Business Technology

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Facebook wins elections vote

Most Irish people now live chunks of their lives on Facebook and other social platforms. Stock image
Most Irish people now live chunks of their lives on Facebook and other social platforms. Stock image
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

'This will be the first election fought on social media.' Even if Fine Gael and Fianna Fail pull back from a Christmas election, this is a phrase we hear more and more.

But how true is it?

Most Irish people now live chunks of their lives on Facebook and other social platforms. Does this mean these channels are now a primary battleground?

How seriously will politicians take them? Will they spend more on social ads than, for example, in local papers or events?

Here's a look at how the rival platforms might perform in an Irish general election.

1. Twitter

Irish users*: 1.06m (380,000 daily)

Relevance: medium

While it has an influential role in how our news is shaped, Twitter is a place to seed stories and ideas rather than somewhere to win votes directly. It is considered essential reading for journalists and political junkies. As such, narratives that take root on Twitter often fan out further on broadcast and print media, as journalists, editors and producers regurgitate stuff they find there.

So Twitter is an important cog that can ultimately be very influential. But is it a middle ground where votes are directly won or lost? It doesn't seem so. Many of its daily users are already opinionated, being engaged recreationally or professionally in politics. So while a politician might hope to drive a narrative more widely across media by winning an argument or revealing something on Twitter, he or she is wasting their time looking for large numbers of floating voters to directly canvass on the platform.

2. Facebook

Irish users*: 2.4m (1.7m daily)

Relevance: high

By some distance, Facebook is the place where politicians might look to engage a middle ground of voters in their own constituencies. This is for three reasons.

First, Facebook is massive in Ireland - no other online service or entity comes close to its influence. Its 1.7 million daily audience makes its reach roughly comparable to all RTE television and radio programmes combined (even if RTE has longer engagement periods).

The second reason for Facebook's dominance is its local nature. Unlike Twitter's screaming, gladiatorial arena, Facebook is for friends, family and other familiars who we interact with most. It's not primarily political, so it's going to be where most of the middle ground hang out. The third reason is its age profile. Almost all targeted research in Ireland shows Facebook with the largest number of senior citizens and middle-aged people. These are the ones who will always vote.

This may be why most TDs appear to be increasingly active with constituents on Facebook, as opposed to other social platforms. Many appear to get involved with local interest groups, personally posting about issues. In a country that prizes personal relationships over policy issues, this is the way to get to people.

3. Snapchat

Irish users*: 1.14m (770,000 daily)

Relevance: low

Forget that Snapchat is the fastest-growing social platform in Ireland with twice the number of daily users as Twitter. Or that it has stronger penetration in Ireland than most other countries. The reason that almost no politician takes it seriously is that it is perceived to be a messaging service for people under 30, the demographic least likely to vote in a general election. There is also a generational fear issue: many middle-aged people (and politicians are mostly middle-aged) express bewilderment at how Snapchat works. Recent modifications, however, could make Snapchat worth a politician's while. Last week, the social company introduced new paid geofilters for Ireland. Go onto the site, design a filter and then draw the geographical boundary map you want it to be promoted in. It's hard to see many politicians doing well at this, but at least it's a new way to advertise to younger voters.

4. Whatsapp

Irish users*: 2.2m (1.27m daily)

Relevance: high

Whatsapp may be the most underestimated social platform in Ireland: it has largely replaced SMS for scores of Irish people. It has also introduced middle-aged Irish people (voters) to closed messaging groups in a way they hadn't seen before. This includes everything from residents' associations to school parents groups and sports clubs. As such, this makes WhatsApp a service with direct relevance on local issues that people care about. WhatsApp 'groups' are now ubiquitous across Irish society and they're being increasingly relied on, as figures from Ipsos MRBI show.

5. Instagram

Irish users*: 1.03m (570,000 daily)

Relevance: very low

By its own design, Instagram is the happy, 'positive' social network. Escapism and lifestyle voyeurism are also central threads. As such, it is ill suited to political engagement or influence in any significant way.

6. Google, YouTube

Irish users*: 3.5m+

Relevance: low

While Google isn't a social media platform itself, it is increasingly used by political parties to advertise. This is mainly through the practice of buying ads against keywords. On the other side of its business, YouTube has a large viewership in Ireland but is more difficult to localise to individual constituencies for politicians, making it a broadcast channel rather than a targeted neighbourhood one. It's also tricky to buy ads on YouTube as sometimes you never know what type of content you'll end up advertising alongside. Expect to see little personal engagement on the video channel.

Conclusion: Facebook and WhatsApp are the two real vote-getters in any upcoming election.

(* Social media user based on figures from Ipsos MRBI and CSO)

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