whatsapp for elections

A few years ago it was considered revolutionary to use Facebook to tell people election results and now its expected. Now it is experimenting with messaging app WhatsApp that is the latest frontier for one intrepid council.

by Geoff Coleman

At the risk of incurring your wrath, can I mention the election? I know, I know... we're all probably getting a little fed-up with what feels like the longest campaign in history. Personally I'm taking the opportunity to experiment.

I work at Birmingham City Council and in recent years we've gradually built-up our election coverage and the combination of web updates, tweets, videos and more always attracts a decent audience.

My boss Janet Priestley is always encouraging us to experiment with new platforms and channels and recently challenged me to build on our previous election coverage. So this year we're sharing voter information, candidate lists results and other election news via mobile messaging service WhatsApp.

In part this was inspired by Shropshire Council's experiment with WhatsApp late last year.

I share Shropshire's 'let's give it a go' ethos and decided to wait for a suitable project to carry out my own WhatsApp experiment.

The election seems as good an excuse as any.

We launched the service last week (April 24) and the initial response has been very positive. Over 60 people have already signed-up and we're aiming for at least 200 by election day. Not a huge audience granted but a decent number for this particular experiment.

Now, just as we all had to find our way with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the rest, the same applies to WhatsApp.
We're using the broadcast feature that allows us to issue updates to a large group (essentially it's like a text message version of an email bcc) That's not to say this is solely broadcast - subscribers have already got back to us, suggesting content and asking questions - but these messages are not cluttering-up everyone else's inbox.

We're using WhatsApp Web, which allows us to update via a pc - this is much less fiddly than doing everything on a smartphone.

It's early days yet but I can see plenty of potential. A lot of my work focusses on Birmingham's public health team and there could be uses for things like smoking cessation support groups. Or what about using WhatsApp to remind people to put their bins out?

If you're interested in our WhatsApp election service, please sign up. I'd be interested in your feedback - good and bad.

Geoff Coleman is social media communications officer at Birmingham City Council.

Picture credit.