As the story goes, the people who listened to the 1960 US presidential debate on radio thought Richard Nixon won; those who watched it on TV gave the night to John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy marched on to win the election, while that anecdote and Nixon's sweaty upper lip became a warning to hopeful politicians of the power of television to magnify and weaponise the seemingly insignificant.
The strong ratings for the local leadership debates this year show that televised political tussles continue to play an important role in the pantomime of politics, but they increasingly compete for influence with social media.
All the way through the first two debates and long after the broadcasts ended, social media channels were set alight with key moments, zingers and armchair analyses of the performances. Television is now inextricably coupled with live commentary from anyone with a phone and an opinion.
Looking at the top line social media figures, no active New Zealand political figure comes close to touching Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, whose Facebook following of 1.37 million dwarfs the combined 96,000 of Winston Peters, 63,000 of Chloe Swarbrick, 60,000 of Judith Collins, 39,000 of David Seymour and 31,000 of Marama Davidson.
There are a couple of important caveats here.
First, Ardern's international profile means that a significant part of her following won't be based in New Zealand. And second, Facebook's entire business is built on a pay-to-play model that limits the number of people who see a post unless it's backed by advertising dollars.
As a corollary, those who are willing to spend a bit more on Facebook could easily make up what they lack in followers by throwing a bit of cash behind their posts.
This helps explain why National has spent $141,000 to Labour's $66,000 on Facebook and Instagram advertising over the last three months. The other two big spenders are the Greens on $93,000 and Act on $81,000, while New Zealand First is further back on $25,000.
But advertising dollars can only buy eyeballs and do not automatically serve up the sweaty top lip of an opponent on a platter.
David Bowes, the founder of social media analytics firm Zavy, explains base metrics such as overall reach serve only as a starting point. What you really want to know, particularly in the political space, is what effect those posts are having on the audience and whether they're pushing sentiment one way or the other.
To answer that question, Bowes developed research tech that scours social media comments and engagement and then sorts it into positive and negative sentiment to give an indication of a post's impact.
The Zavy index data (a combination of engagement with sentiment) over the last year shows Labour maintaining a strong lead over National as the nation has headed towards the election.
The divide between the parties remained relatively consistent until September, when National had some particularly strong posts.
National's strongest post to date came after the first debate, when the party's social media team declared that "Judith crushed it".
On the other side of the floor, some of Labour's standout posts included a birthday message to Prime Minister Ardern and the announcement of plans to introduce a Matariki public holiday.
One of the most interesting insights to come from the data is the high level of positive sentiment that has been associated with former National leader Simon Bridges over the last three months.
Having shaken off the pressures of running the National Party, the positive sentiment around Bridges' online profile now exceeds that of even Ardern.
Bowes says Bridges' net sentiment score has risen from 20 per cent when he was National leader to around 45 per cent – pulling him a full 10 percentage points ahead of Ardern.
It's worth noting, however, that positive sentiment alone doesn't equate to political success. Act leader David Seymour, for instance, ranks terribly from a sentiment perspective but is still performing brilliantly in the polls. And what he lacks in social media cut-through, he makes up for by injecting himself into mainstream media discussions with a regularity that rivals even the major parties. Seymour understands better than most that just because social media exists, it doesn't necessarily mean you need to give up on the resources politicians have long relied on to get attention.
Same but different
The most effective use of social media is in many ways akin to compelling television. It's about striking an emotional chord.
It's not the moist lip that matters quite as much as the nervousness and weakness that it represents.
The difference, however, is that whereas Nixon lost control of the narrative and came to be represented by a single, somewhat inconsequential, physical characteristic, politicians can now use segments of the action to suit the narrative that best represents their position.
If you were to look at the recent social media feeds of either Labour or National, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they attended different debates altogether. Both sides have selected favourable sections from the televised debates to use as evidence of their dominance on social media.
Brian Hill, general manager of research firm Neuro-Insight, which uses neuroscience to study the impact of advertising on human behaviour, says this strategy can prove very effective at locking an idea into the viewer's memory.
"Social media works very well when it's paired with TV, which when combined tends to have the widest audience reach and carries the largest media weight," Hill says.
"Not all moments are made equal in a campaign. By identifying [what are called] iconic triggers in the TV [broadcast], and then using them in the social media, it is likely to be more effective in influencing how people vote."
These punchy social media messages served on repeat loops will hammer home the exact messaging the politician hopes to get across.
The alarming subtext, of course, is that in these strange chambers of selective truth-telling, the upper lip can be twisted into something far more hideous or it can be erased entirely.
It all depends on who's telling the story.