The Coalition fails to deploy its social media super weapon

The government's latest PR nightmare shows its social media strategy needs an urgent rethink.

It hasn’t been just a day. Nor is it just Tony Abbott. The entire Coalition government has suffered an ongoing PR nightmare since delivered its first budget.

All the controversy surrounding the student protests and Frances Abbott’s university scholarship have more or less drowned out the Coalition’s mainstream media campaign to sell its budget vision to the public.

In the wake of this communications storm, we’re left with a situation where most can identify what the government is cutting, few can rationalise the need for cuts, and those that don’t follow the news just assume the budget is simply 'bad'.

It would be narrow-minded to single out the controversies of the past fortnight as the key factors that hampered the government’s media strategy. It seems the Coalition has let itself down on social media.

Knowing that this budget would be a tough sell, the government prepared a bunch of memes and graphics to help propel its message over the web. This may surprise some who believe all social media is leftist and therefore irrelevant, but some of their posts went viral. 

Where the Coalition really stumbled was in its inability to deploy its not-so-secret social media super weapon – a tool that would have exponentially expanded its reach and influence over the social web.

It failed to harness Tony Abbott’s own Facebook page and Twitter account. 

Yes, that's right. Tony Abbott is the government’s social media rock star. He has more reach (and therefore influence) than any of the Coalition’s other social media accounts. Yet, his accounts – particularly his Twitter account – were largely out of action when it came to promoting the budget.

Social media is a numbers game. Not everyone may agree with the Coalition’s perspective or share their posts, but they at least need to have their arguments seen by as many people as possible on these platforms to balance out the opposing arguments floating in the same space.

On the numbers, analysis from social media firm Online Circle tells a much more nuanced story, though the data still indicates that the Coalition didn’t perform to its fullest.

The firm found in the fortnight after the budget, the Labor Party’s main account nearly doubled the amount of posts on its Facebook page compared with the Liberal Party. This possibly led to Labor’s most successful post in that period having exponentially more reach (through shares) than the Libs'. 

Graph for The Coalition fails to deploy its social media super weapon

Source: Social Pulse, Online Circle

Meanwhile, Twitter was a closer race between the two parties, with each of their accounts posting close to 300 tweets in the fortnight after the budget. Despite their large Twitter followings, neither Joe Hockey nor Tony Abbott tweeted much at all.

This was particularly unusual for Abbott, as his account shared multiple successful budget memes and posts on his Facebook page. He didn’t share them on his highly popular Twitter account. Instead, he shared a few videos and links to media transcripts.

Business Spectator contacted the Coalition to ask about this strategy. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's office offered this reply: “The Abbott Coalition Government has provided factual communications detailing our plan to deal with Labor’s debt and deficit disaster and build a stronger economy across all social media platforms.

''The Prime Minister, senior Ministers and local MPs have been speaking to community members directly, participating in media interviews and using social media daily.”

One assumption is that the Coalition may believe that Twitter is not the right audience for its memes and pro-budget messaging. Their political opponents, the Greens have slammed other campaigns on Twitter (like the Mineral Council's #AustraliansForCoal campaign) in the past. Perhaps the Coalition’s strategy was to avoid a similar outcome.

READ MORE: How Twitter obliterated the mining lobby's latest campaign. 

Australian social media researcher Axel Bruns disagrees with this approach. Bruns, an associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology, studies the demographics of Australia’s Twittersphere. He says the Coalition should consider the platform as “recruiting ground” for voters.

He describes the average Australian Twitter user as young (25-35), affluent, urban and educated -- the kind of person who may already vote for the Coalition or may be inclined to vote for them in the future.

He doesn’t deny the resounding blowback the budget suffered on Twitter. But Bruns says that loud, noticeable tweets of anti-budget users shouldn’t be interpreted as the viewpoint of everyone on the platform. Pro-budget users were likely to be less vocal, he adds. 

READ MORE: How Twitter tore apart #Budget2014 in three words or less

At its core, the Coalition’s budget response over social media indicates that lack of cohesion across the party’s social accounts. This approach may have worked when the sole purpose of the Coalition’s social media presence was to take down the then Labor government’s policies, with each shadow minister using posts to chip away at their counterpart's claims.

Now that the Coalition is in power, that strategy needs to change. These accounts could maximise their reach and influence by working together. 

Seven months into power, and the Coalition is still being accused of playing opposition while in government. Going off this latest social media campaign, it seems its approach to politics isn’t the only thing in need of an urgent rethink. 

What do you think? How would you rate the Coalition's efforts to sell the Budget over social media? Let us know in the comments below or contact the reporter @HarrisonPolites on Twitter.