National have spent the last 6 years in government, and have just been reelected for another 3 years. As with any other sphere, in the social media sphere they need to make sure they dont become complacent. Actually, the more accurate term would be ‘more complacent’. In the last year National have lost two of their most active Twitter users. Tau Henare did not seek reelection, and Judith Collins took a break from Twitter, and has not been the same since her return. Though if this new, quieter Judith will continue after the events of the last few days, here, or if social media will be part of her tool box for fermenting mischief, waits to be seen.
In the last 2 terms, and during the campaign, National’s message discipline has been remarkable. I don’t recall a single story during the election about a National MP, or candidate, going off message on social media. This contrasts with Labour who had Steve Gibson go off message.
But National’s task this term will be to maintain that record. However, as I said about The Standard last week, any examples of MPs going off record won’t be the issue, it will simply be a symptom of the issue. Controlling what MPs have to say on social media is extremely difficult. A prime example is some of the tweets and engagements that Asenati Lole Taylor partook in during the last term. I don’t think Judith will go as rogue as Asenati did, but I would not be surprised to see Judith use social media in a more subtle way to achieve whatever goals she sets. Will she be sufficiently disgruntled at what has happened to try and cause damage to the National Party brand? That is not something I am able to judge, but she has a strong following on social media and could cause a large amount of damage if she put her mind to it.
However there is one element that can be just as bad as going off message, that is not having anything to say at all. As attested to by my weekly Twitter stats posts, National have an issue with the number of MPs of theirs that have Twitter accounts but do not use them. It is not uncommon to see 25% of National MPs not send a single tweet in a week. Is there any point in having a social media account if you aren’t going to use it? Would an MP turn up to a public meeting and sit there and not say a single word, or speak to. Single person? Of course they wouldn’t. So why do it on a platform that is meant to be about engaging in conversation?
There are two examples I tweeted last night that really highlight National’s issue. Firstly, Todd McClay joined Twitter yesterday, in the space of his first 10 hours on Twitter he sent more tweets, 3, than 21 of his party colleagues had since the previous Friday. Now I don’t know if Todd is going to be highly active or not on Twitter, but the fact that in his first 10 hours he out stripped nearly 1/3 of his caucus colleagues does show that there is an issue with how National MPs are using the platform.
The other example I tweeted about was the fact that in the last week the whole National caucus on Twitter sent less tweets, 222 in total, than Tau Henare used to send in a week. The most active National MP for the last week, Jo Goodhew, sent 31 tweets. Only 9 out of 45 National MPs sent more than 10 tweets. In comparison, Labour with 28 MPs sent 375 tweets in total, with only 8 MPs sending more than 10 Tweets. Between them, Clare Curran and Trevor Mallard sent 84% as many tweets as the whole of the National Caucus. National had 13 MPs who sent no tweets, Labour had 3. Labour have more of their MPs sending more tweets, and a much smaller number who are in active.
Now the argument can be made that what gain is their for National MPs who are active, is being active on Twitter, or other social media platforms, going to achieve anything? That is an argument for those MPs to make a decision on. But if you decide to have an account on a social media platform, then you should be using it. If you have an account that you don’t use, the message that is being sent is that you don’t want to engage in discussion, you dont want to listen and discuss.
The next three years for National are about getting their MPs on the social media bandwagon. It is a tool for engagement and message spread. Each MP should be given a community on Twitter to focus on, be it a geographic or interest based community. Be it in their electorate, or something to do with their background. They should be given support to find the discussion hashtags that the community uses and they should follow them and engage. Not in a “I am an MP, I know everything” kind of way. But in a way that allows them to learn what concerns the community and what might be able to be done to support that community in dealing with those concerns.
They should also be taught the basics of how social media works. How jokes don’t always come off as intended. That social media is as much about listening and asking questions as it is about talking. The MPs who are using it well and have strong followings should be supporting the newer MPs and helping them grow their followings.
National MPs need to learn that if they are going to have any chance of obtaining any positive result from social media, first you have to use it and build a base of followers who can help deliver those results.