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The Suicide Squad Guide To Free Advertising

Yesterday evening a post began circulating on social media, including a link to the personal blog of Downing Street official Dominic Cummings.

The post appeared to be an advertisement for a diverse range of SPAD (Special Advisor) and official roles at Downing Street, working to shape policy and data use in government. It follows a well-reported few weeks of government releases advocating wholesale change to the Civil Service led by Mr Cummings and included a very memorable call for "weirdos" outside of traditionally sought norms and educational backgrounds to bring new skills to Number 10.

In popular comic book or film culture terms, the post was a call for the formation of the administrative equivalent of DC's Suicide Squad.

Within hours, the post had been shared thousand of times across social media and generated headline news articles across all major media outlets, despite featuring only a gmail response address for applications and not being accompanied by any recognisable recruitment process details you might expect for official roles in a critical position.

At the time of writing, the link alone (excluding more widely distributed screenshots) has created 3,306 interactions on Facebook having been posted across a number of pages and groups with a total audience of almost 100,000 people.

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Turning to Twitter, over the last twenty-four hours "Dominic Cummings" was mentioned in 9,900 tweets (of which 82% were retweets).

The activity peaked between 9pm and midnight and the term ran co-concurrently with a number of heavily used hashtags, increasing its visibility to a much broader audience.
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Within the post, the author took a very direct swipe at Journalists, stating:

"the world of digital advertising has changed very fast since I was last involved in 2016. This is partly why so many journalists wrongly looked at things like Corbyn’s Facebook stats and thought Labour was doing better than us — the ecosystem evolves rapidly while political journalists are still behind the 2016 tech."

The lack of journalistic understanding of how digital is used in campaigns to influence the media and, subsequently, the public is neatly displayed in the response to the blog - which saw media outlets themselves amplifying the message across their domains and through sharing of their own articles relating to the post.

Aside from a number of celebrities and grassroots activists, the most effective influencers of this topic on Twitter during the data period were Sky News, Politico, the FT, ITV News, The Guardian, Politics Home, the Press Association, and a few individual journalists from other outlets.

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A selection of the most quoted, most retweeted, and most influential Twitter posts from the data sample provides a clear visual as to how the post was spread.

Most Quoted




Most Retweeted



https://twitter.com/AndrewzCooper/status/1212506655184818176

Most Influential




Social Media provides a perfect environment for the organic distribution of government messaging, without the need for paid advertising, and Mr Cummings is an expert in this field.

This expertise, in fact, spills over into the area of Search Engine Optimsation (SEO) where a slightly different type of organic virality is required.

His personal blog, for example, does not rely on paid advertising because it doesn't need to in order for the content to reach large audiences. In addition to the social media spread, his site has almost 50,000 backlinks driving traffic to it from other blogs, the news agencies who quote his posts, and other outlets including Order-Order.

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The post really isn't about recruiting "weirdos" and 95% of the text is fluff - content that the intended audience won't read and are not intended to read.

It is, however, about creating a compelling story the public will hear and invest in. About driving the narrative that the civil service needs to be reformed. That all systems of governance need to be reformed. That the media still haven't understood how digital is used to steer public discourse.

Amidst all of the padding and distraction the intent of the post is clear to see, as is the direction of travel for the government campaign.

Cummings writes they are: "particularly interested in deep experts on TV and digital. We also are interested in people who have worked in movies or on advertising campaigns. There are some very interesting possibilities in the intersection of technology and story telling."

In short, the post itself is a meme designed to go viral and the future belongs to whatever offspring it creates.

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This psychology not only continues to redefine our shared values, incorporating disinformation into our talking points and group behaviours, but profits the whole sector which both feeds upon and drives it. This is Disinfonomics.