Dissertation: Finnish politicians yet to brand themselves professionally on social media

Elisa Kannasto kuva Anna Tervahartiala
Finnish politicians’ personal brands come across in Facebook campaign communication as spontaneous personal presentations that promote campaign events rather than engage in discussion with the public, shows a recent doctoral dissertation by Elisa Kannasto.

– The personal brands of politicians can play a major role in building their relationship with the public, but Finnish top politicians’ social media personal presentations continue to resemble random experiments rather than strategic brand work, says Elisa Kannasto, who will be defending her dissertation at the University of Vaasa on 3 December.

The different ways in which politicians approach Facebook during their campaigns was strongly highlighted in Kannasto’s dissertation. For example, Kai Mykkänen from the National Coalition Party used social media to communicate where he would be campaigning next, while Anna-Maja Henriksson from the Swedish People’s Party of Finland and Petteri Orpo from the National Coalition Party focused on describing their feelings while balancing family life with hectic campaigning. Orpo’s dog also became quite the campaign dog on Facebook, collecting lots of virtual scratches and “cute” comments. Harry Harkimo from Movement Now, on the other hand, relied on campaign videos and expletives.

Personal threats and electoral debate evaluations

Public debate is active on politicians’ public Facebook pages. Building personal brands is not just up to the politicians themselves, but citizens also play an active role in this process. Previous political decisions are brought up in discussion, politicians are criticised up to a point that it becomes a personal attack, politicians known for their sporting careers are praised and personal concern stories are shared to seek a political change. For example, issues relating to health care and the position of the elderly are often brought to politicians’ attention in the form of stories. The public also takes a keen interest in politicians’ TV appearances. They are given helpful tips, their performance and appearance is scrutinised and they are praised for doing well.

People are shouting into the darkness

Politicians should work to win their voters’ trust also on social media, where the public gathers to discuss, evaluate and make their voting decisions. However, according to Kannasto’s dissertation, politicians rather use Facebook for one-way communication with focus on informing the public of their upcoming campaign events and media appearances.

Few politicians answer the questions they are asked or comment on issues raised in Facebook discussions. Instead, they prefer to stick to limited subjects and present a restricted personal image of themselves with careful consideration of how much of their private lives, for example, is brought up.

The most common private life descriptions are related to family pets, dogs in particular, and pastime activities such as jogging and hiking. Previous careers are usually referred to when it will help build a picture of the politician’s expertise, for example, in matters related to economics or legislation.

Social media elections yet to become a reality

The concept of social media elections has been brought up in media for a long time, but the dissertation shows that politicians still continue to use at least Facebook fairly conservatively.

The platform is used for communication purposes, to share media appearances, raise key issues of the party and encourage people to vote. Some politicians share more private life content, invite people to debate or activate the public, for example, with the help of video content, but up until now, Facebook content has been in line with the traditional media. Thus, it appears that Finnish politicians have not entirely embraced the logic of social media and are not fully utilising the potential of social media platforms.

In her doctoral thesis, Elisa Kannasto examined the public Facebook pages of party chairs and voter-pullers in the 2019 Parliamentary elections. The review period was the month running up to the elections, and the study included both politicians’ own publications as well as comments and reactions from the public. 

Doctoral dissertation

Kannasto, Elisa (2021) “I am horrified by all kinds of persona worship!” Constructing Personal Brands of Politicians on Facebook. Acta Wasaensia 468. Väitöskirja. Doctoral Dissertation. Vaasan yliopisto. University of Vaasa.

Publication pdf: https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-476-983-9

Public defence

The public examination of MA Elisa Kannasto’s doctoral dissertation “I am horrified by all kinds of persona worship!”: Constructing Personal Brands of Politicians on Facebook will be held on Friday 3.12.2021 at noon at the University of Vaasa, main building Tervahovi, auditorium Wolff.

Participation for the event is also possible online: https://uwasa.zoom.us/j/65488018143?pwd=TGt5bHdsVzJHT0ZHeFE2L1Y0VnpHdz09
Password: 149461

Professor Juha Herkman (University of Helsinki) will act as an opponent and Professor Tanja Sihvonen as custos. The defence will be held in Finnish.

Further information

Elisa Kannasto, tel +358 40 5725417, email: elisa.kannasto (@) seamk.fi 

Elisa Kannasto was born in Siilinjärvi, Finland. She completed comprehensive school in Isokyrö and upper secondary school in Vaasa. She received her International Baccalaureate Diploma from Vasa Övningskola. 

Kannasto graduated with a Master’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Vaasa in 2014 and started her postgraduate studies in 2015. During her doctoral studies, she worked as a communications and Finnish language lecturer at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. In addition, she has taught communication courses at the University of Vaasa and has participated in the University of Tampere research project ”Henkilöityminen hybridimediassa – Eduskuntavaalit 2019” (Personalisation in hybrid media – the 2019 Parliamentary elections).

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