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… 






Down with this sort of thing!

Let’s not beat about the bush here. I’m not a fan of the Royal family. But, and I want to make this perfectly clear, that this is a digital blog and not a political blog. And bearing that in mind, I’m going to write something objectively that will actually be of use to them. The royals really need to learn about how to react should a potentially negative story break…

Regardless of whatever I think of the royal family, I fully admit and accept that there is a massive public interest in who they are and what they do. They sell papers and assorted tat however I disagree with them being good for tourists, but there is a genuine interest in them. Fortunately for the general public, there’s a media who are more than happy to give the public their fix of an old racist, a man who resembles a horse and his new wife, or the son of James Hewitt. In general, there is a happy coexistence between the media and royal institutions, but over the past month, two incidents have soured this relationship, namely photos of Harry appearing naked at a pool party, and some topless photos of the prole girl who will one day be queen. To be fair to the British media, they chose not to publish the pictures (The Scum aside), instead coming across as bloody hypocrites by continuing to print page 3 etc etc. Despite expressing disgust at the photos of Harry appearing in print, there’s very little that they Saxe-Coburg’s could actually do as Harry was probably fully aware that he was on film and was more than happy to act up for the crowd. But I do have a bit of sympathy for Kate. To an extent. She was shot on a very long lens camera from a considerable distance, which is arguably a huge invasion of privacy. But they problem that the Royals have, and they still struggle to get, is that because there is so much interest in them in general, they almost lose the right to privacy. I’m not saying that this is right or fair, but they almost have to live their lives under the assumption that their lives will be always be on camera. So, if Kate doesn’t want to appear  topless in the papers, she’s going to have to remain covered up outside the privacy of her bedroom or bathroom.

But what can the Royals learn about the digital world?

First things first, have you seen either the picture of Harry in the buff or Kate in the nip? Highly likely. In a pre-internet social media world, you wouldn’t have done thanks to the media blackout, but thanks to the internet, you can see the photos on any international website. They are there and thanks to the fantastically easy to use search functions on Google and Bing, finding those holiday snaps just got so much easier! The problem that the Royals have is that by threatening to sue media organisations who have published the photos left right and centre, they keep the context of the story in the forefront of the public interest, with the naughty photos, hidden out of sight. By having virtually rolling news on the story, the public are kept hanging on tenterhooks, wondering what the photos could possibly look like. Ultimately, the Royals have just got to accept that once they are out there, the photos are everywhere and you are not going to win by threatening to sue everyone. Instead, keep it simple. Issue an apology and criticise the press for intrusion of privacy, but kill the story. Let it die. Otherwise the more you try to ban or prevent people from seeing something, the more people will want to see it. I think that this clip from Father Ted best illustrates my point:

In conclusion: The Royals, if they are just normal people, as they’d like us to think they are, need to stop being so stuck up and faux moralistic. They need to embrace new technologies and retain a sense of humour. If anything negative comes out, laugh it off but make sure you are critical of the press. The people will eventually get sick of the press. Don’t try to sue everyone left, right and centre or enforce a ban as all you’ll do is fuel the interest of the majority. Once something is out there it’s out there. If you can retain your cool and sense of humour, people will actually respect you more as you’ll be seen as behaving like a normal person.