The Facebook election debate: right sentiment, wrong platform

Facebook may be closing the gap on TV and radio when it comes to reaching voters, but it's no way to win a Federal election, says John Chalmers.

In another ploy to persuade voters of his modern approach to politics, Malcolm Turnbull is pushing to move the third election debate away from television screens and onto smartphones and social media.

“This is the time for innovation,” he says, following quickly with wisdom that the Facebook debate “will engage a vastly wider audience than formats used before”.

John Chalmers isentiaNot bad logic, given the first debate that slogged out on Sky News averaged only 54,000 viewers. While the second face-off covered by the ABC scored slightly improved ratings, it was perceived to be flooded with party rhetoric and little substance.

If by ‘vastly wider’ Turnbull means the 10 million-odd Australians with active Facebook accounts, he might just have a point. That is, of course, if it wasn’t for the fact that less than 300,000 of them follow his updates. Malcolm Turnbull

Halve that number again and you have a generous headcount of Shorten ‘likers’. That leaves a startling 96% of Australian Facebook users that have shown no interest in following either party’s online campaigning to date.

Even if it was the peoples’ forum with the greatest reach, it’s a great way to draw attention to subjects our pollies would prefer to avoid.

There’s nothing like millions of election junkies scrambling for their smartphones to follow the live stream to magnify issues with the NBN -#buffering.

It’s probably also timely to point out that the federal election Facebook army is a particularly tough crowd. Both Shorten and Turnbull have shown consistently unpalatable scores of between 30 and 50 (out of a possible 100) in Isentia’s favourablity scores.

Overall Leader Favourability

isentia turnbull faceboo graph 1
And they’re cranky about a lot of things: asylum seekers, housing affordability, climate change and debt. In his brave, innovative command, perhaps what Turnbull may have failed to take into account is the fact that he rates a considerable 10 points behind Shorten on most of these topics.

He’ll either need to be very well-briefed on party lines about #greenhousegasemissions or have a great moderator on his side.

isentia turnbull faceboo graph 2Which brings me to my next question: how will the great Facebook debate be moderated? #freeforall, or will there be someone in place to wade through the rants and effectively farm out questions for our nation’s aspiring leaders?

Not quite so simple as filling chairs in the local RSL with some undecided but opinionated voters.

While it’s true that Facebook is closing the gap on TV and radio in reaching voters, and there has been much talk about how the 2016 Federal election could be the ‘Facebook’ election, Turnbull’s live stream request is perhaps a bridge too far. Facebook is a great platform to amplify campaign messages but should not be used in isolation in an attempt to win an election.

Be very careful what you wish for Mr Turnbull.  #bringbacktheworm

John Chalmers is the executive director of marketing and communications at Isentia


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