How Kiwi political parties measure up on Facebook

  • Social media
  • July 15, 2014
  • Damien Venuto
How Kiwi political parties measure up on Facebook

Facebook has revealed a series of insights on how the Kiwi political parties are doing in the lead up to the 2014 general election. And given that 1.8 million Kiwis log in to Facebook on a daily basis and that 'election' was the second-most commonly used phrase on the site in 2013 (only bettered by Pope Francis), the social media channel is becoming an increasingly important space for politicians to share their policies—or general vitriol—with potential voters.  

It also seems that Facebook isn't trusting politicians to work things out for themselves. In what could be seen as one of the most unnervingly clear pieces of evidence that we may be heading toward a dystopian future where Facebook serves as a Big Brother-like channel of propaganda delivery, a Facebook representative recently visited New Zealand to give political parties a breakdown on how best to use the social media site to reach voters.

Running during the early part of July, the New Zealand Election Media Bootcamp (only a military reference would do) saw Facebook's Washington-based manager for policy Katie Harbath meeting independently with various of the nation's political parties to deliver a message on how Facebook has been used abroad during campaigns and on how these tactics can be employed in New Zealand as well.

At its crux, this series of meetings was largely about encouraging political parties to invest more money in advertising. And the strategy isn't only targeting New Zealand. Harbath told StopPress that she had previously been in India and that her journey would continue on to Brazil, which also has an election scheduled for later this year.

Shortly after Harbath left the country, Facebook sent out a breakdown of how the nation's political parties were performing on the social media site—a move that marks a divergence from the caginess that usually typifies Facebook's data policy. On several previous occasions, when StopPress requested locally oriented information from Facebook's Australasian representatives, we were informed that such data was not available.

Admittedly, much of the information provided by Facebook is publicly available through the fan pages of the respective political parties, so in that sense it doesn't reveal anything groundbreaking. But, when collated and viewed from a comparative perspective, it does provide an intriguing look at politics in the online space.

Interestingly, the political landscape as represented on Facebook is significantly different from that in the real world, in the sense that there is little correlation between Facebook fan numbers and real-life supporters.    

While National and Labour will undoubtedly win the most votes when Kiwis head to the polls, the Greens (with 49,300 fans) and the Internet Party (with 19,100 fans) are by far the most popular political parties on Facebook. But as was evidenced in the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany, having the highest number of fans doesn't always equate to success.

A little more interesting than the overall number of fans is the data on the age groups that are most likely to engage with the various political parties.         

In terms of engagement, New Zealand Labour and the Greens are most popular among those aged between 25 to 34 years of age, while the National Party appeals to a broader age group of between 18- to 34-year-olds.

ACT and the Internet Party both have a younger following, with the largest chunk of its engaged audience falling in the 18- to 24-year-old category, whereas the Maori Party appeals to those aged between 25 and 44. 

With its best engagement coming from 45- to 54-year-olds, The Mana Party appeared to have the oldest Facebook audience among Kiwi political parties.

Here's a breakdown of the parties:            

NZ Greens 

  • 49,300 fans
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days was this post about the housing incomes survey

Internet Party 

  • 19,100 fans
  • Best engagement in 18-24 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past past seven days was this post about the US Independence Day, 4th July

NZ Labour

  • 16,800 fans
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds 
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this one with a quote from Australian Labor Leader’s address to the New Zealand Labour Party Congress

National

  • 14,200 fans
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds 
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this post about childhood education funding

Mana Party 

  • 5,500 fans
  • Best engagement in 45-54 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this post linking to an article about Hone Harawira

Maori Party

  • 2,300 fans
  • Best engagement in 35-44 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this one about the new Maori Language Strategy

ACT 

  • 2,000 fans
  • Best engagement in 18-24 year olds 
  • Most popular post in the past seven days was about radio coverage of their election policies

Conservative

  • 1,800 fans
  • Best engagement in Auckland, New Zealand
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds 
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this one about safer streets 

As evidenced by #TeamKey, sometimes the main personality behind the party is also effective at pulling in an audience. As such, Facebook also provided a breakdown of the online pages of the leaders at the helm of each of the nation's political parties (this data is only available for politicians who have pages, and not for those who only have timelines).

This data gave a clear indication of John Key's popularity, in the sense that his 150,400 fans were almost ten times higher than the 15,700 of second-placed Winston Peters.

The majority of the political leaders—John Key, David Cunliffe, Winston Peters and Colin Craig—are most popular among people aged 25 to 34 years of age, while ACT's Jaime Whyte and the Internet Party's Laila Harre were most popular amongst 18-24 year olds and the Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Te Ururoa Flavell wear most popular amongst 35- to 44-year-olds.

Here's a breakdown of the party leaders:

John Key, National

  • 150,400 fans
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this video about the economy

Winston Peters, NZ First

  • 15,700 fans
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds
  • Most popular post past seven days is this one encouraging people to support NZ First

David Cunliffe, NZ Labour

  • 13,100 fans
  • Best engagement in 25-34 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this tribute on the 29th anniversary of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party co-leader

  • 5,700 fans
  • Best engagement in 35-44 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past past seven days is this one about the vision for the Maori Party

Laila Harre, Internet Party

  • 2,400 Fans
  • Best engagement in 18-34 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this one about the US Independence Day

Colin Craig, Conservative

  • 1,100 Fans
  • Best Engagement in 25-34 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this one about his upcoming South Island visit

Tariana Turia, Maori Party co-leader 

  • 987 Fans
  • Best Engagement in 35-44 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is this post about cultural competency: 

Jaime Whyte, ACT 

  • 449 Fans
  • Best Engagement in 18-24 year olds
  • Most popular post in the past seven days is a link to a recent interview

And although likes and shares are often criticised on account of being difficult to quantify in terms of any measurable value, some commentators believe that Obama's innovative use of social media was one of the main reasons why the Democrats were so popular among young voters at the 2012 election.  

According to Time, Obama's campaign team launched a Facebook application that gave Obama's team access to important data.

"More than one million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists," says the article on Time. "In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85 percent of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them."

And this was just one of the innovative strategies that Obama used to reach voters. Throughout the lead in to the election, Obama used several data-driven strategies to send personalised emails to potential voters. And while comedian Jon Stewart felt that these methods sometimes crossed the spam line, they certainly did seem to pay off for the Democrats.     

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