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Social media spend rises dramatically with parties targeting voters more directly

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Digital communications and social media have changed the landscape of political campaigning.

As political campaigning is increasingly reliant on online activity, our ability to track, understand and measure the impact of parties' communications strategies is an important tool in modern elections.

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have both increased their spend online in the past week. With, at times, more than 250 adverts running for Sinn Féin, compared to Fine Gael's eight and Fianna Fáil's 35, the profile of its leader Mary Lou McDonald online has increased significantly.

When it comes to 'share of voice', which essentially means 'brand exposure', Leo Varadkar had nearly double the impact of his nearest rivals up to last week.

However, since the leaders' debate on Monday, Ms McDonald has overtaken Mr Varadkar as the loudest voice online, with 80pc of online conversation.

Since the start of the week, mentions of the Sinn Féin leader online are double that of her two rivals combined. Micheál Martin's presence has decreased considerably.

Much has been made during this campaign about the emotional connection politicians make with voters. This is easily measured in an online context.

Contrary to some analysis of his performance on the canvass, online sentiment analysis tell us Mr Varadkar was last week sitting comfortably as the most 'positive' engagement of the leaders. However, this week there has been a huge swing towards Mr Martin, who has 67pc (up from 12pc) positive sentiment, followed now by Mr Varadkar at 25pc (up from 19pc) and Ms McDonald at 18pc (up from 3pc).

It should be noted both Mr Varadkar and Ms McDonald have far more interest in this area from online activity so will naturally gain much more reaction.

In an attempt to micro-target voters across the country, Sinn Féin has adopted an almost unprecedented approach of individual pieces of creative content targeting each county or city.

It is the only main party undertaking this costly strategy and the influence will be interesting to see on polling day. Its spend to date from March 2019 is €18,000, with €7,000 being spent in the last seven days.

With the current number of active ads sitting at 261, each running with a budget up to €99 per ad, it demonstrates how seriously it is taking its online campaign strategy.

Fianna Fáil has spent more than Fine Gael and Sinn Féin combined. While its advertising spend online from March 2019 is just over €42,000, some €25,000 of that has been spent in the past seven days.

Fianna Fáil began its campaign targeting male voters with its online advertising spend. Up to the end of last week there was a specific focus on male voters with the party pinning its hopes on those under the age of 64.

However, this week it has moved towards a more even split of male/female targeting in its advertising spend.

The Labour Party, interestingly, is not currently advertising on either Facebook or Instagram.

Given the impact which advertising and communicating through these platforms has, this appears to be a risky strategy.

The Green Party has spent less than €100 to date, even though it would be seen as doing well with the youth vote which spends a lot of time online.

Caitríona Fitzpatrick, a former special adviser to Tánaiste Simon Coveney, is now a public affairs consultant for communications agency Hume Brophy

Irish Independent