How parties fight for clicks, likes and follows

Anyone who has 1.8 million Instagram followers, but only follows 85 accounts, is either a celebrity, an artist – or the Federal Chancellor. Content always offers your profile: Angela Merkel – or her team – shared almost 2,000 posts on the photo platform, including stories, associated highlights, IGTVs, reels, and picture galleries. A video on the situation in Afghanistan, marked with the hashtag #politics, gets more than half a million views and 2000 comments. Ascending trend.

Numerous politicians do the same as the Federal Chancellor. There are good reasons for this: Instagram, Twitter and Co. are becoming increasingly important for the young group of voters, as a current YouGov survey on behalf of the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) shows. 43 percent of 18 to 29 year olds use social media to find out about politics.

Media experts confirm the growing importance of online platforms. Because, according to Martin Fuchs, who advises political parties on communication issues, young people spend a large part of their free time here. When scrolling through their feeds, they would come into contact with political content. “All of the major socio-political discussions that were recently initiated by young people came from the Internet.” For example, social media played a central role in Black Lives Matter and Fridays for Future.

In social media, faces count, not topics

The parties do not have an easy game in this world: Not even 70,000 accounts, for example, follow the SPD on Instagram. The CDU only has 100,000 followers. In comparison to the other four parties represented in the Bundestag, the people’s parties bring up the rear. The Greens have the most fans with 183,000, but that’s not much either.

For comparison: If Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) posts a post on Instagram, she potentially reaches almost two million accounts. And Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) has with 142,000 significantly more fans than his party. Political advisor Fuchs concludes that the success of a social media campaign is related to personalization. “There are various ways of doing this: a strong dialogue orientation and community building in which the followers are respected and made into actors,” he explains.

According to Fuchs, distinctive faces should be used. He cites the FDP boss as an example: “Christian Lindner is also a party influencer with his size on social media.” Lindner has almost half a million fans on Twitter, 240,000 on Instagram – more than twice as many as his FDP.

So today it’s about winning people with digital traction for the party, training the next generation and developing a party strategy. This is carried by a spearhead of party people who make politics on social media. In detail, the parties are going different ways.

FDP relies on Lindner formats

The FDP relies on formats that are supposed to convey closeness. “The community is interested in the work behind the scenes. That’s why we organize takeovers, so a candidate can take the followers with him into his everyday life, ”says the Federal Chairman of the Young Liberals, Jens Teutrine.

The youth organization spends a third of the campaign budget on advertising on social media. “We use it to advertise for specific target groups on Instagram, Yodel, Snapchat and Co. in order to leave our own bladder and reach other people,” said the 27-year-old, who is running for the Bundestag in the Herford district (North Rhine-Westphalia). “We are trying out new formats, for example the streaming flat share in Berlin, cooking with direct candidates, gambling with Christian Lindner and panel discussions with climate activists.”

From his point of view, the key to success is that politics recognizes the realities of life and is authentic on social media. “I’m young myself, if I pretended to be a political actor, I would be inauthentic.”

Jusos against training of influencers

The Young Socialists refuse to train political influencers on social media. “With us, all members are the multipliers. (…) We are a members’ association and everyone can be part of the movement, ”says Juso boss Jessica Rosenthal.

Instagram in particular is essential. “We want to reach the first-time voters with pointed demands and a modern look. At the start of our apprenticeship, for example, we include questions in our Instagram stories. ”The 28-year-old competes for the Bundestag in Bonn and finds it important“ that politicians simply act as they are ”, but not at the same time Underestimate local election campaigns.

Green youth starts its own YouTube channel

The Green Youth Hamburg wants to reach young people primarily via Instagram and Youtube, reports Emilia Fester to the RND. The 22-year-old is in third place on the state list of the Hamburg Greens for the federal election and, according to election forecasts, will likely move into the Bundestag. She also relies on authenticity in social media: “I don’t want to be a licked politician. That’s not my style, I like to be authentic. I stand for the content that I represent online. “

According to her Instagram appearance, this means: questions to the community, photos from everyday life and direct political demands. On Youtube, Fester connects infotainment with election campaigns – there she has contemplative 321 fans, but still more than eleven thousand views: “I want to explain why I come to which conclusion. My YouTube channel offers explanatory videos, question-and-answer videos and information about me. “

For the Greens, social media are one of the most important places to reach first-time voters. “But it shouldn’t stay that way, politics thrives on participation. We always formulate a call, for example to vote and demonstrate, ”says Fester.

