Images, Politicians, and Social Media: Patterns and Effects of Politicians’ Image-Based Political Communication Strategies on Social Media

Farkas, Xénia; Bene, Márton
The International Journal of Press/Politics

Although images have always been part of politics, research on the visual aspects of political communication recently gained momentum, especially with the spread of social media–based political communication. However, there are still several significant research gaps in this field. The aim of this article is to identify and compare the patterns and effects of Hungarian politicians’ (n = 51) image-based communication on Facebook (n = 2,992) and Instagram (n = 868) during the Hungarian parliamentary election campaign in 2018. By doing so, we shed light on two important dimensions of personalization: individualization and privatization. This work is designed to fill three gaps in the literature. We argue that existing research of visual political communication (1) treats images predominantly as illustrations, (2) is limited to single-platform studies, and (3) does not investigate the engagement effects of images. To move beyond these limitations, this study investigates images as objects of interest on their own; it adopts a cross-platform comparative approach and examines the engagement effects of visual cues by applying a combination of inductive and deductive qualitative content analysis. Our results show that images are often used to personalize communication. While on Facebook the individualization dimension of personalization is more common and popular, on Instagram its privatization dimension prevails. Furthermore, on Facebook, users like more politics-related candidate-centered images, but on Instagram we could not find similar effects for more informal visuals.