The Referendum

Two years ago, I wrote a blog about the social media impact on the US Presidential Election, where I made a confident prediction on who would win based on the mobilisation of ground troops online, with a basic understanding of how to engage prospective voters – which resulted in me receiving torrents of abuse from angry Republicans, after I eloquently argued that their candidate, and the people running his campaign, were not quite up to speed digitally. In the end I was proved right, and found my blog second in the search results for ‘why Mitt Romney will lose the Election’. A small victory I feel.

Tomorrow, the people of my country, Scotland, go to the polls to decide whether they want to remain part of the UK, or whether they want to be an Independent government. Now, I’m not going to regurgitate the respective arguments or even pick a preference, rather I’m going highlight that digital disruption is kicking into the media, the government and the pollsters, which has left us in a situation where the result is not quite as cut and dried as they think.

Furthermore, and I feel I need to say this following the fallout of the Romney blog, I am expressing NO POLITICAL OPINION OR PREFERENCE WITHIN THIS POST. I AM MERELY MAKING OBSERVATIONS FROM A PROFESSIONAL POINT OF VIEW. 

Over the past two years, opinion polls have confidently predicted a No vote, the government has outlined why Scotland can’t be Independent and the media have published it. But, despite all the negativity regarding defence, Oil, health and currency, support for the Yes campaign has steadily grown. In fact, two weeks ago, opinion polls for the first time recognised that the Yes campaign might win. Which prompted panic within the establishment. Opinion polls are currently predicting a result that is only just in favour of a No vote. But what is the basis of these predictions? Street surveys? Telephone polls?

Have they not looked online?

Approximately 50% of the Scottish population have a Facebook account and with 97% of those eligible to vote registered to vote, and a predicted turnout of over 85%, the pollsters, government and the media appear to have only recently noticed what is actually going on online.

There were more than 8.5 million Facebook interactions regarding the Referendum, in Scotland, in the 5 weeks to September 8th. Of these interactions, the Yes campaign is clearly in the lead, thanks in part to their mobilisation of ground troops, engaging, discussing and debating the key issues of the debate. Within the same time frame, almost 90% of discussions regarding the referendum on Twitter, were pro Yes.

Often dismissed, by the No campaign as ‘Cyber Nats’, the Yes campaigners have managed to use digital channels to reach out to audiences that would not normally vote, and also engage with first time voters – 16 and 17 year old’s will be eligible to vote. The Yes campaign have posted 4 to 5 times more to Facebook than the No campaign, and leader of the Yes campaign, Alex Salmond even participated in a live Facebook Q&A with the electorate, that attracted over 5000 questions. Those in business know how effective it can be to talk directly to your customers. Clearly this tactic has worked for the Yes campaign. 

What is particularly interesting is that this has barely been reported by the media, until very recently. The newspaper industry has been decimated by digital disruption. Their print circulation is down and loyalty to one particular news source is rare. The public now have the choice to make informed decisions and review the opinions of multiple news sources, rather than consulting just one source. As a result, Facebook and Twitter are now news hubs, where content is aggregated, enabling people to make more informed decisions. The coordinated Yes campaign has tapped into this by displaying complete transparency and promoting a positive message, which resonates far more with digital natives, rather than the negative messages from the No campaign.

Ultimately, I hope for a high turnout tomorrow and for the people who live in Scotland to make the right choice for their future, whatever that may be.

But I believe the battle will be won or lost online… 






Social vs Media

Amongst the white noise spouted on social media about the death of Whitney Houston over the weekend, you may have seen a few bragging posts about the fact that the story apparently broke on Twitter 27 minutes before it was reported by a news organisation. 

Furthermore, last week both the BBC and Sky issued social media guidelines to their staff reminding them of whom they work for and that it is their responsibility to go through the correct editorial processes before publishing stories – i.e. they are not to break stories on Twitter, or any other social media platform for that matter.

Now, journalists may argue that they lose the exclusive by not having the ability to break the story online as soon as they hear it, however they have to remember who pays their wages (clue: it’s not Twitter).

Yes, Twitter is a fantastic communication tool but it is not a media organisation. But by putting too much emphasis on its ability to break stories ahead of the media is completely disrespectful to the media. Twitter has managed to get so big because so many news and media organisations provide it with content on a daily basis. Damage the media organisations in any way and ultimately you damage the validity of Twitter. Take away sensible thought and opinion out of Twitter and you’ll be left with hearsay and conjecture, and people abusing footballers.

Regardless of what you think of the media following the Leveson enquiry, we need to have a strong media as it offers validity, editorial control, and an independent voice which keep government, organisations and individuals in check.

Journalists may claim that the guidelines are unfair and restrict them in their ability to break an exclusive however internal checks and balances ultimately help the media maintain integrity, which considering the damage done by constant revelations of the Leveson enquiry, the media badly needs.

Without a strong and responsible media we’ll be left with a constant stream of breaking stories on social media, where the facts are dubious and rumour is rife. What would you prefer?