Social media and the 2016 national elections
If next year’s presidential elections were won or lost through social media, who would emerge the winner?
Social media’s role has become more critical than ever, said Carlo Ople, managing partner and director of digital advertising agency DM9 Digit.
In the 2013 elections, only about 30 percent of Filipinos had access to the Internet; the proportion has grown dramatically since then.
“There are more Filipinos on the Internet now and the low cost of smartphones has enabled a lot of Filipinos to be online,” said Ople, whose clients include “AlDub,” the popular tandem of actor Alden Richards and Internet superstar Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza.
Half of the Philippine population has access to the Internet today. And there are currently 41 million Filipino Facebook users between 18 and 65 years old.
The Internet has become the new face of campaigning but not all candidates are into it just yet.
“It is a new terrain but it’s the fastest, the cheapest and you know that national media is using it… What I see is that only a few candidates appreciate online because the others don’t understand how to measure [its influence],” said political analyst Malou Tiquia.
Ople said candidates are probably not used to it yet so they are hesitant to invest in the online space.
While online campaigning is something to watch out for, traditional campaigning is still very much thriving. “Television will still give you reach on a national scale from an advertising perspective,” Ople said.
But this is expensive, as TV ads cost almost a million pesos for a 30-second spot (but guaranteed to reach nine million viewers).
Santiago, ‘social media darling’
As of early November, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago–described by Ople as a “social media darling”–leads the pack among presidential aspirants with 3,205,407 followers on Facebook and 2,094,618 on Twitter. Vice President Jejomar Binay comes in second with 1,802,535 Facebook followers and 271,111 on Twitter, while former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II has 1,138,162 followers on Facebook and 547,449 on Twitter.
The candidate actually leading the surveys, Senator Grace Poe, lags in social media: She only has 737,711 fans on Facebook and 58,154 on Twitter.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the on-again, off-again candidate, has 1,176,664 Facebook fans and 13,230 followers on Twitter.
Between September 15 and October 16, Binay had the most Facebook posts with 38. Most of these are photos of him engaging with ordinary citizens. Fewer posts were photos of him with officials and businessmen; working in the office; and with his family.
Poe had 27 posts, mostly photos of her with her running mate Senator Francis Escudero while the rest are photos of her public appearances.
Roxas had 18 posts, mostly photos of his sorties in the provinces. Santiago had 16 posts, mostly on her hints of running for president and her declaration itself.
On Twitter, INQUIRER.net picked the Top 5 most engaged posts from Sept. 15 to Nov. 11. Most of the presidential aspirants’ tweets from that time were cross-posted to Facebook. Santiago had the most engagement with about 2,000 retweets and 4,000 likes when she posted her filing of certificate of candidacy.
The tweets of the other presidential candidates had only up to 500 combined likes and retweets in a single post. This means netizens interested in politics may not be into Twitter as much as they are into Facebook. On Facebook, a single post from a candidate on the said period had at least 1,000 likes but also had as much as 200,000. Comments from users were between hundreds to thousands.
Less engagement for vice presidential bets
For vice presidential aspirants, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had the most Facebook fans with 1,170,381 but only 16,600 on Twitter for the time period of Sept. 15 to Nov. 11.
Senator Francis Escudero came in next with 608,909 Facebook fans and 255,375 on Twitter. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had 605,053 Facebook fans and 25,012 on Twitter.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos placed fourth with 457,934 fans on Facebook and 303,291 followers on Twitter. Lagging behind was Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo with 63,004 Facebook fans and 27,698 on Twitter.
Cayetano only had hundreds of favorites and retweets for his posts except when he tweets about Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whom he is asking to be his running mate.
When Cayetano posted on Twitter that Duterte will be the best president we will have, it earned 1695 favorites and 1504 retweets.
Marcos also has low retweets and favorites from his followers despite engaging with them and tweeting series of posts.
Despite frequently posting tweets, Robredo also got low favorites and retweets.
Escudero also had low retweets and favorites but earned 1,108 retweets and 404 favorites when he tweeted about the phenomenal “AlDub.”
Meanwhile, among the vice presidential aspirants, Trillanes and Senator Gringo Honasan are the least social media-savvy.
Both Honasan and Trillanes seldom tweeted for that time period but when they did, they had zero tweets and favorites.
Netizens had lesser engagement on vice presidential aspirants on Twitter as most of their posts did not get more than a thousand retweets or favorites.
How to make it on social media
There are other factors that will make or break candidates on social media. For example, the memes created by netizens could go viral in an instant depending on its content.
“There are a lot of tools today that will allow a politician to find out if there’s something going viral at a very early stage. I’m sure most of them have access to those tools,” Ople said.
Before the post goes viral, the candidate’s team could do something to address it if armed with the right tools.
“There are tools available to detect if a post is about to go viral. Your creativity to solve that problem/issue is up to the candidate,” Ople said.
Cristina Montiel, a political psychologist, said the “demolition job” or the negative attacks against Binay went viral because they were picked up by traditional media.
“To make it a big thing, traditional media should pick it as well,” she said.
Although social media has a big influence in the upcoming elections, it does not guarantee that it can make a candidate win; it is still his or her message that will put him into victory.
“It depends on how the candidate uses social media. At the end of a day, it’s a platform. It’s no different than TV, radio, print. What will resonate the most is the message of the politicians,” Ople said.
“What will define if the candidate will win or not is the message the candidate has for the campaign. Social media is a channel that will allow them to reach more people, to mobilize their fans and volunteers to be able to act,” he added.
Montiel, meanwhile, said popularity is just a segment of defining the winnability of a candidate.
“It (popularity) is just one segment,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino. “Social media is not yet very much a political tool but who knows, it can be used in 2016 in terms of operations like to inform about meetings, sorties, or mobilization.”
“Maybe information dissemination but not persuasion; it’s still the candidate’s personal network,” she said.
She said people would still want to see candidates visit them personally and explain their platforms of government. She said personally listening to the voters is very important.
But Montiel said that amplifying a candidate’s message in social media would still help a lot.
She said politicians should target key personalities to amplify their message to reach wider demographics. Otherwise the message won’t be effective in terms of audience reach. This is where influencers come in, she said.
Tiquia, on the other hand, stressed the importance of a discerning social media team.
“The team must understand political discourse. They shouldn’t be starting fights with netizens. To a certain degree, they need to a follow a script so there would be a discipline in messaging,” she said.
“What is most important in social media is you have to listen and you have to determine in that conversation, where do you stand?” she added.
This was supported by Montiel, saying that the social media team of each candidate must be “informed.”
“The bullet starts with them,” she said, citing that the packaging of the message of the candidates depends on them.
The effectiveness and reach of the message of the candidate, she said, would determine whether the message or the candidate’s propaganda would go viral.
So how will the candidates win the hearts of netizens? Simply by being honest, according to Montiel.
“Honesty is the best policy in social media. When you address issues that’s when people will understand where you are coming from. That is the best practice on how candidates use social media in other countries. But in the Philippines, a politician has too many secrets,” she said.
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