Yannick Rouault stands in front of a large poster display. There are eight numbered rectangles on it, some with election posters. Hip music seems to be playing in the background. “Just once legally pasting over an AfD poster, that’s it, isn’t it?” Is the overlay that visually underscores Rouault’s words. The 28-year-old direct candidate for the ÖDP in the Munich district explains that the AfD billboarders couldn’t even count to seven because they had hung their poster on his party’s square. With obvious pleasure he sticks his own election poster over that of the AfD: “Looks much better.”
The 30-second video went viral on Tiktok, as the saying goes when a social media post reaches a large number of people in a short period of time. It was shown to more than 100,000 users within 24 hours. Tiktok is mainly used by young people. Cooking videos, animal videos, funny articles from everyday life, but also video clips from the Bundestag can be found there. If you as a politician want to address as many first-time voters as possible, then this platform is probably the right choice.
Tiktok is mainly used nationwide by the AfD, and the SPD has also discovered the channel for itself. None of the direct candidates from the Munich-Land constituency are represented on Tiktok. Rouault’s video was published by his party’s youth organization. But what role do such contributions play in the election results? Do likes actually bring votes?
It is impossible to determine, emphasizes Jasmin Siri. She is Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Erfurt and deals scientifically with the topic of digitization in politics. Nobody can say why a post achieves a high reach: “The provider’s algorithm that decides how many people a post is shown is a big secret. The reach depends on a large number of factors.”
Social media as an election campaign tool has only played an important role in research since the 2017 federal election, as the expert explains. During the corona pandemic, there was a surge in digitization in Germany. But: “We are still at the beginning,” says Siri of the role of social media in this year’s election.
The topic is still neglected in some cases. Facebook and Instagram are standard at most parties, but jumping on trends is clearly difficult. The personal channels of the direct candidates play a major role in the federal election. Not everyone or every one of them has the time or is motivated to get involved on social media. In many cases there is a lack of know-how, notes Jasmin Siri. The election campaign is also largely organized on a voluntary basis. It takes a lot of time to regularly feed the channels with content.
Even the CSU member of the Bundestag Florian Hahn, who enjoys a lot of support during his election campaign, reveals that there is no professional strategy behind his social media presence. Of course, some content, especially the video posts, would be created together with his campaign team, but there was no set guideline. “The ideas and statements all come from myself,” says Hahn. This also applies to his sometimes very sharply worded tweets. “It’s underground, even for an AFDeppen,” was a comment above a quote. He also makes his attitude towards the left more than clear. “The stupidest tweet of the day – especially from a party that is the SED successor,” commented Hahn. “Twitter lives from exchanging blows,” replies Hahn, when asked about the tone of his tweets. If the left belittles facts, then one could become derogatory there.
Ramona Greiner does not want to take this route: “What Hans says about Sabine says more about Hans than about Sabine,” says the election campaign manager of SPD direct candidate Korbinian Rüger. Professionally, she has gained a lot of experience in digital marketing and is of the opinion that negative content should be avoided if possible with a social media strategy: “When criticizing others, at least humor should never be missing.” She describes her strategy for the digital election campaign as follows: “We have put together a mixture of personal content about the candidate and content-related statements from the party. A good mix is important to us.”
By far the largest number of followers among the direct candidates is the Green Bundestag member Anton Hofreiter. He has around 32,400 subscribers on Facebook. To classify: Second in the follower ranking is Florian Hahn (CSU) with 5900 Facebook subscribers. Hofreiter’s popularity in social media reflects, on the one hand, his high profile as the parliamentary leader of his party in the Bundestag, but is also the result of years of work. He has been active on Facebook for eight years. He has been maintaining his Instagram account for five years. According to his own statement, he deliberately refrains from using Twitter: He prefers posts with a lot of content that are not possible in the shortened form of the tweets.
For Sabine Pilsinger, chairman of the Greens, social media are an important tool in the election campaign: “We are reaching additional target groups here.” An important target group are of course the first-time voters, especially for a party that advertises itself with new beginnings and change. Why are the Greens not yet represented on Tiktok? “We are trying the classic route this election year,” announced Pilsinger. Soon all first-time voters in the district would receive a personalized letter from the Greens. “Our content is important. Only the most important letters come in the post,” she explains.
The AfD, on the other hand, relies heavily on social media and has also discovered Tiktok for itself, at least at the federal level. In the district of Munich, your district association is ahead of all other parties in terms of Facebook and Instagram subscriber numbers. The AfD MP and direct candidate Gerold Otten ranks third behind Florian Hahn with around 4600 Facebook subscribers. There can be no question of neglecting social media here. If the other parties want to counteract this influence, attacks in individual contributions will certainly not be sufficient in the long term.