Spotlight: Telling Personal Stories

A key tactic of the Yes Equality campaign was to make the case for marriage equality through the telling of personal stories. This was supported by research which showed that when you talk to family or friends about why the right of lesbians or gay men to marry is important to you, it helps persuade them to vote Yes.

The power of personal stories

Telling powerful, authentic personal stories in compelling ways was a key tactic that helped secure the 1,201,607 Yes votes in the referendum. These stories resonated with people and helped start conversations, change hearts and minds, build bases of support, generate donations, and inspire action. Central to the campaign strategy was to provide a space for people to tell these stories. Throughout the campaign, politicians, journalists, celebrities and citizens used social media to tell people why they were voting Yes. The messengers were as important as the message; videos of grandparents talking about why they were voting Yes went viral.

Similarly, memes featuring quotes and images of high-profile Yes supporters performed extremely well on social media. The Yes Equality team responded to this emerging trend and created more and more as the campaign progressed. These memes became a staple of the positive and shareable content of the campaign. Memes featuring Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell and former President of Ireland Mary McAleese were among the best-performing content on Yes Equality social media channels over the course of the campaign.

With stories from same-sex couples seeking full equality, parents of gay and lesbian people speaking out for their children’s equality, and many others who supported civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples, Yes Equality made a compelling case for voting Yes. The thousands of conversations taking place online and in homes across the country showed the diversity of support that existed, and ultimately helped change hearts and minds and build momentum and a critical mass of support.

A central message of the Yes Equality campaign was that a Yes vote was informed by Irish values of inclusivity, fairness and equality – values important to all of us. As co-director Grainne Healy said, “We are the family values campaign” – deliberately reframing the opposition’s argument of protecting the traditional family. To this end, Yes Equality created the “Marriage and Family Matter” series. This featured profiles of Yes supporters such as 90-year-old Madeline Connolly, who had 14 children, 25 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren, and believes that God made us all equal and that everyone should have the opportunity to get married. Stories such as Madeline’s attracted high levels of reach and engagement on social media channels.

The power of these personal stories was immense and did not go unnoticed. By courageously speaking up, these advocates became leaders in the campaign and in their community. The diversity of stories helped to reach potential supporters who could connect to those stories. Stories such as Madeline Connolly’s helped win the hearts and minds of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

As more and more stories were featured, countless others began sharing their own. The Yes campaign did not orchestrate the flood of personal stories that shaped the referendum, nor could it. But what it could do was help create a safe space for those who wished to tell others why a Yes vote was important to them. It was also the task of the campaign to leverage support and amplify these stories to showcase the faces of people from all across the country who were saying “Vote Yes”, connecting the individual elements to the central narrative campaign message. Quotes from media interviews and town hall events were repackaged into content to be shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social media was also used to reach out to and encourage others to share their stories.

Opinion polls indicated that support for a Yes vote was much lower among older demographics, but these were more likely to vote. Alert to the impact this could have on the outcome, third-level students at Trinity College Dublin’s Student Union posted a video online which showed them calling their elderly relatives to ask them to vote Yes in the referendum. Titled “Ring Your Granny”, it was an excellent example of efforts by younger generations to actively mobilise and persuade others. The video went viral, was reported on in mainstream media, and inspired others to record and publish videos of similar phone calls being made to their grannies. In total, “Ring Your Granny” videos amassed more than 250,000 YouTube views.

It was widely believed by the campaign, and supported by research, that one of the best ways to influence a person’s decision to vote Yes was through conversations with those who would be affected by a No vote, or with family members or friends of those who would be affected. By telling these stories online, the campaign was able to reach people in their newsfeeds, so that even if they didn’t have any personal connections who were gay or lesbian, they could see authentic, real people speaking about why it was important to them.

These stories provided consistent, engaging content for our online campaign that generated shares to reach new audiences and potential voters. But more than that, it gave supporters a way to connect with the campaign on a personal level and become more invested in the cause. It demonstrated the diversity of support – young and old, urban and rural, male and female – from people who believed that a Yes vote was the right thing to do for Irish society and all of its citizens.