Sociologist Siri cannot identify concerted strategies in the parties’ social media activities. In an interview with this site she explains how different politicians use Facebook and Twitter – and where there is more arguing.
Does the election campaign bring anything via social media channels? If yes, what?
Siri: The election campaign is changing with social media, but social media is nowhere near as important as it was in the US election. There is this myth of the Obama campaign. But the use of manpower and money is not comparable, we are still in our infancy in Germany. More than 2000 people worked for the Democrats in social media in the USA in 2012. They were also able to provide the necessary round-the-clock support for these channels.
In Germany it is often the individual politicians or the respective team who use this media according to a personal strategy or, like everyone else, without a precise idea of what they actually want to achieve there. There is no concerted strategy behind it and hardly any message discipline, i.e. the use of different channels for selected topics for specific periods of time.
Dr. Jasmin Siri – on Twitter: @shades of grey – is a sociologist at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and has published numerous research results on social media. She published her latest study with Lutz Hachmeister and Katharina Sebler: "Twitterpolitik. Political staging in a new medium".
https://westwallboats.com: What are the various platforms suitable for in the election campaign??
Siri: Facebook, which is highly relevant now with around 26 million users, is a medium based on the principle of friendship. CDU members are friends with one another, the Greens, the SPD, etc. That means there is very little potential for conflict there, although that is part of the political. On Facebook you can only click "I like" and Facebook friends are mostly only politically related. It seems to me that the organizations talk to themselves on Facebook. It’s only different with top candidates or active election campaigners. There are then also the political opponents and comment critically.
https://westwallboats.com: And what’s different on Twitter??
Siri: Twitter has a potentially infinitely large public, even if, according to studies, an estimated 600,000 to 825,000 profiles are active in Germany. Twitter is faster, it’s radically real-time, and most importantly, it’s more unpredictable. This is where conflicts take place. It’s a great marketplace of ideas and opinions, loud and excited. But that is also dangerous for politicians. They can be misunderstood more quickly because followers may come from a different discussion culture, have a different meaning or do not understand the irony. In addition, twitterers give up control of their communication: if you are tweeted, you can no longer delete your tweet.
Who can have a say in Google Hangouts?
https://westwallboats.com: Are there any other platforms that you consider relevant?
Siri: Angela Merkel recently invited people to a Google Hangout, a video chat conference. This is a really new kind of election campaign or the marketing of the political person. Here are interesting questions such as: Who is allowed to talk to Obama or Merkel, what are the quotas?
https://westwallboats.com: With this extreme reduction in complexity and speed via the platforms, serious politics is possible at all?
Siri: Length doesn’t necessarily lead to more seriousness. And to manage to get a political message across in 140 characters is quite remarkable. It is possible to send links to longer texts or videos and to discuss them on the social media platforms. In my opinion, social networks do not lead to more populism. I think it’s positive when politics is made transparent through tweets, when everyday politicians are shown. This can reduce the distance between politicians and citizens to a certain extent.
https://westwallboats.com: This is one of the techniques or styles that you identified in your study. Which still?
Siri: We found four approaches. First: "strictly to the role", that is, the politician only posts news about politics, the prime example is the government spokesman. Second: Politicians who use Twitter to describe their daily routine, we have called it process transparency. We called the third category "harmlessly human", which means that, in addition to the political, there is also, for example, "Wetten dass …?" or the "Tatort" comments and fourthly, the smallest group, the politicians, who do not draw any visible line between their private and public life.
https://westwallboats.com: In your study you see a connection between media presence and number of followers.
Siri: Yes, prominent politicians have a particularly large number of followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook. It is interesting how politics and journalism meet on Twitter; Functional elites meet here. Journalists search for their topics on Twitter, among other places. That means that if I manage to set a topic there, a journalist from an established medium might jump on it. "#Aufschrei" is a prominent example of this. In addition, since the Arab revolutions, tweets, YouTube videos and bloggers have been shown or quoted more naturally on television and newspapers.
And what is promising in terms of style and content?
Siri: Successful Twitterati are those that can be funny in a nutshell, quickly and accurately evaluate or classify. It is an advantage to tweet and post on a subject such as environmental or financial policy or racism, and also to post other people’s articles on those topics.
Know the rules
You write in the Twitter study: "Mastering the style of the medium ultimately also decides how confidently the medium can be used." What does that mean for politicians tweeting?
Siri: The biggest mistake is to register and then not use the platform or only during the election campaign. You have to deal with the medium, know the rules. But it was no different with other media, too. Politicians have to know how to deal with newspaper journalists or appear on television, etc. And the frequently quoted "Shitstorm" also exists in other media.
One should react to criticism in the digital dialogue platforms and, above all, respond calmly and objectively: The swarm quickly becomes outraged and as a politician you shouldn’t be offended or cover it up. In Germany, top politicians and organizations find it difficult to do this. Just because someone is important to the party doesn’t mean they are treated with awe on the social web. A new study by the Otto Brenner Institute shows that communication on social media platforms is often not participatory, but rather one-way communication.
That sounds like a lot of work or – as you said above – manpower.
Siri: Yes, the effort must remain reasonable. Otherwise, as Lutz Hachmeister writes in the preface to our study, the Twitter hangover follows the Twitter frenzy. The conventional political work continues, the slow drilling of thick boards, as Max Weber called it, the protracted negotiations, the protocols.
So everything stays the same?
Siri: We will see how these technical requirements shape the political, in the spirit of Marshall McLuhan, who said: "The medium is the message". I had already mentioned the "like" for Facebook and the speed as characteristic for Twitter. The platforms influence political communication and thus also politics.