Israeli politicians hit the Facebook campaign trail

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“Globes” investigates how the elections are being fought on social media.

Over the years, televised election propaganda was the politicians’ soapbox, and it provided a broad field for their desires pitch to the citizens, to ingratiate themselves with the voters, and to broadcast clear, sharp messages, knowing full well that many of them would never even reach the Knesset table, to say nothing of ever becoming laws. The block of broadcasts that run one after the next, making more and more political promises has become less and less relevant in recent years.

It’s not that the advertisers don’t collect their paychecks, or that the politicians don’t continue to broadcast political messages while hugging babies with smiling “salt of the earth” citizens standing beside them, but in recent years, the value of social networks, foremost among them being Facebook, has risen, indicating to politicians that one-directional messaging is something that web-users won’t accept quietly. Thus, in the last elections, some party leaders decided to roll up their sleeves and jump into Zuckerberg’s swamp.

Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid became the Facebook princes of the last elections, with Shelly Yachimovich following behind them. They, alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, became the most significant voices emerging from the social networks. In the current elections, Facebook will officially become the town square - the place politicians go to toss around their slogans, a significant portion of their budgets, and a fair bit of their magic, in order to trap potential voters in their spidery webs. The parties themselves, it seems, have been left somewhat behind in the digital arena, and it seems it will be this way in reality as well, at the ballots.

Though Israeli elections are indirect, the persona that proudly leads the party has become the face that determines the battle for democracy. The party leaders receive the most attention on Facebook, and the parties trail behind in the background. In this reality, and with the help of the research department at Mitoog Social Media, under the management of former journalist and Prime Minister Office and Ministry of Defense advisor Tal Sanderoni, “Globes” examined how party leaders manage their Facebook Pages from up close - who is more active, where are Facebook users more involved, who has more followers, and how the newer players in the field try to close the gaps. Bibi (Netanyahu) is in the lead, Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett are growing.

The first measure is the number of likes that each party leader’s Facebook Page has. It is important to note that this measure reflects only the potential for the candidates to reach their target audiences. In recent years, Facebook has reduced the exposure of unfunded posts to a single-digit percentage of a given Page’s fans. But still, in first place (and not surprisingly so, in light of his position) is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with 1.1 million “likes.” This is a lot more than the next candidate in line, but it should be noted that only 40% of Netanyahu’s “likes” (430,000) are from within Israel.

Netanyahu is followed by Naftali Bennett, with 381,000 followers (as of the end of December), exceeding Yair Lapid’s 367,000 followers. Surprisingly, Shaul Mofaz is in fifth place, with the politicians who have started new parties in the current elections coming in last - Moshe Kahlon, with 42,000, and Eli Yishai, with 16,000.

Kahlon may be almost last, but he made the most significant progress in December, recording a 31% increase in his number of fans, far ahead of Yishai, who is in second place, with only 4.4%, and Isaac Herzog, with 4.3%. “Kahlon started almost from nothing, and therefore his growth percentage is the highest,” says Sanderoni, who then explains how much money Kahlon would have had to spend to get this number of fans: “I would estimate that 28,000 ‘likes’ a month would cost NIS 60-70,000.” In looking at absolute growth, in other words, the number of new “likes” on each party-leader’s page, Bennett comes in first with 32,000 new followers in December. Kahlon is next, with 28,000, followed by Netanyahu, with 22,000. The other candidates increased by a mere few thousand. Sanderoni estimates that Bennett needed to spend NIS 2,000-2,500 each day on new “likes” to reach first place in this measure.

Herzog surprises with his “engagement” rate

“Today, there is a ‘ping pong’ between politicians and their constituents, and there is no longer a monologue in which the audience only listens,” says Sanderoni. “This is also the reason that the number of ‘likes’ has, for a long time already, not been the most important measure. In the last US election, while Israelis were discussing the number of ‘likes’ that Obama and Romney had, in the US they were discussing the ‘People Talking About This’ figures, which reflect actual engagement on the Page.”

“People Talking About This” summarizes the engagement of Facebook-users on a particular page in December - the number of likes, comments, and shares on the party leader’s posts. Netanyahu leads on this measure, by a wide margin, with 641,000 “People Talking About This,” followed by Bennett, with 449,000, and Lapid, with 331,000. Tzipi Livni is in fourth place, far behind the top three, with 106,000. The rest have tens of thousands of interactions, except Mofaz, who has fewer than 10,000. And what about he the “Engagement” rate, which shows the ratio of people who show interest in the Page out of the total number of people who have seen it? Here, Herzog surprises with the highest rate, where he manages to create 250% engagement out of all his followers, surpassing Moshe Kahlon and Zehava Galon, who trail closely behind him.

Lapid responds within 18 minutes

Another interesting measure is the service-level provided by the party leaders. Though these are not commercial pages, like those of HOT Mobile Ltd. and Pelephone Communications Ltd., which need to provide service for customers wishing to upgrade their mobile plans, or who have encountered technical difficulties with their devices, there is still importance to a politician’s responsiveness to comments from the public on his or her Facebook Page.

Netanyahu is in the lead, with his team responding to 32% of posts to his page. He is, surprisingly, followed by Aryeh Deri, who shares second place with Lapid and Herzog. Yishai and Liberman have removed themselves from this competition and are the only party leaders who don’t allow Facebook users to post to their Pages. Among those who do respond, Mofaz is in last place, responding to a mere 3% of posts to his Page.

Incidentally, Mofaz performs poorly not only with regards to his response rate to posts, but he also has the longest response time, 9.5 hours, according to Mitoog’s December survey. Lapid manages to respond to posts within 18 minutes, which is an impressive response time that even commercial companies don’t manage to meet, which begs the question: if he answers posts himself, as he writes posts himself, when did he find the time to be minister of finance?

Two posts a day for Bennett

The two final measures examine the number of new updates to the Page - by the politicians, and by Facebook users. Here, Bennett is in the lead with 2.1 posts per day in December, followed by Netanyahu (1.5), Livni (1.4), Lapid (1.3) and Galon (1.3). Mofaz comes in last place here as well, with 0.3 posts per day. As for posts by users, Lapid’s Page appears to be the most inviting for users wishing to share what’s on their minds, or to criticize Lapid. In December, Lapid’s page had 4,800 posts by fans, 1,200 more than Netanyahu’s Facebook page. Tzipi Livni is in third place (1,600), followed by Bennett (1,500), and Herzog (1,300). In last place, as you may have guessed, is Mofaz, with a mere 86 posts. Here, again, it should be noted that Liberman and Yishai do not allow users to post freely to their Facebook Pages.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 5, 2015

©Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

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