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New working paper: What does a satellite campaign do? The use of Momentum in Labour’s 2017 General Election Facebook campaign

Satellite campaigns have been discussed as core parts of parties online campaigns. However, they are not well conceptualised or understood. I have developed a new working paper within which I analyse satellite campaign group Momentum and the Labour Party Facebook campaign.

Satellite campaigns have been discussed as core parts of parties online campaigns (Dommett and Temple, 2018). However, they are not well conceptualised or understood. I have developed a new working paper within which I analyse satellite campaign group Momentum’s Facebook campaign in comparison to the Labour Party and leader pages across the 2017 General Election.

I find the 2017 General Election fascinating because it disrupts the ‘targeted ads are everything’ narrative. Labour performed strongly, engagement was high, and although the Conservatives won, Labour’s campaign had been heralded as a success. Something was in the water that year and it was visible via Facebook. Since then Facebook’s audience has changed, but I still feel the case highlights the vitality of organic campaigns, viral content, personalisation and satellite campaigning.


Access the paper via ArXiv or download it at the end of the article https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/hdqrg/


The article comparatively examines Facebook pages across the 2017 General Election. Momentum, Labour Party page and Labour leader page information and participation content is comparatively investigated to understand what sets satellite campaigning apart. It terms of methods I undertook quantitative content analysis of the organic posts sent by the pages one month before election day (excluding election day). I used over 800 variables, only some are in the paper.

Findings show that Labour had generated a Facebook approach termed ‘Janus-faced campaigning’. Labour was using leader, party and satellite pages with diverse approaches to speak to different audiences, thus presenting different faces of the same party to the public. The party engaged in two core forms of approach as shown in the table below taken from the paper.

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Through satellite page Momentum (via what I call the ‘new methods’ Facebook campaign) the party was using novel content and participation forms to activate followers including pushing volunteering and just-turn-up style doorstep efforts. Satellite page Momentum focused equally on participation and information, using novel, partisan and divisive content, large amounts of leadership personalisation and humour, to activate a younger more partisan audience and get them campaigning online and offline. This fulfils some ‘cyber party’ ideals (Margetts, 2001) that break down barriers between the party and public.

Momentum was placing a large amount of effort into activating their audience online and offline, this is in stark contrast the the Labour Party page that focused on broad brush stroke information, with any participation content seen focused on registering to vote/voting. Momentum treated their online audience as a reservoir of potential offline campaign activism, breaking down the barriers between ‘official’ and ‘virtual members’.

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Via the party page (and somewhat Corbyn’s page) Labour was recreating tried and tested approaches seen via traditional campaigning. The ‘traditional Facebook campaign’ via the leader and party page, saw the party using core policy messages, open inclusive rhetoric and a focus on information over participation to campaign to the mass public. Party page content was infographic heavy, with this traditional Facebook campaign focused on depersonalised info & policy, using Facebook like leaflets. You would seldom find a Labour Party page post that featured Corbyn, instead he was hidden on the page, a clever communications strategy for the party, because much of the public were not enamoured with Corbyn.

This strategy worked especially well because rather than your local Labour pavement campaign group these infographics would be shared by your mum. With the content accessible and clear. This was all the while Momentum was going exceedingly viral activating audiences, while Corbyn smashed viewing records for Labour’s Live events all livestreamed on Facebook. Finally, Corbyn’s page acted more akin to a middle man, utilising less policy focus, instead operating as a passionate vehicle for partisanship/personalisation. This was about getting the public activated, for example registering to vote, spreading messages and undermining Theresa May.

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This Janus-faced campaign approach meant Labour was speaking to different groups in an efficient way. The multifaceted approach allowed Labour to engage in different strands of organic communications, campaigning to (and through) different audiences in the most effective manner. Satellite campaigns and Janus-faced campaigning are core approaches to how parties are using Facebook. Although multi-faceted approaches are not revolutionary, their use via Facebook represents an evolutionary leap in how parties are campaigning on the platform. Momentum are revealing the future direction of campaigns, because they clearly engage with the idea that online activity can lead to offline action. Lines were blurred between online activism and offline action, with the party interested in more fluid conceptions of membership and how to run a political campaign. At the edges of the Labour campaign we are therefore seeing the rise of new methods in Facebook use, as well as the lines of distinction between online and offline campaigning being blurred. As such, further study of Momentum must occur given they are altering how Facebook is used as a campaign tool.


I will be working on it further to submit to a journal, but I am going to be busy soon so want the knowledge out there ASAP (thus the preprint).

I have also coded the Tories leader and party pages 2015/17, Labour leader and party page 2015 + Momentum in 2018 so more to come.


References

  • Dommett, K. and Temple, L., 2018. Digital campaigning: The rise of Facebook and satellite campaigns. Parliamentary Affairs, 71(suppl_1), pp.189–202.
  • Margetts, H.Z., 2001. The cyber party: the causes and consequences of organisational innovation in European political parties. Oxford Internet Institute.

Citation of paper – MLA

Hotham, Tristan A. “What Does a Satellite Campaign Do? the Use of Momentum in Labour’s 2017 General Election Facebook Campaign.” SocArXiv, 25 Mar. 2021. Web.

My name is Tristan Hotham, I am a researcher and writer. I research social media and politics, I consult upon digital media’s impact upon the world and how to research social media. I am the Founder of the Social Media Research Centre, a research house and consultancy that seeks to make social media research better.

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