In 2011, Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN) was interested in gauging public opinion and raising awareness of their accomplishments while in government. Rather than simply disseminating facts, party leaders hoped to engage voters in a conversation and leverage the social network of their supporters to spread their message. PAN organized a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook to improve their visibility and increase citizen participation. In order to spark a conversation on Twitter, PAN announced that it would launch a Twitter contest under the hashtag #logrosPAN (PAN achievements) from June 1-June 30, 2011.
To incentivize participation and instigate a competitive spirit, PAN announced that participants would score points by tweeting with the #logrosPAN tag and being retweeted. At the end of the month, the Twitter participant with the highest score would win an iPad and recognition from the PAN president. Focusing mainly on Twitter — PAN shared accomplishments through Facebook but encouraged participants toward Twitter — party members drafted messages for PAN’s Twitter handles, but were shocked to see the overwhelming response from Twitter users.
Over the course of the contest, it was estimated that roughly 2,600 participants mentioned #logrosPAN around 135,000 times, with nearly 69.5 million views. The contest allowed PAN to identify and attract new active and influential supporters on social media. Although party strategists planned the contest to be a positive narrative of the party’s accomplishments, they received numerous negative responses as well. This experience helped party leaders recognize that while they had control over their message initially, once it had been released, they lacked control over the platform and the conversation. Regardless, PAN leaders soon realized that negative comments could be helpful because they provided insight into the party’s perceived weaknesses and challenges. Careful analysis helped PAN identify gaps in its platform and underrepresented citizen interests. Holding the Twitter contest created a digital space where PAN could talk directly to, and receive feedback from, citizens.
Political parties exist within democracies to aggregate and represent citizen interests. However, in many democracies — both fledgling and established — many parties still exhibit clientelistic tendencies. Fundamentally, representation requires two-way communication between political parties and the citizens they represent. The PAN Twitter contest is an example of how political parties can maximize social media platforms to better reach out to, and receive feedback from, citizens. The potential benefit from social media is multiplied for parties operating in rural and conflict environments where traditional forms of party communications may be less effective or dangerous.