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Data on “reach” (the number of people who saw a post) is not available but even if a simple estimate of reach is applied, the election led to substantial Facebook engagement for GetUp. That is, the average post with 4571 publicly visible engagements (likes/shares/comments) could have 200 friends view it (the median number of Facebook friends a user has) leading to a further million views.
GetUp told me about the high success for its calls for donations via Facebook posts for its hard-right politicians campaign. GetUp’s most shareable content came from its economic fairness campaign on MNCs, health and hospitals, and the economy generally. Claims are made of the potential for Facebook to move beyond being a substitute media and broadcast-only site to produce political conversation and interaction.
Yet only a small proportion of the overall engagement is comments and debate. There was an average of 300 comments across all election posts, and an average of 790 comments for a subset of the 10 per cent most popular posts; with two posts focused on Peter Dutton attracting the most debate (around 2200 comments). This suggests that successful political use of Facebook is multi-faceted: sharing and liking is important as it promotes core messages and ideas into a larger networked community; whereas commenting and active debate provides incentives for mobilisation, particularly fundraising for campaign work.
Yet focusing on posts on GetUp’s public Facebook page alone is only part of why this was considered “the Facebook election” for GetUp. Over 1400 pieces of content, that included Facebook information posts and short videos, were paid for and shared by GetUp over the election campaign, and were targeted at 29 of Australia’s most marginal lower house seats. In sum, GetUp’s targeted digital advertising program reached 830,000 voters in these electorates. Most of these posts appeared as Facebook sponsored advertising in the newsfeeds of voters in targeted marginal electorates; several were also translated into Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese. GetUp saw this as a wholly different audience, and crafted messages that would not necessarily resonate with its members but were aimed at swinging voters, focused on economic fairness and hospital funding, and not on climate change. The organisation paid for its ads to appear in Facebook newsfeeds of commercial media and celebrities. This personalised digital advertising as political campaigning is important to understand in the Australian political context, and was purportedly used by most parties during the WA election.
GetUp fundraised and spent at least $3 million during the 2016 election campaign. This is a significant amount for a mid-sized third party organisation, but is less than the ACTU, which was estimated to have fundraised between $10-20 million for its election campaign. The “Facebook election” campaign and subsequent success for GetUp was an important watershed moment, suggesting that hybrid fieldwork and digital strategies will be important for other Australian political actors. Indeed, many of the media articles written about GetUp after the election praised its tactics and urged others from all sides of politics to emulate them. This included Cory Bernardi’s call for a conservative version of GetUp to revive his earlier attempt at starting CanDo after the 2010 election, and leaders within business lobbying organisations, such as the Business Council of Australia, suggesting they had much to learn.
This blog is adapted from the author’s forthcoming chapter on GetUp’s election campaign in the book Anika Gauja, Peter Chen, Juliet Pietsch, and Jennifer Curtin (eds) (2017) Double Disillusion: the 2016 Australian Federal Election, ANU Press: Canberra.
Anika Gauja looked at the challenge of engaging communities in political reform in CEDA’s 2016 Economic and Political Overview, read the publication here.