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Post-election social media blues (sort of)

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The post-election period is always an odd one for political social media, and with the added bonus of coalition negotiations and pre-positioning going on, 2017 is proving no exception. MPs, Party Leaders, and the parties themselves, need to walk a fine line to get the tone and quantity of their posts just right, depending on how they fared during the campaign.

For Bill English and National the challenge is celebrating what was a very good result for a party looking to get a fourth term in government, but also not being too triumphant about it, especially knowing that it could all be for nought should they not be successful in coalition negotiations. It's also especially important that they're also seen to be getting on with business, as much as they're able to in a caretaker environment.

For Jacinda Ardern and Labour it's about acknowledging what was a good turn around from the start of August, but also balancing that out against the reality that the momentum was sucked out of their campaign in the final week and a half, and a significant part of that was self-inflicted over a poorly executed tax policy double u-turn. Much of what Labour has and will do is about trying to put that behind them and focusing on the positive result and the expanded caucus it's brought them.

Things are a little different for the Greens and New Zealand First. Behind the scenes the Greens will be relieved that they'll finish relatively well clear of the 5 per cent threshold, but publicly they need to keep up the morale of their supporters who will feel a bit beaten up from the last two months. Also, James Shaw needs to post something. As the sole leader of the Greens until their next leadership election, he should be making himself more visible, not less, in order to plug that gap until it's filled.

For Winston Peters and New Zealand First I'll throw conventional logic out the window, purely because they've never really bothered about it before. Winston Peters in particular has carried on, and frankly should carry on, exactly as he did before the election. It's worked for him. Attack the media, attack National and Labour, use social media to amplify the attention your often pugnacious comments get.

As for David Seymour and ACT, it's a tough one. In either coalition arrangement it's unlikely David will get any portfolios or policy concessions, and ACT's signature achievement of Charter Schools is likely to be under threat should Labour form the core of the next government. David has to seem circumspect about ACT's poor election performance, but he's also doing the right thing heading around the country to thank their candidates and supporters, who will be feeling pretty down in the dumps from that result.

For the Māori Party hopefully someone will reactivate their Facebook page soon!

As for how they're performing statistics wise? Oddly we've had a reversal of the final weeks of the campaign. Whereas Bill English and National were ascendant, now it's Jacinda Ardern and Labour who are posting more than twice as much as Bill English and National, as well as receiving significantly more engagement on their content.

To me that suggests that National and Bill English may have spent more in advertising their Facebook content in those final two weeks than Labour did, but we won't get a proper view about each party's digital spend until election spending returns are made available in early 2018.

Certainly though, Labour and Jacinda Ardern have been enjoying the lion's share of the running since the election on Facebook.

It can be hard to find content over this period, but some easy ideas include introducing your new MPs, offering a behind-the-scenes view of what happens when someone becomes a new MP, and hunting through the screeds of video and photos taken throughout the campaign and finding some highlights. Labour have done a reasonable job of celebrating their new MPs, and I've seen plenty of good examples of new MPs sharing their perspective on their new responsibilities - including more photos of the Members' Bills biscuit tin than I ever thought was possible!

Beyond the headline Facebook stats is Bill English winning?

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For all the talk of the hugely impressive rise of Jacinda Ardern, Bill English might actually be doing better than her on Facebook than we all realise. Despite Jacinda's page continuing to grow faster than Bill's, in the past fortnight there was significantly more engagement with Bill English's social media content than there was with Jacinda Ardern's. 

I've written before about how important Facebook page likes can be, especially for political pages in terms of the platform it can give them, but it's always useful to dive down to the next level of statistics to see how things are tracking. 

This is where things get interesting. If you look at the volume and type of interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) taking place for political parties and especially their leaders, it becomes clear that while Jacinda might be getting a higher rate of audience interaction on each individual post she makes, Bill is getting more audience interaction overall. And it's not by a small margin either.

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Taking a look at what's taken place on the party leaders' pages from 28 August to 10 September, Bill's page is only 14% larger than Jacinda's, but his page has received in total 62% more reactions (like, love, wow, laugh, angry, sad) than Jacinda's, there's also 54% more comments and, perhaps crucially, 75% more shares. Bill is also far more active than Jacinda on Facebook, having posted 64 times to Jacinda's 34 times - 80% more! Bill is posting around 4.6 times a day while Jacinda is only posting 2.4 times. Even looking back at the previous fortnight (from 14 to 27 August) the statistics are broadly similar.

