From Thailand to Mexico, why the Tories’ Facebook page is so popular

Party’s use of paid digital advertising services has bought them support in some exotic quarters

whitehall editor

One is a middle-aged Russian woman who lives in the town of Samara 650 miles east of Moscow and “likes” Tony Blair and Pravda.

But according to Facebook she’s backing “real change in Europe” on 22 May and voting for David Cameron.

Then there is the man from Mexico City called Yeyo Garuno who is all in favour of Mr Cameron’s welfare cap on benefits payments. Or indeed PiYapong Pakalertid who has signed up to be part of Mr Cameron’s Team 2015 on Facebook. He lives in Praken, Thailand.

It is surprising what kind of support you find for Mr Cameron by spending half an hour on the Conservatives’ Facebook page. Welcome to the strange experience of British election campaigning in cyberspace where support is not quite what it seems and Facebook “likes” can be misleading.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are investing significant resources building up their digital campaigns in the run-up to 2015 – with varying degrees of success.

Labour is largely trying to replicate the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 where digital media was used to contact, engage and motivate people who were likely to support the party anyway. Its aim is to get them off their computers and help the party canvas in key marginal seats – or at least get them to give money.

The Conservatives are using paid digital advertising on platforms such as Facebook and Google to get their message across to swing voters. But, as they are discovering, indiscriminate promotion can have unintended consequences.

It emerged recently that the Tories had paid Facebook to promote their page and increase their number of likes and people “talking about” their Facebook page. Facebook does not reveal details of such advertising deals, but marketing experts say the campaign would have cost about £7,500 of party funds.

The results have been dramatic. From being almost 20,000 likes behind his deputy Nick Clegg (who was on about 60,000) Mr Cameron leapfrogged him in less than a month and now has almost 200,000 “supporters”. Ed Miliband had only 40,000 “likes”.

However the use of these supporters to Mr Cameron is questionable given their strangely international bias.

The Independent paid Facebook to send about 30 direct messages to people who had “liked” various Conservative campaigns, asking if they were genuine supporters. Sixteen never replied; eight confirmed they were and others had problems with English. Asked if his was a genuine “like”, Fayaz Ahamed from Sri Lanka replied: “Plz riqwast to me.” Asked if he supported the Conservatives he added: “Yes plz accept me” before adding: “Hello I am waiting for the job now Did u have??”

Ed Miliband’s page also has some international support but nowhere near the same level as the Tories. Matthew McGregor, Labour’s online strategy guru, claims this is a mark of success. “Labour’s digital strategy is designed to connect with our campaigning in local communities and constituencies,” he says. “So while we are using digital tools to engage online with people who are sympathetic to Labour ideas, our success will be judged by whether we can convert those people to help us campaign.”

How successful they are is hard to judge, and they have also made some gaffes. A recent campaign poster wrongly claimed that VAT was charged on food while David Axelrod – Labour’s star campaign signing from the US – managed to get Ed Miliband’s Twitter name wrong in a tweet.

Mark Pack, who co-ran the successful Liberal Democrat website Lib Dem Voice, says the most notable difference is the Tories are attempting to use digital media more to appeal to potential swing voters while the others are using it more to motivate their base.

“In some ways that is mirroring in the digital space what the parties used to do in previous elections. Labour and the Lib Dems have always been traditionally stronger on the ground,” he said.

How all this will play out remains to be seen but the Conservatives at least have a sense of humour about their new-found global fan base.

A Conservative Central Office source said it just showed their “economic plan is getting reach across the globe”. He’s right: that was one of the policies “liked” by Kourosh Madani from Tehran.

Online strategies: Parties on the net

Labour

Targeting known supporters, the party is using questionnaires to find out which issues people care most about and where they live. 

Conservatives

The party is using paid-for advertising on the internet to reach target voters. This includes techniques like paying Google to display adds when people type in search terms.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems have bought voter-identification software called Nationbuilder. It allows activists to target resources at voters who are most likely to stick with the party.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone