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Sinn Féin's surge could be seen on Facebook before it showed up in the polls

Sinn Féin’s message on Facebook is much the same as everywhere else. But it’s hitting home on the social platform more than other parties.

MARY LOU MCDONALD posted a short message on Facebook on Monday to say: “Pleased to accept invitation to tomorrow night’s leaders debate on RTÉ.”

The post got 12,000 likes, 1,900 comments and almost 500 shares. The comments underneath said things like McDonald would “wipe the floor with them” and that she “should never have been left out of it in the first place”. 

In the past seven days, she’s gotten 10% of all the likes, comments and shares that Irish politicians have had on Facebook.

Her popularity on Facebook mirrors her own party’s. Sinn Féin has gotten over 55% of these interactions on the social media platform among political parties since the election was called.

This dwarfs the interaction for the other parties on Facebook.

Not all interaction can be considered good interaction for a party – people could be commenting negatively about that party or a candidate – but a look through posts from Sinn Féin shows that they’ve strong support among those engaging with them on Facebook.

How are they doing so well?

While knocking on doors, attending public meetings and appearing on the airwaves are all still favoured by candidates in a bid to win votes, few of them turn away from social media during the campaign.

And they’re all at it. As pointed out here, the likes of Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry are doing very well on Instagram.

In Sinn Féin’s case, it’s clear that they’re maximising their already-large following on Facebook in this election. And furthermore, people on social media are engaged with the election itself. Across the board, parties are getting more interaction than usual.

Data from Crowd Tangle shows that Sinn Féin’s postings in the last few weeks are being engaged with far more than their posts usually are. Even when taking into account that more people like their page on Facebook, more people are proportionately engaging with Sinn Féin candidates than others.

As Sinn Féin has surged in the polls, so too has the number of people liking, commenting or sharing posts from their candidates on Facebook. 

By taking an aggregate of dozens of the likes and shares on previous postings and comparing it to new posts, it calculates that the Mary Lou McDonald post mentioned above about the invite to RTÉ was engaged with 40 times more than her average post on Facebook. 

mary lou fb

A spoof video from Gerry Adams’ account calling for the government to be voted out had almost 60 times his usual engagement on a Facebook video and has been viewed over 100,000 times.

Candidates like Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Louise O’Reilly and Matt Carthy have had all had posts in the past week outperforming their normal posts significantly.

The message within them is largely consistent – vote Sinn Féin and it will improve areas like housing and healthcare. They aren’t saying anything radically new. The information contained in the posts are similar to what you’d find on a campaign leaflet or hear them say in the media. 

pearse doherty fb

It isn’t till you reach posts that are getting 10 times more likes and shares than they usually would that you see other party’s candidates featuring prominently. For some candidates, they need to do something a bit different to stand out and grab the attention on Facebook that’ll lead to more engagement. 

Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe, for example, got 12 times his usual engagement for his soapbox video featuring him addressing an impromptu crowd on Dublin’s Henry Street. It’s been viewed over 30,000 times.

paschal soap box

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy faced a grilling from an 11-year-old in a video viewed almost 19,000 times, reaching over 10 times the number of people his posts usually would. 

robert troy facebook

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s video poking fun at how people mispronounce his name – but he doesn’t mind as long as you vote for him – has gotten 10.3 times more engagement than his usual posts and viewed almost 2,000 times since being posted this morning.

Party performance

Even though Sinn Féin are doing better than the other parties, it’s more evenly spread when you look at the political party posts that did the best in the past seven days.

In top is Sinn Féin’s sharing of the Irish Times opinion poll that had them in first place for the first time. This post got 5,558 likes. 

The party is also in second but Fine Gael has the third-most engaged with post this week. Featuring Simon Coveney speaking to camera, it says the party can be trusted where others can’t. It’s been viewed 330,000 times. 

simon coveney advert

However, the party has also spent between €6,000 and €7,000 for this post to appear as an advert on people’s Facebook feeds. The advert has also primarily been seen by those in the same age-bracket as those believed to be turning towards Sinn Féin – people under 35.

Similarly, Fianna Fáil spent between €600 and €699 for an advert linking to a story on the Irish Independent with a quote from Micheál Martin: “Fianna Fáil is the party of the working classes.” This is also one of the top performing posts among the political parties in the past week with over 1,500 likes. 

People Before Profit – which is spending very little on Facebook adverts – is doing well, only 3rd to Sinn Féin and Fine Gael when it comes to engagements on their posts in the past week. It has a similarly energised support when it comes to social media interaction.

richie boy b

They are putting some of their people – like Richard Boyd Barrett and Bríd Smith – front and centre to convey their message to the electorate.

Even with less than two days to go now till polling day, all the parties are still staking their claim through as many mediums as possible.

Online, Sinn Féin’s supporters are energised and active. The party will be hoping this can help translate to turnout and 1st preferences come Saturday. 

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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