The campaign is over. It has been a very interesting campaign. Lots of different players involved. Not just the ones we normally expect. But just because the last election campaign is over doesn’t mean that social media should be left to drop by the way side. Social media can be considered as a response to the shift towards constant campaigning. Whether we like it or not, constant campaigning is becoming more and more of a reality. It is not as constant, or as high intensity, as it is the United States, but it is defiantly starting to happen here. What does this mean for social media?
Social media, and in particularly good and effective social media, is not something that happens over night. Parties and candidates cannot just jump on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Youtube 8 weeks out from an election and expect to get a return. As well, social media is a means, not an end. No matter how good your social media campaign is, if you don’t have a product or policy that people want, you aren’t going to achieve anything.
The Internet Party did a good job trying to combat the first issue, social media not happening overnight. They started working on building a profile and following in March, this was before they had even selected a leader, or established any policy. They took the long game. They knew that media attention would help. But they also knew that the people they were trying to reach and connect with weren’t likely to be exposed to the mainstream media. Or if they were, the Internet Party felt they would not get an accurate portrayal. So their social media was there to try and combat this, and reach people who would not otherwise be reached. Now if this was successful or not is a debate for another day.
However the fact that they place so much weight in the use of social media is an indication that they realised what they were up against. This has been backed up by research released just before the election. The NZ Election Data Consortium assessed the answers to Roy Morgan polling from July 2011 to April 2014. They found the following:
In total, 43 percent of likely enrolled non-voters said they never read a newspaper, compared to 26 percent of all voters. Yet, 47 percent of non-voters say they are heavy users of the internet (more than 15 hours per week), compared to just one-third of actual voters.
So there is evidence to back the Internet Party’s approach to campaigning, there is a significant number of people out there who don’t vote and don’t read papers. So if you are going to try and reach these people, then social media and internet advertising is the way to do it.
However, as the Internet Mana Party results show, the effectiveness of this approach can’t be counted on. Now there are many elements that influenced the result for Internet Mana. But despite their, generally, well run social media campaign, it wasn’t able to over come the other elements. But that shouldn’t be taken as case proven that social media is not effective.
I am sure if you asked a number of people, you would get similar comments about hoardings not work that you get about social media. It is just another tool. But it is a tool that needs to be well run, but also needs to have a product, or policy, that people are willing to buy.
So what do I expect to see now that the election campaign is over, and the next one is starting for some? Parties will be trying to build profile and followers. I expect to see content from Labour and the Greens that will be aimed at getting followers to share it, to get more people on board. It will be content aimed at getting people to join the party. However what needs to be done is for parties and MPs to work together. To try and build wide spread networks of followers who will be willing to spread the message. It is all good and well MPs blindly retweeting graphics form the party account, but if they are graphics or tweets that don’t connect with their followers, is there any point? Take Raymond Huo as an example, I know he isn’t in Parliament now but bare with me. His constituency was the Chinese community, and to a lesser extent the new migrant community. Is there any point in him sharing a graphic about say Maori education polices? Would he not be better off sharing a graphic about something that is going to connect with the community he represents?
They also need to remember that social media is as much about listening and learning from your communities as it is about talking to them. Learn from parties elsewhere in the world and the commercial sector. Look at accounts that do well, that get a lot of engagement, see what they do and see if your party, or MPs, can do similar things.
If parties want to be able to generate any noticeable return from social media leading into the next election, they need to start working now. They need to plan who is going to try and connect with which constituency, and how they are going to do that, and they need to plan that now. There is no point in waiting for the next election cycle to come around. As the military would say, plan the fight and fight the plan.