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Social media vital Election campaign tool

Social media websites such as Facebook have become a vital campaign tool for the major political parties in the Cook Islands to engage with voters leading up to the 2018 general election which will be held this Thursday on June 14.

Both the Cook Islands Party (CIP) and the Democratic Party have been updating their Facebook pages daily with policies and promises in a bid to get maximum votes in the upcoming polls.

They are also using the platform to encourage people, especially in the 18-25 age bracket, to exercise their right to vote.

A local social media expert, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while the most effective way of marketing was public rallies or face-to-face interactions, the use of social media in this election campaign has been far-reaching.

The expert said social media is a platform through which people can interact and voice their opinions on what is being produced instantly.

However, he said it was hard to measure the effectiveness of campaigning through social media.

“Every party would like to feel that when the voter goes in to cast their vote that they know what they are voting for and are well informed about the parties or candidates’ policies, so the use of social media can be an effective way of growing awareness if that voter isn’t watching the TV, reading the paper or listening to the radio. Everyone has a cell phone and a majority of adults are on Facebook,” the expert said.

There are roughly 9600 residents in the Cook Islands aged from 18-65 on Facebook, although not everyone is an active daily user.

“As Facebook has a limited reach for people that like your page, to get the most out of it, you need to run ads or put really engaging content that people want to share so they can promote on your behalf.”

The expert also said that interest regarding the elections was evident on social media websites through activity on different Facebook pages.

He said people like to leave their comments, asking questions which can be replied to by the party themselves to provide clarifications to the concerned voters.

“There is a lot of interest from people living overseas, who quite often seem to have the loudest opinions about how things are here, but at the end of the day it’s about the voters in each constituency and who they are going to vote for on June 14.”

CIP boasts higher likes and followers on Facebook with 1691 and 1757 respectively, compared to the Demos’ 1182 likes and 1183 followers.

The social media expert said the use of Facebook was more apparent in this year’s elections compared to the last one in 2014.

“Probably one thing that wasn’t available was the ability to use Facebook Live, as it wasn’t around back in 2014 so we have seen parties adopt it more than others,” he said.

“If I had to make a comparison from 2014 to the 2018 election, the Democratic Party was quite active in the social media scene compared to this year, which has been a bit less.

“And CIP definitely didn’t do much in 2014 but have been active this year.”

CIP’s social media coordinator Thomas Wynne said social media has been an integral part of their campaign.

As of this week, he said they have reached 35,000 people with their campaign message and videos, with 11,000 in New Zealand, 10,000 in Australia and 7000 in Rarotonga alone.

“Consider around 7000 people voted in Rarotonga in 2014, so we have reached nearly every voter potentially in Rarotonga,” said Wynne. “Some 14,000 people watched our launch and over the last month our followers on Facebook have grown by 600.

“The largest demographic of people engaging with our social media are those in the 25 to 45 age bracket, with men and women being about equal in number.

“We understood that the 18 to 25 age bracket were not engaged in voting so we targeted them in our campaign to get them active.” Wynne said social media platforms have also allowed them to engage with Cook Islanders overseas.

He said this was important as Cook Islanders living abroad often felt outside the process and they in turn comment and talk with family here, sharing their thoughts on voting, policies and the future of the Cook Islands.

“Social media has meant we can reach so many more people and it is one of a number of points of difference from the 2014 campaign.

“Social media cannot be underestimated, its influence is huge and we have capitalised on this tool to reach out to the wider Cook Islands community with our message.”

The Democratic Party’s Eddie Drollet said the party has a Facebook page where they were updating their policies leading up to the election.

He said each candidate also employs their own content on their personal pages, adding that the party does not dictate on what they choose to share.

“We are also employing other effective ways of sharing information in the media, and not focusing on social media,” Drollet said.

“Our strategy is to focus on print media, TV and radio to reach out to the voters in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.

“The Pa Enua have limited access to social media, so we diversify our media strategy in the best way we can to reach out to the voters.”

CIP’s Wynne said while social media has proven an effective tool in campaigning, it could not replace the old campaigning strategies.

“Nothing beats door knocking and our grassroots people-to-people campaigning, so social media can never take the place of that,” he said.

“It can, however, add value to that face-to-face door knocking by bringing the message to everyone’s phone, tablet and laptop and creating another platform to engage, to critique to discuss and promote.

“What’s clear going forward, social media will be an essential tool of any campaign.


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