While I'm not privy to the audience impressions either page is receiving, off the basis of this I'd wager that Bill English is reaching far more people on Facebook than Jacinda Ardern, and in the world of political communication, that's critical. You need to get your messages out in front of as many people as possible, as often as you can, and social media is custom made for that approach. I'd expect that each page should be reaching in excess of 1 million people each week - they're basically their own TV stations at this point!

It makes the fact that Jacinda Ardern hasn't tweeted for more than three weeks even more mysterious. She has nearly 86,000 followers on Twitter who, judging from my experience with Twitter, are more than likely to be a great tool to help amplify Labour's messages even more and ensure that people, especially influencers like journalists, business leaders, and bloggers, and seeing those messages on Twitter as frequently as possible. It seems so bizarre to negate a channel like this.

I'm not Twitter's greatest fan, but I can't deny that it has its uses and it seems very odd that Labour isn't maximising them to their advantage. Have they not been able to get Jacinda to share access to her account? Seems unlikely. Are they pursuing a policy where they leave Twitter in Jacinda's hands alone? Possibly, but it's clearly not working. Are they simply ignoring Twitter because they don't think it's worth the effort? If so they're neglecting a very powerful tool and community for centre-left parties.

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On the party front it's pretty much neck and neck between Labour and National in terms of the volumes and rate of interactions with their nearly identical amounts of content. What's fascinating here for me is how the bottom seems to have fallen out of interactions from the Green Party. My personal experience was that the Greens were almost always the best in attracting interaction with their content, but it's quite possible that following their leadership troubles of the past two months, and Jacinda Ardern's rise, that the bottom has truly dropped out of the party's support, which would be a great shame if that were the case.

It's also important to remember that outside of content that's publicly visible on a page's timeline, there will also be a wealth of content that solely appears in Facebook's ad slots, and can't be picked up by analytics tools.

Could this impact the outcome of the election? I think it could. It's vital to keep in mind that in an MMP environment, even a change of a couple of percentage points could be what enables a party to form a government or not. And that's really where I think social media, done well, can influence voters in a meaningful way, and done poorly, can cost you the chance to govern.

Why has Jacinda's Twitter account gone silent?

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Russell Brown noticed this week that Jacinda Ardern hasn't tweeted since 20 August. It's struck me as a little odd as it's not that much effort to take a Facebook post and turn it into a tweet. While I did jokingly ask Labour whether they'd lost her Twitter password, it turns out that she was never that particularly active on Twitter anyway.

Looking back at August she tweeted a grand total of 11 times. Over that same time frame Bill English has tweeted 110 times!

It strikes me as a bit bizarre. Generally speaking the demographics of Twitter suggest its audience is hugely receptive to her content. Judging by the response her three tweets received when she became Labour Party leader, it's really surprising that they haven't done more here, especially with more than 82,000 followers. That's a lot of potential amplification for your content from a very sympathetic audience.

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There's a few possibilities I think could be at play:

  1. They're wanting to leave Jacinda's Twitter account as something she runs herself. The fascination with President Trump's personal use of Twitter does suggest that leaving a leader to use their own Twitter account as they see fit could be an effective way to get your message out, especially if it's devoid of Trump's craziness. The problem is you probably need your leader to use Twitter for it to be effective.
     
  2. Labour is consciously trying to get journalists and bloggers to go to Facebook to see what Jacinda's doing, and to embed that Facebook content onto their websites directly rather than from Twitter. This approach does have its merits, as Facebook is a far superior platform to reach voters with, while journalists and influencers generally use Twitter to keep up with events. If you force them to embed your Facebook content into their stories so by directing your content solely to Facebook they'll be forced to support how that channel performs.
     
  3. Labour might be trying to avoid adding to Jacinda's public profile given the near blanket coverage she's received since becoming leader, and thus avoid Jacinda-fatigue. Though given how prominently she features on all their campaign collateral this seems unlikely.
     
