Holmes Report 14 Feb 2011 // 12:00AM GMT
Connecting, partnership and collaboration are what make Facebook a hugely successful medium. Transposing this onto our campaign and working with important third parties and stakeholders would add huge value to the user experience. Making often inaccessible political activism, commentary and debate open to all.
This campaign’s overarching ambition was to establish the first ‘two-screen election’ (TV and internet) and to place Facebook as a credible platform for mass political engagement during the 2010 General Election.
At the heart of this campaign, the world’s largest social network, with a real contribution to be made to one of the most important social and media moments of the year; the UK general election. Our seamlessly integrated approach was able to shine a light on Facebook and its increasingly important role in society – both on the platform itself and in mainstream media. Through Facebook, users were given the tools to create the news themselves and genuinely influence the shape of political debate.
In creating a single and neutral hub on Facebook – Democracy UK – users, politicians and media alike were able to express their views, campaign on issues and use the page as a real time political barometer during the election. This created a virtuous circle, with live engagement and interactive content driving more people to the page, to connect and share in the election debate further.
Incorporating novel digital and PR approaches was key to making the campaign a success; using digital engagement to encourage participation, targeted online advertising to register voters in conjunction with the Electoral Commission and media exposure to demonstrate the speed, scale and scope of the platform all helped to put the voice of Facebook’s 26 million UK users centre stage.
At the time of the 2005 general election few took any notice of the impact the internet or social networks would have on the way the election was conducted and reported. By 2010, Facebook and other social networks were established as part of many people’s everyday lives but they had not yet played a significant role in an election. Political parties were starting to understand their potential, but the mainstream media still returned to the core tactics of an election campaign - from campaign visits to battle buses.
Our task was to put social media, and specifically Facebook, on the political agenda for the election, to showcase its potential, to engage and activate people in the political process and to impact the offline media environment. Not easy given the massive interest in the three TV debates.
We pursued these objectives using three key approaches:
1. Be fast and flexible with changing news agenda and responsive with our media relationships.
2. Play to Facebook’s strengths; scale, debate, speed and instant reaction.
3. Build and deploy powerful partnerships.
We needed to establish a strategy that would galvanise users fast, engage media already saturated by political commentary and sustain momentum throughout one of the most crowded news agendas of recent years. Our target was to make 2010 the year of the two-screen election (both TV and digital): a strategy that incorporated the landmark impact of televised debates and social media. At the heart of our campaign was a neutral hub for users where anyone with an opinion could congregate to share and harness political debate. This would then be the launch pad for executing our strategy and achieving our objectives.
Be fast and flexible with the platform, the changing news agenda and responsive with our media relationships. Only by doing this would we stimulate and maintain media interest in the impact of everyday political interaction on Facebook by hunting down and surfacing key trends on the platform. Our first step was to establish the neutral hub (Democracy UK). It needed to be constantly reactive to the news agenda, regularly bringing in new and interesting content for Facebook users while also creating ample content for media.
Through prioritising our targets and meeting face-to-face, we set-up a panel of key political commentators that we were in dialogue with throughout the election, feeding stories directly to them, sometimes on a daily basis, enabling coverage to be delivered at a steady volume throughout. We invited journalists to have live debates on the hub – this included Martin Popplewell (Gay Times) taking questions days after Cameron’s gaffe around gay rights and Sophy Ridge (News of the World) talking about her election tour.
Play to Facebook’s strengths – scale, debate, speed and instant reactions. This would help to reveal the astonishing reach of Facebook and its influence as a social utility. To truly engage the UK electorate in a fundamental debate about its political future, Facebook had to be taken seriously as a key barometer. This was facilitated using the following strategy:
• Regular polling: reacting to the latest campaign events as they unfolded.
• Status updates: were reactive to the rolling news agenda, asking questions and provoking comment rather than simply updating news events.
• Mining for groups: Acknowledging that arresting stories can be found through activity already happening on the platform was an essential part of our daily strategy.
