If you are reading this in the newspaper, chances are you learned a lot from Bryce Edwards' article today on the role social media is now playing in politics. If you are reading this on our website, chances are you know already. The coming election will be fought online as well as on radio, television and the printed page.

The campaign online could be crucial if it motivates young people to vote. In the 18-29 age bracket not even half of those eligible to vote at last election actually did so. The turnout of voters over 65, by contrast, was 87 per cent. No wonder parties are keen to tap the well of potential votes in the millennial generation and trying to reach them through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and the like.

These media are increasingly visual rather than verbal, and the skills required are quite different from those that work in mass media. The term mass media does not refer to the size of its audience, social media can reach just as many, but to the public nature of radio, television and newspapers. They are like local notice boards that everyone can see, while social media is a network of essentially personal connections.

What "works" online will not necessarily work in print. Edwards believes Bill English's postings of himself cooking a spaghetti pizza and taking his followers on a run-walk exercise worked well online, personalising him. They did not do much for him when the mass media publicised the clips. But it may be worth looking a little cheesy on television if it works online.


Labour will be looking to its young deputy leader, Jacinda Ardern, to carry its campaign in social media. Leader Andrew Little is not a natural in the medium, Edwards finds. Little posted a video of himself at home ironing a shirt. Whatever insights to himself he hoped to convey, Edwards found it boring.

Authenticity is everything in visual media. Anything that does not come naturally to the politician will look phony. Young people have their own idioms and it does no good for older ones to imitate them. It never works.

The unexpected results of elections in the United States, Britain and France over the past year may have much to do with social media. Certainly Donald Trump loves the medium, and social media is credited with increasing the youth vote in last month's British election. The party that develops an effective online presence here in September could also pull off a surprise.