  4. Tying back into my first idea, as a result of campaigning, Jacinda hasn't had time to tweet that often. Though I did see one journalist make the point (and I wish I could find the story or tweet I saw it in) that Jacinda has only had one or two carefully choreographed events in front of large Labour Party faithful crowds each day for the past week, presumably as she swatted up ahead of the debate and to avoid any awkward optics that might suggest that the Jacinda effect is tapering off. A look through her Facebook feed seems to confirm this rather quiet campaigning approach leading up to the debate.
     
  5. Labour realised most of Twitter's active users are already either voting for them or the Greens and have decided to invest their efforts in Facebook where they can try to reach soft-National and NZ First voters, as well as undecided voters, to persuade them to come back to the fold.

That final point is the one that I think is most likely here. There's probably elements of the other possibilities lurking around, but I think the main driver will be that Labour know Twitter is overwhelmingly going to vote for a centre-left government, so they're investing their resources elsewhere.

But I can't think for the life of me the last time a leader who wants to be the head of government has effectively switched off one of their social media channels in one such a tightly contested election.

Backing Bill rallies against Jacindamania

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Taking a quick look at the headline Facebook statistics for this week it looks like Bill English might have gotten some of his groove back. While Jacinda Ardern is still trucking along at roughly the same clip as she was the previous week in terms of Facebook growth, Whereas last week the growth gap between the two was approximately 3,200, this week it's halved to about 1,550.

Looking back through Bill English's Facebook page last week, I can't see anything that particularly stood out in terms of performance, though my guess is that he benefitted from the relatively positive economic outlook in the PREFU. There were a few good posts, like his Facebook live and a couple of other out and about posts, but nothing that I'd describe as a runaway success. Though I think Bill did miss a trick when visiting Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Wellington not to ram home the point that under Labour's proposed international student crackdown, Le Cordon Bleu would cease to exist as upwards of 90% of its students are overseas students who wouldn't qualify under Labour's policy.

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Looking at the raw numbers you can see that while Jacinda is closing the gap on Bill English, with four weeks to go he likely has a big enough of a lead, and enough fan growth of his own to maintain a lead. That is unless Jacinda has an absolutely blinder in the debates. It's also worth noting that while not registering the thousands of new page likes that Jacinda or Bill are managing, David Seymour is doing very well over the longer term, which I believe was driven by his attacks on Meteria Turei earlier this month.

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The party page side of things paints a much different picture. Labour's growth lead over National only shrunk slightly to around 2,000 likes (versus 2,200 for the previous week), and The "We don't want to do political advertising" Opportunities Party continues to binge, ironically, on Facebook advertising to drive their growth as demonstrated it the table below.

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National's growth did double week on week, and like Bill English's seemed to peak over the middle of the week. National did manage a few very good posts about the positive economic growth prospects, very much playing to their base, mid-week which appear to have driven their success. As is often put, any day talking about the economy is a good day for National and this definitely seems to be the case last week with the PREFU.

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Looking at interaction rates per post, nothing much has changed in terms of the leaders or parties relative to each other, rather the rates have edged back from the previous week as the campaign entered into a bit of a phoney war period prior to this sprint in the final four weeks.

The most important graphs you'll see today

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As of 20 August 2017 the Labour Party overtook the National Party in terms of Facebook likes, a position they hadn't been in since 22 September 2014. At it's height, the gap between the two parties was around 18,000 page likes, as at the time of writing Labour is now approximately 400 likes ahead. Having been 200 ahead overnight.

National has enjoyed two significant boosts in the past year, in September of 2016 and from December through to January 2017 following Sir John Key's resignation and Bill English becoming leader and Prime Minister.

Labour's two boosts are from Parliamentary paid advertising just before the three month Regulated Period kicked in, and then from Jacinda Ardern becoming Labour leader at the start of this month.

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When you look at party leaders over a similar period (unfortunately my analytics tool can only pull data from September 2015 for most of them) you can clearly see the moments Bill English became Prime Minister and Jacinda Ardern became leader of the Labour Party.

Jacinda's rate of growth is now trailing off from the initial boost she received, but she's still growing by about 3,200 page likes more than Bill English each week. Assuming the rate of growth over the past week is more indicative of the campaign period itself, Jacinda will be just shy of 100,000 page likes by the election, while Bill will be around 107,000. Looking back at 2014's data, neither John Key or David Cunliffe seemed to enjoy a bounce from debates, but then again those debates didn't set the world alight, so a clear debate win for Jacinda could make a big difference for her.

