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The social election: A €100k Facebook splurge by FF & FG ... and Michael Healy-Rae wins Instagram

We take a closer look at the online battle for votes.

Facebook spend by political parties on their page@2x (2) Source: Flourish

FINE GAEL AND Fianna Fáil have spent over €100,000 between them since the start of the general election campaign on adverts on Facebook and Instagram.

In the last full week of campaigning, both parties ramped up their adverts on the social media platforms with Fine Gael spending just under €25,000 and Fianna Fáil spending €31,420.

In many cases, the parties specifically mention one another in their adverts, taking aim at each other over their record on a number of issues.

But, despite paying tens of thousands of euro to appear in constituents’ news feeds, it is Sinn Féin which is by far the party people engage with most on social media with 47% of all interactions – likes, comments and shares – on Facebook last week, according to data from CrowdTangle.

And, on Instagram, Michael Healy Rae is still the most popular politician. Of all politicians on the platform in Ireland, the Kerryman currently has 32% of all interactions.

Social battleground

As well as on the doorsteps and in the media, the battle to win votes in Saturday’s general election has also been fought online over the past number of weeks. 

By paying for adverts on Facebook and Instagram – Twitter has banned political advertisements – parties can pay for these messages to appear in front of people who would not otherwise have seen them.

Through targeted Facebook ads, political parties buying ads can select an age group, gender or particular area they would like to target. 

In one advert seen around 300,000-350,000 times primarily by men and women in their 20s and 30s, Fine Gael urged voters to not let “Fianna Fáil wreck our economy all over again”. 

jobs fg

In another advert specifically aimed at people in Kerry, Fianna Fáil promotes its candidate John Brassil and says that 11,000 people are on a waiting list to have a procedure at Kerry General Hospital. “If you think this is ok, then leave Fine Gael in government,” the advert says. 

john brassil ff

Many of the videos produced by Fine Gael and advertised on Facebook are slick and well-edited, focusing on the wider topics that it says will improve if the party is returned to power.

The voices in the videos are recognisable as party TDs, but they don’t always feature that TD doing a piece to camera. Whereas Simon Harris is front and centre of its pledge to “hire more nurses, more doctors and add more beds” in the health service, Eoghan Murphy is heard but not seen in an advert promising to increase the supply of new houses and apartments. 

Fianna Fáil’s adverts focus on bigger issues but also emphasise what individual candidates are up to in certain constituencies.

Here’s a breakdown of what the parties have spent in the past week:

  • Fine Gael – €24,813
  • Fianna Fáil – €31,420
  • Labour – €7,865
  • Sinn Féin – €3,838
  • Solidarity-PBP – €468
  • Social Democrats – €779
  • Green Party – €917

Sinn Féin’s appeal

Many of the adverts currently running on Sinn Féin’s account feature leader Mary Lou McDonald. 

The party is currently running many adverts on Instagram with frequent messages of “there is an alternative” and “vote for change”. 

While the other two main parties have spent over €50,000 each on adverts since the campaign started, Sinn Féin has spent just €13,764. 

After spending just under €10,000 across the first two weeks, it spent just €3,838 last week.

The appeal of the party on Facebook extends beyond paid-for adverts, however.

It has double the amount of page likes than Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil put together, and had a 47% share of all the likes, comments and shares for political parties on Facebook in the past seven days.

People Before Profit are in 2nd with 10% of the interactions on Facebook, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both on 8% with Aontú in 5th on 6%.

It must be noted, these engagement figures aren’t indicative of the most popular parties on Facebook given that many comments and shares could be negative towards that party. 

Outside of the box

Instagram is completely different medium to Facebook and the photo/video sharing network is being used by candidates in a number of ways.

The most popular by far is Kerry independent Michael Healy-Rae. 

He has 32% of all the likes and comments among candidates on Instagram in the past seven days. 

His posts range from the simple to the bizarre. The latter sees Healy Rae photoshopped in instead of the quarterback who won the Super Bowl at the weekend with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A video posted on Monday that, at the time of writing, had been viewed over 1,600 times, is the Kerryman reading out mean tweets about himself.

Green Party candidate for Clare Róisín Garvey is the second most liked and commented-upon politician on Instagram, with outgoing independent Tipperary TD Michael Lowry in third place.

One trend that has emerged in recent days is candidates sharing photos from out on the canvass, showing notices at houses indicating the candidate can already rely on number one votes from those inside.

Like Willie O’Dea. And Maurice Quinlivan.

And then there’s this from Michael Lowry.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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