Digital Campaigning: The Communication Strategies of the Leaders on Facebook

  • Cristopher CepernichEmail author


The Italian general election campaign of 4 March 2018 conducted on the Internet was the first completely digital one in its history. This chapter analyses the Facebook communication strategies and tactics adopted by the political leaders in the recent campaign. It investigates each of their characteristics and evaluates their effectiveness in terms of their capacity to create online engagement, to construct their messages, to emotionalise their content and to hybridise their campaign channels. The underlying hypothesis is that a new model of digital communication is emerging, one that is being exploited principally by Italy’s young, emerging leaders, namely Matteo Salvini (League), Luigi di Maio (Five-star Movement) and Giorgia Meloni (Brothers of Italy). Firstly, they are the leaders of new political parties; secondly, they present themselves as the leaders of post-ideological political forces; and, finally, they adopt a populist communication style. This hypothesis of an emerging model of strategic communication, more effective in terms of online engagement, is confirmed by many of the analytical dimensions considered.


  1. Alexander, J.C. 2010. The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bennett, W.L., and B. Pfetsch. 2018. Rethinking Political Communication in a Time of Disrupted Public Spheres. Journal of Communication 68: 243–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett, W.L., and A. Segerberg. 2012. The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. Information, Communication and Society 15 (5): 739–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bobba, G., and G. Legnante. 2016. Italy: A Breeding Ground for Populist Political Communication. In Populist Political Communication in Europe: A Cross-National Analysis of 27 European Countries, ed. A. Aalberg, F. Esser, C. Reinemann, J. Stromback, and C. de Vreese, 222–234. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Bobba, G., and F. Roncarolo. 2018. The Likeability of Populism on Social Media in the 2018 Italian General Election. Italian Political Science 13 (1): 1–12.Google Scholar
  6. Bracciale, R., and C. Cepernich. 2018. Hybrid 2018 Campaigning: Italian Political Leaders’ and Parties’ Social Media Habits. Italian Political Science 13 (1): 1–15.Google Scholar
  7. Bracciale, R., and A. Martella. 2017. Define the Populist Political Communication Style: The Case of Italian Political Leaders on Twitter. Information, Communication and Society 20 (9): 1310–1329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brader, T. 2006. Campaigning for Hearts and Minds: How Emotional Appeals in Political Ads Work. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Censis. 2017. I media e il nuovo immaginario collettivo. 14° Rapporto Censis-Ucsi sulla comunicazione. Milano: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  10. Cepernich, C. 2009. The New Technologies: The First Internet 2.0 Election. In The Italian General Election of 2008: Berlusconi Strikes Back, ed. J.L. Newell. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cepernich, C. 2016. Emotion in Politics. In The International Encyclopaedia of Political Communication, vol. 2. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  12. Cepernich, C. 2017. Le campagne elettorali al tempo della networked politics. Bari and Roma: Laterza.Google Scholar
  13. Cepernich, C., and E. Novelli. 2018. Sfumature del razionale. La comunicazione politica emozionale nell’ecosistema ibrido dei media. Comunicazione Politica XIX (1): 13–30.Google Scholar
  14. Chadwick, A. 2013. The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coleman, S. 2005. New Mediation and Direct Representation: Reconceptualizing Representation in the Digital Age. New Media and Society 7 (2): 177–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Enli, S.G., and E. Skogerbø. 2013. Personalized Campaigns in Party-Centred Politics. Information, Communication and Society 16 (5): 757–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feezell, J.T. 2018. Agenda Setting Through Social Media: The Importance of Incidental News Exposure and Social Filtering in the Digital Era. Political Research Quarterly 71 (2): 482–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gross, J.H., and K.T. Johnson. 2016. Twitter Taunts and Tirades: Negative Campaigning in the Age of Trump. PS: Political Science and Politics 49 (4): 748–754.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, D.W. 2018. Campaigning in the Twenty-First Century: Activism, Big Data, and Dark Money. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Kreiss, D. 2012. Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kreiss, D. 2016. Prototype Politics: Technology-Intensive Campaigning and the Data of Democracy. New York and London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lakoff, G. 2004. Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River: Chelsea Green.Google Scholar
  23. Lilleker, D.G., J. Tenscher, and V. Štětka. 2015. Towards Hypermedia Campaigning? Perceptions of New Media’s Importance for Campaigning by Party Strategists in Comparative Perspective. Information, Communication and Society 18 (7): 747–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Livingstone, S.M. 2005. Audiences and Publics: When Cultural Engagement Matters for the Public Sphere. Bristol: Intellect.Google Scholar
  25. Marcus, G.E., W.R. Neuman, and M. MacKuen. 2000. Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Marichal, J. 2012. Facebook Democracy. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  27. Mazzoleni, G., and R. Bracciale. 2018. Socially Mediated Populism: Communicative Strategies of Political Leaders on Facebook. Palgrave Communications 50 (4): 1–10.Google Scholar
  28. McLuhan, M. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: The New American Library.Google Scholar
  29. Nai, A., and A. Walter. 2015. New Perspectives on Negative Campaigning: Why Attack Politics Matters. Colchester: ECPR Press.Google Scholar
  30. Newman, B.I. 2016. The Marketing Revolution in Politics: What Recent U.S. Presidential Campaigns Can Teach Us About Effective Marketing. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  31. Newman, W.R., G.E. Marcus, A.N. Crigler, and M. Mackuen (eds.). 2007. The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Nielsen, R.K. 2012. Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Plutchik, R. 1980. Emotion: A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  34. Ridge-Newman, A., and M. Mitchell. 2016. Digital Political Marketing. In Political Marketing and the 2015 UK General Election, ed. D.G. Lilleker and M. Pack, 99–116. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  35. Roncarolo, F. 2017. Media Politics and Populism as a Mobilization Resource. In Political Populism: A Handbook, ed. C. Holtz-Bacha and O. Mazzoleni, 391–404. Baden-Baden: Nomos.Google Scholar
  36. Stier, S., A. Bleier, H. Lietz, and M. Strohmaier. 2018. Election Campaigning on Social Media: Politicians, Audiences, and the Mediation of Political Communication on Facebook and Twitter. Political Communication 35 (1): 50–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stromer-Galley, J. 2014. Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Vaccari, C., and A. Valeriani. 2015. Follow the Leader! Direct and Indirect Flows of Political Communication During the 2013 Italian General Election Campaign. New Media and Society 17 (7): 1025–1042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wells, C., D.V. Shah, J.C. Pevehouse, J. Yang, A. Pelled, F. Boehm, J. Lukito, S. Ghosh, and J.L. Schmidt. 2016. How Trump Drove Coverage to the Nomination: Hybrid Media Campaigning. Political Communication 33: 669–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Westen, D. 2007. The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Culture, Politica e SocietàUniversità degli Studi di TorinoTurinItaly

Personalised recommendations