As I've mentioned before, Facebook page likes aren't going to win you an election, but insofar that the more you have, the more people you can reach, and the morale boosting effect of knowing you are more popular than your opposition will have some impact on how you perform.

If you're curious where we sourced our data and graphs from from check out Quintly. It's an easy to use social media analytics tool that takes a lot of the hassle out of visualising your social media data.

Do Facebook page likes matter? Probably more than you think

What matters most on Facebook? Is it page likes? Post engagement? Reach? Impressions? It's one of the hottest debate topics in social media, especially in the political field. The truth is that how much each metric matters largely depends on what you're trying to achieve with your Facebook page. Though it's worth keeping in mind that the publicly visible statistics of page aren't the be-all and end-all of how a page might be performing, but they're a useful starting point.

While some digital consultants might be quick to dismiss page likes as a "vanity metric", I'd be just as quick to dismiss them as having just demonstrated that they have no idea what they're talking about. Page likes are useful for a few reasons:

  1. Organic reach: The more page likes you have, the more people are likely to see and engage with your content without you having to spend any money to promote it, and with funding for social media always competing with other  
  2. Viral-multiplier: Other than ensuring a decent background level of visibility for your page, a page with more page likes is far more likely to have a piece of content go viral organically thanks to there being more eyeballs on it.
  3. Community support: Having more page likes means you have a larger community of supporters who are ready to engage with your content, whether that's reacting, commenting, or sharing it. The largely that community is, the more validation it gives to others who are part of that community.

As a rule of thumb I've usually found that page likes usually translate to a page reaching around two to three times that number of unique people each week - and that's without advertising money. So an active page with around 200,000 likes will reach between 400,000 and 600,000 people on a standard week. That's a pretty useful multiplier to get your content out there. And one of the basics of advertising is to get as many eyeballs as possible looking at your ads.

Other than understanding how large your potential organic audience could be, the more page likes you have, the more statistically relevant the demographic, geographic, and interests information you can pull from Facebook's analytics tool will be. Having a better understanding of who your core audience is, and then being able to break that down into more targeted information for advertising latter on, is invaluable to putting relevant content in front of people.

Which brings us to reach and impressions - essentially two sides of the same coin. It's useful to define both of these as they're often misused by people (usually to inflate their own success). Reach should refer to the number of unique users who have seen a piece of content from your page. Impressions should be the total number of times content has been seen from your page (e.g. often the same person seeing multiple pieces of content, or the same piece of content multiple times). This allows you to divide impressions by reach and understand just how often people are likely to be seeing content from you. Reach and impressions are useful for comparing social media with traditional advertising mediums, say TV spots or newspaper ads as you're able to use similar metrics to judge success.

For example, you could run an ad asking for donations simultaneously on social media and in print and TV advertising, and on each channel you could use a slightly different URL. Using that unique URL, as well as knowing how many people were likely to have seen the ad in each channel, you're then able to understand which was the most cost effective in driving donations (hint - it's almost always going to be social).

Like TV and newspaper ads though, reach and impressions don't necessarily mean that someone has actually noticed your content. Just as TV and newspaper metrics assume that because someone has seen a show or picked up a newspaper, and thus seen your ad, Facebook, and indeed other social media channels, assume that someone flicking through their newsfeed and seeing your content has actually noticed it. Often it'll be something they've shot straight past while scrolling down their feed without giving it a second thought. If you ever wonder why pages keep experimenting with differing video and graphic dimensions - it's because they're trying to maximise the amount of real estate they take up on your screen while you're browsing.

This is where engagement metrics come into play, as you can usually assume that someone engaging with a piece of content - whether it's clicking on a post, reacting to it, commenting, or sharing it, means that they A) Have genuinely seen it, and B) It actually held their attention enough for them to do something with it. While to some extent higher engagement rates do drive your post to have greater reach in Facebook's algorithms (though I've seen pieces of content with fantastic engagement reach tiny audiences relative to page size) at the very least it gives you the ability to understand see what content is attention grabbing enough that people stop and look at it.

