Followers are like Penis Size: Digital EU political campaigns

Article published on April 4, 2014
Article published on April 4, 2014

Democ­racy can be made sexy again through dig­i­tal media, says po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor and blog­ger Mar­tin Fuchs. Will the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion be a part of the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions? Which on­line strate­gies are can­di­dates as­sum­ing be­fore the EU par­lia­men­tary elec­tions? How do you get ad­mit­ted to par­lia­ment at the last minute?

Café Babel: Let's as­sume I want to quickly be­come a part of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment, what type of so­cial media cam­paign would I have to or­ga­nize?

Mar­tin Fuchs: There isn't a sin­gle cam­paign that would be suc­cess­ful, eight weeks be­fore the elec­tions. So­cial media only works in a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign if you've con­sis­tently de­vel­oped a com­mu­nity over a span of years that you can fall back on. You can for­get it if you tell your­self "I'm going to be­come a politi­cian and open a Twit­ter ac­count." It's not 10,000 fol­low­ers that you need, but rather the 500 to 1000 fol­low­ers that re­ally fol­low you. The fol­low­ers that spread your ideas in news­pa­pers, blogs and of­fline dis­cus­sions. But you can't get those fol­low­ers within a short time. 

#Hap­py­vo­ting Call to EU elec­tions

CB: But if I could buy Likes and start a cam­paigne with ex­po­sure, wouldn't I se­cure aware­ness?

MF: I would def­i­nitely ad­vise against buy­ing Likes. There are analy­sis por­tals through which you can de­ter­mine if some­one's bought Likes. That only drags a po­lit­i­cal party into a scan­dal. Of course you can try to spread some provoca­tive ideas through­out a city. But even in the first cou­ple of weeks you won't be able to pro­duce media aware­ness.

CB: So those po­lit­i­cans who ig­nore so­cial media, can they still be elected?

MF: There are politi­cians who have had a solid base in the Swabian Jura Provence for nearly twenty years. You can't find broad­band or wire­less LAN net­works in those areas. That's why in those areas they're more in­volved in bowl­ing clubs or choirs. They know their con­sti­tu­ants on a per­sonal level and don't need so­cial media, since they've al­ready had a strat­egy es­tab­lished for years.

CB: Aren't on­line in­for­ma­tion sources su­per­fi­cial?

MF: The prob­lem is that peo­ple don't want to chat with old men in back­rooms. But through Tweets and con­tin­ual Face­book com­mu­ni­ca­tions, you can in­spire young peo­ple. It's good that po­lit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion can flood their time­lines, even if they don't go to demon­stra­tions. 

CB: Say I'm a bor­ing or un­in­ter­est­ing can­di­date, do you think I can im­prove my image through provoca­tive posts and Tweets?

MF: I have to pre­sent my­self through new forms of media just as I would, were I on the street or in a mar­ket­place. There's no point in em­bell­ish­ing my­self. If I'm some­one who spends his time con­sum­ing doc­u­ments, then that's what I have to be on Twit­ter or Face­book. 

CB: Mar­tin Schulz has the most fol­low­ers on Twit­ter and Face­book. Does that mean that he's the best or most in­ter­est­ing politi­cian?

MF: That is rather in­for­ma­tive. But com­paring fol­low­ers is like com­par­ing penis size. Mar­tin Schulz is promi­nent, which is why he has as many fol­low­ers as he does. But the ques­tion is whether he ac­tu­ally needs that many fol­low­ers. He can only be elected in Ger­many, so half of his fol­low­ers there­fore be­come ob­so­lete. 

CB: What's the fu­ture of so­cial media in pol­i­tics?

MF: Tele­vi­sion is still the pri­mary source of in­for­ma­tion for peo­ple in Ger­many, but there is an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple who use the in­ter­net to get in­for­ma­tion. But tra­di­tional forms of media sim­ply don't reach as many peo­ple as they used to. Many peo­ple have a stress­ful job, don't have the time to deal with pol­i­tics dur­ing the week and are often trav­el­ing. Today peo­ple gets bits of in­for­ma­tion here or there; the amount of peo­ple that are ac­tive in pol­i­tics is con­stantly shrink­ing. That's why I think it's re­ally good that there are tools such as Liq­uid Feed­back.

CB: Do you forsee a pan-Eu­ro­pean cam­paign that works well? 

MF: Coun­terques­tion: is there even such a thing as a com­paign that works well? Ul­ti­mately I have the feel­ing the po­lit­i­cal par­ties of the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions don't mat­ter. I was pretty thrilled when the Green Pri­maries gave it a shot. And with 20,000 peo­ple they showed which green can­di­date would be at the top. 

CB: What might im­prove?

MF: The rea­son the idea for a pan-Eu­ro­pean elec­tion fails is that many choose their can­di­dates based on na­tion­al­ity. It's a nice idea to let Schulz and Juncker de­bate each other on TV, but I don't think that a Greek or a Spaniard would be all that in­ter­ested. Those out­side of Ger­many and Lux­em­bourg can't elect the can­di­dates, which is why it wouldn't in­ter­est most peo­ple. Every­thing re­lated to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion com­ing from the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, as well as the po­lit­i­cal par­ties, is pretty un­in­ter­est­ing. 

Mar­tin Fuchs op­er­ates the Ham­burger Wahlbeobachter, where he deals with elec­toral strate­gies as well as pro­viding his own analy­ses.