Social pressure has been defined as communications that play on a basic human drive to win praise and avoid criticism.
Research on how social pressure influences participation found that people are motivated by how others perceive them. If by taking action they are likely to be perceived as pro-social, fair and caring, people are more inclined to participate.
In September 2017, more than 16 million people across Australia began receiving surveys in their mailbox asking: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The outcome would determine whether or not the government would legislate for marriage equality. Voting in the postal survey was non-compulsory – unlike federal elections, by-elections and referendums. Coupled with the fact that 18–24-year-olds were the biggest supporters of marriage equality, but less likely to vote, it was going to require a Get Out The Vote campaign unlike any Australia had seen.
One of the campaign’s key objectives was to ensure that every Yes voter returned their survey as soon as they arrived, to mitigate any risk of them being misplaced or forgotten about. The campaign team used social media to drive this, showing people that something big was happening and you didn’t want to miss your chance to be part of it. Content was created to encourage Yes voters to take a selfie as they returned their surveys and to share it on social media with the hashtag #PostYourYES. The aim was to create a situation where other voters, seeing all their friends posting selfies, would want to take part.
Within hours, #PostYourYES was trending on Twitter, and over the coming days this had a snowball effect: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter flooded with images of Australians posting their Yes votes in mailboxes across the country. These included 88-year-old Pat, who was voting Yes because everyone deserves a fair go; the Lattimore family, who voted together for their son, grandson and brother, Jack; and 89-year-old Bob Spearritt, who voted Yes because “Everybody under the sun deserves the chance to marry the one he or she truly loves.”
Successfully introducing an element of social pressure to your campaign can prompt supporters to create content that can be shared with peers and promotes your central message. In the case of the Australian marriage equality postal survey, people sharing their #PostYourYES selfies and why a Yes vote was important to them was a key factor in the 79.5% voter turnout.