Search & Social Media in the Dutch Elections, Part 1: Twitter

Politics in the 21st century is unlike anything we’ve seen in previous centuries. Where politicians used to live their own lives and only communicated with voters during election time by telling them what they planned to do, now politicians have to get closer to the voters. And the web can help in achieving that.

In the U.S., Barack Obama won the Internet war and the general election. The U.K. elections were never as digital as this year.

We’ve seen quite a few articles on Search Engine Watch already about the use of search and social media in the U.K. and U.S. politics (see “Elections & Social Media” box for some of the coverage). But how do the smaller countries handle this?

In the Netherlands, Dutch parties are in the middle of their campaigns. Being Dutch, I can take a good look at how the Netherlands, a very online-minded country, is embracing the web in the elections.

In this short series, we’ll look at how the Dutch are using search and social media in the election campaign. We’ll look at Twitter, YouTube, search, and other elements. And, of course, if you have any questions, just ask in the comments below!

To start, we’ll look at Twitter. Do the Dutch politicians understand?


The Dutch parliament consists of many different parties. Where the U.K. saw its first coalition in decades, the Dutch always had them. A one party government has never existed, and probably never will.

About nine or 10 parties play an active role in the parliament. Usually two or three of them are in the government.

This means there are a lot of politicians around. Trying to follow every politician is impossible, but the Dutch politicians seem to be pretty active on Twitter. At least, they have accounts.

Many politicians aren’t really actively Twittering themselves. Their accounts are run by party members, or are rarely updated. It seems as if the higher in rank the politician, the less likely he is to be really the person Twittering.

Not surprisingly in election times, however, things seem different. All of a sudden the tweets seem to be coming from the actual politicians, and the Twitter accounts are more active than ever.

National broadcaster NOS research, however, shows the politicians aren’t using Twitter as the tool it can best be used for: interacting. The research looked into how the Dutch parties answered questions from Netherlands Twitterers. The results were disappointing.

Party leaders are using Twitter as an “old politics” send-medium. They hardly interact with the voters. They’re just sending out their message.

The most active social Twitterer, the politician actually answering most of the questions received, is the party leader of the Dutch Party for Animals (a small party).

Some of the bigger parties are reluctant to answer questions. The Dutch Labour leader, for example, answered none of 245 questions received, and the Dutch right wing leader Geert Wilders of the PVV only answered one of 378 questions asked via Twitter.

There are exceptions. Some politicians are answering questions. In general, though, Dutch politicians are sending out a message rather than interacting.

Twitter Debate

Maybe the parties will have to change their gears when they join a new element: the Twitter debates. This phenomenon has been set up by a Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant, which decided to give the voters a chance to directly ask the politicians questions.

Twitter users can send in questions for the politician to answer. The answering, however, is done live on video on Ustream and Coveritlive. Although the politician doesn’t actively respond on Twitter, it’s a nice way of using the service.


Twitter isn’t being used to its full potential in the Dutch elections thus far. At least not by the politicians.

However, the voters are on Twitter. The most recent debate on TV was discussed so much on Twitter that it became a worldwide trending topic. It’s safe to say the politicians are missing a chance here!

But as you’ll see in coming installments, the politicians are debating on the web in a lot more ways than just on Twitter. To be continued!

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