Politi­cians ramp up so­cial me­dia to gain edge

Sunday Tasmanian - - Front Page - DAVID BENIUK RE­PORTS,

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.

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