The importance of tone
For the referendum campaign to succeed, it was critical to establish and maintain a positive tone throughout and to manage control of the message, particularly online. Creating a campaign that people wanted to be a part of was vital in reaching the “movable middle”, those who had yet to make up their mind – a key target audience. Social media would be central to this and would mean using strategies and tactics not seen before in Irish politics.
Events in the years preceding the referendum had resulted in an emotionally charged and activated support base. Many people felt aggrieved that the rights of gay and lesbian people had been denied for too long. Disrespectful language was commonplace on both sides of the argument, with much of this debate taking place on social media. Opponents were using examples of such language to claim that supporters of marriage equality were refusing to engage in open, respectful debate.
Those leading the Yes Equality campaign feared that the existing tone and language would work against achieving a positive result. While they empathised with vocal supporters, they were concerned that the lack of strategic oversight and the intolerance shown by some would undermine the prospects of constitutional change.
Yes Equality played a part in moderating the tone of the debate and coverage on social media, encouraging its supporters towards positive messaging. By creating content and responding to online developments, Yes Equality set the upbeat and respectful tone of the debate.
— YesEquality2015 (@YesEquality2015) April 17, 2015
This gave the campaign a head start in the conversation. Key influencers online were proactively contacted to help share the campaign’s central message and content, and most importantly to ensure the positive tone was maintained.