Political campaigning: online vs offline

The online-possibilities are endless and many companies, NGO’s and other organisations make good use of it. Political campaigning is a special segment in that area; is online campaigning going to be the future? Will the hard-working volunteers who are flyering on the street completely disappear?

Text by Lisanne van ‘t Riet

Social media is a big part of life in the western world, and more and more organisations make use of this form of communication. But the dark side of Facebook’s policy on advertising, rules about free speech and continuously changing algorithm, has made it harder and harder to reach the desired audience. Twitter recently announced that it was going to exclude political campaigns who don’t fit certain standards. This means that ads which promote a certain candidate for office or a certain policy will be forbidden, but a general message about, for example, climate change will be allowed. 

The fact that social media companies are making online campaigning more difficult, does not automatically mean that the streets will be filled with more people flyering. According to the commercial business news broadcast RTL Z, during the municipal elections in 2018, almost every Dutch political party had massively upscaled their budgets for the use of social media campaigns. 

Leon krijthe (24) has been involved with political campaigns since 2014 and is the board member for campaigns and communications for the Liberal Democratic party D66 at the department of Leiden. He also notices that social media platforms are making it more difficult to enroll political advertisements online. “Due to trolls and fake news, social media platforms like Facebook are being very careful. A while ago, with our account for D66 Leiden, we couldn’t even post a sponsored advertisement because our account was not confirmed as an official political account yet.”

Due to trolls and fake news, social media platforms like Facebook are being very careful

Roy Luca, party leader from the local party SEYST.nu agrees with Leon. He lead the local party during the municipal elections in 2018. According to the article from NOS in 2018, he told about his approach during the elections and why real human contact is so important. For him, political campaigning is about three words: being visible outside. Luca: “personal contact will be one of the most important factors in political campaigning. Politics should be accessible like this.”

Social media expert Gonnie Spijkstra has almost the same opinion. Most digital campaign ads are ‘one way traffic’; there is hardly any room for a good conversation. Spijkstra: “The difference between a digital ad and someone who approaches you on the street, is that people who approach you can start a conversation. This can be more exciting than an ad on social media.”

But according to Leon, campaigners will always go out on the streets. “I believe that political parties who also do campaigning on the streets, can see more positive outcome in their results for office, people signing up to become a member and people volunteering”, he says. Leon states that people want real personal contact. “They want to be heard, especially when it is about problems in society. I don’t think that this form of personal human contact can ever be replaced by online trends and developments.”

People want to be heard, especially when it is about problems in society

Leon hopes that political parties will be more active. Also outside of the election period. “You see that the priority for parties to be more active is always around elections. After that, they slowly disappear bit by bit. But a good image is not built by just being online when people have to vote. Big companies like Coca Cola and Volkswagen tell a story and use offline campaigns and online campaigns to tell this story. I hope political campaigning will be more like this in the future.”