Facebook Revealed. Liking Strategies of the German Political Parties

Yulia Lukashina, University of Technology Dresden

The project aimed to reveal characteristics of the online networks, in which German political parties are embedded. Based on the literature from organizational studies and social capital, my main interest was to explore causal relationships between offline party characteristics and its online communication strategy.

Since everybody went online - especially, young potential supporters - a party has to have a clear strategy of its online presence. A Facebook page is an important and influental part of such strategy. Everything, what a party does online, has a meaning. If it sustains a lively discussion on its timeline, or just spread an information without paying attention to any feedback. If it likes other pages and which pages - nothing is a random choice, because parties struggle for political power, and they are the very few online users, who take the Internet seriously and use it consiously. What can we learn from the political parties and their online presence?

First of all, the strategy must be suitable to an audience. If a party exists for a very long time, and then goes online, it must think about bringing online the same image, as it has offline, and about embedding itself in the same - or a similiar - network of supporters, which it has offline. But the opposite is also true: if a party is young, and has not yet been spoiled with the attention of traditional media, it has a good chance to compensate by creating a rich online presence. This results in two dimensions: a proper "liking" strategy and a proper content of the timeline. As a left party, you must not find one day on your timeline a post from a right-wing group after you liked a page with a neutral name, which actually was somehow connected to a more right-wing thinking organisation. And as a party, you must be careful with liking entertaining pages, since your voters can see a list of your likes. From the other side, an empty list of likes will show the voters that the party does not care about its online presence, and might lead to even more radical conclusion - that it does not care about its voters. In this sense, one can formulate a hypothesis that an "old" political party goes online and embeds itself into a dense network. A young political party goes online and tries to catch as many people as possible, and likes every page that at least does not contradict with its ideology. At the same time, a young party does not have a stable offline network, so one can expect to find young parties being embedded into loose networks.

Timelines are the second powerful tool of sustaining a proper image. Should you allow your users to speak up? Or do you manage your page alone? Do you - as a young left party - think that all people must be given a chance to express an opinion? Do allow users' to post on your timeline? In the presentation below you will find dependent and independent variables, which I used to test my hypothesis. You will also find a short visualisation of my findigs, which show at least two causalities between network characteristics and offline party characteristics, namely, a kind of correlation between network density and size and party ideology and lifetime. On the last slides I tried to compare users' diversity and engagement, and found a main difference between users of radical parties and users of centrist parties. I believe, I also did find a correlation between a style of moderating of timlines and what I call interliked networks. Since the project was run during a short time, this question remains a guideline for future research.
Topic revision: r4 - 19 Jul 2013, YuliaLukashina
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