Follow up 2: A simple 3-question email:

What a great, emotive question. Designed to make the reader take sides. Non-Labour voters and undecideds who are unlikely to vote Labour will probably click No out of irritation at the phrasing of the question, and to make the emails stop. Labour voters will probably go Yes, and undecideds who are veering to Labour will say Maybe, so these Maybes are likely to be potential supporters – these are like the doorstep voters going “OK, I’m prepared to listen…”

The Labour Party now has identified supporters, potential supporters and just as crucially, those who don’t support them.  They have the respondees name and postcode (which means they know their address). They know whether to knock on their door or leave them alone.

What could Labour do next with the info gathered? Knock on the door of the YESs, get them to campaign, put up a poster, sign them up to the party.  Or just keep emailing them ahead of the election to keep them onside. Maybe knock on the door of the MAYBEs and qualify them better, or convert them. Leave the NOs alone.  Never knock on their door again. Spend the effort where it will get rewards.

Oh, and they’ll only do this in their target seats, as 550 of the 650 parliamentary seats are safe or are not Labour targets.

Potentially they will also encourage Labour supporters who are not registered to get on the electoral roll (remember they asked “Are you registered to vote?”). The numbers of registered voters are falling and Labour suspects many of the missing are their supporters.  This needs offline follow up, boots on streets, but could pay dividends, especially in marginal constituencies.

How much impact is this campaign likely to have had?  Follow up 3, another email with the rather abrupt subject line “Yes? No?”, gave a clue. In this it stated that “more than a quarter of a million people have taken our four-minute survey”. So, more than 250k out of 25m registered voters – 350+ voters in each of the 650 UK constituencies, if evenly spread.

There were 8 seats where Labour were less than 350 votes behind the sitting MP in the 2010 election (thanks to for a very useful online resource). It’s hard to judge the impact in individual constituencies without more data, but since 2010 the Conservatives and LibDems have fallen in the polls and Labour have gone up 5 points, so it’s likely that seats further down the marginals list are the current targets.

There may have been more, like me, who did not take the survey, but who gave the Labour Party their name, email address and postcode. It’s a very useful resource for campaigning, online and offline. I’ll be interested to see if the Labour Party sends me any more follow ups and if any of the other parties try Social Media to reach the electors.

The original contact:

Many thanks to Julie Abbott for supplying this post! Julie is a marketing and sales specialist who mis-spent many happy hours of her youth canvassing the old-fashioned way. She used to work in business development here at PushON and now works for a charity and as a freelance marketer.