Digital media and the 2014 general election

This morning Stuff carried an interesting article entitled ‘It’s the digital election race’. It starts off with the following opening paragraphs.

However we feel about German internet mogul Kim Dotcom, he has changed the way New Zealand voters engage with politics.

Typically, he’s done it by releasing an app, the first of its kind allowing membership sign-up. It satisfies both electoral law requirements and Apple and Google’s rules around collecting money through their stores.

This may be the first time that a political party has managed to find a method to allow people to sign up to the party through a smart phone app. However it isn’t the first time part of a political party has launched a smart phone app. Last year the Young Nats launched a smart phone app allowing people to stay in touch with what they were doing on social media and other places. Both of these apps require you to either create an account or provide a name and email address to be able to use them. Now I can see why the parties want this, however it does put me off using them.


The article talks about how digital media, including apps, will be used to chase the 800,000 people who did not vote at the last election. I don’t think apps will play much of a role in the coming election. The sort of people who will install the apps are those who either already support the party or are already engaged in politics and support another party and just want to see what the other party is saying. The sort of apps that could play a role are ones like the Obama Campaign’s canvasing app from the 2012 election, however I don’t see any part in New Zealand having the resources to develop its own version.


Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar says the app was “so obvious, we wonder why others haven’t done it yet”.

The dream is to eventually use the app to “encourage other people to vote . . . for the Internet Party”.

The CE of the Internet Party may claim that it is “so obvious….” But as outlined above, I don’t think that is the case. So far there have been less than 5000 installs of the app, according to the Google play store count. For all the publicity they have had in the last few weeks, and the big push they are making to get members, 5,000 isn’t a huge number of people.


The article goes on to talk about what else might happen in the social/digital media segment of the market in the up coming campaign. There were some interesting comments that I would like to look at.

“That doesn’t change the fact that you’ve got to attempt to engage people through all these media.”

Joyce says National is working on new technologies, but remains coy about what they are. “I don’t think there’s been a single campaign I’ve been involved with where we’ve said ‘right that’s it, we’ve definitely got the whole internet thing sussed, no need to change it this time’.”

It is interesting that Steven talks about “attempt to engage people through all these media” when the National Parties social media presence, at a party level, is very much aimed at broadcast style of work. There is no real sign of any engagement from the party accounts. John Key’s account doesn’t reply, and all it does is tweet links, photos and retweeting of graphics. Some of the National Party MPs are doing good things on social media. Scott Simpson is a newbie to it, and it doing a pretty good job of it, while Tau Henare has been around a while and is always good at engaging. However, their party presence is weak. The Greens are getting a much greater level of message spread from retweets than the National Party.

Green Party campaign Coordinator Ben Youdan says technology has always formed a significant part of its campaign.

For a small party, particularly with a younger support base, it was always likely the Greens would be using technology.

Youdan says picking influential “Twitterati” among Green followers had been helpful.

“We certainly look at the most influential people who follow us, what their clout is like and what their reach is. I think that’s the sort of information that we take some strategic advantage of without giving too much away about our campaign strategy.”

This is the first time I have seen a part admit that it is using a form of social media analytics. What they mean by “take some strategic advantage of” I am not sure. This could be anything from tailoring messages that appeal to those followers with higher reach and klout, to actively talking with those users to help generate reach. It will be something I keep an eye out for during the campaign.

Joyce says research into Twitter followers presupposes they follow a party because they support it. “In actual fact, different groups within your Twitter stream have different reasons for following you.

“Some of the people will be political partisans, some of them definitely will be the polar opposites, so you have to think on the way through, how you’re communicating to what are probably quite disparate and narrow interest groups.”

The message I get from these two paragraphs is that Steven believes that Twitter is only about communicating with those who choose to follow the account. But I think that is a significant under-sight. Twitter should be about not only communicating with those who follow the account, but also generating content and engagement that encourages them to spread your message for you. Twitter is like word of mouth, it isn’t just about the service one person gets in a store, it is about all the people they will tell. Social media strategies should be focused on growing followings, not just on talking to those who already follow you. Then again, this view of Twitter as just another method to broadcast a message is rather evident in the National Party’s current presence on Twitter.


Social media is a method that allows parties to talk directly to the electorate, without the mediation that is normally present in the main stream media. In August 2013, there were over 365,000 Twitter users in New Zealand. Sure that is less than Facebook. But due to Twitters less restrictive privacy it would be much easier to reach those users from a smaller starting base. I am not suggesting that Twitter is the be all and end all of political campaigns, however, it is obvious that certain parties are taking it much more seriously, such as the Greens who are looking to appoint a Digital Director, who will report direct to the co-leaders and the Chief of Staff. Will any of the other parties have someone at a similar level advising their MPs on how to use social media?


Social and digital  media is here to stay, what form it takes may change over time, but it is something that political parties need to take seriously, just like any other form of media.