FRIDAY 19 FEB 2010 6:21 AM


Only the Conservative Party is effectively using traditional digital communication tools, according to new research out this week.

With a national election looming, keeping in touch with those who have already expressed an interest would be a fairly obvious communication strategy for all of the political parties. Yet according to the research carried out by Return Path, an email consultancy and technology firm, most political parties are failing to connect with their potential supporters.

The research, conducted over a two month period started with Return Path signing up for all of the political parties' email programmes, and then following the flow of correspondence over the next sixty days. Astonishingly the researchers didn't receive any correspondence from the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party or the Democratic Unionist Party. The median figure throughout the two month period was one email.

Of the three main parties, Labour appeared only marginally better than the Lib Dems, with 1 email throughout the period. The Conservative party sent 12. The British National Party (BNP) scored highest, though for most people these emails are likely to find their way into the junk folder - 15 of the 20 sent were treated as spam by Return Path's email system.

Only the Green Party and the BNP sent a welcome email. Thereafter the Conservative party again performed best with a wait of six days between sign-up and the first regular email. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) took nine days whilst Labour waited 58 days to send their first email.

"For all their platitudes about engaging with the electorate, political parties are certainly not walking the talk when it comes to email," said Margaret Farmakis, Return Path's senior director of response consulting, who lead the research. "Sending a timely welcome message that arrives shortly after sign-up provides short-term reinforcement of the subscription, and encourages subscribers to begin browsing and clicking through to news, social media and other content, as well as actively participating in fundraising or other party-related activities.

"If political parties don't do this, they risk subscribers forgetting why they signed up to the email programme in the first place, increasing the chances that they will click the "This is Spam" button when they do receive a message. The more spam complaints, the more the parties' email reputation suffers, harming the deliverability of all of their messages."

Integrating with social media

The research also highlights the lack of integration of traditional digital media with social media. Neither the Labour Party or the SNP promotes their social media on their website and only the Conservatives and the BNP included links on their email correspondence. Interestingly this contrasts with a separate piece of research from Tweetminster, which monitors politicians' use of Twitter, which showed the Labour party to be ahead of the curve in twitter followers. Of 111 MPs tweeting, 65 were Labour, 23 were Liberal Democrats and 16 were Conservatives, with labour MPs having 91,061 Twitter followers, Lib Dems 22,754 and Conservatives 19,247.

"Our study showed the Conservatives were by far the strongest party in their email communications. They took the least time to engage with new subscribers; sent messages at the promised frequency; and incorporated social media within their messages. If they were judged purely on the superiority of their email strategy, they'd win by a landslide" concluded Farmakis.