So, How’s That Instagram Thing Working For You?

Among the more bizarre turns the as-yet-unofficial election campaign in Muddy Hollows has taken is definitely the sudden rush trot of politicos to Instagram. Ever since president Pahor got a couple of positive write-ups on Politico for his Instagram antics the accepted wisdom seems to be that IG is the new black [Slavoj Žižek voice] and so on and so on…

Karl Erjavec’s increasingly popular Instagram account (source)

The main object of fascination in the past few weeks was none other than foreign minister and leader of pensioner’s party Karl Erjavec who took Slovenian Instagram by something of a storm. His trademark man-of-the-people-meets-Captain-Obvious approach has earned him roars of approval on the social network.

While Erjavec’s followers number is nowhere near Pahor’s who remains in a league of his own among Slovenian politicians with 50k followers, Erjavec is has until today clocked in around 3000 followers, more than double that of Janez Janša of SDS (who generally takes to Twitter to disparage his opponents, real and imagined) with 1200 followers. Prime minister Cerar is trailing both with 960 followers.

Economics of Instagram

The logic behind this is fairly straightforward: Instagram users present a different and slightly younger base, widely considered to be the untapped pool of potential votes which could mean the difference between a winner and an also-ran. Well, [narrator voice] It turns out reality is much less straightforward…

Borut Pahor and his staff spent considerable resources doing his Instagram shtick. Not necessarily in terms of money but definitely in terms of time and energy spent. And it was all almost for naught. Pahor only managed to beat his main challenger Marjan Šarec in the second round and with a meagre six-point spread at that. Only about 40 percent of voters in the 18-30 bracket bothered to vote and those who did represented only 12 percent of all votes cast. The inescapable conclusion therefore is that most youngsters, despite being amused by politicos doing Instagram, mostly choose to stay at home and do fuck all. It is as if we have to re-learn the old adage that likes do not necessarily translate to votes.

This seems to be especially true of Instagram. According to latest research of Slovenian social media users Instagram is the second most apolitical of them all. More than 51 percent of all IG users are “not interested” or “not at all interested” in politics, with the latter being in a large majority. Only Pinterest, with only a quarter as many daily Slovenian users as Instagram seems to be more apolitical.

Hi, kids!

Point being there is a large disconnect between perception and reality of Instagram as an effective political tool. First, there is the question of reach. Most Slovenian politicians’ IG follower number go into several hundred at best. In terms of reach that is laughable and suggests no real strategy beyond “let’s cross-post our Twitter shit on Instagram”. Second, the largely apolitical nature of Instagram users makes it especially hard to turn online engagement into votes. It didn’t work for Pahor with his substantial followers base and it sure as hell isn’t working for Erjavec. And then there’s the fact that not every audience is suited for every politician. At best, old establishment farts trying to be cool on Instagram come across like Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock, only not nearly as funny.

Which is something Karl Erjavec is learning as we speak. Even though he was the talk of the town for a few weeks and that his Instagram antics provided him with more than just one friendly interview, the latest polls should have the leader of DeSUS worried. Not only is his party still polling within single-digit area, two polls in the last couple of days have DeSUS dangerously close to or even below the 4-percent threshold which a political party needs to pass to win sits in the parliament.

Objects of ridicule

True, it is still early days and a week is a long time in politics [in Slavoj Žižek voice] and so on and so on. But while DeSUS should not be simply written off just yet the lesson here is that fooling around on social media can turn out to be just idle fun if there is no content (policy or otherwise) to back it up. And as far as Erjavec is concerned the demographics he targets with his policy initiatives (translation: senior citizens) don’t really do ‘gram.

That is not to say, however, that kids on IG don’t care about the society around them. Quite the opposite, in fact. As we can see in the aftermath of the Parkland high-school massacre kids these days care deeply about issues that matter to them and are more than able to quickly organise, control the narrative to an exceptional degree and force changes. The problem (articulated more than once) is that the political class doesn’t address issues that concern the young voters which is why they don’t really see any reason to address the political class other than to peruse it as an object of amusement and/or ridicule. Being a politician on Instagram only makes it easier for kids to do so.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.