Skip to main content

Established UK parties are using Facebook posts which attack the opposition to engage their followers in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. But UKIP and other parties are gaining more social likes and shares by being positive and trumpeting their own horns, according to research from University of Edinburgh Business School.

Lecturer in Marketing Dr Ben Marder analysed the seven major UK parties Facebook posts.

He categorised them as either ‘aggressive’ (posts which make the party look good by criticising or showing dominance over the others) or ‘assertive’ (posts which make the party look good without denigrating the opposition).

Marder’s analysis suggests Facebook posts which used the more negative ‘aggressive’ messages gain Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats 56% more likes and 217% more shares than ‘assertive’ ones.

But the picture is reversed for UKIP. For them, Marder suggests, ‘assertive’ posts focusing on the party’s core message without negative references to other parties receive 66% more likes and 220% more shares than ‘aggressive’ ones, on average.

In a similar vein, the research also suggests the SNP receives roughly 40% more likes for ‘assertive’ posts than ones containing negative messaging.


Overall UKIP, the SNP and Green Party enjoy some of the highest levels of engagement with supporters. Proportional to their overall number of Facebook followers, these parties receive, on average, 300% more likes per post.

With 7,000 average likes, UKIP posts receive 7 times more likes from their Facebook followers than the Liberal Democrats.

Together, UKIP and the Green Party’s posts are also shared around 3.5 more times by their Facebook followers, compared with the other parties.



Dr Ben Marder, Lecturer in Marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School, said:

“Aggressive messaging which aims to make a party look good by degrading the competition with criticism, can be an effective means of creating an impact and changing behaviour.

“As our research suggests, this strategy has been proven to increase engagement for Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

“But parties employing the tactic run the risk of being labelled ‘negative’, and possibly disengaging their target audience.

“However, perhaps due to their having single-issue agendas – which supporters identify with and gain affirmation from – our research suggests parties like UKIP and the SNP actually benefit more by sticking to their core ideologies.

“By hammering their message home without being drawn into more ‘aggressive’ negative campaign tactics, they stand a greater chance of engaging with their social media followers.”

Plaid Cymru (70%) and the Green Party (63%) employed the greatest use of ‘dominance’ tactics – a form of aggressive strategy to criticise the opposition while simultaneously demonstrating superiority – ahead of the Liberal Democrats (44%) and Labour (37%). UKIP used the technique in just three per-cent of its aggressive updates.

The research analysed a snapshot of 100 posts from each of the seven major UK parties’ official Facebook pages. It looked at the initial period of the 2015 General Election campaign, in reverse chronological order from 21st April.

Marder applied psychologist Astrid Shütz’ taxonomy of styles of self-presentation to classify individual posts as either ‘Offensive/Aggressive’ or ‘Assertive in style’.

[Image source:]