• Creative applications: Building creative apps were essential to sparking interest amongst Facebook users in the election. Apps included a ‘I’m voting’ badge, a ‘Ministry of Mates’ where users could nominate friends to their own cabinet and a polling day ‘rooster’ which users clicked-on to show they had voted. CUTION
By using our knowledge of the political landscape and developing partners for Facebook to align itself with, Blue Rubicon succeeded in demonstrating how the platform could be used as a force for good in political campaigning.
• A hive of activity on Election Day: The ‘I voted’ counter on the top of Facebook in the UK on polling day encouraged 1.8 million people in the UK to declare that they had used the ballot box to friends and family. As the BBC started covering results as they came-in, the Facebook Rooster had clocked 1.8 million users and was profiled on prime rolling election night coverage, with it also rating it as one of Twitter’s top trending topics. A later Oxford study by Nic Nugent calling this “impressive” and an unprecedented moment in online political activity in the UK. Within hours of the polls closing and the hung parliament verdict, over 1.1 million people on Facebook proclaimed a Labour/Lib Dem coalition to be the most desirable. Facebook received widespread results day coverage in major broadsheet and tabloid political pages, with the Mirror proclaiming “Labour to have the Facebook edge in hung poll”.
• Constant reaction: A poll on the day the election attracted 16,000 votes in 20 minutes, and over 500,000 voted on their preferred prime minister directly before Election Day. In the hours after ITV broadcast the first party leaders’ debate, Clegg was proclaimed the Facebook winner, with the poll receiving coverage on Newsnight, and the Today programme through to the next morning’s Metro.
• Party leader digital debates: Through working with the main political parties and YouTube, we put social media at the heart of the election campaign by inviting users to ask questions directly to David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. As a result of talking to media throughout the process we secured 91 pieces of coverage, 5,300 questions submitted by Facebook and You Tube users, 180,000 votes on questions from users and 9,575 monthly active users of the application.
• Electoral Commission: Through brokering a successful partnership with the Electoral Commission we helped a completely new demographic register to vote via Facebook. Facebook helped facilitate 14,000 downloads of electoral registration forms via the platform for the first time ever and a huge upsurge in traffic to the Electoral Commission website. By ensuring that the Electoral Commission, a credible third party, led all media relations, this put Facebook at the heart of the election story and the team secured over 223 pieces of media coverage for this one venture alone. The Commission’s About My Vote website also had an extra 50,000 visits above normal levels over the following three days.
• Rate the Debate: Tying-in the three leaders’ debates, the team pioneered the ultimate ‘two screen election’ tactic by working closely with a tech team to create a Rate The Debate application. By producing an accurate graph out of the vast user-engagement, the team successfully garnered live coverage in broadsheet political blogs at the Guardian, FT and Telegraph, and next day broadcast and tabloid press.
• Reacting: Within minutes of the pre-election Budget being announced, in the infancy of Democracy UK, we spotted a ‘Leave our cider alone’ group had been set up. By feeding this directly to media, we secured coverage across the BBC and into the morning press.
• Democracy UK attracted 280,000 Users
• 78,000 user interactions
• 202 DUK status updates, producing in excess of 125,000 comments
• 3,500 wall posts from users
• I’m Voting Badge: 32,000 users
• Ministry of Mates: 131,000 users
• Rate the Debate App: 68,000 users
• 772 fan photos uploaded
• 1.8 million users ‘voted’ on the polling day rooster
• Over 1.1 million people voted on their preferred coalition outcome after election day
• 570 pieces of print and online coverage within six weeks
• 223 pieces of coverage around the Facebook partnership with the Electoral Commission, including 139 pieces of broadcast coverage, 97 regional items and 16 televised items
• A total of 116 pieces of coverage around all three leaders’ debates
• 91 pieces of coverage around the Facebook and You-Tube Digital Debate
• 86 regional print and online articles
• Every national newspaper covered the campaign over the election period
• Richard Allan was interviewed on all major broadcast outlets including BBC News, C4, ITN, Sky and CNN
• The Facebook counter received prime time coverage on the BBC Election special