The mainstream media narrative is that Mahinda is ‘winning’ on social media, but he’s not. Just count and see. Facebook is the dominant social media in Sri Lanka and engagement numbers for all of these pages are public. If you add them up, Maithripala’s campaign engaged 1.7 million people while Mahinda’s engaged 481,000 (in the last week of December). So I think My3 is actually ahead. For what it’s worth.
- I’m counting engagement (how many people like, comment or share some content)
- I’m not counting likes (fans). Pages only reach a fraction of their fans and likes can be bought without anyone actually paying attention.
- These numbers cover the last week of December.
If you want to do this at home, you can also just go to each page and click on likes. The easier way is to have your own page and add these as ‘Pages To Watch’ (in Insights). The numbers vary depending on when you check.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the Mahinda has a lot of likes, but not a lot of engagement. Maithripala has less likes, but more engagement.
To get a broader picture, however, I’m including more than just the candidate pages. I’m counting one homie (Namal for Mahinda, Ranil for Maithripala), their party pages, their brigade (youth group sorta), and their community page. That gives a broader sense, I think. Here’s the numbers from above in a table. Again, I’m counting engagement, not likes.
|Person||Mahinda Rajapaksa||162,000||Maithripala Sirisena||735,000|
|Party||UPFA||47,000||United National Party and UPFA||468,000 +
|Homie||Namal Rajapaksa||235,000||Ranil Wickremesinghe||14,000|
|Brigade||Nil Balakaya||20,000||UNP Green Blood||20,000|
|Community||Mahinda 2015||17,000||Maithri Yugayak||77,000|
So, based on this sample of the main sites, Maithripala is engaging twice as many people as Mahinda is. So for all the money Mahinda is spending on fancy gurus, people are just more interested in Maithripala, and he’s growing faster.
In fact, if you want to talk about ‘sophisticated campaigns’ the biggest story is that Maithripala controls both the main UPFA and UNP pages. He controlled the UPFA Facebook page and he just took it when he left. Mahinda had to rebuild that from scratch.
Note that in the first draft of this post I miscounted the engagement of the party pages. That meant my original count was off by a million engaged people. Maithri’s FB engagement isn’t twice as much as Mahinda’s, it’s almost 3.6 times as much.
Why THe HYPE?
Unless I’ve completely missed something (let me know) the mainstream assessment of the social media campaigns is totally wrong. Social media isn’t like TV in that you can just throw money at it, above a certain level (especially on a small base like Sri Lanka) you get diminishing returns. You can reach almost everybody in Sri Lanka with a post for $5,000 (I checked). That amount predicts a reach of 600,000 to 1.4 million. Guess what happens if you spend $50,000? You get the exact same reach.
Mahinda is treating social media like he treats everything else – something to throw money at. But, beyond a certain point, money can’t buy you love, and it’s not like he’s a new brand.
And it’s not just the MSM that fell for the hype. Groundviews says Mahinda is winning on social media because he’s created 15 fake Twitter accounts. This is just dumb, both the plan and the analysis. Each of those accounts has like 30 followers. You could get ten times more reach by just buying Himal (Rs. 15,000 plus a buth packet).
Also, Mahinda’s own Twitter following of 90,000 vastly eclipses these fake accounts. MR is definitely winning on Twitter, but Twitter isn’t nearly as popular as FB in Sri Lanka. The highest local accounts (Mahela and Kumar are neck-and-neck) have 215,000 followers each, which is probably close to the total addressable market.
Stuff Left Out
Anyways, what the numbers I’ve included here don’t tell you is what’s outside the sample. These numbers don’t tell you how many citizens are talking about the campaign without referencing the official pages. They also are only a selection of pages. Each of their backing politicians have pages, and some celebrities and individuals are also campaigning on the candidates’ behalf (behalves?). For example, on Mahinda’s side, rapper Iraj is heavily promoting MR and he has around 65,000 people talking about his stuff. Maithri has people like actor/MP Ranjan Ramanyake with about 47,000 people engaged. And so on.
Does Social Media = votes?
No. Social media skill does not equal votes. Not using social media can make you look dumb, but having it doesn’t make you win.
In my opinion, having a Facebook page is like having a telephone. You’re useless if you don’t have it, but it’s not like having a telephone wins you elections or gets you business or anything. Nobody’s like, “that business is doing really well because they have a telephone”. Everybody has a phone. I mean, it’s not like 1920 anymore. There’s no big competitive advantage there.
When I worked (for the UPFA) on Milinda Moragoda’s mayoral campaign social media was important because we were the first people professionally doing it. That meant that we could market without much competition, which was an advantage (for a while). It still, however, couldn’t push us much beyond the natural popularity of a UPFA candidate in UNP-friendly Colombo.
Now both campaigns are competent. With competition everybody sort of averages out to their natural online base, which is how the system is supposed to work. Users are engaging with the content that actually interests them.
The only thing that I think has made a difference is Maithripala walking away with the UPFA page. For all the international headlines about Mahinda hiring some million-dollar Indian, that coup is the only thing that made the front pages locally.
So, to sum, don’t believe the hype about Mahinda’s sophisticated social media campaign. The numbers just don’t bear it out. Also don’t believe the hype in general. January 8th, whatever side you support, you need to get out and vote.