A collection of “Weird Facts at Work” with scary music. Footage of a dog refusing to take a selfie with Scott Morrison. An augmented reality version of the Parliament featuring a giant Shrek dancing above the building.
These are all short videos produced by Australia’s largest political parties for the TikTok platform that represent a new frontier in the social media campaign for the 2022 federal election campaign.
The 2019 election was the boom of memes – intentionally low-fi imagery with mundane gags and simple messages shared on places like Facebook – as a digital strategy.
He called a New Zealand digital marketing agency Topham Guerin bragged about their “water on a stone” strategy for the Liberal Party which took home the same point as the key to the Coalition’s surprise victory in 2019.
In the aftermath of the election, the Labor autopsy of their campaign admitted that they had lost the battle on social media and that their digital strategy was treated as ancillary to the rest of the campaign.
Many things have changed since 2019.
While Facebook has stalled, TikTok is ascending. Although the number of users still lags behind Facebook and Instagram, the short video platform counts more Aussies as users than Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin and Reddit and only continues to grow.
Importantly, Australian users of TikTok spend far more time on it than other apps – 23 hours per month compared to 17 hours on YouTube or Facebook according to one. Report We Are Social and Hootsuite. There are millions of Australian voters ingesting hours of content through their TikTok For You page every week.
This has drastically changed the rest of the digital landscape as well. Other tech companies, fearing that TikTok’s overwhelming success would loosen its grip on their users, have also “innovated” (in other words, they’ve robbed TikTok) by offering similar features like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.
TikTok.com was the second most viewed domain connected to Facebook in the last quarter, second Meta’s latest content report. While digital videos like YouTube and Instagram Stories have been featured in election campaigns in the past, the short, social video format defined by TikTok is now king.
Curtain University’s Tama Leaver says the platform’s popularity exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a political moment: “During the pandemic blockade, many young people used TikTok to make political commentary, so it’s an important space for actually create and amplify messaging policies. ”
Politicians and political parties have been slow to accept TikTok, but it started growing in the months leading up to the election. Leaver says Labor is “clearly better” on TikTok than the Liberal Party.
Australia’s largest official political TikTok belongs to Labor’s Julian Hill who has built an audience of nearly 150,000 followers with vlog-style videos and highlights from his federal parliament speeches. The ALP launched an account a year ago sharing the highlights of their members and the weaknesses of their opposition.
The Coalition is behind. In a somersault from their concerns about TikTok’s national security implications, Scott Morrison joined the platform late last year and, while only posting a handful of videos, is the largest government account.
In the week before the election, the Liberal Party also created an account to post meme-filled videos. Its content has a “How do you do your mates“atmosphere for them, existing in the mysterious valley where they appropriate popular meme formats but don’t feel quite right. Unlike their success on Facebook, almost none of the Liberal Party content has gone viral.
Outside of the two main parties, the Greens, Jacqui Lambie Network, Bob Katter and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have all been active on TikTok.
The most successful content of official political party accounts is the TikTok equivalent of the attack announcement – short, slightly edited clips of a gaffe or negative moment from a political opponent.
A quickly shot video of when Anthony Albanese refused to answer a question at a press conference from a punter or a harsh televised interview with Josh Frydenberg performed well for each of the two main parties.
But it’s the user-generated content from Australians that dominates. Hashtags like #ausvotes, #auspol, #scomo, and #albo on TikTok are filled with content from ordinary users who create memes, make skits, and or react to clips and headlines.
Some are accounts dedicated to Australian politics, while others are professional TikTok content creators who occasionally mocked politics. These videos get the lion’s share of views, often getting hundreds of thousands of views each.
One such video was created by TikTok user @bitofpud who made a series of anti-Scott Morrison viral videos that have received millions of views. The user, who asked to use his name TikTok, is a professional video producer who started making videos to encourage people to encourage viewers to consider their votes ahead of the federal elections.
“TikTok is the easiest way to reach people, so I started there,” they said in a message.
Political entities have begun to seek to exploit and encourage seemingly organic political content on the platform.
last year, Woh revealed that A US-based influencer company was offering people money to produce anti-Scott Morrison TikTok videos on behalf of the Labor Party (although there is no evidence that anyone ever accepted this offer). Earlier this month, ABC reported it Union-linked TikTok accounts were producing political content without electoral permissions. At least one influencer was paid for this content. These kinds of paid influencer campaigns have occurred during overseas elections and are completely opaque – they rely on disclosure from the parties involved.
And at least part of it is interacting with the communities that form around TikTok videos that align with their messages. In the comments section for one of @bitofpud’s videos, you’ll find the Australian Labor Party’s account encouraging fans of the video: “The best way to get this video out is to share it as far as possible.”