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.
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.
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.