TikTok is no longer just a place for silly dance videos, but a serious platform for political campaigning. Re: News head of content and host of the TikTok series Politics in 60 Seconds, Anna Harcourt, takes a look at which parties are harnessing it best.
Almost 40% of Gen Z now use TikTok or Instagram as a search engine instead of Google.
Yes, it’s still a platform for silly memes and funny content, but it’s also increasingly becoming home to informative, serious or educational content.
And the key for success is combining both silly or casual, with informative.
The political parties who have recognised that, and who have taken TikTok seriously as a marketing tool to reach younger generations, have had the most success.
For example, National has been posting on TikTok since November 2022, and they’ve got over 50,000 followers.
Labour started last week, and have just over 1000.
National has really jumped on TikTok this election, putting out videos nearly every day, sometimes two or three times a day.
It looks like they’ve got someone on their campaign or marketing team who is really focussed on TikTok as a platform.
They consistently harness viral trends or things that feel intuitive to TikTok users, particularly things that strike that balance of silly and informative: for example, leader Christopher Luxon talking about tax policy while doing a hammer trend.
Or emulating popular podcast formats, with deputy leader Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon appearing to interview each other in a podcast style.
The idea behind the split screen is that TikTok viewers have short attention spans and it can be hard to focus on someone talking, particularly if it’s about a topic many users would find dry or boring - like politics - but if it’s paired with a distracting or relaxing video it helps people pay attention.
National’s TikTok strategy: seems to be both about increasing the exposure of leader Christopher Luxon and deputy Nicola Willis, and making videos that are silly and informative that specifically hit their key campaign talking points, policy and attack points.
First post on page: November 2022
Labour has nowhere near as many posts as National, and don’t seem to be utilising TikTok trends or things that feel intuitive to TikTok users as much.
You have an incredibly short timespan to capture someone’s attention on TikTok, with the company itself telling users that the first two seconds of any video are crucial to hook a viewer in.
The few times they have adopted TikTok content trends that balance stupid humour with policy points, like this photo gallery of “things that have holes in them” it’s popped off, so perhaps this is something they’ll develop more over the election campaign.
Of course, the election campaign only officially kicked off last weekend, so some parties may have been waiting until now to begin posting in earnest.
Labour’s TikTok strategy: so far seems to largely focus on humanising their candidates through interviews, rather than about their policy or proposals. They seem to be treating it as a soft platform, the digital equivalent of a Woman’s Day spread instead of a political interview.
First post on page: One week ago
David Seymour seems to know how popular he is as a meme and is really leaning into that, with almost every single video on the ACT TikTok featuring him rather than the party’s other candidates.
This could be a missed opportunity, as there is an appetite on TikTok for the more informative or serious content.
But that may be changing, as just yesterday he posted a TikTok talking about their productivity policy.
ACT’s TikTok strategy: up until now has seemed to largely focus on increasing the exposure of David Seymour, rather than really blasting policy or talking points like National have been.
First post on page: July 2021 - so they were one of the earliest political parties to jump on TikTok.
The Green Party tends to get more support from young people, so it’s not a surprise they have taken TikTok seriously as a key platform.
They seem to have recognised the importance of combining silly trends with political messaging, like this running guy with a message about tax.
The Green Party are aware of the power of idiotic memes with a heavy sense of irony: younger audiences find something extremely appealing about content being intentionally absurdist, like a dumb fun shark meme.
Green’s TikTok strategy: seems to be a combination of clips from Parliament TV, with some dumb fun memes thrown in the mix.
First post on page: February 2023
NZ First don’t appear to have an official TikTok account for the party, but their Northland candidate Shane Jones has been posting some of the most viral TikTok content of the election so far.
His parody version of Journey’s song Don’t Stop Believin' has nearly 100,000 views and plenty of media coverage.
It’s a key example of harnessing the combination of stupid and informative: if you just wanted silly, this could have simply been a video of him singing the song’s real lyrics, or doing a stupid dance to it.
But he’s using it to promote his talking points around what he did when he was last in Parliament with the Progressive Growth Fund, or tree planting.
Or in his version of Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust he talks about co-governance.
While all of these are fleeting mentions rather than in-depth analysis of these issues, it still plants his key political talking points into the audience’s minds.
Jones said in another TikTok these songs came from “a couple of guys, professionals, turned up in the Far North”, so it seems he’s working with professionals to get that balance on TikTok of silly viral content but that also includes his political ideas.
NZ First’s TikTok strategy: seems to be getting Shane Jones to go viral by doing karaoke-style versions of 1980s pop-rock songs with the lyrics changed to key NZ First talking points.
First post on page: The first post on Shane Jones’ page is from 2020
CORRECTION: When this article was originally published on Wednesday September 6, we incorrectly referred to Te Pāti Māori’s inactive account, @tepatimaori, which has 19,000 followers but had not been posted on since February 2022.
Te Pāti Māori do have an active TikTok account, @te_patimaori, with 3600 followers.
Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Re: News the @tepatimaori account was inactive because the password was forgotten.
We apologise for this mistake and have updated this article on Thursday September 7.
Te Pāti Māori have the second-highest number of followers after National, at 19,000.
But unfortunately that’s on an account (@tepatimaori) that’s now inactive, with co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer telling Re: News the password was forgotten.
Their new account, (@te_patimaori), has 3600 followers, where they post about once a week.
It’s a shame, because their posts from 2021 on the old account, like this one about co-leader Rawiri Waititi wearing Air Jordans in Parliament, or one about conversion therapy would regularly get around 100,000 views.
Whereas on the new account half of the posts have less than 2000 views.
It’s indicative of the power of social media where a lost password can mean a huge blow to an organisation’s ability to market themselves.
Co-leaders Rawiri Waititi (7k followers) and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (12k followers) are both active on their own accounts however, posting a range of content from fun viral trends like opera singing to more serious campaign points.
Te Pāti Māori’s TikTok strategy: seems to be focussing on the co-leaders’ individual accounts, and trying to build their new party account, mostly through clips from Parliament TV.
First post on page: June 2021 for the old page, May 2023 for the new page
Followers: 19,000 for the old page, 3600 for the new one
Keep an eye on Re: News in the weeks before the election - we’re looking at the key issues affecting young voters, breaking down stats on the reality of the situation, what young voters think about it, and later, once they’re all announced, the policies from different parties on the issue.
So what is the difference between being on the Māori roll and being on the general roll?
The cost of living has skyrocketed since the pandemic began.
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