As I said at the start, these publicly available metrics aren't the full story. Much of what goes on with social media advertising, especially Facebook, isn't visible. The notion of "dark posts" for instance (while the name is a bit melodramatic for me - it's like claiming a newspaper advert put in one local paper, but not another, or an ad put in the sports section but not the news section, is a "dark ad") is one area where a page might look relatively quiet from the general public's view, but in actuality there could be a whole host of activity taking place from paid advertising campaigns that aren't readily apparent.

This was largely the case in the United States 2016 election where the day-to-day content you saw posted on the main candidates' pages was only a fraction of their online activity. Even though, for instance, Hillary Clinton may have been posting upwards of six to eight times a day, she would also have dozens, if not hundreds of supporting ad campaigns running in the background with targeted messages for specific voting groups.

There's no doubt a similar approach is being used by all the parties in this election, though given our more restrictive election spending rules, much smaller size, and less advanced Facebook advertising tools, we're unlikely to see the same level of sophistication here.

In the end, Facebook page likes do matter, but a lack of page likes can be circumvented by spending money on advertising. They're not the only page metric you should pay attention to, but they're an easy top-line indicator of a page's health and potential audience reach. Page likes, and page like growth, are also two of the most popular metrics to appear in media reports on political social media, so it doesn't hurt to have both these figures looking healthy.

A quick comparison - Bill English vs Jacinda Ardern's first days as leader on Facebook

Blogger Patrick Leyland this week wrote a very interesting piece Jacinda Ardern's and the Labour Party's sudden social media rise which, while extremely impressive, does need some context put around it. So I thought I'd do a quick bit of analysis myself by comparing her first five days as leader with Bill English's first five days back in December of 2016.

Even this doesn't tell the full story. While Bill English's page grew by 121.7% over those five days vs 19.6%, the relative interaction rate (that is the number of interactions by number of posts by average page like size) was much closer, with Bill English hitting 5.2% of his fan base engaging with his posts over those first five days versus 6.9% for Jacinda Ardern. With all this in mind, it's useful to think of the bigger picture around each leadership change:

Jacinda Ardern's rise

  • Replaced an unpopular Labour leader
  • Speculation about change occurring in media for months  before hand
  • Change occurred two months before an election
  • Had the largest Facebook page of any sitting Labour MP (58,400) 
  • Labour Party Facebook fans historically interact with content at a much higher rate (Online Activists)

Bill English's rise

  • Replaced a popular National Party leader and Prime Minister
  • John Key's resignation completely unexpected
  • Change occurred two weeks before Christmas
  • Had a very small Facebook page prior to John Key's resignation (12,800 fans)
  • National Party Facebook fans historically interact at a much lower rate with content (Quiet Tories)

 

It's important to understand this context when comparing the two leaders as it helps provide a much more useful comprehension of what's going on.

Looking at the data and thinking about the background of it all, it's made me realise is that Andrew Little's brand wasn't just toxic in terms of his own popularity and ability to reach out to voters, but that he was collectively dragging down the Labour Party and its MPs too. His stepping down has effectively removed that burden from the Labour Party and its seeing the benefits now.

Because if there was one thing that did strike me over my three years at Parliament, it was how poorly the Labour Party did online post the 2014 election. Whereas the Greens and Winston Peters both did well - Winston Peters in particular - Labour and Andrew Little seemed to be stuck firmly in neutral.

As to whether this first week spike translates into sustained momentum for Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party remains to be seen. As I wrote back in Brand Bill vs Brand Jacinda, getting the right leader is only half the battle for Labour. Beyond that there are serious structural and personnel issues that they won't be able to address prior to the election, so the extent to which she can reverse the damage that's already been done is difficult to judge.

Persuade - Values, policies, and attack communications

Last week I introduced the concept of there being three phases of political communications - Persuade, Participate, and Mobilise. Today I'm going to drill down into the first of these - Persuade - which in New Zealand's election cycle makes up the bulk of what you've seen over the past three years. Just the weekend been you will have seen these played out around the country too with hoardings going up around the country from midnight on 22 July.

