A good bulk of last year’s Scottish referendum debating was done on social media. With few mainstream Scottish media outlets hedging toward a No vote it was imperative the Yes campaign found alternative channels to reach voters. A recent study from Glasgow University determined the Yes vote had ‘won’ the Social Media war due to their substantially larger followings on Twitter and Facebook.It’s only been a year since the referendum, but not too early to ask whether Twitter and Facebook are still the most relevant platforms today to influence next year’s vote. Or do Scottish political party strategists need to start thinking about stepping out of their comfort zones and tackling alternative social media tools?
The US has been the trend setter for politics and social media since Barack Obama harnessed it with such success for his 2012 election victory, a factor that led David Cameron to enrol Jim Messina, the president’s social media guru ahead of this May’s general election, in the hope that some of the magic would rub off.
With another US election next year, let’s see what the Scottish parties can learn from the current crop of US presidential candidates and their emerging social media strategies.
Snapchat’s demographic is typically people ages 16-24 – a key demographic for Scottish parties to win over as the voting age has been reduced to 16. So how are the Americans using this? Hillary Clinton is the latest candidate to join the platform, however her first effort was labelled “cringe worthy” by critics. Rand Paul has taken more of a conservative stance through putting campaign ads up on his account. Although Paul’s ads are might be an acquired taste for many here, the idea of an advert is something Scottish parties may want to consider.
Instagram & Pinterest
The Republicans’ most controversial candidate, Donald Trump has taken to Instagram in a way I wouldn’t necessarily expect Scottish parties imitate. Trump often talks into the camera to address ‘key’ issues and lambasts his opposition (namely Jeb Bush). Hillary Clinton’s Instagram content includes images of her campaigning and her videos are much more professional than Trump’s.
Hillary is also embracing Pinterest. Her bio says her pins involve ‘Granddaughter gift ideas, hairstyle inspiration, favourite moments, and some other things’. As Pinterest is still a growing platform, her following isn’t huge at the moment but again it offers voters a chance to get to know her behind all the speeches and news conferences.
As videos continue to be the most engaging online content form it isn’t surprising that Periscope has featured strongly in the candidates’ social media plans. Rand Paul, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been known to use the live streaming app to connect with potential voters. Candidates have generally used the app to film rallies and speeches. Trump even announced his intention to run through the app, so Periscope is already being viewed as key political tool in the US. UK politicians have been reluctant to use the tool due to its risk as it is a live tool. Any sort of ‘slip up’ – inadvertent or otherwise – could however display to the electorate that these politicians are real people.
US supporters are now able to make donations towards their preferred candidate’s campaign through Twitter, an element of campaigning that is still to have such a significant impact on our side of the pond. Twitter has teamed up with Square to enable this. Given some of Scotland’s largest political parties have large social media followings, don’t be surprised if political parties in the UK begin to adopt this to help push their respective campaigns.
So could we see these tools featuring in the run-up to the Scottish elections?
I think Snapchat could only really be used to promote small 10 second political ads. Content will be key, but our politicians will be aware of its popularity and potential reach with young voters. It seems that some of the trendy, younger MSPs are already taking to Instagram. Kezia Dugdale and Humza Yousaf already seem to have adopted it and I’m sure we will see more MSPs taking to the platform as the election nears.
Social media has the potential and ability to make any political campaign more interesting. As a channel it can present a whole host of opinions that you won’t hear through the mainstream media. From last year’s referendum campaign to Corbynmania to this year’s US primary race, social media has already proven its ability to politically engage people that otherwise wouldn’t have been interested. It’s a matter of using the right platforms in the right way.
The prize of an engaged mass social media audience will be too valuable to ignore.