Key Yes Equality Digital Campaigns
Register To Vote
Research by Yes Equality before the campaign found that most 18–35-year-olds supported a Yes vote for civil marriage equality, but were also less likely to vote. Voter turnout in this age group was traditionally lower: only 19% of those aged under 25 voted in the previous referendum in Ireland in 2013. Faced with this dilemma, Yes Equality ran a “Register to Vote” drive, and it was here that social media began to show its potential. As this was the first initiative under the newly formed Yes Equality campaign, it was also an opportunity to build the brand name and identity. In preparation, Yes Equality reached out to LGBT organisations, political parties, student unions, civil society organisations and trade unions for support in building a mass campaign. Versions of Yes Equality–branded social media content were created for stakeholders who supported the drive, which included their respective logos.
Infographics on how to register to vote were shared widely on social media platforms. BeLonG To Youth Services, the Irish LGBT youth organisation, created a video called “It’s in Your Hands” encouraging young people to register; it garnered almost 45,000 views.
The power of Twitter became apparent early in the campaign. Those associated with Yes Equality used their contacts to recruit high-profile celebrities such as Colin Farrell, Hozier, Angelica Huston and Dara Ó Briain, who posed with Register to Vote signs and tweeted their support. This was covered by the national media. By the end of the three-week drive, the #RegisterToVote hashtag was used 1,881 times by 1,025 users, generating 6 million impressions, while the Yes Equality Facebook community grew from conception to more than 20,000 likes. 3,500 people gave their contact details, seeking to become involved in the campaign.
These online tactics helped Yes Equality to achieve penetration in the early stages of the campaign, building strong brand recognition, increasing share of voice online and reaching target audiences. The Register to Vote efforts throughout the campaign resulted in almost 66,000 people being added to the electoral register.
Pledge to Vote
Following “Register to Vote”, efforts were made to continue engagement with activated supporters though a “Pledge to Vote” campaign. Its aim was to increase awareness, to mobilise and motivate early supporters and to provide pathways for people to join the campaign. By getting people to pledge to vote, we hoped to increase their likelihood of voting, increase their engagement with the Yes Equality campaign, and build their capacity to go from being supporters to persuaders.
Supporters were encouraged to pledge their vote through a dedicated Facebook app. This posted a message to their timelines that they had pledged to vote Yes in the referendum on May 22nd and encouraged their friends to do the same. The Facebook app also allowed us to capture data such as names and email addresses of supporters, who then received regular news and updates and were invited to become more involved in the campaign – by volunteering, joining their local Yes Equality group, donating, and so on.
The issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples and the prospect of a referendum had been discussed on social media for some time before the official campaign was launched. Much of these conversations were happening under the hashtag #MarRef, which was first used in November 2013. When the campaign was officially launched on 9 March 2015, Yes Equality promoted the use of #MarRef, resulting in 2,860 mentions. It thus became the de facto hashtag around which social media discussion of the referendum would revolve.
Over 890,000 tweets would be posted using #MarRef during the campaign. In the final week, nearly 1 billion global impressions were generated from 467,233 Twitter mentions by 384,002 users across the globe – equivalent to the number of impressions during a football World Cup final!
Out of 197,186 analysed tweets containing #MarRef, only 9,171 are accompanied by #voteno; 93,747 have #voteyes or #yesequality hashtags. This makes it 91% Yes and 9% No hashtagged tweets out of total #voteno, #voteyes and #yesequality in Twitter conversations.
On voting day alone, the conversation generated 415 million impressions globally from 111,421 mentions by 67,710 users. This included participation from Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Daley, Alan Cumming, Sir Ian McKellen and J.K. Rowling.
I’m Voting Yes, Ask Me Why
A key objective for Yes Equality was to create a safe space where audiences could ask questions or voice any concerns. This was achieved online through our social media channels and website. Our social media policy set out guidelines to respond to all enquiries. The “I’m voting yes. Ask me why” campaign was designed to support storytelling and aimed to start a nationwide conversation on marriage equality, to change hearts and minds and build momentum for Yes. This initiative was complemented with offline activity: several open mic “I’m voting yes. Ask me why” events took place around the country, attracting local media coverage. The experiences and stories shared at these events were harvested for social media content and repackaged and promoted through online platforms.
Get Out the Vote
In the final weeks of the campaign, the focus shifted from “informing and educating” to a Get Out the Vote (GOtV) operation. Research had suggested that a higher turnout would increase the chances of a Yes victory, and that people who made a plan to vote were more likely to get to a polling station. Digital and social media became the main driver. A campaign-specific website was created, getmetothevoteontime.ie, where voters were invited to register their mobile number and indicate the time when they were most likely to vote. Users received text reminders 24 hours and one hour before their selected voting time. Some 2,900 people signed up for the reminders, with social media creatives and activity promoting the key message of planning your vote.
To prevent complacency among supporters about voting, Yes Equality created social media content that conveyed the urgency of the issue. For voting day, campaign alerts were created according to reports of voter turnout. For example, if we heard good reports on turnout we pushed out the green alert, amber for mixed reports, and red if a low turnout was reported. Despite indications of high turnout, the campaign decided to push out the red alert with the message “Turnout has slowed” – just in case. This plan worked: the post reached 25,000 people on Facebook, and many took action such as calling friends and family to ensure they had voted.
On voting day, Yes Equality changed its social media avatars to a graphic with the slogan “I’ve Voted. Have You?” This was soon adopted by waves of supporters. To encourage turnout, Facebook launched an “I’m a Voter” button on its newsfeed in the days leading up to the referendum, allowing users to both communicate that message and encourage others to follow suit. Similarly, Twitter introduced a “hashflag” on voting day, with a tick appearing in tweets containing the #IVoted hashtag. In a tweet, Twitter asked people to play their part and to encourage others to do the same.
With over 72,000 tweets in 24 hours, generating around 400 million global impressions, the #HomeToVote hashtag used on voting day in the marriage equality referendum in Ireland illustrated the influential and sophisticated digital and social media campaign that captured the country’s imagination. The outpouring of images, videos and stories from the thousands of recent Irish emigrants travelling home to vote showed the passion that fuelled the Yes campaign. They included images of train carriages filled with balloons, and large queues arriving in Dublin airport. People posted images from check-in desks at airports all over the world, and selfies from the boats, trains and planes that were taking them home. The impact of the phenomenon was summed up by comedian Colm O’Regan, who tweeted: “The #hometovote is like when you are watching The Hobbit and the army of elves you’ve forgotten from earlier in the film arrive over the hill.” This was retweeted more than 4,100 times.
#HomeToVote reflected the type of campaign that Yes Equality set out to achieve, one that was positive and affirming and that people wanted to be a part of. The Yes campaign facilitated emotional engagement, which in turn encouraged action. The viral effect of #HomeToVote, which saw supporters travel from Europe, America, Canada, Africa and Australia, showed the emotional investment so many had in the outcome.
— Annie West (@anniewestdotcom) May 22, 2015
The influence of social media was clear. As the directors of the Yes Equality campaign noted, “If the #hometovote phenomenon had happened in another era, it would have given rise to no more than rumours or sporadic anecdotes, but in the age of social media everyone could watch it happen in real time online.” Its significance was also apparent when #HomeToVote took pride of place on the wall of Twitter HQ in San Francisco.
Key Lessons Learned