The primary purpose of Persuade communications is, as the name suggests, to persuade you to vote for a given candidate or party. They're all about building the narrative around why choice A is better than choice B, and convincing you to make that choice, or to put you off the other choice. Persuade captures the who, why, and what of politics:

  • Who is a candidate or party? (Identity)
  • Why are they running? (Values)
  • What are they proposing to do? (Policies)

Broadly speaking, Persuade communications are made up of three themes. These are, in order of importance:

  1. Values and identity
  2. Policies
  3. Attack

I've listed their priority in these way as in my experience, and supported by some academic insights, these tend to be the factors that sway a voter when they're deciding who they want to vote for. There's a reason why personality politics have become the norm in our highly media saturated world; it's because values and identity are the primary drivers of voter behaviour.

Values and identity

Voters want to know if a candidate or party shares their values and whether they can identify personally with them. This is one thing that Sir John Key did phenomenally well across a long period of time. Political commentators often talk about about "Middle New Zealand", what they're referring to is a large swathe of the country who generally share the same values and personal identity. It was this group of New Zealanders who Sir John Key, and the National Party, have largely monopolised the vote of since 2008. I think the whole point about values and identity being more important than policies was nicely summed up by the brilliant NZ Swing Voters Against Dogmatic Party Affiliated Memes Facebook page recently:

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If you look at a politician like Winston Peters, it's doubtful whether his supporters know what NZ First's policies are other than the Super Gold Card. However, they believe that his anti-immigrant and economic nationalist rhetoric aligns with their own values that hark back to a largely imagined "golden era" for New Zealand from their youth. They identify with Winston Peters as someone similar to them, and so vote for him.

There's been three pieces of digital content recently that are perfect examples of values and identity communications. The first was the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand's Great Greens campaign in April which was all about highlighting the diverse range of values, issues, and lifestyles that Green Party supporters have in common. National followed with their own piece squarely focused at linking Bill English's value and identity with that of Middle New Zealand with Let's Get Together. Labour has been the most recent with their first campaign ad which attempts to soften Andrew Little's often harsh public image by showing him in family and relaxing settings, as well as throwing in a bit of policy and leveraging Jacinda Ardern's popularity for good measure.

All of these pieces are about highlighting the values that a party or candidate stands for, and promoting them as being someone that voters can identify with as empathising with them and their concerns.

Policies

While policy communications do often sadly play second fiddle, they're still important. Think about 2005 when a resurgent Don Brash nearly led National to victory over Helen Clark's Labour. Labour's interest free student loan policy was credited with ensuring a significant youth turn out for them and seeing off that challenge and putting Labour in the box seat for post-election coalition negotiations.

The party in government and opposition usually approach policy communications differently over our Parliamentary term. A party in government needs to be constantly promoting the good things it's doing with its time occupying the Treasury benches. Whereas the opposition are creating their own narrative over that period about why those measures aren't working so that come election campaign season, they're ready to announce solutions to a receptive public.

Getting policy communications wrong can also undermine your values and identity messaging. Nothing illustrates this better than Theresa May and the Conservative's disastrous u-turn on the dementia tax. In an instant May lost her credibility as a decisive leader which drastically undermined all the values and identity work the Conservatives had done.

Where you'll see policy communications really ramp up is from early August through to the start of advance voting as parties announce policies every other day. While the values and identity content will continue in the background, you should notice a switch to promoting the policies they're announcing, especially as they attempt to sell their ideas directly to voters rather than relying on traditional media participants to relay their announcements for them.

Attack

Despite some holier-than-thou claims out there, attack communications do work to influence who people are going to vote for. That being said, they need to be used carefully and sparingly. In New Zealand we've typically opted for a humour based approach rather than the more outright negative stuff seen overseas. National recently did this using a clip from the AM Show where Paula Bennett made light of the fact that Labour's billboards feature both Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern. Back in 2014 National's theme was the idea of Labour, the Greens, and the Internet Party rowing in opposite directions in their boat.

Our left wing parties have taken a more indirect approach, with the Labour Party linked Backing the Kiwi Meme churning out regular meme based attack pieces, as does the Freshly Picked Green Memes, both of which have much largely Facebook audiences than their equivalent right wing pages.

