As the New Zealand 2017 General Election twisted and turned, candidates, parties and media organisations took to social media as one way to engage, inform and connect with New Zealanders.
This included using the Facebook Live feature – only introduced in December 2015 – which lets people connect directly with their audience in real time and get immediate feedback and questions.
As this was the first time Facebook Live could be used in a New Zealand election, it was always going to be interesting to see how parties and their candidates, alongside the media, would use the feature.
During the election period there was a total of 576 Facebook Lives with candidates going live 321 times, parties 105 times and news publishers 150 times.
Looking at the publicly available data on Crowdtangle, Jacinda Adern led the way for candidates with a total of 29 Live videos, garnering 763,457 views and 43,979 likes, comments and shares.
The most engaged video for her was straight after she voted, followed by a Facebook Q&A hosted by comedian Eli Matthewson on her page.
Prime Minister Bill English went Live 11 times, accruing 544,530 views and 30,137 likes, comments and shares. The two top-ranking lives were interviews by his sons Xavier and Rory.
Research from Facebook shows that users are 10 times more likely to comment on Facebook Live feeds than regular videos, which no doubt gave politicians added impetus to tap into the medium.
Karren Rogers, head of media partnerships Facebook Australia and New Zealand, says she wasn’t surprised so many politicians adopted the product this year.
She says that the most-viewed clips from English and Ardern showed that people responded well to authentic content.
These clips weren’t overly scripted and they showed the politicians with their loved ones. The essentially served as a glimpse beyond the formal interview setting we normally see on television.
Rogers says Facebook is also an important space for politicians to occupy because it’s where New Zealanders access news and information that matters to them. Sometimes this might come from a news organisation, but it could just as easily come from the politicians themselves or from the parties.
The political party most active on Facebook Live was the Maori Party, which went live a total of 45 times. This was followed The Greens with 22 videos and The Opportunities Party with 16 (TOP also had the most-watched Facebook Live clip, which was broadcast on election night from Wellington).
If anything, this shows that a party’s volume of activity on Facebook Live is, in most cases, not directly proportional to election day success.
Labour and National weren’t quite as active, with the former going live 12 times and the latter only eight.
On the lower end of the Facebook Live spectrum, we find Act and the Mana Movement, which both only used the platform once.
It’s also worth noting that the current pregnant pause in New Zealand politics, NZ First, didn’t use the platform at all and still managed to establish itself as the force set to determine the next government (unless, of course, in the unlikely event that The Greens and National decide to team up).
As an aside, NZ First Leader Winston Peters has recently bemoaned the lack of coverage afforded to his party in the latter stages of the election. Perhaps, it would’ve paid for him to pop onto Facebook Live and share his thoughts with the users who might’ve been interested in what he had to say.
As Rogers explains: “Facebook live really allowed people to update on the campaign trail, take questions from the public and get feedback.”
Mass meets social media
While Facebook Live does offer a means for politicians to reach a broad audience without using a mainstream media, some of the standout examples of how Facebook Live can be used came from the nation’s major media companies.
For media organisations, the most watched Live was the first 1 News Leaders Debate, followed by Newshub’s second leaders’ debate and third was Newshub’s interview with Bill English from the Facebook Live Election Studio.
Each of the leaders’ debates was live-streamed to Facebook to complement the broadcast, and the simulcast approach meant that TVNZ and Mediaworks viewers could watch the debate from wherever they were, on any device, and share their points of view.
In what was a unique take, Newshub set up a Facebook Live Election Studio where reporters hosted Facebook Live interviews with party leaders throughout the campaign.
Rogers says the feature meant Newshub was able to have fun, by offering two-way conversations with the audience using the Facebook reactions and taking questions from fans.
TVNZ hosted the first Young Voters Debate at Auckland University, a 90-minute online-only special debate to discuss youth issues (it was also broadcast on YouTube).
The debate featured MPs and candidates from National, Labour, Green Party, Maori Party, ACT, United Future and New Zealand First, and was viewed nearly 55,000 times.
The Spinoff Deputy Leader’s debate was also live-streamed on Facebook and the audience were invited to post questions that were then asked of the candidates by the interviewers.
Broadcasters continued to use Facebook Live on election night, encouraging fans to join them as results came in, and this was also seen from the parties.
While Rogers says it’s too hard to anticipate yet what will happen with Facebook Live over the next three years in the lead-up to the 2020 election, she says Facebook will be there to connect, bringing communities and people together.