Whatever apathy, excitement, rage or despair you might feel about the main candidates for Mayor of London, there’s no doubting that the vote on May 5th was a big deal.
The winner will enjoy the third-biggest direct personal mandate of any politician in Europe. That’s a lot of people power.
So how did the main candidates use people power in the run up to the election?
And how did candidates use the voices of their supporters to sell their personal and party brand to the undecided? And, most importantly, did any candidate do it best?
Let’s look at their official campaign videos first.
Unlike Goldsmith’s campaign video, where he features the Tory grandees rallying to his cause, Khan’s slickly produced video at least shows the faces of ordinary Londoners (although they aren’t allowed to speak).
Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon’s video is less of an ego trip: she talks to ‘ordinary’ Londoners (is there any such thing?) about housing, child care, and transport.
The people she interviews seem approachable, knowledgeable and engaged. She’s a clear winner.
The only problem? Only 1,006 people have actually watched it.
The campaign website is important for recruiting evangelists for the cause.
The Lib Dems have the ‘Get involved’ section in pride of place on their website although the email signup looks quite old-fashioned.
Sadiq Khan wants you to ‘Get involved’, and ‘Donate’.
Zac Goldsmith’s site is a bit more corporate – you can volunteer (which always smacks of charity work) or you can sign a petition ‘Back Zac’s Plan’ which seems quite a passive way of getting support.
He does have his social feeds on the homepage which make his campaign seem more inclusive although the ‘Donate’ section is a little overpowering. No one is a clear winner.
Social media will undoubtedly be a key battleground for all candidates – it’s one of the easiest ways they can spread their message and amplify the voices of their supporters.
Brandwatch research clearly showed who was winning:
Khan garnered 41% of the Twitter mentions, well ahead of his nearest rival, Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, who accounted for 32% of the conversation.
Khan has far more followers than Goldsmith. There are 91,200 Twitter followers on his personal page and 6,547 following the campaign handle @teamkhan2016.
Zac Goldsmith trails behind with 61,800 supporters. His campaign account @BackZacPress has 2,656 followers.
The Lib Dems are a far off third. Caroline Pigeon has 8,261 followers to her personal account and the uninspiring @londonlibdems has tweeted almost twice as much as @backzacpress but has a similar amount of followers.
On Facebook, Khan and Goldsmith seem to be more comparable. They both have around 95,000 followers.
Khan’s campaign video has been shared on Facebook 1,545 times but Goldsmith’s posts are generally shared by more people, averaging at about 40 to 50 shares per post. Khan is a clear winner.
But before we go any further, who actually likes politicians?
Do we actually want to see them tweeting more or see their mugs in our Facebook feed? Is it going to engage people? And worse, could it make them seem less genuine and more desperate for your vote?
For such a smooth looking chap, Goldsmith’s campaign has been marked by PR gaffes.
There was the time that his sister Jemima tweeted her support. But as her second name is Khan, some people got confused.
Some confusion over my Khan v Goldsmith poll: People seem to think I am asking about Imran Khan or else my name change- Khan or Goldsmith.
— Jemima Goldsmith (@Jemima_Khan) 6 February 2016
He then got mauled in his Q&A session – a warning of the perils of actively engaging with users. Predictably enough, the most vicious tweets came from writers for the Guardian.
Goldsmith did score once or twice:
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) April 8, 2016
Goldsmith is quite an easy target; hashtags like #No2RacistZac and #whereszacstax have been doing the rounds.
He hasn’t bothered to engage with them and that’s symptomatic of his campaign at large.
It’s high-handed and relies on high profile spokesmen and women to back him – not the average punter who’ll be voting.
When it comes to people power, grassroots organisations should be the engine. But then again, it depends on the engine…
One organisation, Conservative Connect which aims to speak to those of ‘diverse social-economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds’, produced a quite astounding campaign video for Goldsmith which feels like it’s been inspired by North Korean propaganda: ‘He is worthy of appreciation, he is patient and he is brave’.
Note there have been no comments posted below the video.
Although Khan can’t stop himself from mentioning that he grew up on a council estate at every opportunity, he has been the best at giving supporters a platform and a chance to be advocates for his brand.
He’s been using the hashtag #TeamKhan which has a more inclusive feel than #BackZac2016 or Pidgeon’s #CarolineCan.
Who does Pidgeon think she is? Obama? Although Sadiq already tried that with #YesWeKhan.
With #TeamKhan, the Labour candidate has been collecting and promoting all the praise his supporters have provided.
Just met up with some friends after a long time and the conversation was all about how young Londoners need @SadiqKhan as mayor come May 5th
— Zahin (@zahinkingahmed) April 26, 2016
My son just told me @SadiqKhan won his primary school’s ‘London Mayor election’ by a landslide today. Hope history follows suit next week.
— Susan (@marthasydenham) April 26, 2016
And that approach works. It humanises his campaign and shows that he’s someone who represents a wide range of Londoners – the medium is the message.
Whether you think his plans for transport, housing or security are feasible, and that’s another question entirely, you can’t deny he looks like he’s listening to Londoners more than the other candidates, which surely is what we’re electing them for.
Khan cruises ahead in this round.
But it’s all relative…
What becomes apparent is both how little the candidates are using people power and how disengaged many Londoners feel.
The absence of engagement has made people call for an injection of the excitement found in the US elections.
The Evening Standard reported on a programme which sent young people out to the US to find out how people in their age group might be encouraged to vote.
Student James Tune, 20, who recently returned from Ohio, said:
The campaigns for Mayor should really look at social media. Politicians post stuff but they need to actively engage with people – look at the people who are replying, invite them to things, and get them involved.
I couldn’t agree more. It holds true for online and in real life.
Speaking for Londoners – and to them, and with them – is something all the candidates, including Khan, should be doing far more.
After all, they are here to represent us.