I didn’t watch the Leaders’ Semi-Debate, as I actually had more important things to do. So now I’m going to take a closer look at the figures I gathered earlier from all of the social media accounts I have access to.
First up, the state of the parties’ shares. As before, these are the best numbers that I have been able to gather in a short space of time. They are already out of date, and do not include, among others, candidates who started on ‘The Facebook’ yesterday, nor do they include candidates for election to public office who maintain private profiles…
Of the 235k (+12%) Facebook accounts connected to declared candidates:
Fianna Fáil, 16% (no change); Fine Gael, 26% (-1) ; Labour; 15% (-1); Sinn Féin, 21% (no change); Greens, 4% (no change); ULA, 4% (no change); Independents/Others, 14% (+3)
Of the 124k (+21%) Twitter accounts connected to declared candidates:
Fianna Fáil, 10% (+2); Fine Gael, 26% (-1); Labour; 19% (-1); Sinn Féin, 4% (no change); Greens, 22% (-4); ULA, 5% (-1); Independents/Others, 13% (+4)
Note: there is no margin of error as these are not random samples. It would probably be more correct to describe them as populations in their own right. At any rate, the changes represent changes in share of the total numbers of followers to the accounts. Hence, while Fine Gael have dropped a percentage point in Twitter share, they actually increased their followers by almost 5,000. As I mentioned yesterday, political parties have to work hard to maintain their relevance in social media as the total numbers keeps rising.
Last week, Fianna Fáil had an 8% share in Twitter, whereas this week it’s a more respectable at 10%, and against a tide in which the other major parties have suffered. However, roughly half of those followers came from a certain Longford Westmeath deputy well known for her interesting quips. More to the point, if every FF candidate had a Twitter account, with the same average number of followers, they’d probably have more like 26% of the share. That, of course, would require candidates to actually engage with the medium…
In terms of Facebook, Fianna Fáil are currently holding their own at last week’s 16% share. As one might expect, another 8 accounts have been added (now 48), and their average number of friends/fans has dropped somewhat. Similarly, we can expect that their share will either hold, or rise, as more candidates begin campaigning in this medium, especially big names who have ignored it up til now.
It is striking that Fine Gael have dropped to a 26% share in both the Twitter and Facebook arenas. I suspected last week that they may have been at their peak of social media strength, and this observation supports it. They have added roughly another 4 or 5 thousand followers or friends in both Twitter and Facebook but this hasn’t been enough to maintain their previous level of support. The thing is, all of their candidates who are going to be using social media have already done so. Hence, while it may seem like they are losing support, it’s more a case that they simply can’t maintain the high level of growth that they have done up to now. This will be quite a disappointment to them, as they have been experimenting with social media quite regularly. Those experiments have been greeted with howls of derision, especially on Twitter, but I suspect that this slowdown is more to do with their party leader’s approach to the first television debate: it simply hasn’t been as ‘cool’ to ‘like’ FG this week.
Again, it is very striking that Labour have dropped by exactly the same degree as Fine Gael, though in this case I am somewhat surprised. Their approach to social media has been more sensible than their presumed coalition partners, and their leader has been more prudent in his dealings with the media. The major factor behind this drop is probably the fact that they have run out of candidates to push into social media, and also probably running out of supporters to attract to those candidates. If this drop continues next week, it will certainly add to the argument that, while Labour may be a popular party in opinion polls, they may not have enough candidates of quality on the ground to capitalise on those results. In the case of Labour, and also Fine Gael, it would help their cause if some of their bigger names, who have stay away from Twitter and Facebook thus far (most likely because they have deemed their seats safe enough to do without) made some effort to engage.
For the smaller parties, it is largely a case of ‘as you were’, in comparison to last week’s numbers. The Greens may be concerned that their share of the Twitter population has dropped from 26% to 22%, but that was largely inevitable, as their dominance there was never going to last as the campaign opened up, as more interesting alternative Tweeting candidates appeared. Sinn Féin have performed remarkably well to hold their 21% share of the Facebook arena, which bodes very well for their prospects, though I do expect this number to fall. Similarly, the ULA, while not really mounting any cohesive strategy in this regard, can be reasonably pleased with holding 5% and 4% on Facebook and Twitter respectively.
If ever evidence were needed that this election will be like no other, or that significant numbers in the electorate are turning away from the major parties, then the jump in support for the non-aligned candidates in the last week would probably do. Independent candidates on Twitter gained approximately 7,500 new followers last week, and on Facebook, about 8,000 friends or fans. While this share may not rise much more, it will continue to eat away at Green support. Call it the Dylan Haskins effect, and while it remains to be see if he, or any of the others will get a seat in the next Dáil, you can be quite certain that Independent transfers will be of some importance come the 26th of February.