APRIL 17 ― A pre-election stock take of social media shows that Barisan Nasional (BN) has been able to successfully project and maintain a singular branding at campaign’s eve.
This leaves Pakatan Rakyat (PR) two weeks to calibrate the type of branding it wants to project over social media as the campaign kicks off next week.
The branding of parties and politicians as they evolve in the next two weeks can be useful for those observing the elections and the social media landscape in Malaysia.
In the 2008 general election, it was widely accepted that alternative online content determined the result.
The social media tool that was most effectively by the opposition in GE2008 was YouTube. The opposition and civil society posted videos on YouTube in their online negative campaign against the ruling coalition’s negative campaigning on mainstream media. It was a branding battle.
The country’s opposition pact was credited in using new media to overcome a hostile mainstream media owned by establishment political interests to secure a much improved showing at the polls.
The opposition denying the ruling party a two-thirds majority in Parliament is now history. But as GE13 sets to officially commence in the next days, how have the two major political coalitions measured up at the social media starting line of the official campaign period?
In 2008, Barisan Nasional was the clear outsider. In fact, BN literally had no social media presence and was said to have underestimated the impact of new media altogether on the electorate’s voting behaviour.
Fast forward to April 2013, the landscape is very different. Barisan Nasional has made strong inroads onto social media and has carved itself a competitive position. Its fan page on Facebook spots 55,000 likes while Supporters of Pakatan Rakyat has 92,000. For both coalitions there are also several other fan and supporter pages reflecting smaller numbers.
Party leaders’ “like” numbers on Facebook are, on the other hand, much higher. BN’s Najib has 1,580,00, while PAS’s Nik Aziz has 889,000; Anwar Ibrahim has 480,000 and DAP’s Lim Kit Siang has 120, 000. The combined numbers of the three PR leaders are a good 80,000 likes below Najib.
But the king of Facebook likes is Dr Mahathir Mohammad with 2,066,000 ― the highest for a Malaysian political leader. Combined with content from his blog, it makes Mahathir’s social media presence a formidable BN branding asset.
Meanwhile on the Twitter front, the number of followers are: BN 24,000, PKR 27,000; DAP 27,000 PAS 1200 and PR supporters 1,900.
Individual twitter followers for Najib stand at 1,460,000. For the Pakatan coalition leaders, Anwar Ibrahim has 267,000, Nik Aziz has 94,000 and Lim Kit Siang has 89,000 followers. Put together, Pakatan leaders combined only muster a third of Najib’s followers.
In terms of images and messages over social media, the content shows that BN is able to project a singular branding with a single image in Najib as the leader.
On the other hand, PR is unable to effective portray a singular coalition branding or a convincing single coalition leadership icon. PR remains visually and in terms of messaging as three fairly distinct components over social media.
But will the relentless pushing of content over social media really matter during the official campaign period?
The absence of a single brand image is likely to be the social media disadvantage on campaign’s eve for the opposition coalition in GE13. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the course of the next two weeks on social media.
Studies elsewhere have shown that the number of Facebook supporters does not translate into electoral success. But it helps as a sort of gauge for popularity and it can certainly help with branding.
Back in GE 2008, the new media electoral landscape comprised of blogs, party websites and alternative news portals and not really social media as we it know today.
Social media’s value in GE13 will be its branding value. That worth can be judged from the electoral results.
* Associate Professor Dr James Gomez, School of International Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia researches on new media and politics in Southeast Asian. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.