Judgement Day, as one politician wag in my timeline called it.
There are two sets of communications messages going on on this day. Messages from people who run the vote and those who are running for office.
The comms challenge for those running the vote - local government - is quite simple on the face of it. There are four steps.
- Get people registered to vote.
- Get them to vote.
- Re-assure them that the pencils provided are not part of a devious plot and other miscellaneous issues that develop.
- Communicate the result.
It’s a chance to road test some new comms channels and show democracy in action.
For politicians it is simpler.
1. Get people to vote for them rather than the other person.
For almost 15 years I was involved with the process. First as a reporter. Second as a local government comms officer. It has been fascinating to see the process evolve. Offline communications remains important. The leaflets pushed through the letterbox sends a message that people in the area are putting in the work. Print still entices people to vote. Particularly those who are older and more likely to turn out. But increasingly, digital content is playing a role.
The first truly social media election
In the 2010 General Election, social media was just in its infancy. Twitter was coming to the fore and Facebook was evolving. But armies of Twitter users sharing the same political messages hasn't cut through. They cancel out and they speak to echo chambers. The shock Trump election was decided by a number of factors. Facebook advertising played an increasing role.
Mark Ritson in this Marketing Week post published on election night wrote:
Step 1: Spend it all on Facebook
You will have the press and PR teams in place. You’ll also be spending the usual amount on outdoor media and a bit of print. But that’s really there to send very vanilla, general messages to the electorate and misdirect everyone that this is the main campaign. The real money will go on digital and specifically onto Facebook advertising.
In 2015 the Conservative Party outspent Labour seven-fold on social media advertising and 50 times more than the Lib Dems. The Vote Leave campaign that secured Brexit spent 98% of its £6.8m budget on digital media (and most of that on Facebook); the same proportional spend should win the election once again later this week.
On the one level, this is social media. On another, this is dark social. Social media that you can’t search for. It can only be found if you are part of the target group. The BBC have flagged this practice.
Here are some examples that caught my eye from the 2017 General Election.
The #dogsatpollingstations hashtag was a thing of wonder.
Animals on the internet are hugely popular. Result: a popular hashtag that people can jump onto.
Newsjacking with donkeys
The #dogsatpollingstations hashtag was once again popular. But New Forest District Council went a step further. Horses and donkeys can be found across the Forest. Two shots of donkeys were used and shared. Result: The council is human and its election day.
Encourage to vote
Bath and North East Somerset Council used a series of videos to encourage people to sign-up to vote. Less than a dozen seconds long the clips worked well on the existing Twitter and Facebook. Result: encourage people to sign-up.
Facebook Live to First Time Voters
Facebook Live is starting to make an impression. Rather than the sub-21 seconds that works best on Facebook there’s more chance to engage. The best allow people to ask questions and see them answered. Here the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party asnswered questions from first time voters. Result: engaging with first time voters.
A tractor to remind you to vote
Selby Council posted this image part-way through the day as a reminder. Result: nudge towards the ballot box.
The Green Party social media channel re-purposed a Ladbroke’s tweet with humour and earned 11,000 retweets – one of the largest on election day. Result: a political party earns extra audience share by being human.
At previous elections, elections staff have been harangued by people who fear the provided pencils may be tampered with. So, the pre-emptive strike is helpful. Result: Fewer people haranguing staff.
Live updates while we wait
As polls close at 10pm, there is a process that needs to be followed. Boxes from polling stations arrive at the count. This video from the Hartelpool Mail tells people at what stage the count is. Result: Real-time updates.
Live updates for the declaration
This was the debut of Facebook Live and other live social platforms. Dorset Council experimented here with a behind-the-scenes update.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.