A race that was Ford’s to walk away with four weeks ago is now a battle between two very different parties. Not only in tone and policy, but in digital strategy and engagement.
Since the beginning of the Ontario election, Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) has been tracking and listening to digital conversations. Our goal is to see what messages resonate and with which audiences, what that tells us about where the parties are connecting, where they are falling short, and what this could indicate for the election outcome.
Last week, we looked at the factors that were contributing to an NDP surge. This week we will focus on the NDP and PCs successful online campaigns, and what the path to victory for either party looks like from a digital perspective.
The NDP attacks aren’t punching through
All parties have struggled in our fractured communication environment to find a message to break through. When there is no mass media, it is impossible to have a mass message.
However, with the NDP in front-runner position, we should see Andrea Horwath and the NDP as the primary target of opponents, but she isn’t. Instead, Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford continue to dominate each other’s conversations. Mentions of Kathleen Wynne are 8.6% of all conversations around Doug Ford, compared to just 4.3% for Andrea Horwath. And mentions of Doug Ford are 10.5% of all conversations around Kathleen Wynne, and just 6% for Andrea Horwath.
That said, a focused message aimed at the NDP can perform well. Over the course of the last week, the highest performing PC video is a direct attack on the NDP with 131,000 views and over 5,400 shares, slowly edging out Hazel McCallion endorsement with 119,000 views and 4,300 shares.
Top content for the Liberal party? The new Liberal digital ad #sorrynotsorry with 122,000 views on the Facebook post. With not a mention of the NDP, nor Horwath.
The engagement with Horwath vs. the party
The strategic disadvantage for the PCs and the Liberals? Even if their attacks on the NDP were connecting with audiences, people are still connecting with Horwath. Digitally, they like her more than the party. Over the last week, Horwath’s Facebook page saw 209% more engagement than the NDP.
People are engaging with Horwath first, the party second.
You can see this echoed in the NDP content. The top-performing content for Horwath is a live Facebook video of her rallies, filmed with high production value that brings to mind musicians or rock stars, not politicians. Sound familiar? Trudeau did this very effectively in 2015.
Media is a bigger share of voice for NDP
While overall mentions of Doug Ford are the largest across all platforms, the overall percentage of share of voice for Ford in news media is small. News media represents just 33% of conversations around Ford, the same size as Facebook at 32%. Conversely, for the NDP, media makes up 65% of all conversations around the party.
This matters for two reasons. First, Facebook represents as much influence for Ford and the PCs as traditional media. This means content is designed to engage their base, not the media, not influencers and (critically) not swing voters.
Second, the NDP are more tied to the media narrative around the race and their party. With media focused on polling putting the NDP ahead and speculating about momentum, the wider narrative around the NDP becomes the momentum.
The path to victory
Despite their different digital strengths and weaknesses, there is still a path to victory for both parties.
The NDP cannot rely on a digital base. Their new front-runner status makes it unlikely that they have digitally identified their vote (collection of voter data and profiles). Digital identification of a base takes months, if not years. It also takes resources the NDP do not have.
Their digital strategy needs to focus on capturing momentum through live videos and content to maintain a positive tone, highly supported by digital advertising to keep the leader front and centre.
As for the PCs, they need to focus on two things: superior digital GOTV efforts (and GOTV generally) and focus on pushing a final message that resonates to key swing voters.
What does that mean? A shift from daily content to engage a base, to a digital strategy to mobilize the base and get them to the polls. The PCs also have a considerable advantage: money. Using their resources, they should invest heavily in targeted digital advertising to speak beyond their base with a different tone and message to win back key swing voters.
Who will win June 7th? History has taught us that in tight races digital matters. The party that knows who its vote and knows how to reach them on their phones, can make a difference. But momentum is a powerful force and a public narrative, once cemented, is difficult to undo.