Attack doesn't always work though. Again the United Kingdom's election is a good example of this, where the Conservative's relentless attacks on Jeremy Corbyn's links to the I.R.A. and Hamas were to little effect, especially as Labour turned out a massive youth vote for them. The reason why these weren't successful I think is largely due to the fact that the people who this line of attack was most likely to resonate with were already voting Conservative, whereas those aged 18 to 32 largely didn't live through the Troubles in Northern Ireland or Palestinian linked terror attacks, and so they didn't put much stock in them, instead judging the Jeremy Corbyn who was in front of them then and there.

An equivalent example in New Zealand has been Labour and the Greens endless use of the neo-liberal attack line, or National and ACT's use of Fortress New Zealand. The negative experiences of Fortress New Zealand and the upheavals that came with liberalising the economy were issues that largely played out through the 1980s and early 1990s. They're upwards of 25 years ago and there's a new generation coming to the polling booths this year who aren't moved by attacks based on conjuring up ghosts of the past.

The impact of social media

At a fundamental level social media hasn't changed the core themes of Persuade content. All the things that have underpinned political messaging Where it has had an impact is in the ability to reach and target more people so that you can get that messaging in front of a larger audience. When I talked about Middle New Zealand earlier, it's remarkably easier to identify and advertise to that audience on Facebook based off what our most popular interests are. These are usually brands that you'd typically identify as being integral to New Zealand identity. It's things like Whittaker's Chocolates, Air New Zealand, the All Blacks, even imported brands like McDonald's, KFC, and other household names all feature. Keep in mind that this interest targeting is on top of using geographic and demographic targeting too.

While Facebook's audience targeting in New Zealand isn't as refined as it is overseas, this ability to micro-target audiences on a massive scale at a very cost-effective rate has meant that candidates and parties are able to tell their story and persuade people to vote for them on a much larger scale than could ever be achieved through face-to-face, direct mail, phone calls, or even email.

As I alluded to in the Attack section, social media has also transformed the way attack communications are carried out too. The ability for parties and their supporters to create Facebook pages, Twitter handles, or their own websites, is now easier than ever, especially when you think of memes as a form of content. With all the meme generating websites available, this type of content is no longer the preserve of those with graphic design nous and tools, rather anyone with an idea for a meme can turn it into reality in a matter of minutes, and see if it finds legs in the public arena. If it fails, they can always rinse and repeat as often as they like.

Thankfully New Zealand hasn't yet seen anything on the scale of professional trolling as detailed in the New York Time's report "The Agency" which reveals the covert operations of Russian state-sponsored trolls. That's not to say that it isn't happening here, rather if it is it's on a small scale and doesn't make an impact on the mainstream discourse as similar events have done in the United States. In fact the NZ Herald's Kirsty Johnston recently did a very insightful piece on the world of New Zealand's alt-right and their plans to influence the election, which included ideas around using social media.

In the next blog I'll look at the Participate phase of political messaging, and how campaigns are using social media and digital channels to get donations, grow their membership, and crucially get volunteers to help get their messages out.

The Greens - NZ's social media overachievers

Last week the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand hit 100,000 likes on their Facebook page, becoming the first New Zealand political party to do so. The New Zealand iteration of the Green Party movement have always been overachievers online, especially relative to their international cousins and I've always considered them to be the pace setters in terms of what's worked for political social media in New Zealand whether it's from a visual design perspective, or how they've translated political communication strategy to their social media channels.

There's a few reasons for this - and it's not because their graphic designers appear to be hooked on sepia filters. The first is that due to their co-leader system, the Greens invest heavily in promoting the Green Party brand rather than the individual brand of their leaders as is the case for National, New Zealand First and - up until this year - Labour. It makes sense from the perspective that they don't want either of their co-leaders to be more dominant than the other in terms of their public profile, so by focusing on the Green Party brand itself, they avoid that awkward situation. (James Shaw's 9,400 page likes compares favourably to Meteria Turei's nearly 15,000 given he's been co-leader for a much shorter period of time).

Along with investing heavily in the Green Party Brand, the Greens have a pretty easy set of values and messaging to put in front of people - protecting our natural environment, saving endangered species, fighting climate change - they're all remarkably easy ideas to sell people. Supported by visuals like picturesque scenery or cute animals, it appeals to people on an emotional level and to their credit the Greens have leveraged this side of their brand remarkably well with emotional calls to action supported by compelling creative work.

