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Politicians prefer knocking on doors to posting on Instagram

Traditional posters are still one of the main means of campaigning. Keystone

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In the lead-up to parliamentary elections on October 20, all Swiss political parties are using social media. However, they remain less active online than on the streets.

This content was published on October 2, 2019 - 09:00

When it comes to Instagram, it seems logical that the youth sections of political parties mostly lead the way: studies have shown that some 87% of Swiss 12-19-year-olds have an Instagram account, and 9% of 18-24-year-olds use it as their primary news source.

And so the youth section of the centre-right Christian Democrats is – at the national level – second only to the Social Democrats (the second-biggest party in the country) in terms of Instagram activity since the election campaign kicked off.

They are not alone in ramping up Instagram activity: the youth Greens have attracted over 3,500 followers – that’s more than their parent party. Indeed, most youth wings are more active than their parents (see graph below), although all are active at a national level.

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As for Facebook – which targets an audience markedly older than that on Instagram – this was already present during the last election campaign four years ago. The party with the largest reach is also the current largest party in parliament: the Swiss People’s Party.

As for Twitter, the Social Democrats are by far the most-followed party in the country, with over 40,000.

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But how important are all of these numbers? In this, all parties speak with the same voice: social media is important, but as an addition to traditional campaigning, not as a replacement.

A Social Democrat campaign launched last week was an example of the complementarity that is appearing between traditional and digital means, according to Moritz Friess, online marketing advisor: the billboards to be seen on Swiss streets are nowhere to be found on Facebook, where only supplementary ads have been posted.

Another factor that Friess says hampers a wider importance of social media is how fragmented the party messages appear online, and how difficult this makes it to reach voters.

“There are four national languages [in Switzerland] and each party has up to 26 regional sections at the cantonal level,” he says. “In this context, political nerds feel at home, but the moderately-interested citizen is at sea.”

Varying practices

This said, it’s also interesting to note that not all parties are represented across social media in all national languages. Only the Social Democrats, the Liberal Greens, and the Greens have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts in German, French, and Italian.

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For example, the People’s Party are very much German language-focussed. On Twitter, for example, the German-language account has some 12,600 followers; in French, the figure is 2,032. The party has no French-language Instagram account.

People’s Party head of communications Andrea Sommer says that “it’s always a question of resources. When you want to do something well, you have to limit yourself”.

As for who does the work, meanwhile, this varies from party to party. Most often, social media is taken care of by somebody from the campaign team – along with other tasks. Two parties (Christian Democrats and Liberal Greens) outsource social media to consultants.

Three of the four biggest parties in the country – the Christian Democrats, People’s Party, and Radical Liberals – have no one person responsible exclusively for social media. Moritz Friess is astonished by this: “I don’t think that parties can simply take care of their social media strategy on the side, without professional help. It needs time and expertise”.

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