Last Friday, the launch of Alex Salmond’s Alba party was an extremely online affair. Hosted on Zoom, the event was live-streamed via Facebook and YouTube.

Despite technical difficulties and on-screen awkward silences, the launch of Alba was all that Scotland seemed to be talking about on Twitter.

Nowadays, 88% of Scottish households have access to the internet, and using social media is one of the most common reasons for Scots to log online. This figure, alongside the fact that the upcoming Holyrood elections are taking place during a global pandemic - where door-to-door campaigning is limited - means that social media is going to be a key battleground in the run up to May 6.

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Even in elections that took place before the pandemic, political parties that had the most effective social media campaigns have gone on to electoral victory. From Obama’s groundbreaking use of online advertising and voter mobilisation in 2008, through to the cutting simplicity of the Tories ‘Get Brexit Done’ digital messaging in 2019, via of course Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ memes in 2016, it is clear that social media matters in determining who wins on election day.

As we are yet to see any polling that includes the Alba party, and given that social media shapes elections, we can turn to social media engagement figures to give us a preliminary sense of how much support Alex Salmond’s party has.

In the space of a week Alba has amassed a following of just over 9,000 Twitter followers, but on Facebook they have only gained a following of 1597 people. These do not seem like the levels of support needed for a party to have electoral success.

HeraldScotland: Data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook.Data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook.

Indeed, the small social media following is surely a disappointment for a party that is led by a former First Minister, ran by a former SNP digital strategist, and has the support of several controversial yet supposedly popular pro-independence bloggers.

By using the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle we can see the Facebook interactions that Alba has gained over the past week, and again the numbers will be disappointing for anyone who is under the illusion that Alba represents a large grassroots movement.

Alba only has a daily average of 732 Facebook interactions (likes, comments, shares, reactions, and follows). To put that into perspective with other pro-independence parties, the Scottish Greens have double the amount of daily interactions (1429), whereas the SNP outperforms everyone else with an average of over 20,000 Facebook interactions every day.

READ MORE: Alba Party urged to cut ties to Wings Over Scotland blogger after Sturgeon 'decapitation' row

If Alba does have a large base of supporters, they aren’t engaging with the party much on Facebook, which is where you would expect to see them interacting and sharing content across their social networks.

HeraldScotland: Data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook.Data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned and operated by Facebook.

Alba supporters also aren’t rallying around their leader in large numbers. Alex Salmond’s official Facebook page has only had an average of 604 daily interactions. In fact, when you look at the responses to Salmond’s launch of Alba on Facebook we see more negative than positive responses.

Out of the top 50 comments on Salmond’s post about Alba, 46 of them express negative sentiments, with many independence supporters criticizing the former FM for ‘sabotaging the independence movement’ and ‘continuing to undermine independence’. Others suggest Salmond has ‘an ego the size of Ben Nevis’, and they describe Alba as the ‘best thing that’s happened to the Tories in years’. Positive comments about Alba, or Salmond, are few and far between.

We await the polls for a more detailed and representative insight into public opinion on Alba, but it’s clear that they are yet to galvanise much support online. In an election during the midst of a pandemic, a startup party like Alba will need to have a large and engaged base of supporters to achieve electoral success, even on the list. A lot can happen in the weeks between now and May 6, but Alba’s small online following doesn’t bode well for them.

Dr Rhys Crilley is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow and part of the Department of Politics and International Relations at University of Glasgow