Revealed: Advice to Tory MPs on how to be ‘real’ on Instagram

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Media captionReporter Elizabeth Glinka tries out the advice from a Tory training presentation about social media

Conservative MPs have been encouraged to show they are “real people” by being “playful” on Instagram, according to a document leaked to the BBC.

Earlier this year, party chairman Brandon Lewis arranged sessions teaching MPs how to set up an account and project their personality on the video and picture sharing app, following criticism of the Conservatives’ social media strategy.

MPs from all parties have tried to use Instagram to show a more relaxed, human side.

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Revealed: Advice to Tory MPs on how to be ‘real’ on Instagram
Revealed: Advice to Tory MPs on how to be ‘real’ on Instagram

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But efforts by Conservatives to get to grips with the app, at their party conference last year, led to a series of rather stiff, formal pictures of ministers – and ridicule on social media.

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Three months after that, in January this year, the party held sessions giving tips for MPs on how to use Instagram.

Here is a selection of slides from that presentation, and some examples of posts by Labour MPs we have chosen to illustrate how Jeremy Corbyn’s party are using Instagram.

The first slide of the Conservative presentation suggests that sophisticated use of Instagram could be a way to win over younger voters, who are the biggest users of the site.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption The party wants to reach younger voters through Instagram

The guide for Conservative MPs begins with the very basics.

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Image caption The advice begins at the very beginning…

Later slides encourage “human shots” and “action shots”, and MPs are also advised to give concise biographies with a link to their website.

What does this button do?

Posting on Instagram might seem easy if you do it every day. But if you’re not used to it, there’s a lot to figure out.

This slide uses a Boris Johnson selfie as a case study to show the meaning of various icons.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption Instagram can be confusing if you’re not used to it


Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was early to embrace Instagram. Animals are very popular on the app, and his timeline has featured dogs, owls and goats.

It looks like Mr Williamson’s Instagram efforts are respected by party headquarters – he pops up twice on a slide giving “good examples”.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was an early adopter of Instagram


Political Instagram isn’t all cats and briefcases. The app can be used to highlight local issues, as this post by Labour’s Matt Western demonstrates.

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Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has a serious job, and her Twitter and Facebook feeds tend to reflect that.

But on her Instagram feed you’re more likely to see a picture of her cat, or a weekend walk in the woods, than criticism of government policies.

The Conservative presentation singles out this post by Universities Minister Sam Gyimah as an example of the “playful” nature of the site.

The guide advises MPs to use pictures of “objects” from their daily life to suggest it is a “behind the scenes” look.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption People like seeing “process” according to the Conservatives’ presentation

The only example in the presentation made by someone other than a Conservative MP is this post by Nick Weston, who runs a “foraging and cookery school” in Sussex.

MPs have been told to emulate this because “people like seeing your process”.

Tories telling stories

The Conservative presentation picks up on a post by Culture Secretary Matthew Hancock, in which he uses a screenshot of a letter from a 28-year-old man praising government efforts to crack down on online ticket touts, as a good example of “storytelling,” as opposed to bombarding people with statistics.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption Stories are seen as important as well as facts and figures

Other slides encourage posts about historical events, like celebrating Churchill to coincide with the release of the film “Darkest Hour”.

Opposition politicians do this too – such as Labour’s Dawn Butler marking the centenary of votes for women.

What not to do…

The Conservative presentation highlights Instagram posts which don’t “feel real”. Tory MPs are encouraged to use their own images to show issues they care about, rather than generic ones.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption Generic party graphics are discouraged

A slick, but rather impersonal post by Tory MP James Cleverly is included on a slide which says graphics should be used “sparingly”.

Recent posts by the party’s deputy chairman have been more informal.

Expert level Instagram

The Conservative presentation also advises MPs on how to make more creative posts, including a “boomerang”. This is described as a “playful option. Records a motion then plays back on itself – like a boomerang!”

Conservative MPs were shown some of the more fiddly ways to edit an image, such as adding blocks of text with coloured background while using the “story” function (a picture which deletes after 24 hours).

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption The presentation also included advice on how to make posts look colourful

Tory MPs were encouraged to poll their followers for “interesting insights”.

Image copyrightAlamy
Image caption MPs were encouraged to use stickers and emojis

Necessary hashtags

Sir Peter Bottomley has been a Conservative MP since 1975 and is an unlikely social media star – he has a Twitter account but has never tweeted. However, on Instagram he seems to be something of a trailblazer, with his posts highlighted not once but twice in the Tory presentation.

A picture of him signing a book to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day is highlighted as an example of promoting a serious cause by using a relevant hashtag, #HMD18.

The presentation also gave special mention to a picture of Bottomley out campaigning with Margaret Thatcher which used the hashtag #TBT, or “throwback Thursday”.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption Use of #TBT, or “throwback Thursday”, is also encouraged

Sajid Javid recently became home secretary. Before January, when this presentation was given to Conservative MPs, his feed was heavy on generic party graphics. Since then though, his posts have been become more light-hearted – though this sort of playfulness may be harder in his new job.

One of Javid’s “story” posts is highlighted in the presentation as a good example.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption A post about Sajid Javid’s Jobs Fair comes in for praise

Post late, post often

Another slide encourages MPs to reply to comments. Very senior figures in the Conservative Party have taken this advice on board.

Gavin Williamson recently used Instagram to post about his new lawnmower, and replied to questions about where he bought it from and how much it cost.

Social media fans will know that timing is everything – and not every app follows the same pattern.

Political Twitter tends to be busy in the daytime during the working week, and far quieter at the weekend.

People tend to check Instagram in their leisure time, so Tory MPs have been advised to post in the evenings.

Image copyrightCONSERVATIVES
Image caption Timing is everything, the document says

But Social media connoisseurs will know that evening posts carry risks, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. Fewer people tend to be online at those times because many are out enjoying themselves.

Also, those who stay in may be wary of interacting with other people’s posts, for fear of giving away the fact that they are sat at home checking Instagram.

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