During this election campaign, being seen online is more important than ever. But how do you achieve that, and what are the effects?
To discover the value social media has for political parties and their party leaders, the NOS looked at how much interaction they have with potential voters and how big they are. The platforms are not a reflection of society, but they are an important indicator for the campaigns.
To visualize these interactions, we looked at a period of seven days. It is striking that Forum for Democracy and party leader Thierry Baudet have the most interactions. This is followed by PVV leader Geert Wilders and GroenLinks with party leader Jesse Klaver. Parties such as the SP, CDA and PvdA are less successful in interacting with the public.
It is striking that newcomer Volt scores well on Instagram, in contrast to established parties such as CDA and ChristenUnie. Party leader Laurens Dassen does get a lot less attention than his party, he is in line with the leader of Denk, Farid Azarkan. The latter is a lot bigger on Facebook, where Dassen does not have its own page.
How active parties are on socials varies a lot. For example, FvD places the most messages of all parties on their Facebook page every day, on average more than six. While D66 comes to just over two. The PVV uses its own tactic on social media. The party does not have its own pages on Instagram and Facebook; all communication goes through Wilders.
View in 6 slides below how much interaction parties and party leaders have on Facebook and Instagram:
What are all those interactions worth?
A lot, according to communication scientist Sanne Kruikermeier (University of Amsterdam). The trick in the last weeks before the elections is mainly to attract attention. “We see that politicians who receive more attention on social media, also receive more attention on traditional media and then again on social media.” So it reinforces each other.
The small parties can especially benefit from this, because they normally have more trouble putting themselves in the spotlight. “Larger parties are more likely to be picked up by the media and are more likely to attend talk shows,” says Tom Dobber, who is researching political communication at the University of Amsterdam.
He noticed that a number of small parties are well able to spread their message via social media. “At Volt you can see that on Instagram, for example. The supporters of that party – many young people – are much involved in that social medium.” The fact that the CDA has far fewer interactions is not surprising, according to him, because the party mainly focuses on people over 45.
The more you post, the more interaction you can generate
Dobber is not surprised by the large number of interactions in FvD. “They are very active on Instagram, they constantly post updates of their journey with a bus through the Netherlands. You see that a party like GroenLinks posts much less. The more you post, the more interaction you can generate”.
And does it matter how you attract attention? “What strikes me is that polarization works,” says Tom te Buck of campaign agency BKB. “You notice that FvD and the PVV are doing well on Facebook and Instagram. People who are angry, for example at the cabinet policy, are more likely to express themselves about this on social media.”
These messages from parties and party leaders had the most interaction on Facebook and Instagram in the past week:
Do interactions also generate votes?
“What we now see in an experimental study is that social media can make voters more involved in politics,” says communication scientist Kruikemeier. But the effects on the ballot box are small, she says. “A good campaign can lead to more preferential votes for a candidate.”
Dobber thinks that the number of interactions mainly says something about the success the party has in spreading their message. “A lot of interaction shows that your message is being read, that you invite to respond and that you reach the voter. But it does not necessarily show that you also get more votes.”
See below who has the most followers on Twitter. Look here for the follower numbers of Facebook and Instagram:
In terms of the number of followers, the prime minister’s account of VVD leader Mark Rutte exceeds the rest. “That gives him the premier bonus,” says Tom te Buck of BKB. “He also has to spend less money on other channels, because as prime minister he is visible at the corona press conferences and via social media.” Rutte will not admit it so quickly, but making policy and visibility also simply serves a campaign goal. “
Side note to Twitter
The numbers are highest on Twitter, but according to Te Buck, those users are absolutely not representative of who is allowed to vote. “Twitter is mainly used to reach journalists and give the impression that there is a fuss about something. Facebook and Instagram are much more important for contact with potential voters, there are more floating voters there.”
The number of followers of political parties on Facebook and Instagram quickly runs into the tens of thousands and some are well over that. But those numbers don’t really matter. Te Buck: “The organic reach is virtually nil there. The exception are very large accounts such as those of Geert Wilders, Forum for Democracy and the prime minister.” That means: if you want to be seen, you have to pay.