It’s no news that hashtags are a force to be reckoned with in effecting political campaigns and social change. But to what extent did social media influence the outcome of the recent Greek referendum? And what can marketers and brands learn from this? Filtered Media journalist, James Cottam, writes…
Greece’s recent referendum was short and sharp. However, what looked like a simple decision at first glance – vote yes (nai) or no (oxi) – soon amounted to citizen confusion and polls that were too close to call.
For both sides of the argument, promoting their message was anything but simple. Lead-time was short and the issues complex. On one hand stood Antonis Smaras, leader of the opposing New Democarcy Party (yes) and on the other, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza (no).
Although both camps defended their positions with equal fervour and emotion, traditional media were viewed as presenting a strong bias in favour of the ‘yes’ movement. Some estimates indicated major networks gave the ‘yes’ campaign five to nine times more airtime than ‘no’ in the lead up to the referendum.
Independent journalist, Nikolas Leontopoulos, was quoted prior to the vote in the L.A. Times saying, “There is no doubt that the coverage is overwhelmingly biased,” … “The line between reporting and advocacy ‘has totally been blurred.'”
Where to go when traditional message-paths are closed
George Tzogopoulos, an expert on Greek media and politics at an Athens-based think tank, points to the digital mobilisation of Tsipras and Syriza’s supporters. “Many Greek citizens, especially young ones, are informed by online resources and by social media,” he says. “Greece has a very large online market where many websites tend to offer leftist-oriented information.”
Social and digital media seems the obvious answer: it’s cheap, quick, responsive and you can get your supporters to do most of the hard work.
Everyone on the field of battle is kept up to speed in real-time. Both camps swamped the net with pithy memes, tweets and commentary. However, it didn’t take long for Tsipras and controversial Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to lead the online debate.
The stats speak for themselves
A recent blog, Greece referendum: social momentum with the “no” campaign, showed some interesting analytics. Talkwalker, a social data intelligence company, reviewed a week’s worth of social statistics in the lead up to polling day, including major players for both sides and tracking hashtag activity for ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Viewing social profiles and reach stats for Tspiras and Varoufakis, as well as high profile ‘yes’ proponents, Jean-Claude Juncker (current President of the European Commission) and Christine Lagarde (MD of the IMF) it’s clear that the ‘no’ camp played a consistently strong game. A very important edge when campaigning halts 24 hours before the vote.
For instance, the below tweet from Varoufakis was retweeted over 10,500 times and favourited over 6,900 times. A Tspiras tweet that coincided with a major speech was retweeted over 4,800 times and favourited over 3,200 times. By comparison Jean-Claude Juncker’s tweet on the same day received approximately 2,240 retweets and was only favourited 1,390 times.
Democracy deserved a boost in euro-related matters. We just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds!)
— Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) June 26, 2015
The difference would seem to be in application and interaction. Talkwalker found that Tsipras was eight times more socially active than Juncker. His social profile generated three times more social engagement than Juncker. This flowed on by spurring high hashtag activity for ‘no’. In the last campaign-free 24 hours, with ‘no’ polling a mere 2% ahead, this may have been a deciding factor.
Social media was well resourced by both camps. The ‘no’ presented a precise, active and well-represented face. On social and digital media the ‘yes’ contingent let their message speak for itself, not working to actively promote dissemination of that message. It might not have directly affected the vote, but the 61.31% ‘no’ to 38.69% ‘yes’ margin may indicate it did. Both sides had the same tools but the ‘no’ team realised early on that it’s all in the application.