The campaign five years ago was billed as the “first social media election”, but back then Twitter was still a relatively new platform for most of Westminster – and David Cameron wasn’t even on it. This time, the microblogging site, as well as Facebook and Instagram, are being used as real tools to target voters – particularly the undecided hordes.
While Labour dominates Twitter, the Conservatives are stronger on Facebook. Labour strategists are using Twitter to motivate and mobilise supporters, pushing messages during the TV debates, for example. Labour wants to use Facebook more – one million people saw the party’s content during last Thursday’s debate. But the Tories are vastly outspending Labour on Facebook adverts – they have spent £100,000 in one month on this.
Facebook has a broader reach because half the UK population has an account. Labour insiders say the younger profile of active users means Facebook is quite a left-wing place, so for older users it’s a case of “I’m on it but I don’t get it”. Twitter may be important for spreading news and arguments among journalists – The Daily Telegraph story about Nicola Sturgeon, when it broke on Friday evening, was debated at length on Twitter – but Labour says that its much-mocked #labourdoorstep hashtag is a useful tool to mobilise the support of volunteers and activists. But for all its usefulness, Twitter attracts the nastier side of the internet, and just because something is trending doesn’t make it matter, necessarily, in the real world.
In pictures: Body language analysis of the seven party leaders
In pictures: Body language analysis of the seven party leaders
1/7 David Cameron
Richard Newman (director of UK Body Talk): His style had poise and control, but seemed to lack passion. He has a great slow, measured pace, but the energy trailed off at the end of sentences. It was only when he was probed that he grew in strength to rise to the challenge. Dr Harry Witchel (Brighton and Sussex Medical School): David Cameron is a “brows down” politician, which means he’s serious, concerned and potentially angry. He also looks consistently down the barrel of the camera which he has been doing since 2010.
2/7 Ed Miliband
Richard Newman: His stance was strong, with his feet centred and his posture more lifted than usual. But his overall style was too staged. He used the same gesture over and over, right hand with the palm facing up and his thumb and two fingers squeezed together. His voice coach has told him that this shows strength; in fact, a palms-up gesture shows submissiveness or weakness. Harry Witchel: When Miliband consistently turned to face the barrel of the camera he was inviting contributions.
3/7 Nick Clegg
Richard Newman: He appeared to be the most relaxed on stage, occasionally placing one hand in his pocket and seeming unfazed by questions. He also connected directly with the people who had asked the questions, who could be seen nodding along to his answers. Harry Witchel: Nick Clegg still has the same natural abilities as a speaker that he had before. He’s copied Tony Blair in the way he hugs an invisible person when he speaks.
4/7 Nicola Sturgeon
Richard Newman: Her stance was feet planted and her gestures firm. She did not appear as strong when she started the evening. During her opening statement, she rocked slightly from side to side and kept her hands firmly together despite her elbow shifting as if she wanted to gesture. Her blink rate was also very high, which is a signal of high stress.
5/7 Nigel Farage
Richard Newman: Shiny and sweaty, it’s possible he shunned the powder offered to anyone appearing on camera. His lack of polish and simple language may help him to gain support. However, the moments where his behaviour resembles a pantomime villain, bobbing up and down and laughing at the others on stage with him, diminish his credibility as a leader.
6/7 Natalie Bennett
Richard Newman: She sounded nervous, by taking lots of small, snatch breaths. She also ignored the cameras, forgetting to speak to the audience at home, and her style lacked the warmth that we require of our leaders. Harry Witchel: Bennett is a thinker and she came across as intellectual and dry. She tilts her head to the right and to the left, which shows us that she is formulating her thoughts internally as she speaks.
7/7 Leanne Wood
Richard Newman: Her tone had great warmth and control but she often looked down at her notes while making a critical point. She was standing with her feet close together, diminishing her status, and she was the only person not wearing a collared jacket, choosing a lower-status outfit. Harry Witchel: Physically, she’s a very still person, which suggests a reserve that doesn’t work with a rapid-fire debating style of politics.
Relatively few politicians and journalists are on Instagram – partly because, unlike Twitter and Facebook, it is difficult to search for users, and also it takes more effort to post a picture than to fire off 140 characters. Ed Miliband is a recent convert, getting far more polite messages there than the abuse on Twitter. For the Labour leader, whose weakness is having bad photos taken of him, it is a clever use of the medium.
LabourList claimed Labour’s Martin Freeman election broadcast has been viewed more than a million times online, compared with only 91,000 for the Tory broadcast on YouTube a day later.
In the end, TV is still the dominant medium – as evidenced by last week’s ITV debate. But for the quick and the sharp, here’s who to follow...
John Rentoul @JohnRentoul 45,100: Our own commentator is frequently rated the top political tweeter. A must-follow for the election.
Stephen Bush @stephenkb 6,567 followers: Sharp and pithy analysis from the writer for the New Statesman
General Boles @GeneralBoles 9,662: We don’t know why he hasn’t got more followers. You need his Photoshopping to get you through the campaign.
Nicola Sturgeon @NicolaSturgeon 160,000 followers: Because everyone has to follow her now.
Gloria De Piero @GloriaDePiero 28,800 followers: Most Labour politicians tweet humdrum snaps of themselves on the #labourdoorstep, but De Piero tweets like a human.
Ed Miliband 4,044 followers: Joined October last year. Ahead of the game on Instagram among party leaders, using it to even post old black-and-white photos of himself with Justine and their sons, to highlight paternity leave.
Nick Clegg 265 followers: Joined only in February this year. Posts a mix of informal doorstep snaps and campaign photo ops, but, sadly, no hedgehogs yet.
Stella Creasy 491 followers: Joined February this year. Latest picture was of a Norfolk terrier, but Creasy is a trailblazer on social media, so we’re sure she’s doing it right.
Tristram Hunt 63 followers: Joined last month. Keen on campaign shots in factories and schools, but given that the shadow Education secretary is tipped for the leadership, it’s going to get interesting.
Oliver Dowden 19 followers: Joined last month. Former No 10 adviser now Conservative candidate for Hertsmere who we’re sure will be a minister in the next Tory government.
David Cameron Nearly 500,000 Likes. His posts are nearly identical to his Twitter feed, where he has 958,000 followers. Not highly personal tweets. The replies are more polite on Facebook.
Team2015 Just over 7,000 likes, far fewer than the page of its big brother, The Conservatives, but this is where Tory chairman Grant Shapps is mobilising grassroot supporters. They also have an Instagram page worth following.
Liberal Democrats More than 100,000 Likes, many more than their Twitter page. Given the youth vote is a key Lib Dem target, they are cleverly using witty videos and pictures.
Rachel Reeves More than 8,000 likes – comments and photos which she posts herself.
BuzzFeed UK Politics More than 24,000 likes. We dare you to say “BuzzFeed Election”.
The Independent has got together with May2015.com to produce a poll of polls that produces the most up-to-date data in as close to real time as possible.
Click the buttons below to explore how the main parties' fortunes have changed:Reuse content