An old CDU is trying to use newer formats

According to a study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Union had the oldest electorate in the previous federal election. The young communication expert from the CDU, Theresa Hein, has set herself the task of promoting the topic of social media. To do this, she helped design Friedrich Merz’s application campaign for the CDU chairmanship on social media.

“At the moment it is still seen a little too unimportant,” says Hein. The main electorate is “just 60 plus”. But even in the current federal election campaign, the importance of social media is “extremely high” compared to the past, reports the 26-year-old. “Just a few years ago, the intern was put down and said: ‘Make a few videos, a few photos.’ Now everything is being planned. “

The party is currently working primarily with live talk formats on Facebook and Instagram as well as with question-and-answer videos. “Jens Spahn, for example, does this regularly,” reports Hein. The party tries to make political decisions “as transparent as possible”.

The AfD mainly communicates via Facebook

Making politics more tangible: According to David Eckert, who works in the office of AfD member of the Bundestag Steffen Kotré, this is also the goal of the alternative for Germany. The 29-year-old joined the party as a young person and was chairman of the Berlin Junge Alternative. From his point of view, podcasts, interviews and live broadcasts are particularly important as advertising media for his party: “We need media of this kind to bring our content to the electorate unfiltered.”

Facebook is currently the party’s most important communication channel. The AfD has around 512,000 fans there. But Eckert does not believe that this is sufficient to reach as many first-time voters as possible: “Many people in the target group have developed a disenchantment with Facebook.” Therefore, the AfD will increasingly rely on other social media platforms, such as Instagram, in the future .

The controversial messenger service Telegram has long been in the focus of the party. According to research by Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), more than 80,000 people are already following the AfD on various channels. It operates 81 so-called channels – the other parties would add up to 41.

The left trains influencers with workshops

While some want to change the medium in order to reach first-time voters, others rely on the training of multipliers. “There are workshops on the subject in the party,” explains Michael Neuhaus, federal spokesman for the Left Youth and environmental spokesman for the left-wing group in Leipzig. “Because social media work is often easier and less time-consuming than you might think.”

Live formats play a major role for the young target group, because young people now have a different, more personal approach to politics. “I think the best political work is only worth half as much if it is not presented correctly,” said Neuhaus. To represent politics correctly, that means for the 28-year-old, to show “that politics is also fun”.

From the point of view of the left-wing youth spokesman, all parties have probably underestimated the “unbelievable reach of these portals”. It is now going much better than it was a few years ago. “Still, I would like us to put even more energy into social media,” says Neuhaus.

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Youth researcher: “The young people will not become news illiterates”

All six representatives of the parties report on the downsides of their commitment: They often experience harsh criticism and sometimes even death threats. Young women in particular find it difficult to commit to a party via social media because of constant criticism, says CDU member Hein. Rosenthal observes something similar: a woman is often perceived as an object and not as a political actor.

In addition to the content, the reflective behavior of the users also decides whether young people benefit from the offers of the parties on Instagram and Co. Youth researcher Klaus Hurrelmann sees a danger: “Many only get stuck with one network and don’t look to the left or right.” In the worst case, the young people ended up in networks that only allowed a narrow spectrum of opinions. “It is also conceivable that the ability to assess something is dwindling because many simply consume and think that it is political commitment when they write a comment under a post,” emphasizes Hurrelmann.

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As a rule, this does not apply to very educated young people. According to the youth researcher, the political offerings on social media are a valuable addition for those who want to find out more about it. “You gain a trained and structured position from the conscious use of different media,” says Hurrelmann and is certain: “The young people will not become news illiterates.”

This text is part of “Generation XX – two crosses for the future”, a project of the volunteers of the RND for the federal election. Generation XX focuses on young voters: Who do they want to vote for? Which topics are important to you? What is the generation? You can find all results, analyzes and reports at generationxx.rnd.de recall.

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