Here’s a question. What’s performed really well online for the SNP this year?
It’s not an incendiary tweet or an aggressive video, or any of the sort of things normally associated with political success online.
No – it’s a GIF of Nicola Sturgeon raising her eyebrows.
Since this second-long moving image was created by the party in February, it’s had more than 1.4 million views – more than 30,000 times the SNP’s most popular video on YouTube.
This isn’t a fluke, but a triumph of digital strategy.
Since 2016, the SNP has been creating content for use inside mobile apps.
The Nicola Sturgeon GIF is just one of 408 items it has uploaded to its channel on GIF database Giphy.
Taken together, these have now been seen more than 20 million times.
These numbers are high not only because the clips are so short, but also because they’re accessible on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
That’s where Giphy comes in.
The New York-based startup began life as a search engine for GIFs, but it now powers the GIF option on the keyboard inside mobile apps.
Select a GIF in there and – without knowing it – you’re accessing the Giphy database.
Giphy also does stickers, which can be added to images in apps like Instagram.
The SNP has been taking advantage of this as well.
One recent sticker from the party advertising its green energy deal has 209,360 views, while another saying “end child poverty” has 200,280.
Ross Colquhoun, head of digital at the SNP, calls the way voters insert these items into chats “cut and paste activism”.
“We understand the value of peer to peer activism,” he tells me.
“We’ve seen big dividends by enabling our supporters to re-purpose our message and share it in their own way with their friends, family and followers.”
The demand for GIFs is high.
When Giphy analysed the searches made on its platform in the first month of the election campaign, it found a “huge spike” on 19 November, the day of the ITV leaders debate.
On that day, searches for “Boris Johnson”, the most popular search term, ranked between 180th and 250th in the UK for searches on Giphy.
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“Given that we have so many evergreen popular search terms like love, hello, that ranking is already very impressive,” says Natalie Vegel, director of communications at Giphy.
“Jeremy Corbyn” was the second most popular search term, giving an indication of how voters relate to GIFs.
“Searching for candidates was more popular than searching for party names, likely because party names usually don’t provide content depicting reactions that people are often looking for,” says Ms Vegel.
Until recently, the SNP was the only party making its own GIFs and stickers.
In this election campaign, however, Labour and the Conservatives have started doing the same thing.
The Liberal Democrats, Greens and Brexit Party still do not have their own channels on Giphy.
The two main parties have produced similar results.
Since 26 November, the Conservatives have uploaded 36 images, receiving a total of 1.5 million views.
Since 30 November, Labour have uploaded 51 images, totalling 1.7 million views.
Both parties also have a similar sticker strategy, favouring simple messages – “Vote Conservative”, “I’m Voting Labour” – which can be easily added to existing images.
Maria Bain, planning director at marketing agency Icrossing, says she added a party’s sticker to an Instagram post when she voted in 2017.
“When we are trying to sell fashion products to pharmaceuticals to finance it’s all about being relevant, relatable, being personal and not stuck on a pedestal looking down on consumers,” she says.
“That’s what these GIFs are doing brilliantly. They are becoming part of culture, a social currency.”
The Conservatives have also experimented with GIFs, mostly taken from Boris Johnson’s “12 Questions to Boris Johnson” election broadcast, which imitated a YouTube video format made popular by Vogue magazine.
The most popular of these, a clip of Mr Johnson putting milk in his tea, has received 26,000 views since it was uploaded on 12 November.
Were all these views supportive? Given the social media criticism of Mr Johnson’s tea-making method, it’s quite likely they were not.
But, as so often in this campaign, the Conservatives seem happy to be disliked.
Rather than just containing the name of the party, its stickers have titles such as “Labour Vote Sticker” and “Labour Thumbs Up Sticker”, and use the hashtags “Labour” and “Jeremy Corbyn”.
They seem designed to be found by people searching for Labour, who – as GIFs aren’t labelled – may share them without realising who made them.
Does this matter? Perhaps not.
But it shows that, even in GIFs, nothing is as straightforward as it seems.
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