Social media and society

Social media and society

#qldvotes: A Final Social Media Round-Up

By any measure, it’s been an extraordinary weekend here in Queensland. The same electoral tsunami that brought the LNP to power in March 2012 has washed the government away again in January 2015. Premier Campbell Newman has lost his own seat of Ashgrove, and Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk looks poised to form government – although whether Labor can govern in its own right or will need to depend on the support of the crossbenchers still remains to be determined as late counting continues.

This post is the final step in our analysis of social media activities surrounding the Queensland election, following on from previous updates here and here. A reminder about our methodology: the dataset for this analysis includes any tweets which contain the key hashtags #qldvotes and #qldpol, their variations, and related keywords, as well as mentions of the Premier and Opposition Leader and of any of the parties by name; further, we’ve identified the Twitter accounts of over 150 candidates and are capturing any public tweets directed at them, as well as any of their own tweets that include any election-related hashtags and keywords.

For this update, let us begin with a closer look at how election day itself unfolded. An overview of the major hashtags used in election-related tweets over the course of the day is useful for this purpose (as always, the totals here will add up to more than 100% because some tweets contained multiple hashtags). Starting our analysis from 8 a.m. on Saturday, we see the #putlnplast hashtag make much of the early running, as part of Labor’s (and some of the minor parties’) last-ditch campaign to ensure that no preferences are lost to the count. There is also significant use of the #ashgrove and #brisbane hashtags, pointing to the obvious importance of the urban Brisbane electorates to the eventual outcome of the vote.

Trending #qldvotes hashtags on election day. Axel Bruns / QUT Social Media Research Group

By 5 p.m., the Nine News / Galaxy exit poll predicting a substantially worse than expected result for the LNP government has captured the majority of the attention: both #9news and #breaking begin to trend, and #breaking continues over the following hours as the discussion moves on from Nine’s exit poll to first booth results but the surprise about the unexpected election trend persists. Finally, as the evening progresses we see a very notable shift in focus: beyond the shock about the Queensland government’s demise, discussion now turns increasingly to its implications across the nation. #nswpol and #wapol come to trend (as the two states next in line for state elections), alongside #vicpol, and the broader discussion about the future direction of the #lnp also gathers steam.

Longer-term patterns in the data show the usual election day spike in tweeting activity, which sets in especially after polling booths close and television broadcasts begin to present first exit polls, predictions, and increasingly robust voting trends. On Saturday, in fact, this happened slightly earlier than usual, as Channel Nine – going against established media conventions – reported its exit poll even while polling booths were still open, thus potentially influencing the choices made by late voters.

Volume of Twitter activity during #qldvotes. Axel Bruns / QUT Social Media Research Group

Interestingly, even as an unexpectedly strong election performance by the ALP became more and more of a certainty over the course of the evening, the divergent patterns in Twitter activity that we’ve noted throughout the election remained stable: a substantially greater number of tweets mentioned terms related to the LNP than to the ALP in their content (as shown in the first graph above), but somewhat more tweets directly @mentioned or retweeted ALP candidates’ accounts than those of LNP candidates (as is evident from the second graph above) – with the accounts of independent or minor party candidates mentioned far less still.

My reading of this continues to be that Twitter users were significantly more happy to talk about the LNP than they were to directly engage with their candidates, and conversely far more happy to @mention and retweet ALP candidates than to talk about the ALP as such. Of course this also seems to be borne out by the eventual election results – while Twitter is inevitably not directly representative of overall popular opinion, here it appears to be reasonably closely aligned with it.

It is useful to compare this again with the candidates’ own tweeting activities, too. The graphs below clearly show that ALP candidates were substantially more active and more popular than their LNP and minor party counterparts, even in spite of the electorate’s overall focus on discussing the LNP government.

The first of the three graphs indicates the total number of tweets referring to the various parties – and here we see more than 2 ½ times more tweets about the LNP than about the ALP. The balance is reversed in the second graph: tweets @mentioning or retweeting ALP candidates outperformed those to LNP candidates by a factor of 1.25 – and while @mentions came out roughly even in the end, ALP candidates received more than seven times the number of retweets that LNP candidates did – this points to a substantially greater willingness to endorse candidates’ statements.

Party mentions during #qldvotes. Axel Bruns / QUT Social Media Research Group

Finally, ALP candidates were also quite simply a great deal more active than those of the LNP or any other party: overall, they posted more than 7,400 tweets over the course of the campaign, compared to just over 3,000 tweets from everyone else (of which just under half were posted by LNP candidates). Clearly this very active use of Twitter gave ordinary users a greater opportunity to endorse ALP candidates’ statements by retweeting them, and thus to increase their visibility on Twitter and beyond (since tweets are often also cross-posted to Facebook and other social media platforms).

As with any election, it would be foolish to say that its social media activity (or any other single factor, for that matter) won Labor the election, of course – the ALP was also very active on Twitter during the previous Queensland state election in March 2012, for example, and during the Australian federal election in September 2013, but it seems certain that no amount of social media action could have prevented the landslides it suffered in those cases.

In a campaign as close as this year’s, however, surely the ability to spread additional election messages through social media won’t have hurt Labor’s candidates. It’s a truism in marketing that messages delivered by trusted friends through word of mouth are considerably more effective than generic advertisements, and this is true also for the particular form of marketing that elections represent: trusted Twitter or Facebook contacts sharing on a Labor candidate’s call to number every box and put the LNP last, for example, are likely to be a great deal more effective than the various party banners plastered all over the polling booths.

In the 2015 Queensland state election, then, it is similarly likely that no amount of social media activity from LNP candidates would have prevented a very significant correction of the previous election’s extraordinary result. However, by remaining largely inactive – in comparison to their major challengers – the LNP and its candidates essentially ceded the social media space to the ALP and the other opposition parties altogether; even LNP supporters on Twitter had very little party content that they could have used to counter the many retweets received by ALP candidates’ tweets. Giving up the social media contest in this way, right from the start of the campaign, must be seen as another failure of the LNP campaign – and in an election as close as this, every last mistake matters.