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Canberra Today 2°/6° | Monday, May 20, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Tricks and treats of social media in campaigns

Alistair Coe… people need to be persuaded now, when the noise is less, when perhaps they are prepared to give more time to the message.

“Nearly all the local campaigns are using social and digital media now, keeping their big spend free for when the campaign kicks… but this is where they have it wrong to a certain extent,” writes political columnist ANDREW HUGHES.

This far out from an election campaign communication strategies are focused largely on a few key methods to get the messages out there. 

Dr Andrew Hughes.

Number 1 is media, just because it is the easiest and cheapest method to get the word out in a credible way. Number 2 is social media, and number 3 is a tie with government communication campaigns, and events-based methods such as meet-and-greets or town halls. 

For the ACT Labor Greens coalition this is somewhat easier as they have the power of setting narratives as a government. Those narratives turn into policies, the communications of which are often funded through government communications campaigns. 

This is often the source of much contention when it comes to funding of election campaigns, and all sides are as guilty as each other of abusing this. 

Sadly, this impact means that some very good government campaigns, such as health or road safety, are often seen as less credible than they should be. 

There is no doubt that being in government is an absolutely massive advantage in Canberra from a comms perspective. It is a form of a comms gerrymander, regardless of who is in power. 

As for the media influence, we are seeing that at all levels right now.

Federally, news came out that the PM has 11 media advisers, compared to his predecessor’s four, but a way behind the former Queensland premier Annastascia Palaszczuk, who had around 30 in her team. 

But what happens if you aren’t the government? Increasingly that’s where many campaigns, due to reasons of cost, turn to social media. 

When social media works, it works brilliantly. It can amplify, influence and engage mass audiences like nothing else before it. 

But it is still a form of word-of-mouth communication. So that effectiveness works off our credibility as people. And it can be platform-specific, so tight narratives thought about in the confines of a strategy and policy room can become completely wild on an app. 

The Voice is a prime example of social media in a campaign in a modern context. The “Yes” campaign had plenty of really great content made by influencers who supported the campaign. Individually, they had an impact. That is if you watched them without any other distractions or influences. 

This is 2024. That rarely happens. We have distractions. Heaps of them. Influencers influence us in ways usually specific to us. So what I might see as a good watch, you may see as dog water, to use a term from one of my kids. 

Slowly the message starts to get diluted and, all of a sudden, what should have been influencing people becomes an ugly distraction, and the amplification works now in a negative context and less so a positive one. 

And influencers being influencers means they are making content consistent with their broader brand, less so that of a campaign, and now we have competing messages trying to support the same campaign, and a tight narrative becomes the Wild West with little direction or credibility. 

Getting back to the local campaigns. Nearly all are using social and digital media now, keeping their big spend free for when the campaign kicks off properly in around 12 weeks. But this is where they have it wrong to a certain extent. 

Former ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe told the CityNews Sunday Roast on 2CC on April 28 that people need to be persuaded now, when the noise is less, when perhaps they are prepared to give more time to the message. 

An Insta story isn’t going to do that. It is going to get lost in the feed. Nor is a snazzy Facebook ad, again, it will get lost in the feed. A TikTok? Leave that for the cat and dancing videos. And keep in mind how more and more people are perceiving social media; for many, the digital tobacco in society is only full of disinformation and hate. A place monsters use to find lambs. 

Anything big on message needs to go big on noise. If I had been the Liberals announcing a transport policy, I would have dropped some coin on running some ads about that. Not a lot, but enough to remind people about our viability as an alternative government and to keep identification strong amongst the base. 

It’s what social media can’t do, but what you have to do if you want to change where you sit on London Circuit. 

There are many great political campaigns run on social media, but the difference between them and the also-rans is that the great ones are also usually well-run, focused campaigns with sound policies that the comms back up, not vice versa. 

Only social media will tell though if the parties running in the ACT election this year have understood that message.

Dr Andrew Hughes is a lecturer in marketing with the Research School of Management at ANU where he specialises in political marketing and advertising, and the use of emotions in marketing and tourism.  

 

 

 

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