Online platforms now essential tool for politicians to reach voters: expert
A social media expert has said political parties will miss out if they do not use online platforms to their full potential.
Wayne Denner believes there has never been a better time - or such effective tools available - for politicians to get their message direct to their target audience.
He was speaking as the Belfast Telegraph revealed how much was spent by parties and candidates on social media posts ahead of this month's election.
"No doubt social media is effective for reaching big numbers of people and used in a smart way it can really influence," he said.
"It has been proven in the past that the correct use can see campaigns spread around the world."
Mr Denner works in cyber security, online training and on digital strategies for helping organisations promote their message. He explained organisations could build relationships on social media platforms with the public like never before.
"You have to remember what you see on social media is how someone wants you to see it - it is glossed," he said.
"Someone is curating content and based on your behaviour you could be served with it. All you do is recorded online, it is a big data mine of information.
"The extent of information on people - how they behave, what they do, what they like - was just not available say 15 years ago. Newspapers could tell you how many people were buying their papers, but not the stories they were reading, how long they would be reading, or even if they shared the content. That is all available now.
"You can argue it may not be a good thing depending on what type of message is pushed.
"It is important to remember material on social media can be skewed one way or another, it is biased, people have their own agenda to push."
In terms of politics, Mr Denner said the most valuable content is often that grown organically through those activists working at the grassroots level.
"There is a time element. Producing content takes time and the more time spent, the better the quality," he said.
"Anyone can put up a Facebook post, but you can see the effort that is put into creating content that performs well."
Mr Denner added political parties can now communicate with those hard to reach voters, and reach them effectively.
"There can be different messages to different people. If you are interested in health care, or education, you can ramp up those messages and encourage people to vote for you," he said.
"They have to pay attention to the data, it can help shape a campaign.
It can't be avoided, it would be a mistake for any party to avoid social media. They would miss out on so much reach and visibility - they can't just stick posters out."
The medium also puts accountability back to the people, Mr Denner pointed out.
"Social media is a two-way conversation. You have to engage, you can't avoid people asking questions," he said.
"Okay, there is an argument to say the sheer volume means it could be missed.
"But if there is a large number on one issue, or a theme or trend occurring from users, you have to address it in some capacity. Ignoring it does no favours."