Hamilton meets Rorschach

Sharp shooting is the order of the day in the current election campaign, and on social media in particular. According to the quality newspapers, the political parties in Flanders have already spent more than € 400,000 on messages on social media channels. More so than in the past municipal elections. The far right spent most and the Christian Democrats least. The first reaction goes:  it’s normal that political parties also attach high priority to social media, they have to keep up with the times. But is that actually the case?

Social media have two major benefits in a campaign: they are relatively cheap and you can intensively target a specific target group. The far left even does it with many small actions of around € 100 each time (again according to the quality newspapers in Flanders). The condition is that you have to keep strict control over the campaign, and that you ensure that all your candidates adhere to the same message and images on their Facebook or Instagram page. One party is more successful than the other in keeping everyone in “communication line”. That is also the big drawback. Social media are freely accessible outside the campaign, you can quickly block messages when they irritate you, and you can spout unrestrained criticism on what political parties and their candidates post.

That is why political parties still place a lot of advertisements in print media in the heat of battle. That costs undoubtedly a lot more than social media, because advertising in newspapers and magazines is simply more expensive. But the CIM figures have still not lost out against the algorithms, that much is clear. Both are increasingly used complementarily, although the impression remains that the social media are simply considered an extra, a sort of icing on the cake.

What is more, the investment in social media does not stop with placing messages. You also need people to follow up on everything and to respond to reactions. The green party receives additional support from Dutch colleagues during this time, and all the traditional parties have actual E-editing staff that easily employ twenty employees. So don’t underestimate the personnel costs and time investment if you want to be a champion on social media.

We still have the greatest doubts about the effectiveness of a social media campaign. The biologist Bill Hamilton formulated a law for connection selection (rb-c> 0) and in everyday life that means that ideas are a priori bad when they are conceived by someone who you hate or with whom you feel no connection. That’s how it works with messages on social media too. They repel those who already are against, and reinforce the sympathy of those who are already on the same wavelength. In other words, you preach to the converted. On top of that, social media are one big Rorschach test (named after the German psychologist Hermann Rorschach): you see in images and texts what you want to see. When a politician tweets that a tsunami of migrants is coming at us, one person will think this is racist and to another this a truism. E-editorial staff of the political parties should realise that Hamilton and Rorschach meet on social media. That could help to make their (expensive) campaigns more efficient.

(Kris Poté, vice president Capgemini, 22/5/2019)