The 'politiktok' campaign: the candidates try to attract young voters on the fashionable social network

Rustem has a supermarket in Barcelona and more than 700,000 followers on TikTok.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 May 2023 Thursday 04:31
3 Reads
The 'politiktok' campaign: the candidates try to attract young voters on the fashionable social network

Rustem has a supermarket in Barcelona and more than 700,000 followers on TikTok. Ada Colau invited him to his own account (the mayoress has 31,500) and asked him about his personal story: the video in which this emigrant from Pakistan tells how he arrived in Spain is one of the most viewed in recent months on his Facebook profile. TikTok. It is one of the examples of how some politicians -and with them electoral campaigns such as the 28-M- have entered the social network of short vertical videos that is already preferred by the youngest.

TikTok, with fresh ways of communicating and potentially viral content, as well as containing a significant part of a young audience, offers politics a window of opportunity, which some of its greatest exponents have taken advantage of. Some more than others. In Barcelona, ​​Ada Colau heads the ranking of followers and views, ahead of Eva Parera, from Valents, who regularly generates content, some of which has gone viral. In the Community of Madrid, the most successful profiles are that of Mónica García, from Más Madrid, that of the regional PP and that of Alejandra Jacinto, from Podemos. It also happens in other territories, such as the Valencian Community, where Joan Ribó, Sandra Gómez, Joan Baldoví, Pilar Lima or Pilar Bernabé, among others, stand out.

The rise of this network for political use is explained by the "fragmentation of spaces for socialization" that leads formations and candidates to bet on "specific networks in which some of the audiences are" they seek, such as the young, he explains. the political scientist Pablo Simón. However, the professor of Political Science at the Carlos III University of Madrid warns that it is a "simplistic vision to believe that you are going to attract young people" for the mere fact of being present in this network. Xavier Tomàs, a political consultant specializing in digital communication, expresses himself along the same lines. In his opinion, first you need to define the message well and, secondly, opt for "targeted advertising" that directly impacts the desired objective.

That TikTok is also gaining ground in Spain is reflected in the data: according to the IAB's 2022 Social Network Study, it is the network that is growing the most for the third year in a row and is currently the fifth favorite among users, behind WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube. The same report reveals that 75% of the population between the ages of 12 and 17 use TikTok, while it is also used by 56% of the 18-24 age group. In addition, it is gaining weight in the field of information: 15% of users around the world use it to access news (Digital News Report).

Answers to questions from users, compilations of moments from day to day, summaries of acts or visits, interventions in the media or in legislative chambers, daily scenes of a personal nature... These are some of the contents that candidates and parties frequently disseminate on TikTok. They are mostly short clips, with a lot of rhythm, with ephemeral shots, background music and subtitles. And, to be successful, a good use of hashtags and a good choice of geolocation of the video are required, explains Xavier Tomàs.

Ada Colau began her journey on TikTok in September 2022. Pushed, on the one hand, after leaving Twitter and having to gain a presence on some other network. On the other, to reach "young people and people who are disenchanted with politics or who are not informed through the traditional media", as explained by her communication team. Since then, the mayoress of Barcelona has been gaining popularity on this network: she has more than 31,000 followers. She has done it with a very active role; she in campaign she goes to video per day.

The contents are varied, but the hits have undoubtedly been the collaborations with influencers or other relevant public figures, such as Andreu Buenafuente, Sílvia Abril or Marc Giró. Viral clips stand out, with more than 100,000 and 200,000 views. An example, already mentioned, is the video with Rustem. At the same time, in his account, the influencer published a congratulation from Colau for the end of Ramadan that far exceeded one and a half million views.

For the Barcelona en Comú candidate, this is a way to reach people who do not follow her or who are not connected to politics, as sources in her communication office acknowledge. Absolute success culminates when influencers spread their own content, as happened with Rustem or the streamers Ibai Llanos and Gerard Romero, with whom she spoke briefly on her Twitch channel.

Another common type of content is speaking naturally to the camera, explaining a proposal or project or telling how campaign day went. Or collect statements to the media. We see it in profiles such as those of the candidates for the presidency of the Community of Madrid, Mónica García, Alejandra Jacinto and Juan Lobato. The spokeswoman for Más Madrid has 118,400 followers, while the leader of Podemos has 34,000. The socialist leader, for his part, has increased his activity recently, but with much less notoriety (1,300 followers and videos that usually have around 2,000 views).

One of the reasons for these differences is the time of entry into this network: while García started in October and with regular activity, Lobato did so at the end of February and with more specific content in the first weeks. Miquel Pellicer, director of digital communication at the UOC, believes that for a social media strategy to be successful it must be "long-term". "To do it only during the campaign and pre-campaign, don't do it," he says. Pellicer argues that it is necessary to test "what content works the most and work on the algorithm so that it positions you". In terms of visibility, he adds that TikTok rewards those who generate a lot of content on a daily basis.

Beyond wanting to convey their political ideas, which they often do, the candidate's intention to present himself as another citizen who carries out daily actions is perceived in the published content. Walking down the street, attending a celebration or recommending books are some of the examples with which it is intended to humanize the leader. The political scientist Pablo Simón attributes it to a context of "extimacy", in which exhibitionism of private life has been normalized, and to the "personalization of politics". In other words, the figure of the politician has more and more weight than the initials he represents and, therefore, appearing "normal" is a way to "generate a favorable feeling" towards him and his political option. “When they are telling you slogans or programs, people are alert; when he sees a candidate in a personal context, his defenses drop”, summarizes Simón.

Showing the most personal face on TikTok has risks such as making the mistake of creating inappropriate content for the candidate, experts warn. The consultant Xavier Tomàs assures that "it does not make any sense to do something strange and far from the character of the politician." “They have to be genuine and as natural as possible; they should not face challenges that do not correspond to them”, stresses Miquel Pellicer.

The one who seems to dominate the TikTok records the most is the extreme right, on the one hand, and various parties on the left. Vox, with more than 142,000 followers in the state account and more than 13,000 in the Madrid regional account, has many videos that go viral within hours of being published. Pablo Simón believes that this dominance of Vox is due to the fact that "one is more implanted in those media that are predominant when the party emerges." The classic matches, adds Simón, "have not yet entered so strongly" in the network, something that is taken advantage of by the formation of Santiago Abascal. Xavier Tomàs also points out that the party abandoned the Meta group's ad tools (Facebook and Instagram), an aspect that may explain why it is now focusing more efforts on TikTok.

The generational component identified by Pablo Simón is also useful for relatively new parties such as Más Madrid or Barcelona en Comú. Both formations generate very viral content. This is explained, in part, by how they "empower the community", according to Miquel Pellicer, from the UOC. That is, how they involve spheres (beyond the party) of followers and influencers.

Virality is the ultimate goal for anyone on TikTok. This goal can be reached in many ways. Sometimes it is enough to hit the music or audio used. The song Ganas de Madrid from the PP spot by Isabel Díaz Ayuso (distributed by the party's profile; the president does not have her own account) is a clear example of this, since thousands of users later used the melody for their own content. In this case, the message had a huge impact, albeit in a very subtle and indirect way.

With all the possible content options it has, TikTok has thus already become a consolidated tool in the political and electoral field. Still not all politicians and parties dedicate the same time and resources to it, but it is glimpsed that it can go further in the coming months and electoral contests. The political battle will also be played on TikTok.