By Bojana Milovanovic
Social media networks have become a significant political battleground ahead of the May 6th local and presidential elections, and the main contenders in the tight election race — the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Serbian Progressive Party — are making one last effort to attract voters via the internet.
“There is a noticeable and sudden rise of interest in being present in social media,” Ivan Bauer, presidency member of the Social Democratic Party of Serbia, which is part of the ruling coalition led by the Democratic Party, told SETimes.
The Serbian Progressive Party created a large team to conduct its campaign on the social networks and is very active in that arena, senior party official Marko Djuric told SETimes. “Our objective is to address younger voters, who often communicate through social networks in everyday life.”
Support for the two main election contenders appears to be tied in the social networks: the Democrats lead in the number of followers on Twitter while the Progressives have a greater number of fans on Facebook.
The Progressives have nearly 53,000 Facebook fans versus the Democrats’ 36,000. Last week, they netted an additional 7,000 supporters, which suggests the party’s campaign is relying heavily on social network outreach.
Djuric says the reason for success is that the Serbian Progressive Party has understood social networks communication is a two-way street.
“It matters to us to hear people’s opinions, to see what the biggest problems are. We are offering an opportunity for people to ask our officials questions, as well as to present specific proposals and solutions,” Djuric said.
The party offers selected Facebook fans an opportunity to have lunch with the candidate for Belgrade mayor, Aleksandar Vucic. “It is simple. All you have to do is select the e-mail addresses of three friends and invite them to participate at the meeting,” the Facebook page said.
Facebook is the most popular social network in Serbia — and the region — but politicians increasingly use Twitter as well. Environment Minister and Democratic Party official Oliver Dulic boasts more than 7,600 followers and regularly communicates with citizens on issues concerning ecology.
Despite the increased emphasis on social networks, some experts argued that most political parties fail to use as many social networks as possible for optimal results.
“Our parties are still primarily using Facebook — [which is] understandable since it is by far the most popular — and Twitter. But many forget about YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, various forums… Only the integrated use of all these media can yield synergistic results,” Bauer said.
Bauer, who has experience in marketing, said the emphasis on social media is commendable, but may be a double-edged sword because creating relations with the targeted audience is not a one-time affair.
“If it is so perceived, the achieved result will be worse than if one had never undertaken the task. The community in the social media is very ‘tough’ and it severely punishes all who try to abuse it in any way,” Bauer said.
There is a segment of the voters, however, that is repelled by the parties’ efforts to reach them via social networks and other means.
“Party campaigns prior to elections are too aggressive and irritating. I do not make the decision about who to vote for based on who appears in the media or in the social networks. What I care about are results and ideas,” Milos Kostren, a 22-year-old student in Belgrade, told SETimes.