Tweeting the referendum. Who shouts loudest?

As #Brexit and #Bremain gather momentum ahead of next week’s vote, it goes without saying that the EU referendum is the hottest topic in UK politics right now; one which – unless you’ve been living in a cave in the Outer Hebrides – has been impossible to ignore.

Whether it’s opening a newspaper, switching on your TV or listening to the radio, it seems like everyone has jumped on board to share their viewpoint(s), whether they are a politician, business leader, a famous musician or even (apparently) a fictional character.

The conversation online is no different and is (in many respects) even more intense. As covered in my Masters thesis (where I analysed the Conservative’s use of Twitter in the 2015 election), the rise of the digital world is keenly changing how people participate in political discourse and activism.

What could all this data teach us about how politics works?

Well the area  I’m personally super psyched about, is that it teaches us about the tactics political parties and politicians use to fight elections online, both in terms of their individual objectives and the way in which they approach each platform (not to mention how effective they are compared to their peers/rivals), but also how they perceive the platform itself (as just another soapbox or an opportunity to open a dialogue with their audiences).

ANYWAY, every hour of the referendum campaign, thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of messages flood Twitter, either as short statements arguing one side or the other, or sharing the latest campaign image or publicity stunt. Although this shows that social media is drawing people closer to politics (allowing new opportunities for politicians, journalists to engage with their publics), its simultaneously increasing the number of distinct influence/ego networks around key media outlets, campaign groups/members, or commentators such as those referenced by leading cross-party think-tank, Demos.

Alongside ITV’s Peston on Sunday program, Demos has also conducted a fair bit of research over the last few months at how UK politics is being discussed on Twitter, analysing approximately 100,000 tweets sent to or from UK MPs containing EU referendum hashtags.

They not only found 10,000 more tweets sent between the 4th and 10th of June compared those sent the previous week but that the result is largely down to the shocking rate of tweets sent by those supporting #Brexit (three times the number compared to those in favour of #Bremain).

By excluding all ‘Other’ chatter (approximately 50% of tweets), their research also showed the different focuses of each movement, with Remainers emphasising the economic benefits of staying in the EU compared to our position outside it, and Brexiteers more keenly stressing the issues of immigration and sovereignty – which, when you think about it, isn’t all that surprising.

Still though… I have a fascinating new resource to follow and wanted to share it all with you because let’s face it, nerding out needs to be shared 🙂

 

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What is a MarComms project anyway? And what’s my topic?

Before I start I should probably explain that a Marketing Communications project is slightly different to a Dissertation. I’m not *entirely* sure about the details but (from what I can understand) the main difference is that whereas a dissertation centres around the exploration of a concept or theory, a MarComms project centres around a particular brand through which you explore a concept.

So an advertising project focusing on the way a brand is advertised towards a specific group ie) Alcohol (WKD) towards young adults, might follow a simple structure of:

  • Introduction (theme/trends/context etc)
  • Market Analysis
    • Brand Analysis (of WKD)
    • Competitor Analysis (of similar brands)
    • Consumer Analysis (of young adults and youth drinking culture)
  • Objectives
  • Target Market (specifying who are being targeted by the brand)
  • Creative analysis (could focus on content analysis of a selection of different adverts)
  • Analysis of trends within alcohol advertising (Using a PRESTCOM analysis etc)
  • Conclusion

Obviously there’s a lot of lee-way within this.

A focus on PR, a different market sector, a different brand, a different target market, even a different methodology or framework approach, can completely restructure a marketing communications project so that it looks completely different to this (outside of the Intro/Conclusion sections obviously).

So, onto my idea.

As you have probably gauged, I am super interested in Politics. That’s not to say I’m party-affiliated; I’m not. What I am, however, is passionate. One of the key things that I learnt growing up was to speak out if you feel something is wrong; never be afraid to stand up and be counted.

Showing this passion in a way that will be acceptable to many employers can be tricky. I know I always worry about whether my background in public speaking and debating contests (not to mention my now 6-year membership of my university’s Politics Society) might suggest that I’m confrontational or aggressive with my views – which (I like to think) I’m not.

The man young people love to hate. But is he a sell-out or a scapegoat? And how important is our belief/trust in him for Lib Dem's success?

The man young people love to hate. But is he a sell-out or a scapegoat? And how important is our belief/trust in him for Lib Dem’s success?

Luckily for me, my initial concept of looking at personal branding (a much under-analysed topic of discussion in my view) was tightened down to looking at the personal brands of party leaders in the run-up to this year’s elections, and then further tightened to specialise in the personal brand and campaign strategy of one specific party leader – Nick Clegg.

As any Brit knows, Clegg’s 180 degree turn on tuition fees hugely upset a large number of his voting base who – as young people – had invested in him largely due to this policy above all else. Not only was he proposing to cut tuition fees though, he was also the fresh-faced ‘man of the people’ who finally seemed to care and have policies that directly benefited the young – We who had often been overlooked as a demographic due to the high percentage of voter apathy and disengagement within our age group.

By looking at the case of Nick Clegg’s personal brand, I intend to look at image/knowledge transfer the ways in which trust and personality impact on brand success within politics, and (on a larger basis) whether lack of trust in the personal brands of political leaders is indicative of the wider disengagement and voter apathy within politics.

Of course it is still early days and, as such, I’m still very early on in the planning process. However, based loosely on the initial research and reading I’ve managed to get done alongside my other assignments, I think I’ll most likely be tackling this subject using a combination of secondary research (into brand-building, reputation and trust (they’re different things); political marketing in general; the ways brands try to engage young people in terms of messages/creative/platforms; and voter apathy/disengagement and its causes) and media content analysis (perhaps through analysing Clegg and his followers’ use of Twitter as one example).

