Social media and society

#ausvotes Retweets of Political Leaders: The Story So Far

As the federal election campaign continues, and as we track the role social media play in the process (see my previous updates here), one aspect we’ve not yet explored is how the various political leaders are encouraging their followers to make their their messages go viral and reach a bigger audience.

Time, then, to take a closer look at retweets during the campaign so far. The first and most obvious observation is that retweets of politicians’ messages make up only a minute part of all the @mentions these accounts have received to date; even the two major party leaders have only received a few thousand retweets in total during the three weeks of the campaign so far. That’s substantially below their total number of @mentions. (Click graph to enlarge.)

Retweets of Leaders since 4 Aug. 2013.

This makes some sense, of course. Twitter users may not see the point in retweeting already well-known politicians: with his 1.38 million followers, for example, what additional visibility does Kevin Rudd gain from being retweeted by you or me? If we are retweeting any of them, then, it would have to be because we want to explicitly endorse one of their messages – so with this in mind, here’s a quick tour through the most retweeted messages by the leading politicians to date.

The field is led by Penny Wong, whose stinging reply to a clichéd comment about marriage equality (from an account which has since been renamed or deleted) earnt her more than 1,000 (manual as well as button) retweets on Thursday alone:

Gee, highly original. Hope your one follower enjoyed it. RT @corrigan_brett: @SenatorWong marriage is for Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve.“ — Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) August 21, 2013

Tony Abbott, by contrast, made the early running, but has since failed to pick up any further large numbers of retweets. His tweet on the night of 4 August, immediately following the begin of the election period, was a US-style call to the Coalition faithful, complete with presidential photo, to show their support by retweeting.

The Choice is clear. RT if you support the Coalition #auspol — Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) August 4, 2013

This was preceded by another widely retweeted message, designed to show off Abbott the family man as he retweeted and responded to a message by daughter Bridget:

”@bridgetabbott: Wishing Dad @TonyAbbottMHR the best of luck over the coming 5 weeks! Can’t wait to join him on the campaign trail" Me too! — Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) August 4, 2013

(Daughters Bridget and Frances also feature in Abbott’s smaller spike on 9 August as he retweets their messages from a family afternoon at the Brisbane Ekka, and other users retweet his retweets.)

Meanwhile, Greens Leader Christine Milne’s best day came during the first televised leaders’ debate, from which she was excluded – several of her tweets were passed along by Greens supporters during the debate, following a public encouragement from the collective @GreensMPs account and individual party colleagues to do so. Here’s a flavour – if this tweet is representative, the Greens social media team still need to work on framing their shots effectively, though:

No matter how hard Tony Abbott tries to stop renewable energy revolution, it is unstoppable. It is everywhere. — Christine Milne (@senatormilne) August 11, 2013

By contrast, in spite of a steady but limited flow of day-to-day retweets, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hasn’t yet managed to generate a substantial spike in retweets during the campaign – perhaps it’s time for a sneaky selfie again? He came closest perhaps with this – also very US-style – tweet ahead of the first debate, combining both semi-formal publicity shot with some light-hearted text:

I have lots of official briefs for the debate. Does anyone have some good jokes? KRudd — Kevin Rudd (@KRuddMP) August 11, 2013

Again, Rudd’s comparatively massive follower base on Twitter means that he is least dependent of all Australian politicians on getting his messages retweeted – and indeed, that Twitter users may be least likely to feel a need to retweet him. That said, however, like any campaign team the Labor camp would surely be interested in encouraging retweets from the faithful to show that there is good grassroots support for the party and its leader – so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw some more US-style, image-heavy posts that are designed to be retweeted from Kevin Rudd’s account.