Less Rishi, more pithy: Welcome to the TikTok election

Less Rishi, more pithy: Welcome to the TikTok election

The UK’s major parties have taken different social media strategies in the lead-up to what some have called the first ‘TikTok election’. Let’s unpack their approaches.

TikTok has emerged as a key battleground in this year’s general election. Some have even dubbed it the UK’s first “TikTok election” after both Labour and the Conservatives opened accounts on the platform shortly after prime minister Rishi Sunak’s rain-soaked announcement on the Downing Street steps.

Political ads are banned on TikTok, so success on the platform is dependent on engaging potential voters organically — something that can be difficult because of the platform’s algorithm.

But which party is having the most success?

Daivid looked at each TikTok channel from the main parties across England to see whose content and which issues are resonating emotionally with voters. We employed our creative testing technology — including facial coding, eye tracking and surveys — on 900 nationally representative UK voters to measure the effectiveness of the content outside the platform’s notoriously opaque algorithm.

Here’s what we found.

Numbers stack up for Labour

It’s clear that Labour has identified TikTok as a key area in the battle for Number 10. Despite setting up its account just days after the announcement, Labour posted 54 videos to the Tories’ 14 in May alone.

The result has been pretty encouraging, with Labour gaining 189,000 TikTok followers since its inception, compared with the Tories’ 57,000. That puts it ahead of the Reform party (162,000), which, unlike Labour and the Conservatives, has had a TikTok account for a while.

Engagement with Labour has also been a lot higher, with Labour’s content generating 4.4m likes compared with the Conservatives’ 545,000.

Tapping into internet culture

So what has been Labour’s content strategy? While its paid ad strategy has focused on party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s background and local issues, Labour’s TikTok channel is a mesh of different types of content.

From interviews with voters to funny attack ads, it looks like Labour is throwing a few things at the wall to see which sticks. But, like the Liberal Democrats’ TikTok strategy, one key mission is using existing TikTok memes to attack the Tories.

Examples include a series of well-known memes, such as Cilla Black singing Surprise, Surprise and Bob Mortimer reading a card on TV show Would I Lie to You, to criticise Sunak’s national service idea.

There is also a regular dose of videos dedicated to poking fun at Sunak’s election gaffes, such as ”Rishi’s Campaign Diary” and ”Rishi Sunk”.

And it’s working — with our analysis finding that Labour’s TikTok content is generating the most laughs among viewers on average. The top videos were “The Big Short: Rishi Sunak” (making 23.1% of viewers laugh) and “Rishi Sunk” (22.4%), which both elicited stronger levels of amusement than the average UK ad. Not bad for a political party.

However, despite taking the overall title, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives created funnier individual videos. The former’s “Are You In or Out?”, which uses a film clip of The Rock and Kevin Hart to poke fun at the Tories’ national service plan, was the funniest, making 28.4% of viewers laugh.

The Conservatives bagged second and third spots, with “We Think The Punchbag Won This One” (26.4%) and “Labour’s Biggest Policy Announcement Was A Stolen Logo” (24.3%).

Reform and Greens most likely to bore

While Reform leader Nigel Farage bemoans the “most boring general election ever”, he really needs to start looking closer to home.

That’s because, along with the Greens, Reform’s TikTok channel is most likely to bore viewers. On average, 11.2% of people watching both parties’ TikTok videos found the content tedious — above the UK norm (10.5%) and pretty telling for a channel dependent on organic engagement.

It’s not surprising. Both have tended to steer clear of funny videos and instead have filled their channels with clips of speeches, political broadcasts and, in Reform’s case, straight-to-camera pieces on topics including the cost of living and house prices.

Meanwhile, you can’t help but feel that the Green Party is missing a trick when it comes to TikTok. The environment and climate are passionate topics across the platform, but it tends to focus on rehashed TV interviews and speeches.

However, there are signs it is starting to do better, with the Greens’ funny response to the ITV leaders debate generating the strongest positive emotions of any TikTok video we tested (54.4%).

Less PM screen time

If the Tories want to do better on TikTok, they should consider focusing more on the issues and less on their leader.

One interesting trend we noticed when looking at people’s second-by-second emotions while watching the videos is the noticeable shift in mood when Sunak comes on screen. Negative emotions peak and positives dip when he appears in frame.

A better strategy would be to use younger party members that TikTok viewers could relate to, like Reform.

They should also reconsider the issues they talk about, with “Pensioners Can’t Name One Labour Proposal” an odd choice for such a young audience.

“This Will Change Lives” does tackle a subject that is relevant to young voters: the Tories’ national service plans. The video generated the fourth-strongest positive emotional response of all the TikTok videos we tested.

Use of anger

Normally with brand campaigns, positive emotions are key, but that’s not the case with political ads (especially in this election), with parties using anger and frustration at the current government to motivate voters to act.

That’s reflected in the positive emotions generated by each TikTok channel, with every single main party generating lower-than-average levels of positivity. The Green Party (48.6%) and the Conservatives (46.7%) are the closest parties to the norm (48.7%).

On the flip side, intense negative emotions are all way above the average, with Labour and Reform both 29% above the UK average.

Normally, as a brand, such a stat would be worrying, but this is a deliberate attempt by both to whip up the audience to vote against the current government.

No surprise, then, that Labour’s TikTok content generated more anger, contempt and disgust than any other party, led by videos such as “Rishi is Lying to You”. Meanwhile, Reform’s TikTok content generated the most intense feelings of anxiety, fear and horror, mainly through videos such as “Average House Prices” and  “The Big University Rip-Off”.

However, the knock-on effect is that it does little to inspire trust at a time when TikTok users are being bombarded with so much misinformation and fake content on the platform.

Both Labour (7.4%) and Reform’s TikTok content (6.7%) finished at the bottom of the table when it came to feelings of trust — this is probably more a sad reflection on the state of UK politics.

Ian Forrester squareIan Forrester is CEO of Daivid

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