Salvini And The Beast

Matteo Salvini's social media strategy is so powerful that it has been nicknamed The Beast. What lies behind it?

Salvini The Beast
Matteo Salvini – painted portrait” by Thierry Ehrmann, edited and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Matteo Salvini’s social media strategy is so powerful that it has been nicknamed The Beast. What lies behind it?

More than 4 million likes on Facebook, 1.2 million followers on Twitter, and even a brand new TikTok profile. I’m not talking about the latest world-famous influencer: the star here is Matteo Salvini.

In a few years, the League’s leader became a popular presence on the most important social media channels, transforming the potential offered by a well-managed communication strategy into a decisive form of buzz marketing which allowed him to become exactly what his electors want him to be. 

According to Data Media Hub, in July 2019 Salvini had an average of 31 tweets per day. To provide some context, the report claims that during the same timeframe, Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the left-wing Democratic Party, used to tweet just about 5 times a day. The pulsating schedule of Salvini’s communication program went crazy during the weeks before the European elections, held on May 26 of last year, when the number of posts skyrocketed to more than 100 per day. The result? His party got 34% of the votes nationwide, thus becoming the number one political force in the country. 

The Beast

The social media strategy developed for Matteo Salvini’s accounts is so well-defined, unique and powerful that is has been nicknamed “The Beast” by journalists and communication experts. According to the press agency AGI, to have this kind of success, the League’s leader would need to be using an innovative tool that allows his social media manager Luca Morisi to get instant feedback about the buzz and the sentiment score generated by the thousands of interactions that Salvini’s tweets get daily, in order to adjust the strategy and please his fans. “The Beast” kept growing during the last couple of years and it fed an aura of mystery around the complicated algorithms that lay behind it. In the end though, its mechanisms were never made public. 

In Il Corriere della Sera, Milena Gabanelli stated that “The Beast” is managed by 35 digital experts that cover Matteo Salvini’s life 24/7. She also reported that during the 14 months when Salvini was Minister of the Interior, the government spent 315,000 euros on the salaries of six people involved in The Beast. Furthermore, social media manager Morisi earned 65,000 euros while his business partner, Andrea Paganella, got a check for 86,000 euros.

Minister of food blogging

Since the political elections of March 2018, when the League got about 17% of the votes and Salvini was appointed Interior Minister, his social media accounts have been flooded with pictures, videos and posts related to a single, unanimously loved topic: food. 

Salvini started sharing his meals on a daily basis, taking photos of succulent pasta dishes and inviting desserts that showcase the best and the worst of Italian culinary traditions. This strategy was used even more during the campaign for the regional elections in Umbria (on October 27, 2019) and then in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria this past January. Matteo Salvini was literally seen throwing Perugian chocolate chips to his voters, tasting every possible “unmissable, typical dish” and, eventually, kissing a piece of “coppa”, a kind of cured meat from Emilia-Romagna. 

In October 2019, Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the right-wing party Brothers of Italy, opened a viral debate about the so-called tortellini dell’accoglienza,” a revisited version of the plate made with chicken instead of pork, in order to respect everyone’s religious beliefs. “They are trying to erase our history and our culture,” Salvini said during a speech in Terni (Umbria), immediately posting a video with his statement on his social media profiles. Another anecdote related to Matteo Salvini’s food blogger career is the fight, which was quickly withdrawn, against Nutella. After months of pictures that showed him intent on eating the famous chocolate cream, during a speech in Ravenna he informed the public that he “changed his mind” about Nutella and was not going to consume it anymore, because he found out that it is made with Turkish nuts. “I’d rather support Italian farmers,” Salvini claimed from the stage. However, the next day he posted on his Twitter account a picture of himself very close to a bunch of Nutella jars. “Grocery shopping for the kids, here you go with the dessert!” the caption read. The fasting was quick.

The show must go on

Even if it is probably the most mentioned in the media, Twitter is not the only social network where Salvini is a virtual celebrity: he is also a champion with Facebook, a key tool of “The Beast” machine and the one where Salvini has the greatest audience, reaching more than 4 million fans on his page. Zuckerberg’s platform is used as a an effective megaphone for his statements, which are reposted thousands and thousands of times and score record engagement rates.

A masterpiece of Matteo Salvini’s communication strategy is the skillful use of Facebook live videos. He streams all of his public speeches, conferences, meetings, and announcements. It was on Facebook that Salvini showed his electors — and the host of journalists taking notes — the motion to dismiss that he received from the Procura di Catania in September 2019, related to the Gregoretti case. The same happened about a year before, with the Diciotti case, when Salvini was sitting in the Viminale office as the appointed Minister of the Interior. 

Lately, at the eleventh hour of the campaign for the regional elections in Emilia Romagna, he went all-in and actually followed an old woman in Bologna who allegedly knew where a Tunisian family of drug dealers lived. Salvini rang their bell and, while live streaming, answered with: “Excuse me, do you deal drugs?” The journalists and the media crew fell silent in front of such a clear violation of every privacy norm, and they all seemed incapable of interrupting such discriminatory behavior on the part of a former minister of the Republic. The video went viral within a few hours, and media outlets were fighting to push it to the top of their websites’ homepages. It was so popular that it even captured the attention of the Tunisian Ambassador in Rome, who defined it as “racist and shameful behavior which undermines the relationships between Italy and Tunisia.”

In the end, interestingly enough, all of his efforts proved to be in vain to win a historically “red” region. Going door-to-door or gobbling as much bolognese ragù as possible was not enough. On January 26, Matteo Salvini — or, actually, the candidate of his coalition Lucia Borgonzoni, but that’s another story — lost the much-awaited elections and failed in the self-imposed mission of “freeing” Emilia-Romagna from the left. Furthermore, a few days later, in an usual moral wince Facebook removed the doorbell video for “incitement to hatred.” It was not a good week for The Beast, but its digital battle to get to the government has just begun.

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