The social media election in nine tweets

by | May 5, 2015

It’s getting a bit of a cliché to describe it as a ‘social media election’ but things have changed drastically since 2010.

In 2010 adults spent 14.2 hours per month on the web, but, thanks to widespread use of mobile devices, our total use of media and communications averaged over 11 hours every day in 2014.

And 34% of UK 18-34 year olds changed their vote based on something they have seen on Twitter.

I’ve taken a look back at my tweets and retweets in the past few months to see how these changes might be affecting our experience of a UK election.

A new take on encouraging participation

Less preachy government advice and more ordinary people championing democracy: people seemingly not aligned to a particular party have been asking contacts in their networks to vote, reminding them of the deadline to register and generally normalising the act of voting.

I’m hoping the humour and passion that comes from these less formal prods to vote will result in an increased turnout this year.

There is a phenomenon where we are more likely to be influenced by our immediate community than by popular opinion. So you could argue the more this kind discussion is shared and commented on online, the more likely it is that turnout will increase.

Responding quickly to popular opinion

This tweet shows how an effective argument in a short video clip can make a point powerfully. There was a lot of well reasoned and emotional rejection of the proposal expressed online.

In fact, the conversation on social media was so negative – including Conservative politicians admitting they don’t support it – that the issue was probably buried.

Of 436 Twitter and Facebook posts sent from the Conservative’s five main accounts since April 15, only eight refer to the right to buy policy. A quick & possibly wise response to a subject that was not helping the Tory cause.

Humanising politicians.  Maybe.

Twitter’s Adam Sharp offers politicians advice that seems straightforward: act like a human.

With 78% of MPs on Twitter (as of March 2015), those prospective MPs who show some personality may well be giving themselves as edge – opting to connect to real people in ways that were unimaginable only two elections ago.

With Clegg chatting to us from his bus and even answering horrible tweets, and Miliband indulging his Milifans with selfie opportunities – even the parties’ big cheeses are reaching out and getting their hands dirty with us normal folk.  We’ll have to wait to see if those who listen and talk to people on social media get better outcomes at the ballot box.

Talking of selfies…

Will this be ‘a thing’?  I’m not sure it’s legal*. Would you do a ballot selfie? Is it a good way to make credible and popular the act of voting?  Or a weird vanity overshare? Will anybody sneak in their phone to Periscope or Meerkat coverage of their cross in the box?

Since 1872, voting has been a private act, performed in public. But I’d guess parts of a new generation of voters, used to updating their Facebook status when they’ve given blood or posting a coffee to Instagram, may not care too much about the private part of voting.

And Facebook is tapping into this desire to discuss and share democratic involvement by reminding us to vote.

*Thanks to Simon Marshall for pointing me to this BBC article which makes the matter clearer:

“There’s nothing in the law that specifically bans taking photos, but the Electoral Commission very strongly discourages any photography inside a polling station, primarily because of complex laws about maintaining the secrecy of the ballot. For instance, it’s illegal to reveal how someone else has voted, which could happen inadvertently via a sloppy selfie. In addition, taking a photo of a ballot paper’s unique identification number is against the rules. The key is a law against releasing any information “obtained in a polling station”, which is in order to protect the integrity of the poll.” FromElection 2015: What CAN’T you do in a polling station?

An old system in a new world

For politicians and government organisations in general, social media has thrown up all sorts of new things to consider in this period of purdah. What can and can’t be communicated is a grey area, as this PR Week article shows.  

An old tactic in a new world

Ah, the notorious ‘say you’ve been hacked’ tactic when you’ve cocked up. Most people who use social media know the unlikelihood of a hacker getting into to your account to spout views you might well have. Social media has changed many things but blame shifters will remain.

Sexy woman says something about politics, and just look at those shoes!

I did a quick Twitter search after I saw this story and if you dig deep you can find comments about Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood’s appearance.  But this was by no means representative of the debate around her performance on the leaders’ debate shows.

A lazy traditional media angle, and worryingly I think I, and everyone who shared it to say it was sexist, gave this paper extra views that they need so much to show advertisers. Annoying.

For a look at how the Internet has influenced UK general elections since its birth, take a look at this article from Wired.


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Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

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