FACEBOOK VOTE GRAB
Politicians ramp up social media to gain edge
ANGRY-FACE Will Hodgman, Rebecca White wearing L-plates, Cassy O’Connor as an X-Files agent.
Welcome to the wacky new world of election campaigning.
Experts are telling Tasmanians to brace themselves for a social media-fuelled run to the poll, with major parties making platforms like Facebook a key battleground in the lead-up to an expected March state election.
Candidates on all sides are feverishly interacting with voters in a bid to lift their profiles and push policies.
And the Tasmanian Liberals’ Facebook and Twitter ac- counts are already running attack memes — online images that send up opponents — targeting Labor leader Ms White as an “L-plater”.
TASMANIA should brace itself for its first Trump-style social media-fuelled election, but experts are divided on how effective — and restrained — it will be.
The major parties are gearing up to make platforms like Facebook a key battleground in the lead-up to an expected March poll.
Combatants will take a leaf out of US President Donald Trump’s campaign, a strategy that Labor has already used successfully in Western Australia.
“This will be the first state campaign in Tasmania where Facebook in particular is as much a focus of our campaign as newspapers, radio and TV,” said Liberal state director Sam McQuestin.
The Tasmanian Liberals’ Facebook and Twitter accounts are already running attack memes — online im- ages that send up opponents — targeting Labor leader Rebecca White as an “L-plater”.
The State Government media team’s energy is being poured into Premier Will Hodgman’s Facebook page, which has notched 15,000 likes, and ramped up its video content.
The recent announcement by Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff about changes to the proposed school starting age racked up 140,000 views, more than any television news bulletin.
One of the upsides for parties is the message goes out without any immediate scrutiny from trusted news services and journalists.
“I would anticipate that most of the major announcements made during the upcoming election campaign will be made on Facebook first and then followed up with media interviews, media conferences and the like,” Mr McQuestin said.
If you let politicians go off on their own tangent then there is massive risk from the PR perspective and there could be a lot of damage control work. JEN MURNAGHAN, SOCIAL MEDIA CONSULTANT
“It’s vital that everything we do is focused on having that conversation with the community as the absolute priority.”
The Liberals appear to have stolen the jump on their opponents, but Labor has countered with its own occasional slogan plastered on to an unflattering photo of a Government minister.
Unofficial pages purportedly created by party supporters have recently sprung up, some testing the bounds of taste and decency.
But the strategy doesn’t stop with doctored images and extends much further inside the personal reaching power of social media, particularly Facebook.
Candidates are feverishly interacting with voters to lift profiles and push policies.
While some seek to start a conversation on an issue, others are happy to start an argument on Twitter.
Former Labor minister and Franklin candidate David O’Byrne believes social media will be a crucial factor in the state poll.
“While it won’t be the scale of a US election or a UK elec- tion or a national election, proportionally it will be significant,” he said. “It’s virtual doorknocking in some respects.”
Social media consultant Jen Murnaghan, from Tasmania’s Digital Dandy, said the free reach of platforms like Facebook offered politicians direct contact with voters and the chance for supporters to hit the “share” button and send a post viral.
“That’s incredibly valuable and something they haven’t had before,” Ms Murnaghan said.
But the strategy also came with risks if individual candidates stepped outside the brand’s parameters, she said.
“If you let politicians go off on their own tangent then there is massive risk from the PR perspective and there could be a lot of damage control work,” she said.
“It’s really important that the strategy and the content plan is crystal clear for those who are speaking on behalf of their party.”
The Greens will allow candidates to choose their own level of social media engagement, the party’s deputy convener Paul O’Halloran said.
“Any time we are talking to voters, we want to converse in the language they expect, and that will include video, photos, tweets, articles and anything you generally expect to find on social media,” he said.
“It’s unlikely we’ll be firing up the meme generator ourselves, although we do sometimes get a giggle out of [some].”
The strategy could be different within the other party machines, as Labor spin doctor Patrick Gorman revealed after the party’s March vic- tory in Western Australia.
In what is called microcampaigning, the ALP identified people who “liked” a mixed martial artist, then bought Facebook ads targeting them with a policy of overturning a cage-fighting ban.
Up to 80 per cent of a party’s newspaper and online election advertising budget could be spent on similar Facebook micro-campaigns, which were also used during the Trump campaign.
“It depends on how sophisticated the campaigns are,” Ms Murnaghan said.
“All of that can be done, it really depends on the moral compass of the parties. You can really draw down and target very specific people to suit your demographic and your message.”
But unlike the Trump presidency, Tasmanian politicians are less likely to engage voters using Twitter.
Parties have already decided that the platform is best used to let journalists know when an opponent has made a mistake, while in-house debates between political staffers during taxpayer-funded working hours turn voters off.
The three parties’ state branches have less than 2000 Twitter followers each and University of Tasmania marketing lecturer Louise Grimmer said the platform was unlikely to be significant for the election.
“This is quite low penetration and, more importantly, the level of engagement — likes, retweets, replies — with their followers is extremely low,” Dr Grimmer said. “One of the issues with Twitter is that, in terms of political marketing or branding, you are preaching to the converted.”
As to the level of debate, Ms Murnaghan believes the technology will lift it and open it up to a younger demographic. Dr Grimmer is not as sure. “What we tend to see on social media is low engagement, a base level of debate and often minor or inconsequential issues blowing out of proportion or going viral and the ‘real’ debate gets lost,” she said. TOMORROW: How social media abuse is affecting our political life.