How are social media used in the run-up to an election and who actually does the campaigning? Kajsa Falasca, who researches in political communication, has among other things studied parties’ and politicians’ social media presence in the latest elections. The question is – what will this year’s election campaigns look like?
One thing is for certain: in this year’s election campaigns social media presence will be greater than ever. The question is just how much resources will be ploughed into them and which psychological buttons will be pressed.
Kajsa Falasca, PhD in Media and Communication Science and researcher in political communication at Mid Sweden University’s research centre DEMICOM, has her own theory.
“Enormous resources are needed to be active in social media, that’s for sure. Individual politicians may be active but my belief is that social media will be used like an ordinary advertising channel.”
In their study ‘Social media election campaigning: who is working for whom? A conceptual exploration of digital political labour’, Kajsa Falasca, Mikolaj Dymek and Christina Grandien have looked specifically at the last general election. Early in their research they viewed social media as an enabler of dialogue between politicians and citizens but soon discovered that Facebook and Twitter for example were not at all being used as enablers of dialogue but as billboards.
“They pump out their messages and then let their followers do the work” says Kajsa Falasca.
Instead of using social media to meet their voters and create a dialogue, the parties use the media as a channel for advertising. Get a message out and let one’s followers do the work of spreading it and liking. If a post has a great impact, it can be used and emphasised again and thus give the senders great publicity without actually doing a great deal themselves.
“As I said, individual politicians may be very active and make comments and carry on a dialogue with the electorate, but otherwise the social media are used more as a place for marketing.”
Digital election cabins a concept for success
The researchers were however able to discern a slight difference in the previous election campaign. Among the political parties there was one that used social media a little differently than the others – the Green Party.
They pump out their messages and then let their followers do the work
The Green Party chose to use its Facebook page as a kind of digital election cabin, where they for example announced a certain time when they would be available to answer questions. This allowed them to create a dialogue with voters.
“I hope more of them use digital election cabins in the run-up to this year’s election; we saw that the Green Party’s initiative in 2014 was highly successful. It wasn’t anything that was widely used in 2014, but it may be this year,” says Kajsa Falasca.
Using social media only as a place for marketing may have its advantages, such as free labour in the form of followers who spread the message further afield. The political parties may not have anyone following the debate and responding to posts but a dialogue can nonetheless be created with the users that is quite important. The downside is that it tends to become one-way communication.
Appealing to emotions
Individual politicians can on the other hand be very active. Some of them make comments and carry on a dialogue with the users on their party’s pages and on their own pages. There are also influential people on social media who contribute a post, or a tweet, and then let the users do the work.
“The person who wrote the post can then just lean back and let others spread the message. This then lets them avoid responsibility.
It is always the individual who is responsible for a comment. It takes time and resources to moderate a long comments field.” Some people in power are very good at pressing just the right buttons to get a strong reaction.
“Social media are built on fast reactions. We humans react most to emotions and if you’re looking for a fast reaction then create emotions,” Kajsa Falasca goes on.
One person who is provenly a pro at pressing the emotions button is American president Donald Trump. But there are examples in Sweden too.
“Hanif Bali of the Moderate Party is one example of someone who knows what buttons to press.
The downside when it comes to fast reactions and us reacting with feeling is that it doesn’t always turn out well.
More balanced and sensible people will perhaps withdraw if the debate gets too lively. In this respect one might wish that the parties had greater presence and debated the matter in question.”
Old and new trends
Kajsa Falasca has also studied the parties’ campaign strategies and presence in social networks in the past three elections. She observes that a strategy has been added at every election but this does not mean that another has been discarded. Just as with everything else it is trends that control what the next in-thing will be, and in 2014 storytelling was top.
“We met Birgitta, who worked in an old people’s home and spoke about what she did every day and so on.” Trends mean that if something is successful everyone jumps on board.”
This year the hot topic is moving pictures. People are also talking a lot about emotions. Polarising and simplifying are also à la mode.
“Just look at the Moderates in Gothenburg and the campaign video they made to show what the city was like before and what it’s like today. What a reaction they got. The video awakened emotions and caused a polarisation in the debate.”
Creating a storm on Twitter, going viral or ultimately being written about in established media might also be a campaign strategy in Kajsa Falasca’s opinion.
This year there are more channels, social media, platforms and networks than ever. On the plus side there is something for everyone; the downside is that it may be hard to sift through all the information. The traditional election cabins must not be underrated, Kajsa Falasca says. As a voter you have to keep a cool head and be critical.
“The traditional media can be trusted. There’s a lot of information to get and in the digital landscape you can always find what you’re looking for.”
Kajsa Falasca will also be monitoring and mapping parties’ social presence in this autumn’s elections.