SUPER excited now that I’ve narrowed my subject down to something achievable and interesting and relevant – all important points that I raised in my last post on ‘Planning a postgraduate marketing communications project‘.

I can’t wait to get started!

Social Media: How lowering the partisan filter changed political communication forever

Since the early 2000’s, and the explosive development of social media platforms, the Internet has become a new dimension of the public sphere “to which all citizens should have access”, according to Habermas, 1989, as “a forum for the formation of public opinion.” Part of the attraction of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is arguably that that the ‘average’ person – being someone with little or no advanced computer skills – can be successful using them to generate content.

contentContent – being anything from a 140 character ‘tweet’ on the online social network ‘Twitter’, to a video of puppies uploaded to ‘YouTube’ (a video content distribution forum created in 2005) – can not only be created easily, but can be accessed with something as simple as a smartphone and can be easily linked between different web-pages, making it one of the most efficient and versatile forms of mass communication.

Henry Giroux, an American cultural critic and one of the founding theorists behind the concept of critical pedagogy, best summarised the impact of the development of social media when he said:

The Internet, in all its variety, has effectively re-constituted – especially amongst young people – how social relationships are constructed; and how communication is produced, mediated and received. Under such circumstances, state power becomes more porous and there is less control and regulation as to what is said. Text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the internet have given rise to a reservoir of political energy that poses a new relationship between the new media technologies, politics, and public life.”

Suffice to say that the influence of social media is making huge changes in combating the issue of political apathy by providing new ways to stimulate engagement in politics through allowing politicians and political parties to communicate faster (and in a more targeted manner without the need of mass media) with potential voters, and vice versa.

No longer can it be said that the traditional forms of media communications have “significant influence over voting behaviour at election time” (Joyce, 2010), as the rise in popularity and diversity of social media has allowed what is known as ‘the partisan filter of politics’ to be lowered, thus increasing the range of political parties and ideals available to be disseminated by the public. This changing face of political campaign marketing has been seen on both sides of the Atlantic, but most of all in the 2008 Presidential Election campaign of (now President) Barack Obama, whose use of social media raised over half a billion dollars in online donations, and labelled that year as the first real “social media election”.

Obama’s embracing of social media platforms is largely thought to be a part of his appeal, and his digitally savvy campaign strategy is argued as being one of the key reasons he was able to take his seat in the White House. But, his engagement didn’t just stop once he achieved office. Instead, during his 2012 re-election campaign Obama averaged 29 tweets per day (compared to Mitt Romney’s 1 tweet per day) which, since 2008, has spurred his Twitter following to have grown from approximately 100’000 to 19 million, and his Facebook fanbase from 2 million to 28 million.

obama

Here in the UK, social media has had a similarly profound effect on our political sphere, quickly becoming a vital campaign platform that is re-shaping the way elections are won and lost, how policy is made, and how people get involved in formal and informal politics. Social media strategies by political parties however vary greatly in their approaches, from single-issue campaigns to established political party Facebook accounts with strict control over the content.

What they have in common though, is the idea of a direct, free and easy involvement (or engagement) with the public via the publication and promotion of regular updates and information as well as the active participation of members. Party leaders and their MPs, for example, now commonly have Twitter accounts, giving them the ability to reach their advocates and the general public within a matter of seconds through regularly posted messages or purchased, promoted advertising.

multistepmodel

Additionally, social media has become a leading aspect in the development of the multi-step model of communications, giving reporters and other social influencers the opportunity and platforms to voice their opinions as often and loudly as they like as they record, disseminate and analyse every detail of the UK political sphere, creating a 24/7 news cycle.

The downside of this however is that it has inadvertently given rise in media coverage and popularity of previously socially frowned upon radical right-wing parties, such as the English Defence League and the UK Independence party, who have employed social media to rapidly grow and create a significant political and social impact over the past few years.

The Oxford Internet Survey shows a very definite shift toward online political activism, with the percentage of people who signed an online petition doubling to 14 % between 2007 and 2011 compared to that of those doing this offline falling from 20% to 18% within the same time-frame. Recent research by Demos into the Facebook groups of radical right-wing parties also showed that members and online supporters of these groups are particularly active in comparison to the average ‘fan’, with around 2/3 voting for that party in the last general election, and 1/4 having been involved in a demonstration or strike within the last year – a figure considerably higher than the national average.

One potential reason for this has been argued that online political participation increases individuals’ political efficacy (the confidence they have in feeling they can influence politics). This is something which has been shown to have a strong correlation within research by the Oxford Internet Institute, which suggests that those with low political efficacy are less likely to participate overall in engaging in politics, and when they do participate, it is entirely offline (10% offline to 0% online). This is compared to 60% of internet users with high political efficacy participating politically online.

Personally, I love the way that social media allows not only better engagement with political parties and politics in general, but also a greater scrutiny (and mockery) of MPs and their views. Twitter for example is a common tool in this with, for example, Conservative MP Karl McCartney being left red-faced last year after being caught ‘favouriting’ an image of a naked and tied-up woman with a pillow over her face by the Labour candidate he was standing against in the next general election.

PoliticalOops

Understandably, Mr McCartney quickly explained the situation: He’d been hacked, as he “doesn’t use the ‘fav[sic] button”… despite having a total of 56 ‘favourited tweets’ in the above screenshot…. Methinks that was some quick (albeit not very logical) thinking.