The social media challenge of changing a leader

Happier days, from Labour's Facebook page.

Happier days, from Labour's Facebook page.

If, as half of the Press Gallery is predicting, Labour has a new leader by the end of their caucus meeting today, replacing their campaign billboards featuring Andrew Little won't be their only challenge. A change of leadership can have significant impact on your digital channels, so today I'm sparing a thought for Labour's digital team who may have a pretty massive day of work ahead of them. I should know, I've been there with the change from Sir John Key to Bill English.

Assuming there is a change, and depending who that new leader is, Labour might actually find it as a blessing in disguise on their social media channels. With Jacinda Ardern being the leading contender at the moment, despite her Shermanesque denials, she presents an unusual opportunity for Labour in that she already has a far larger following than Andrew Little is on social media.

On Facebook Jacinda leads Andrew by 58,335 page likes to Little's 33,909. The difference is even more pronounced on Twitter with Jacinda having 67,636 to Andrew's 14,087. Other than helping Jacinda reach more people without spending money on digital advertising, it also reflects something far more important - Jacinda is simply much more popular a public figure with New Zealand than her current leader. In an MMP system, where so much of the party vote component is driven by the popularity of your party's leader, this is potentially a game changer for Labour.

At the very least it's the circuit breaker that the party so badly needs. As much as National might try to portray Jacinda as a lightweight on policy, I don't think that she is. Rather, she's been more focused on the values and identity messaging that resonates with Middle New Zealand. As a result, she's built up a very successful personal brand which gets her a foot in the door with voters who will actually give her a chance and listen to what she has to say. In politics, especially in opposition, getting people's attention is half of the battle and it's something that Andrew Little has fundamentally struggled with during his tenure.

What I imagine Labour's digital team will be doing right now is working on two possibilities. One is that Andrew Little remains and they spend the next day or two trying to play up the unity in their team and how they're getting back to being focused on their key election issues. The other is that a new leader is appointed and that things need to change online.

The process they'll go through for a leadership change will look something like this:

  1. Audit all your online channels, identify what needs to change and in what order.
  2. Identify who the possible new leader might be and get content ready to go as soon as any announcement is made. What this will most likely be is a static graphic for their social media channels congratulating the new leader, or if they're really game they'll try to Facebook Live the new leader's first media stand up, though given Facebook Live can be a tricky beast at time with poor mobile signals in the depths of Parliament, and dubious Wi-Fi bandwidth, this can often be very hazardous.
  3. Switch off any digital advertising just before caucus to avoid any awkward situations of the old leader being served up in ads.
  4. Once the new leader is announced and the graphic/Facebook Live is posted, they'll have bought themselves an hour or two to make key changes. These include updating the social media profiles of the former and new leader to reflect the change, updating websites, and getting a lightning quick new digital ad campaign sorted to promote the new leader.
  5. They'll also need to talk to the new leader or their staff to get access to their social media profiles so that they can start posting content on behalf of them.
  6. Later today and tomorrow they'll then need to review their existing digital strategy and identify opportunities to change it based on the new leader.
  7. Throughout the rest of the week they'll work through progressively updating lower level online content to reflect the change. Nobody expects them to change everything on the first day, but by the end of this week would seem reasonable.

All of this is happening very quickly, especially when, unlike the leadership change for the National Party in December where the leadership contenders were identified early and, by the weekend before the caucus meeting, there was only one contender for the top job. The lead in time back then made it so much easier to identify what needed to change, get content ready for multiple eventualities, and agree a plan of action to make the change happen.

Labour's challenge is that they've had all of 48 hours notice, it's not 100 per cent clear who a new leader might be - though Jacinda is top of the list right now - and unlike National in December, their leader hasn't resigned so they have to be very careful about working on any content for a replacement as not to rock the boat or torpedo morale.

I honestly don't envy what they're going through. It's a hugely tough time. It was busy enough for me with a three week old baby at home leaving me sleep deprived. In the white hot heat of an election campaign, when things are already not going well for your party, I do feel for them and wish them all the best for the next few days.