Social media’s starring role in the Scotland #indyref

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  • September 18, 2014
Natasha Nanner

Natasha Nanner

Social Media Strategist

Even if you aren’t the most politically-shrewd individual in the United Kingdom, chances are you know a thing or two about the Scotland Independence referendum via social media, particularly over the last couple of months.

Whether you’ve seen a hashtag on Twitter (#VoteYesScotland and #ScotlandDecides have both been trending regularly this week) or you’ve seen memes being uploaded onto Facebook and Instagram, there is no escaping the conversation on social surrounding this landmark in the history of politics.

In fact, according to recent data released by Twitter and search and analytics engine, Talkwalker, social media has played its biggest role in a vote yet. Tweeting activity surged during the debates, while Facebook reportedly received more than 10 million interactions (comments, likes and shares) regarding the referendum over a five week period – one of the highest levels of activity ever recorded by the company.

But was it possible to predict the outcome of the #indyref via all this activity online? Not exactly.

The Drum concluded that if Scotland’s independence was decided on social media data alone, the Yes campaign would have won outright. Talkwalker and social media monitoring tool, Brandwatch both echoed this conclusion with their own research too, revealing that the Yes campaign gained double the amount of reach as the No campaign and #YesScotland has been the most engaging hashtag on Twitter, reaching 13.6 million users in total.

People even added a ‘Twibbon’ to their profile pictures on the social network, indicating which side they were on.

Even if we look to the official Twitter account of the Yes campaign for an idea on how most people felt about the referendum, it currently has an impressive 112, 000 followers – dwarfing the Better Together total of 43, 100.

Nevertheless, as we saw in the previous UK General Election and again here now, social media popularity does not always correlate when it comes to cold, hard votes.

The Liberal Democrats appeared to have far more support online during the 2010 election than they actually had in the UK population, which was no doubt a difficult pill to swallow when the final number of votes was released. And now Scotland has been slightly misled by social too.

Final results announced this morning (19 September) that Scotland has in fact rejected the #indyref, with 55.3% voting No and 44.7% voting Yes.

All that being said, it’s not hard to see how significant social media has become over the years during political campaigns. As with the 2008 Obama presidential campaign in the United States, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have proved themselves to be crucial campaigning tools.

Not only do these social networks encourage discussion and raise awareness, they also serve as a technique to get the country’s technology-savvy youth more interested in politics and casting their votes as well. Facebook’s politics and government specialist for Europe and MENA, Elizabeth Linder, recently told the International Business Times: “Studies show that when people see their Facebook friends talking about voting, they are more likely to vote themselves.”

And that certainly seemed to be the case in the Scotland independence referendum. For the first time, people as young as 16 years old were able to vote and they took full advantage of that. 109,000 teenagers registered to vote this week and they flooded social media with photos, healthy debates and intelligent conversation.

Although today’s outcome may not have quite reflected the activity and sentiment online, the #indyref has proved once more that social media is changing the face of elections and injecting politics with an exciting (and perhaps much-needed) burst of energy.

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