Project Case Study: The #YoungPHLVotes Social Media Campaign
By Mike Kaiser
A big part of our mission at YIP is to increase the number of young people who go to the polls.
As an all-volunteer organization, we have limited time and resources, so holding large scale events, rallies, or canvassing door-to-door was off the table for us. With the May 20th primary election fast approaching, we knew that we needed to do something to help get out the vote among our demographic. We thought about what we could do that would increase the awareness about the election itself, inspire people to get informed, and cast their ballot.
What we came up with was #YoungPHLVotes — a social media campaign that was focused on using the power of personal pledges to spread the message.
To better inform the design of this campaign we did a little research and found this 2012 study published in Nature, which found that Facebook users who saw photos of friends declaring their intent to vote were more likely to vote themselves. According to the study’s lead author, Dr. James Fowler of UC San Diego, “It’s not the ‘I Voted’ button, or the lapel sticker we’ve all seen, that gets out the vote. It’s the person attached to it.” (emphasis added).
The “person” part of their findings became the foundation for our project. Whatever we did, we needed to have a person — someone who would be instantly recognizable to their friends — to featured in the campaign. Otherwise, the message would fall flat.
We looked at other grassroots photo sharing campaigns such as Obama for America’s 2012 “For All” Commit to Vote campaign, Freedom to Marry’s #ToastforMarriage campaign as examples to base our campaign on. We also used inclusionary language — rather than saying, “go vote” we emphasized phrases like “be a voter.”
First we created a project outline with key milestones, a timeline, deliverables, and most importantly our talented team of volunteers. You can view this project brief here.
“Restrictions breed creativity”
In order for this campaign to work, we needed to have a very clear call to action that was no more than 3 or 4 steps and told people exactly what to do, write, and say. If we would have said, “write a message of support” or “tell us why voting matters to you” it would have confused and required too much effort on the participants part. Remember, there was no chance at a prize by participating so this was something that needed to be able to be completed in less than 5 minutes. We needed to lay out exactly what do, including the language to write down.
It was also key for us to include the date of the election, May 20th, on the side so that this day was emphasized and remembered as being important.
Here’s the call to action and steps we came up with:
We couldn’t have pulled this off without a stellar group of volunteers. We played to each person’s strengths and approached them individually with their roles and then kept everyone in the loop with regular updates.
To add legitimacy and serve as a visual accompaniment to the campaign, we needed a campaign logo. YIP Board Member Alexis Jeffcoat whipped up a few options for us and we eventually went with the following logo. Alexis also created two one-pagers: one for organizations and one for individuals that explained the campaign and laid out exactly what we wanted to accomplish and a Facebook Cover Photo.
To provide a home for the campaign, Mike Thomas created a Tumblr blog that was synced to an IFTTT recipe that automatically fed posts from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to the Tumblr. We bought the URL youngphlvotes.com and redirected it to point to the Tumblr blog.
Our Outreach Chair, Michelle Feldman, got in touch with our network of partner organizations (both past and present) to include them as either participants or promotional partners — over 100 organizations were contacted. Michelle also fielded questions from partners and followed up when we posted their images on social media. Here is the partnership document we sent out.
Rebecca Schaefer monitored social media statistics for the campaign and wrote two pages of Tweets and Facebook posts that we scheduled to be sent at least every day, if not twice a day. We also tried out different angles and posted on the fly. Rebecca also pulled her three favorite submissions every day and we shared those on social media with captions to keep momentum going.
A few of the Tweets we sent out:
— Young Involved Phila (@yiphilly) May 14, 2014
— Young Involved Phila (@yiphilly) May 20, 2014
We began posting on social media on May 10th, and on May 12th we launched the campaign officially with an email newsletter to our members. From there we posted photos that were submitted to us each day.
247 Tweets tagged with #youngphlvotes
103 Instagram posts
62 new Facebook likes for Young Involved Philadelphia
40,682 people reached via Facebook
The usage of the hashtag really took off on election day — we saw a huge spike in the morning, another one during lunch hour, and then another between 5 and 8pm — not surprising behavior but encouraging that people knew to use the hashtag and posted when they voted, not before. We thought there would be a snowball effect of participation in the lead up to election day. This was not the case. By and large people wanted to participate when the voted, rather than declaring their intent to vote.
Usage of #YoungPHLVotes on Twitter on from May 14th through May 20th. The biggest spike in usage was in the early morning of election day. (analytics via Keyhole)
Local Leaders and Organizations Participated
We saw a great response from local leaders and organizations with many creating their own signs and taking photos including:
Terry Gillen, Rep. Mike O’Brien, City of Philadelphia Managing Director Rich Negrin, Al Schmidt, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of SEPA Marcus Allen, Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh, Urban Affairs Coalition, The Committee of Seventy, The Philadelphia Youth Commission, and Campus Philly all created and shared photos.
— Terry Gillen (@Terry_Gillen) May 15, 2014
— Rep. Mike O’Brien (@ElectMikeOBrien) May 14, 2014
— Marcus Allen (@MarcusAllenBBBS) May 20, 2014
Other observations and outcomes
• Flying Kite published a story on the campaign. “Can selfies influence the outcome of Philadelphia’s primary elections?
• On May 22nd we received an unrestricted donation for $100 with the comment “#YoungPHLVotes” in the notes section of the donation.
• We paid Facebook $40 to boost this post for 24 hours on May 12th. It reached 12,500 people (11,000 more than if we didn’t pay for the boost) but it failed to generate any significant ROI for submissions and only 37 likes and 4 shares. This was the only money we spent on this campaign.
• In a fun turn of events, Al Schmidt sent an “I Voted” sticker to Rebecca Lopez Kriss after she posted on Twitter that she wouldn’t be receiving one because she voted absentee.
I’m sort of pissed that my absentee ballot didn’t come with an “I voted” sticker. #youngPHLvotes
— Rebecca Lopez Kriss (@lopezkriss) May 14, 2014
We saw her Tweet and posted it on Facebook, Al Schmidt then saw it, and he mailed her a sticker (!). She posted that on Twitter and we shared it on our Facebook. Still following? Somewhat surprisingly, it was our most popular Facebook post of the whole campaign, generating 70 likes.
Note: people love the “I Voted!” stickers! They should be featured in the visuals of the campaign more prominently next time. Looking back, it would have been smarter to pay to boost this post since there was already traction and interest in the story.
The big question: Were we successful?
In the fact that this was a test case for us, yes we succeeded. We had traction and great participation and we were able to reach people and learn about the voting habits of our members.
For example, early mornings before work are the highest traffic time that people will vote. Knowing this now, we can we incorporate this into a future GOTV campaign messaging (night before email blast and morning of reminders) and/or on-site programming.
The overall voting turnout was still low, as it usually is for primary elections, but with this campaign we were able to spread awareness among our core members and bring in people aware of the election in general.