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How Germany’s 2017 election is playing out on social media

With the German election happening later this month, we take a closer look at the stories, sites and posts getting voters’ attention before the vote.

What power does social engagement have to impact elections?

For parties and the candidates themselves, social media is a means of cutting through the media’s take to reach the electorate on their own terms. At the same time, publishers can see huge spikes in attention, traffic and engagement around election time, as social media users’ news feeds fill up with discussions about politics.  

Two weeks ahead of Germany’s parliamentary election, we took a close look at the pages, sites and stories attracting the most engagement on social media.

This vote is largely seen as a showdown between incumbent leader Angela Merkel and her opposition rival Martin Schulz. Just like other European elections this year however, there’s an added element in the social media side of the campaign, in Alternative for Germany (AfD), a right wing party that has been leveraging social accounts to spread their messages.

All the data comes from NewsWhip Analytics, which has complete insight into the performance of party and candidate pages across multiple platforms, as well as a bird’s-eye view of the stories and sites that matter for engagement around any event.

 

Instagram: More posts don’t mean more likes for Schulz

 

The main two party leaders Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz have active Instagram presences.

Since July 1st, the two official pages of both candidates have been posting regularly. In the period from July 1 to September 12, Schulz’s page actually posted more than Merkel’s, having picked up the pace in the last few weeks particularly. But looking at the engagement versus post count for images, there’s a clear gap, with Angela Merkel’s page winning comfortably.

 

Merkel and Schultz on Instagram
That’s largely attributable to Merkel’s vastly larger audience of followers. Her most popular post since July 1 was a picture with Nelson Mandela, posted on Mandela Day, which saw over 16,500 engagements.

social media analytics

Interestingly, videos haven’t featured strongly on either page so far, counting for just 8 out of 101 total posts from both candidates since July 1. That’s despite NewsWhip data showing how video on Instagram is likely to perform at a much stronger rate than images alone.

 

Facebook: Der Postillon wins news feeds, while AfD surges in engagement

 

Elections are huge events for publishers, which have been marked in editorial calendars well in advance. However, the one publisher that sticks out in terms of engagement around this election so far isn’t exactly a traditional media operation.

Der Postillon is a satirical news site in the style of the Onion. We’ve highlighted the site on this blog before, mainly because of their presence in the German Facebook publisher rankings.

In July, we saw the site pass 1 million Facebook interactions on their web content, putting them well up in the top 10 German sites on the platform based on monthly engagement.

In the past month, Der Postillon’s most popular election related story (70,500 engagements) was about a politician from the far-right AfD party getting results for a rival party after he filled out answers on a ‘who should you vote for’ online survey.

Meanwhile amongst the parties, there’s significant competition in news feeds. What’s notable is that the two leading parties by seats, Merkel’s CDU and Schulz’s SPD, are not well represented in terms of viral posts.

Instead, it’s the Eurosceptic right wing AfD that dominate the Facebook engagement rankings so far, with over 800,000 engagements on posts from their main Facebook page in the last month. The party averages almost 5,000 interactions per post, often using controversial and polarising content, echoing what we saw with many successful conservative websites and Facebook pages in the run up to the US election. 

Here’s what engagement with each of the main parties’ Facebook pages looked like from August 12 to September 13.

 

German political parties on Facebook, August - September 2017

 

Despite posting the second most frequently, leading party CDU had a low 114,000 interactions in the month, with an average of just over 1,000 interactions per post.

Of all the parties in the last 30 days however, a relatively lengthy video from Die Linke politician Sahra Wagenknecht has been most popular overall, with over 26,000 engagements so far.

 

Twitter: Less engagement, but enthusiastic sharing

 

Twitter usage in Germany isn’t that high, with just 17.5% of social media users in the country using the platform daily, according to an eMarketer report from November 2016. 

Despite that, it’s the place where news and stories around the election get enthusiastically circulated between journalists and other media commentators. NewsWhip data shows that the more mainstream news sites like Die Welt and BILD are popular on the platform. A Welt scoop about an AfD member looking to withhold publication of potentially racist internal emails has been particularly popular, with over 2,000 shares on Twitter since the weekend. 

 

What effect could engagement have? 

 

Political campaigns have traditionally looked to social media as a way of getting their message to younger demographics, as well as shoring up their message amongst supporters.

Of course, social media engagement doesn’t necessarily lead to votes. But in terms of controlling the narrative of the race, a proactive social media presence can be extremely useful in staying relevant and in voters’ minds.

Ahead of this year’s UK general election, which was predicted to end in a Conservative landslide, NewsWhip data showed that Labour party content across social media was seeing significantly higher levels of engagement  across different platforms. Ultimately, the 60% of 18 to 24 year olds who voted Labour contributed significantly to the party’s unexpected gains. 

Unlike the UK however, how much the youth vote will impact the outcome of Germany’s election remains to be seen. Germany has an older population, with just 15% of the electorate in 2017 under 30. 

What’s is notable about this data is AfD’s Facebook presence. Their efforts to reach voters through Facebook has resulted in their page well outstripping mainstream established parties’ efforts. Provocative posts on the subject of immigration and culture lead to debate and attention, and each post from their page seems to be designed to provoke reaction.

Whether it results in actual support at the polls however, remains to be seen.


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