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Sweden Democrats nation’s best on social media – but will it transfer to the election?

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Sweden Democrats nation’s best on social media – but will it transfer to the election?
Screenshot of the Sweden Democrats' Facebook page.
16:57 CET+01:00
Social media has become an increasingly important tool to reach voters and the Sweden Democrats (SD) is the nation's best party at navigating this new digital landscape. Whether the social media success will transfer to the September elections is another thing, however.
With gloomy background music and the words "you Social Democrats, you Moderators and those of you in the Swedish media were wrong…” SD party leader Jimmie Åkesson opens his party's campaign video, seen nearly 800,000 times on YouTube since it was uploaded in November. 
 
 
By contrast, a more upbeat campaign video from the Social Democrats, which opens with PM Stefan Löfven saying “we’re moving forward, together” has garnered only 4,000 views over the past three weeks. The number of dislikes on the YouTube video outnumber the likes, 100-63. 
 
 
SD’s YouTube channel has 15,359 subscribers and each video averages 399 engagements. The Social Democrats have just slightly more than 3,000 subscribers and averages only 50 engagements per video.
 
But it’s not just on YouTube that SD has the edge. New figures from media analyst Retriever show that the anti-immigration party is running away from the competition on social media. 
 
On Facebook, SD has almost 167,000 followers, besting the Social Democrats’ 150,000. On Twitter, the picture is a bit different. The Moderates have the most followers, followed by the Green Party. But like on the other channels, when it comes to engagement – how many people comment, share or react to a post – SD once again leads the way. The Moderates’ tweets get an average of 68 engagements while an average SD tweet gets 293, despite having 36,000 fewer followers. 
 
Conscious strategy
 
“I would probably say that it is not so much that SD is over-performing, it is more that the other parties are under-performing,” said John Rosenbaum, head of social media at Retriever. “It's a little worrying considering that there is an election in six months and the other parties have not woken up.”
 
Rosenbaum said that SD's social media success is a result of a conscious strategy and an understanding of how social media works that does not seem to be present in the other parties.
 
SD itself says that social media in many ways is the best way to reach out and communicate with their voters.
 
“Social media has been a major channel for us for a long time. There was a time when we did not have money and a time when we could not get advertisements in some newspapers, for example, so social media has been important to us. We can respond immediately and we can get feedback right away,” SD communications manager Joakim Wallerstein said. 
 
But media strategist Brit Stakston says that SD’s numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt. Stakston said the party specializes in presenting polarizing issues in black and white. It’s an approach that works well online but it also makes it difficult to establish good dialogue on important policy issues.
 
“SD is also the only party that has English subtitles on its election video and there is an international network around these national populist ideas that make them widely disseminated. They have a digital ecosystem that the other parties do not have. But the whole election does not play out online,” Stakston said. 
 
For both the Social Democrats and Moderates said that social media is important, but just one of several ways for them to reach voters.
 
“Social media has become more important in recent years, but winning the election is not just about the number of shares and likes. I think that in a time when more and more people are looking at their Facebook feeds all the time, the real face-to-face meetings and conversation will be even more important,” Moderate communications manager Hampus Knutsson said.
 
“We think of social media as a digital break room or a digital dinner with friends. This is where people meet and discuss and it is natural that we are there too, but it will never replace the personal meetings,” Social Democrats communications director Helena Salomonson said. 
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