The dust is settling on the 2013 race. We can now start looking at the postmortem of the race. One of the key questions going into the campaign was how social media would help spell victory or defeat for a candidate in an election. The quick answer of course to this question: it didn’t make a difference. This of course is misleading in so many different levels.
Let’s look back to 2010. One of the key lesson of the campaign was how Social entered as a new avenue that a candidate can communicate with his or her constituency. Social Media buzz was a battlefield, but not a key battle ground. Another key lesson of 2010 was startling. That no matter how loud the online voices were, it paled in comparison to television. Correlated with the network readiness of the Philippines, this tells us that society isn’t as digitally connected as we like to think it is.
Fast forward to 2013 we saw how the campaigns used social media to project their messages in a positive light, and how negative campaigns have found their way into social media, but failed to translate into negative effect for their candidates.
You have the case study of Nancy Binay. The Binay campaign was old school. Heavily on the ground. Bouncing from province to province and carried over by the good name of Vice President Jejomar Binay. Nancy Binay didn’t participate in any of the debates. It tells us that the television debates had very little effect too on the electorate. They did not punish Binay for her zero appearance in any debate. They did not punish Binay for the lack of clear policy, and clear messaging.
Let’s compare Nancy Binay’s social network standing with the front-runner, Grace Poe. Poe according to ABS-CBN had 52,451 Facebook followers, and over 6,328 Twitter followers. Nancy Binay accounts for 4,818 Facebook followers, and 6,239. Based on a pure, follower ratio, for the candidates represent a drop in the bucket to the supposedly 25 million or so Facebook users in the Philippines. In fact, President Aquino had over a million followers for his 2010 campaign. I caution the reader: this is a shallow way of looking at these numbers. It is simply instructive to understand where the numbers stand.
What’s interesting is the share of the voice between the two candidates. It is startling. Binay has 78% versus Poe’s 21%. Translation: Binay was more talked about in Social Media than Poe. This obviously didn’t translate much to anything other than talk. Poe wins the top spot. Binay wins. The lack of negativity in the Binay numbers is more attributed to the nascent natural language processing software which social media listening tools use. The technology is still in its infancy so clarity is hard to scope.
Let us look at the Aquino versus Gordon Campaigns. The former is a sure win into the Magic 12. The latter is hanging by a thread as of this writing. The former has 144,391 Facebook followers, and 16,179 twitter follows. Gordon has 186,060 Facebook followers, 7,101 twitter followers. Aquino has the higher share of the voice at 80% versus Gordon’s 20%. Again for all the vaunted rabidity of Gordon’s following, they weren’t that loud especially considering that Gordon won a lot in Regions 3, NCR, and 4A— largely urbanized areas were connectivity is a bit accessible than in most places.
What’s interesting to note here is how Aquino ran a well-rounded campaign. He worked on the ground, and he worked online and offline to deliver the message. In fact, in a versus campaign between Poe, Aquino had a higher share of the voice: 71% versus Poe’s 28%.
Let’s compare Aquino versus Casino. The latter’s campaign initially relied much on Social media. In fact, their following was supposedly large, and loud. In raw numbers: Bam had a larger following than Teddy. Bam had 144,392 FaceBook, 16,179 Twitter; while Teddy had 21,532 Facebookers and 15,836 twitters. The share of the voice had Bam’s 79% versus 21%.
The numbers prove that social was a mere blip on the radar. The audience wasn’t simply there. Was it deliberate that people didn’t want to go on social media to find out about their candidates? Was it because of the lack of connectivity? Lack of access? Is this also indicative of the lack of passion or interest people have with the various personalities?
The lack of influence a debate has on the election also seem to be a reflection on people’s interest. Nancy Binay who didn’t go on a debate and was subjected to a lot of negative campaigning online didn’t fizzle out. Neither of these intellectual escapades paid off for the campaigns. At least, not something to carry them over the top. They were, put in another way: battlegrounds, but not key enough to win the war.
What seems to be the winning formula is the Grace Poe style. Grace Poe’s success is indicative of these things: she campaigned really hard on the ground; her messaging was perfect— exactly what people wanted to hear: “jobs,” “I will help you,” and “integrity” vis-a-vis her father’s well-respected standing.
Another winning formula seems to be the Aquino campaign of well-rounded messaging. Well-rounded in the sense that they played on all the markets: online, ground, debates, and fought really hard.
We can also gleam from this information the lack of connectivity played a key role while people don’t turn to social media for the election. If you follow ABS-CBN’s data, the search traffic alone hardly blipped.
What can we gleam from this?
The answer is obvious. It can finally put to rest that social media is a magic bullet that can cure all ills. The 2013 campaign was waged and won by running a good campaign. By good campaign, meaning sorties, and the right messaging. And social media is just a component in a campaign’s ever growing toolkit. Social media is part of the whole campaign, not distinct, not separate but organically part of it from day one. Depending on the candidate, and depending on the audience that you want to reach, it may or may not be a battle ground that you wish to engage in.
What’s sad really is that at the end of the day, what really carried these people to victory is the power of each of their distinct brands, and what they represent. As I wrote in a previous piece, where I mentioned that none of the key issues mattered in 2013: Reproductive Health Law, Freedom of Information Act, Cybercrime Law, the Sin Tax, none. How then do we make issues matter?
Other than brands, and the importance of “how can this candidate benefit me”, mentality, it also represents the changing of the old guard into the younger generation: Poe, Angara, Binay, Pimentel, Aquino, the Estrada brand, are strong and the electorate continues to bring them to victory. It also seems to put an end to aging politicians. Legarda, dipped. Honasan is on the ropes. Gordon, Magsaysay, Madrigal, Maceda— all former Senators didn’t make it. Magsaysay, with the added complication of having Mitos on the ballot probably lost a substantial number of voters because of her.
Poe’s victory is a reminder that people want integrity reminiscent of the Aquino brand, but with a more populist bent. It is in spite of the brand name mentality, a good sign moving forward to 2016. Integrity and Honesty may still play a key role in 2016.
That said, what are the important questions to ask each of these campaigns? For me it would be these: how did your campaign use the Internet to communicate with your team, and to coordinate volunteers? Did you try to get followers and likers to campaign for you on the ground? How successful do you think it was? Did you use data to scientifically determine which area you should be focusing on?
The holy grail of using the Internet to win a Philippine political campaign continues to be elusive. There’s a winning formula out there. What’s clear, so long as connectivity is in such a short supply, Social buzz will play a minor role. Social is a battle ground. It may not yet carry a candidate over the top, but the Internet is very good also in other terms other than buzz, if the campaigns haven’t realized it yet. What’s also clear is this: the field is ripe for disruption. We may see it in 2016.
Images: screenshot of ABS-CBN’s halalan 2013 social media listening