Social media has played a prevalent role in political campaigns in recent years. According to our research, newly elected localist legislative council members took a savvy approach by campaigning through social media during the 2016 Hong Kong Legislative Council Election in September.
We analysed the Facebook public pages of legislative council candidates in geographical constituencies and the District Council (Second) constituency. It was found that localists who were more active on Facebook had more audience engagements in comparison to the traditional pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps.
Six localists were elected in the geographical constituencies this year. They were Chu Hoi-dick, Law Kwun-chung, Cheng Chung-tai, Lau Siu-lai, Yau Wai-ching and Leung Chung-hang. (The seats of Yau and Leung were stripped by the court this Tuesday as their oath fell short of solemnity.) Chu Hoi-dick is considered to be the “king of votes” among all 35 lawmakers in the geographical constituencies, who had a total of 84,121 votes.
Localists in Hong Kong are generally recognized for advocating for higher-degree of autonomy, self-determination, or in some extremes, the independence from mainland China. They are distinct from the traditional pan-democrats who strive for greater democracy for the city while remaining as a part of China.
Facebook is now a major social media platform in Hong Kong for potential legislative council candidates to campaign. In the geographical constituencies and District Council (Second) of the functional constituency election, 39 of 40 elected council members created their own Facebook public pages for their campaigns. Wong Kwok-kin used his personal Facebook page instead of a public one, and thus he was excluded from this research.
We scraped and analysed information on the 39 LegCo members’ Facebook pages, including their posts published during 4 August — 4 September.
The number of daily posts can be used as a measurement to assess users’ activeness on Facebook. As Chart 1 demonstrates, five localists are on the top 10 frequent posting list. This list is also comprised of four pan-democrats and one pro-establishment camp.
With an average of 7.71 daily posts, pan-democrat, Cheung Chiu-hung, was the most active on Facebook during the election campaign. Cheng Chung-tai and Law Kwun-chung followed in second and third, who posted 7.42 and 6.52 posts respectively per day.
Ho Kwan-yiu was the only legislative council candidate from the pro-establishment camp, with 4.72 Facebook posts per day.
It was the first time for the five localists to run for Lego. The average age of all six elected localists is only 31.3, much younger compared to the average age of 48.5 for the pan-democrats and 49.7 for the pro-establishment.
The number of daily posts indicates only the users’ activeness, but did these posts contribute to the candidate’s success in the election? Audience engagement is a measurement to answer this question. Audience engagement refers to users’ interaction on Facebook, including likes, shares, and comments. We listed the top 10 candidates with most audience engagements. Localists, Chu Hoi-dick and Lau Siu-lai, ranked in the top two, while the pan-democrat, Yeung Ngok-kiu, came in third.
Ho Kwan-yiu was once again the only pro-establishment member that was placed in the top 10. However, he was ranked last on the list.
A large overlap was observed between the top 10 daily posts and audience engagement numbers, with eight candidates represented in both charts. Pan-democrat, Leung Kwok-hung and Kwong Chun-yu, were not on the top 10 daily posts list. The overlap indicates that the more active you are on Facebook, the more likely to gain more audience engagements as a result.
On Facebook, you may gain more interactions from other users if your posts are pictures or videos. Our research of 39 LegCo members’ Facebook posts found that photographs and video posts gained much more likes, shares, and comments than links, texts, status and events. So future candidates may consider posting more pictures and videos on their Facebook pages to attract more attention.
In Chart 4, we calculated the ratio of pictures and videos among the 39 LegCo members’ posts. Pan-democrats, Kwong Chun-yu, Mo Man-ching and localists Leung Chung-hang, were the “smartest” as their ratios were above 80%. Localists, including Chu Hoi-dick, Law Kwun-chung, and Cheng Chung-tai, also did well on this social media strategy. Pro-establishment camp had 2 members on the list; they were Or Chong-sing and Mak Mei-kuen.
In this election, the localist camp performed better on social media advertising than pro-establishment and pan-democratic camp. They actively posted election information and political appeals on Facebook. They also frequently updated personal information and shared self-related reports to keep their supporters’ attention.
(Calvin Cheng was a researcher at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong)
Editor: Benjamin Zhou