Tomorrow (20 January) Irish Facebook users of a voting age will see a “Check the Register” notice in their Newsfeed urging them to exercise their democratic right.
From midnight, Facebook users in the Republic of Ireland aged over 18 will see a notice in their Newsfeed reminding them the General Election is just a few weeks away and urging them to register to vote. It will include a link that will take them through to www.checktheregister.ie.
Facebook are saying this is the “the largest Irish voter registration reminder campaign ever”.
In Ireland, some 2.5m people use Facebook every month, more than the 2.2m who voted in the 2011 General Election, or 70pc of those eligible to vote.
While the date of the General Election is a secret being jealously guarded by Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, the consensus is the General Election will take place in either late February or early March.
Facebook’s senior political thought leaders were in Dublin today (19 January) to emphasise why they believe the social network will be front and centre in the upcoming debates and how politicians need to realise that most voters will make up their minds based on friends’ viewpoints and how politicians themselves engage online.
“Since the last election in 2011, Irish politicians and political parties have become increasingly more sophisticated in how they use Facebook to talk and engage with voters and supporters,” explained Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s politics and government specialist for Europe.
“Over the past few months, people have been taking to Facebook to share their views on who should govern the country for the next five years. There have already been more than 1.5 million interactions related to the Irish election on the platform since 1 November.
She said that, last year, elections were the most-discussed topic on Facebook globally.
Linder also revealed that the same-sex marriage referendum was the most talked about topic on Facebook in Ireland during 2015.
How Irish political parties have embraced social media since 2011
Theo Lomas, elections and campaigns specialist with Facebook, contrasted the readiness of Ireland’s political parties in 2011 with their social media presence in 2016.
In 2011, Fine Gael had a Facebook page with 2,700 likes while Sinn Fein didn’t even have a Facebook page.
Zoom forward to 2016 and Fine Gael has a page with 13,722 likes while Sinn Fein’s Facebook page has almost 77,000 likes. The Labour Party has more than 12,000 likes on the social network, while Fianna Fail has more than 11,400.
Altogether, the political parties of Ireland have 142,000 likes. “Liking a political party page is the modern equivalent of being a member of a political party,” Lomas said.
Between them, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and Sinn Fein have a combined audience on Facebook of roughly 113,000 people.
In terms of the kind of content political parties are sharing, Lomas pointed out how in 2011 most of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s posts were written in the third person, most likely by his press advisers. Zoom forward to 2016 and Kenny’s posts are written in the first person.
“There is a lot more authenticity and use of visual content,” Lomas said, adding that politicians are also posting in a more timely fashion to keep up with trends and to be seen to be discussing issues of the day.
“People on Facebook expect to see content from their friends and family and, therefore, politicians need to show their authentic self. The human eye can also process images faster than text so shareable graphics and photographs are key. Our analysis of political party pages in Ireland shows that 75pc of Fine Gael content and 80pc of Fianna Fail content is of the visual kind.”
Lomas said that the 2016 General Election will be fought and won on social media just before the final vote is tallied.
“So far, we have seen 1.5m interactions on Facebook from 430,000 people discussing General Election 2016 in the last 11 weeks since 1 November. That is a huge number in the context of elections in Ireland,” Lomas said.
Irish election image via Shutterstock