Sinn Féin’s focusing on of voters by means of social media has paid off

Shaving my son’s head in a north Belfast salon – the place speak of politics is often off limits – hairdresser Nicola White brings up Michelle O’Neill’s Instagram account.

The 44-year-old says she’d by no means voted “in her life” and had little curiosity in Stormont however determined to observe the Sinn Féin deputy chief on social media throughout the pandemic. “I adopted her on Twitter first after which Instagram simply to get Covid updates. I seen she was like an actual individual. I don’t know a lot about politics however she was somebody I may relate to.

“She was at the gym, cooking food for her family, going for a walk with her friends; she was doing what we all do everyday. She was being a normal person. So I did vote in the end as I thought you could see a change with her. But I would never have voted Sinn Féin only for her.”

The social gathering’s “slick” use of social media within the run-up to the Assembly election – and cautious timing in heralding O’Neill as a presidential “first minister for all” within the ultimate days earlier than the May fifth ballot – contrasted sharply with the DUP’s unfavourable concentrate on a Republican victory hastening a “divisive Border poll”.

In a marketing campaign dubbed protected and lacklustre by many commentators, Sinn Féin’s focusing on of youthful and disconnected voters by means of movies on platforms akin to TikTook – the place it has 80,000 followers alone – Instagram and Facebook has been linked partially to its historic win.


Sources say self-discipline inside social gathering ranks on their use of “socials” was additionally bolstered within the run-up to the election as successive opinion polls confirmed it was “theirs to lose”. “We are a long way away from the Barry McElduff days where someone did their own social media for weeks leading up to something catastrophic,” in line with civic nationalist group Ireland’s Future member Andrée Murphy.

Referencing the “Kingsmill loaf” incident in 2018, when McElduff sparked an outcry after posting a video of himself balancing a loaf of bread on his head on the anniversary of the Kingsmill atrocity through which 10 Protestant workmen had been shot useless by the IRA, Murphy added: “That wouldn’t happen now. If you’re going to do something personal or quirky it has to be run past political parties first.”

To know to place push notifications to promote your movies is slick since you’re all the time being uncovered to the social gathering’s model – they’re doing that with their 80,000 followers

The Irish Times requested Sinn Féin to debate its social-media technique and supply figures on the variety of on-line employees employed – in addition to present an perception into the manufacturing of the personalised O’Neill movies. In a press release the social gathering didn’t tackle the particular queries, as a substitute saying it “ran a positive campaign that it was time for real change”.

“We took that strong positive message to the voters in face-to-face conversations on the doors and through media, social media and print,” it added.

Younger base

Caolán Magee, a digital journalist with the Independent in London, singled out Sinn Féin’s “extremely strong presence on TikTok” as an vital consider reaching a youthful base. The social-media app permits customers to create 15-second movies and have become a large lockdown hit with its mix of memes, dances and skits.

“I get TikTok push notifications constantly through on my phone because I follow Sinn Féin,” says Magee who has simply accomplished a grasp’s diploma in interactive journalism. “To know to place push notifications to promote your movies is slick since you’re all the time being uncovered to the social gathering’s model – they’re doing that with their 80,000 followers.

All social media comes with dangers, nonetheless, in an election marred by on-line smears and abuse towards feminine candidates particularly

“They’ve really found this new terrain to reach the electorate. Their videos have over a million likes and I think you can connect that to the increase in their vote. Within the election, there is the narrative that young people are flocking towards the middle ground. But I also think they’re flocking towards Sinn Féin because they do have that positive messaging and reach on social media. I don’t think the DUP are even on TikTok, they don’t have a presence.”

The Alliance Party, which is now the third-biggest political social gathering within the North after a dramatic surge in its vote, has additionally used Instagram successfully, in line with Magee. “But if you look at a party like the SDLP on Instagram, they only have 2,400 followers and are not even verified and have no blue tick.”


The rise in Sinn Féin and Alliance’s on-line dominance is extra about personalities than methods, in line with communications skilled Arlene O’Connor. “No matter what field you’re working in, people identify with people and the more you can show the everyday side of people, what they do in their everyday lives when they’re not at their desk or speaking at a podium, helps appeal in different ways,” mentioned the Brown O’Connor Communications founder.

All social media comes with dangers, nonetheless, in an election marred by on-line smears and abuse towards feminine candidates particularly: “A lot of political parties over the last number of years, while seeing the importance of social media and how it can allow them make that very quick interaction, there’s also a huge health warning to go alongside that,” provides O’Connor.

“You look at what the UUP faced earlier this year when a lot of old tweets of leader Doug Beattie were dug up. Before that, we were talking about a ‘Beattie bounce’ – that obviously then had some impact on his campaign translating into votes on the ground.”

In the ultimate week earlier than the election, greater than £20,000 was spent by the North’s 5 most important events on social-media ads on their official Facebook and Instagram accounts. Since the marketing campaign started in late March, greater than 200 adverts had been posted throughout the events on their most important platforms. But did an enhanced on-line presence and focused adverts translate into votes?

Disastrous election end result

Belfast Live political journalist Brendan Hughes examined the costings and found that within the seven-day interval earlier than May fifth, the SDLP ran up the most important invoice, at £4,432, for 66 adverts. The once-dominant nationalist social gathering had a disastrous election end result, dropping 1 / 4 of its Assembly seats. Alliance spent much less on adverts however ran extra as a result of these had been image pushed.

You can put ahead your messages, your key pledges, your arguments about different events on to screens with out having to rap doorways – and probably area face-to-face abuse

“Sinn Féin surprisingly came in at third and spent £3,277 in those seven day and they ran 15 ads,” says Hughes. “But if you look at the types of ads they ran, that has been crucial to their success both in this election and previous.” A video that includes Michelle O’Neill at her kitchen desk talking on to digicam speaking about her household was launched a couple of days earlier than polling day.

“If you’re shopping for an advert on Facebook you may goal individuals with specific pursuits. This on-line video specializing in Michelle O’Neill was reduce from the social gathering’s second party-election broadcast. It was focused on the 18-25 year-old class – and principally girls. At the tip of the advert it states if ‘you want a first minister for all come out and vote on Thursday’. This message was launched in direction of the latter phases of the marketing campaign and was intelligent.

“Also, there was no mention of a Border poll – you need to go back to September last year to see any Sinn Féin ad directly referencing an Irish unity referendum.”

Inevitable criticism

Fresh from their election win, Sinn Féin is now utilizing its on-line platforms to encourage individuals to affix the social gathering. Despite the trolling and inevitable criticism political events meet on-line, Hughes says social media is “hugely important” in connecting with the voters: “If you communicate to events, a lot of them will let you know at any time when they exit on a bodily canvass of an space, there’s only a few doorways that they’ll knock the place individuals truly open them.

“So this is a way of reaching people without having to leave your house. You can put forward your messages, your key pledges, your arguments about other parties on to screens without having to rap doors – and potentially field face-to-face abuse.”

Arlene O’Connor agrees: “The support you get on social media doesn’t always translate into support at the ballot box but I think people react well to positivity. In terms of what I’ve been observing from a communications point of view, the parties that did best out of it ran very positive campaigns on social media – and we saw that with Michelle O’Neill. This election was very much around her as first minister – and using her image in a positive way.”

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