Elections: Social networks will be at the heart of the campaign

Communications officials from the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ), Quebec Solidere (QS), the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ) and the Parti Quebecois (PQ) emphasized the importance of being active online for a successful campaign. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

The campaign launch – scheduled for Sunday – will be the starting gun for five weeks of door-to-door press conferences and debates. But much of the battle to come will also be fought through likes, shares and comments on social media, as the battlefield becomes increasingly digital.

“It has become increasingly important over the last three or four electoral cycles, particularly in Quebec,” explains director of the Department of Political Science at Laval University and expert in political communication, Thierry Jason. “Since 2012, all major players have been present on all digital platforms, and obviously here we are talking about the web, all social media, networking platforms, photo and video sharing sites.”

Communications officials from the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ), Quebec Solidere (QS), the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ) and the Parti Quebecois (PQ) emphasized the importance of being active online for a successful campaign.

The coalition Avenir Quebec did not respond to requests from the Canadian press.

chameleon strategy

Although all parties appear on different sites, they “will reject content that matches the peculiarities of each of the platforms and according to the party’s strategy, according to the voters we want to speak to in priority, we will prioritize actions on certain platforms rather than others,” says Mr. Jason.

For example, according to data analyzed by the University of Quebec in Montreal, Professors Jean-Hugues Roy, Eric Duhemy and PCQ dominate Facebook, with a total of at least 59, 7% of all interactions recorded from May 1 to August 11 on Facebook pages. The five major parties and their leaders. By comparison, second in the race is outgoing Prime Minister François Legault and CAQ, with 15.6% of interactions.

According to PCQ Director of Communications, Maxime Hupé, this success is partly due to the fact that “Eric (Dohemy) has been livestreaming on Facebook every Tuesday at 7 p.m. for nearly a year now”, creating a habit and allowing direct communication with the audience. He also claims that his boss “found the right tone and the right words to ensure there was interaction in his positions.”

However, if you go to sites frequented by younger internet users, QS has the upper hand. On Instagram, during the same period, QS accounts and their spokespeople together generated 60.9% of interactions, followed by 26.6% for Mr. Legault and CAQ.

Julian Royal, social media strategist at QS, says it relies on “word of mouth” and “organic engagement” of content produced throughout the year. He cites videos of Gabriel Nadeau Dubois “showing how politics is going (…) or even issues that may have come under the news radar” and other Manon Massey having “live” discussions on Instagram with various Quebec personalities.

People who view and share this content “inevitably build a long-term relationship with us” and are already involved when an election is held.

The party’s head of communications and digital marketing, Maxime Roy, says efforts at PLQ are “based not on a single account, which is the party’s account, but on all candidates across Quebec” who coordinate to transmit ads. He sees social media as a complement to traditional media, making it possible to reach Quebecers who might not follow political news diligently.

On the PQ side, the Internet is “one of our best means of communicating with citizens, our attitudes and reactions and also the material that is most playful, presenting our candidates in the heat of the moment”, assures its Director of Communications, François Leroux.

Social networks also allow you to dig deeper than when you’re writing a column, for example, he says. When you have “a big show with a lot of material, with several points, sometimes it’s a lot easier to meet the citizens on social media, where they can spend their time” to fully understand the proposal.

custom message

But we must not forget that online data is the nerve of war, recalls Sherbrooke University lecturer and political and digital expert Emmanuel Schockett. He explains that these are “used to mobilize, target, and partially target voters who we will know may be more attentive, and who have an ear that may be better suited to the message” of his party.

Not only age or gender are checked, but also “where you live, your education level, your income” and even “items of preference, items shared” guessed through social media interactions. For example, admiring a meme that says poutine should be the national dish in Quebec could indicate that one is sensitive to identity issues.

When parties buy ads on social media, they can choose a target audience that “takes into account a wide range of socio-demographic characteristics around each person and allows us to target people who are most likely to” stick to our message for all of these reasons,” says PCQ’s Mr. Hupé.

“We want to join all voters, but a certain audience is definitely more attracted to a certain message, so social media is useful for reaching these people with our proposals for them,” adds Ms. Leroux of PQ.

But targeting is also a geographic issue, according to PLQ. In addition to being able to “join a voter on a particular topic,” it also allows a “candidate to express themselves as they drive” without flooding the wires with news of people living elsewhere, explains Mr. Roy.

The algorithm itself is unknown to the parties, because it is jealously guarded by the platforms.

in the street

Despite everything, both parties agree that nothing can replace direct face-to-face contact with citizens, and that Internet communication serves above all to facilitate work in the real world.

According to Mr. Roy, “certainly, the field campaign by the candidates is the most important thing to reach and exchange with the voter.”

“Activism on the ground is the heart of politics,” says Mr. Leroux. Social media is essential to a campaign these days, but it is one element among others.

At QS, “The web is an integral part of our mobilization strategy, not just a matter of advertising or just one-way communication, according to Mr. Royal. It is a way to connect with people to get them to engage” in the party, during elections or demonstrations.

“Interested people, who interact with our page, we want to communicate with them via email, and then we want them to register as members,” explains Mr. Hupé of PCQ. An official party membership allows the party to know its phone number and address. The party can then “use the information as a form of broadband registration to see who is supporting us across the county,” he says. This also makes it possible to contact its members “so that we can ensure that they are out on pre-polling day and during the election”.

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