Whether you agree or not with the methods the Greens advocate for achieving their policy goals in these areas, it's hard to not agree that protecting out environment, saving endangered species, and fighting climate change are all good ideas and important things for New Zealand to focus on.

It should come as little surprise that week in, week out, the Greens have some of the most engaged with content both in terms of raw numbers of likes, comments, and shares, but also relative to the size of their Facebook page likes. This is also all without looking at Twitter where that channel's audience is almost custom made for the Greens to thrive.

Interspaced with their messaging around social justice issues such has poverty, homelessness, and supporting low-income families, the Greens have a very strong and compelling online brand that's well suited to online activism. As to the degree that this online success translates to polling day success is up for discussion. The Greens have certainly realised that as good as their online game is, their ground game needed to be stepped up significantly, and they've publicly committed to doing just that this year, including door knocking four times as many people as they did in 2014.

That aside, it's worth comparing how the Greens compare on Facebook relative to their international cousins, and its here that they really shine. Using one of Facebook's backend tools I've looked at how many people have an interest in their domestic Green Party each month versus how many people use Facebook on a monthly basis in that country.

As you can see, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand really does outperform its overseas equivalents with 5% of New Zealand's monthly Facebook users having an interest (that is engaging with) their page or content. There is, undoubtedly, an element of supporter de-centralisation away from the nationwide brand in Australia, Germany, and the United States - where the federal Green brand has to compete with more locally focused state-based Green brands. While in the United Kingdom the Green Party brand is divided along national lines. Even taking that into account, I really feel that the New Zealand Greens can be very proud of what they've achieved online.

As I alluded to before, how this will translate into votes come 23 September is harder to predict. The traditional thinking is that while people love to say they'll party vote Greens to polling companies as it's generally considered a nice, warm brand that people don't have strong feelings for or against, when they walk into the polling both that mentality changes and away from the judgement of others, they revert to voting for a different party.

Would rather donate to charity than spend on political ads? Yeah right!

If you're going to say you'd rather donate $1 million to charity than spend it on political advertising you'd think that's a pretty easy thing to stick to, wouldn't you? Not for Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party (TOP) it seems.

TOP got a lot of attention last month for announcing that, in protest over the advertising money allocated to political parties, that it would donate $1 million to charity because they'd rather do that than spend it on political advertising. Rightly, they received a reasonable amount of press coverage for it and while many saw it as a cynical ploy for Gareth Morgan to get himself back in the news, it was at least going to do some good.

So far, so good. Except you'd think if you've just announced you'd rather donate to charity rather than pay for political advertising then you'd not run paid advertisements. Seems pretty simple?

Except that it's not that simple for TOP. To be fair, you can almost forgive them for spending money on promoting their ads about how they don't want to spend money on ads and donate it to charity. The net effect of it all is that some very worth charities are going to get badly needed funds.

The problem is, TOP has now gone on something of a political advertising spree including with print and Facebook ads.

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The above are all clearly examples of political advertising. The first one teasing the release of TOP's health policy, the next on meeting the leader of TOP, another on their deputy leader on what can be done to bring down grocery prices, and the final one on water policy. They're all examples of paid political advertising. So what happened when I challenged TOP on this blindingly obvious hypocrisy on their part?

 

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This is where TOP is really getting disingenuous about their advertising. Being very familiar with Facebook's advertising platform, and given the frequency that I've seen their ads, they're clearly putting a significant amount of funding behind them to get that type of frequency that I've been seeing. So it's not just $100 on a single Facebook promotion, but a very broad and well backed political advertising campaign across a range of content and channels, including that ad in the Dominion Post too.

I'd also wager that TOP simply doesn't care about their hypocrisy either. If you've ever witnessed either their leader or deputy leader on Twitter, they both appear, in my opinion, to be rather immune to any criticism or contrary views whatsoever.

UPDATE 5 July 2017 10:40am: Contrary to TOP's Facebook comment posted above, apparently they do have a billboard on the corner of Willis and Boulcott Streets in Wellington. Gareth Morgan's left and right hands evidently aren't talking to each other, or they just don't care...

UPDATE 5 July 2017 3:55pm: Have now been supplied a photo of the billboard. Looks like TOP is treating everyone as fools.

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