Politics and social networks, a virtual battlefield

François Legault did not think his sarcastic comment would be picked up by the microphones of the National Assembly. “Mother Teresa! Launched March 17 about Solidarity MP Christine Labre, who was calling for childcare places to be provided. Because of the posts that then went viral on social networks, almost everyone could hear the Prime Minister.

The Parliamentary leader of Quebec Solidere quickly edited her biography on Twitter: “Mother Teresa of François Legault, Member of Parliament for Sherbrooke to others. On the party’s Facebook, Instagram and TikTok accounts, a video of the history of the incident came in one minute.”

This is just one example, there will be a thousand. Because every day, in one or another social network, elected officials praise their good moves. Denounce the words of their opponents. Promote their proposals. highlight their image. Finally, it provides a strategic account of their favour.

In the arsenal of political action, this digital activity has become central. Platforms are “powerful tools for public awareness and engagement,” researchers Mireille Lancet and Vincent Reinhold emphasized in a text published in 2020 in the Scientific Journal Canadian Studies. On a less noble level, it also serves to give an echo to partisan attacks, both from deputies and from unelected councilors.

In Quebec, all major players have digital strategists thinking about and distributing content. There is an immediate element to some of the posts, especially when it comes to MPs’ accounts on Twitter and Instagram. But everything about chefs and more curated content (particularly video editing) responds to a strategic logic thought through with a goal that combines the desire to inform and the desire to persuade.

More than 667,000 people subscribe to the Prime Minister’s page – stars like Véronique Cloutier (350,000) or Julie Snyder (435.000) have far fewer.

“When Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois makes explainer videos, when we publish small articles with statistics or when we launch a petition, we especially want to start a conversation, Mobilize our community,” said Julien Royal, Head of Digital Strategy at Quebec Solidere.

Each of the four major platforms on which the parties focus their energies — Conservative leader Eric Doehme also uses YouTube a lot — have their own clients. To reach the largest number, the content must therefore be doubled, but above all it is rejected differently.

Facebook remains the platform with the broadest reach, even if 18-24 year olds are gradually abandoning it: 83% of Canadians said they had a Facebook account in a survey conducted by Ryerson University in Toronto in 2020. For strategists , it’s kind of a master switch that allows for more substantial messages and longer videos, when not full press conference broadcasts.

François Legault has used it frequently since the beginning of the epidemic. Over the months, his audience has exploded: more than 667,000 people are now subscribed to his page – stars like Véronique Cloutier (350,000) or Julie Snyder (435.000) have a much smaller number. If the Prime Minister is very active on all social networks – he has a team to help him, including a videographer and photographer – then his Facebook page is an anchor.

This is where he throws his thoughts on Saturday morning, inspired by a current event, signed “Your Prime Minister.” His weekly literary suggestions (which he also posts on Twitter) also contribute to maintaining that affinity with a portion of the population. It’s a window into his personal life…as well as a way to promote Quebec literature.

Parliamentary leader of Quebec Solidere, Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, also has a good audience on Facebook (over 125,000 people). However, some of the videos he posts online with his team reach a much larger audience: the video of the tax havens, which “appeared” to former racing driver Jacques Villeneuve, has been close to a million views since October 2021.” Lallancet, professor of political communication at the University of Kuala Lumpur, said the promotion coordination, translated, is very effective.” Yes, there are some ideological shortcuts, that’s normal. But it’s well presented and clear… and it spreads a lot. »

On Twitter, the goal is different. “It’s a bubble for journalists and people who follow politics closely,” said Louis Lyonnais, director of communications and social networking coordinator at Party Quebecoa. Strategists realize that this is not the place for long trades, they want spontaneous, short and more consistent reactions. “We know we don’t get to Mr. and Mrs. everyone, but it is important to maintain that connection.”

Many MPs use the network almost frantically – PQ Pascal Bérubé (46,000 subscribers) is a dissident in the National Assembly. Every day he comments on the news, shares newspaper articles, tweets messages and rarely misses an opportunity to pin down an opponent behind the incongruity.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sonia Lebel, stands out for her part more on Instagram. She has only about 10,000 subscribers, “but she understood the aesthetics of Instagram, as Mireille Lancet believes: beautiful pictures, a balance between private and professional life, content that surprises and reveals another aspect of her personality” … Her posts show a woman’s smile – far from the stern face that was It is possible that she would have the position of Prosecutor of the Charbonneau Committee – she loves fishing and regularly uses a chainsaw … The biography in her version reveals her intention: a member of Parliament and a minister, “But not only that!! writes Sonia Lebel.

The approach is similar to that of liberal leader Dominic Engled. “This is to show a side of her that we don’t see in the National Assembly – the feelings she has, her role as a mother of three,” explains Maxime Roy, director of communications and digital marketing, for the Liberal Party. On Instagram, she introduces herself as the “mother of a superhero trio” and says she “loves chocolate.” We see her behind the scenes of her political activities, but also in the company of her children or with a delicious burger in hand.

Instagram remains a medium for images and target customers smaller than Facebook. These two characteristics are further highlighted on TikTok, a video niche that parties are starting to invest in – Parti Québécois still doesn’t exist.

“There is not much difference between videos on Instagram” (they are two to share this task), says Catherine Deslongchamp-Ropitel, digital content coordinator at the Prime Minister’s Office. “However, it allows you to be more creative with the content. The team says it is still in the exploratory phase, but the platform is already generating a lot of interactions. A video was seen from November 2021, where François Legault meets a man who has tattooed his face on his shoulder, About 800,000 times… Another video, his montage of the music video, shows the prime minister’s interest in the Montreal Canadiens, and has garnered 925,000 views.

The word “fun” applies to what is offered on TikTok. But there is a balance between content and humor,” says Julien Royal, who is very partygoer on TikTok. And so we can use it in a very light way…or even find out what Mother Teresa came to Quebec to do in March.

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