Italy’s election results are under scrutiny in Europe. Almost 80% of voters chose parties that rode the anti-establishment wave. The outcome was the long tail of what the world already experienced with the Brexit vote, the U.S. presidential election and those in countries of the European Union. Accordingly, the campaigning done by these parties in Italy during the last few months reflected how voters were (or not) willing to be part of the public debate.

Here are a few of my reflections on what transpired:

Polarizing messages set the tone of the agenda of each political party: the Democratic Party led by Matteo Renzi that supported the outgoing government took a bet on creating a positive spin on what it had accomplished during its time in power. Meanwhile, all the other parties chose to leverage people’s dissatisfactions, using aggression and emotion to set the tone of their respective messages: limit or expel refugees and migrants, control borders, defend “Italy First”, ignore EU rules to boost the domestic economy, eradicate corrupt political opponents, etc…

As a result, this polarization did not encourage a peaceful debate but rather reinforced divisions among people, preventing each party from taking part in a debate within the limits of respect and decency. The decision not to take part in a live televised debate as well as the lack of public and private funds for the campaigns influenced the media strategy of each party. Almost all of them reduced public events and put all their efforts in the digital space. Billboards in cities promoted brands instead of candidates. Spaces allotted to political advertising (such as posters) were not used to the fullest.

Traditional media continued playing their role. All the leaders contended for some space on TV shows and interviews in newspapers. But no significant debates were scheduled, depriving voters of witnessing a battle of ideas and proposals by putting political leaders in the face of each other. Traditional media were basically used to reach part of the electorate, but primarily to fuel the real content strategy on social media.

The social media environment was clearly favorable to the opponents of the Democratic Party: the Five Star Movement and the Lega Party. Despite Twitter, they used massively Facebook to influence public opinion by setting the agenda with bold and aggressive messages. By contrast, the Democratic Party’s communications strategy was perceived just as a representation of results that people did not believe. Moreover, the pleasant tone of voice of its messages was totally in contrast with the uncertainty and fearful mood of many Italians.

It is not possible to address the outcome of the Italian election via social media metrics only. What we should analyse is why people abandoned political participation and the open debate of ideas. Adding a like or retweeting is not participation necessarily, neither posting a comment. It takes less time, it takes less reflection. It can be an advantage and Italian parties knew so. They just bet everything in reinforcing their likeability.

Marco Magli's expertise spans across corporate communications, media relations, external & internal stakeholders engagement, crisis management, digital strategy and advertising campaigns. He developed his career in companies like Avio Aero, a business of General Electric operating into the aviation industry, and Barilla Group, a leading international food company. Marco began his career at Edelman international PR firm. He held several roles working with international accounts and he broadened his responsibilities by managing communication projects for several of the most reputable technology, manufacturing and consumer goods brands. Between 2005 and 2006 he was in charge of media relations activities for Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Marco Magli graduated from University of Siena with a bachelor degree in Corporate Communications.