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Can Social Media Get Votes?

As an election consultant, the client often asks me "Can social media help me win?" Others ask me why some candidates with large followings fail to get votes. These questions show a justified distrust of the newish social media when it comes to conversion other than eCommerce. While business admits social media's importance, political operatives need more evidence.

Starting a social influence operation is a serious decision. The key function of creating create authenticity cannot be outsourced like advertising or public relation. This candidate-essential process demands a huge amount of time and attention. VP Leni Robredo's recently launched podcast is a good example. Her program launched with a huge following because of its novelty and authenticity. But it is a time-intensive investment on her team and her own time. Such intensive investment must have a significant electoral purpose. I leave the readers to phantom what that is.

The early political use of social media copies from the government fan pages, whose purpose is to inform. The agencies used social media as a bulletin board to dump press releases, official statements, and media mentions. This model did not work for campaigns and failed to show a relationship to creating votes. This lack of vote creating generated the political class's ambiguity of social media.

When answering the candidate's doubt, I share our research of the 2019 Philippines' Senatorial race. We highlight three of the 62 candidates; Senator Poe the reelectionist, and two political novices, Dr. Willie Ong, and Attorney Chel Diokno.

Senator Grace Poe had a modest following at 3.3M, one of the highest among her Senate colleagues. Dr. Willie Ong had 9 million followers as a result of being a long-time medical broadcaster.. Attorney Chel Diokno had the smallest social media following at 107K.

If follower size predicts votes, then Dr. Willie Ong would have become Senator Ong, but his votes were a very impressive 76% of his followers, but still only a fraction. The same dynamic happened to Mocha Uson, failing to win her party list a seat in congress, except Uson's follower to vote ratio was horrifically low. Senator Poe won 22M votes, at 7 times her following size, while Dean Diokno won 40 times votes to his following

Based on the fan page size, the answer seems to be, a large number of followers do not equate to votes. But that's the wrong conclusion. When we added engagement as a variable, the result changes.

The following diagram shows the change in their followings during the campaigning.

During the campaign, Dr. Ong and Attorney Diokno both gained followers, where Senator Poe lost a nominal amount of followers. Dr. Ong had a half a million gain, adding 5% growth to his large group to begin. Attorney Diokno gained 50% more following. From our experience with campaigns, the Diokno fan page size increase indicates voter base increase. We can use fan page size change as a predictor of final votes.

When we provide the variable of engagement, we gain more insight into the dynamics of social media and vote generation. The second variable helps understand how social media should be used to get votes.

From Senator Poe's group size and engagement, her campaign was using her fan page as a bulletin board, hence the lack of change in either the size or engagement. She also had an incumbency advantage and a pre-existing network for supporters. Out of her 22 million votes, less than a quarter of a million votes came from her social media following.

Dr. Ong and Attorney Diokno both engaged their followers but with a very different model. The good doctor managed his political followers the same as his listeners, a traditional one-way broadcast. It was not surprising his campaign performed as well as a campaign that relied on advertising and rallies.

Attorney Diokno did not use Senator Poe's bulletin model and could not use Dr. Ong's propaganda model, as his team chose a collective action model. They recruited, trained, and changed fan page followers into campaign workers. Then they put them to work. Interviews with some of the volunteers found the volunteers feel connected to democracy in a meaningful way, other than just as a vote.

Chel Diokno represents an interesting case study, He had the smallest number of followers, yet he generates 40 times the votes. If we followed the example of Senator Poe and Dr. Wong, Diokno's votes should be in the mere thousands, not in the millions.

This is our first step in understanding the question, is a large following enough? A large fan page following is necessary but not sufficient for victory. In our next post, we deep dive into engagement, the second critical factor for votes.

* Engagement formula for 2019 study: (Likes+Comments)*0.1 + Share


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