Following the high youth turnout at the election, we’re delighted to feature an interview with Miriam Miller, one of the founders of the Voting: Why Bother campaign? Miriam works in the charity sector as a fundraiser and planner. 

  1. Can you tell me more about why you started the ‘Voting: Why Bother?’ campaign

The announcement of the snap general election felt like another political U-turn. Regardless of whether it was a clever move on the Tories’ part to finish Labour off once and for all, or whether it was a genuine move to secure the Brexit mandate, it felt instantly like a moment of significance, and I felt duty-bound to do something.

I have carried huge regret over my lack of effort during the Brexit/Remain campaigning (which was mostly down to blind optimism, but I also feel compelled to admit, laziness) and I wasn’t about to stand by and not play a part this time. And I wanted to make sure that others played their part – reminding those that needed reminding the most, that the future of this country is theirs, and they should be a part of shaping it.

We’re living in uncertain times and we should feel part of the solution.

I also knew I had tools at my disposal – working in marketing, with very talented colleagues and friends around me, so I felt obliged really.

And so we created a campaign, and we crowdfunded some cash to promote our message

  1. What was your approach?

Our campaign focused on encouraging 18-24 year olds to register and then turn out and vote, whilst directing them to useful resources to help them do so.

We remained party neutral in our execution – it was all about making sure young people were informed and impassioned to vote.

We wanted them to see voting as an opportunity, to understand that politics is culture. That culture is politics. And that culture is people. And we wanted them to judge parties by their policies, not their populism.

The youth in this country have the smallest voice, but we believe they have the potential to have the largest, and that because they represent our future, they should. Essentially we believe that a greater number of young voters will mean a better decision for everyone’s future.

The campaign was centred around 2 powerful videos (video being powerful in social channels, and knowing we wanted to promote the campaign primarily in Facebook and Twitter) – a ‘Go Register’ message, followed by ‘Go Vote’ message. It was made up of young people encouraging other young people – peer to peer.

We asked young people ‘Voting: Why Bother?’ And hoped to inspire others to ask themselves the same, and ultimately, to bother. We wanted to stimulate debate and dialogue amongst younger voters. I think at the cornerstone of society is civic engagement and the consideration of global issues from a perspective other than our own. Joining the debate in this current cloud of uncertainty is arguably now more of a necessity than ever before.

We chased the behaviours already seen in social – comments, shares, likes – to boost reach as well as spark debate.

We knew that the 2 videos, meatier in content would need a bigger commitment from our target audience to engage however, and so we also looked to engage through more digestible, bite-sized and humorous content as well, drawing people in this way. We also sought out celebrity.

And of course, we stayed informed and shared relevant news stories/bits of content as they broke, to stay fresh, timely, and to keep people informed. We also shared content with relevant organisations/other pages to reach more of our target audience.

We were also sure to celebrate people, say thank you. We wanted to celebrate our collective successes.

  1. How did young people react to your campaign?

Mostly positively. Although, we did have some negative response. I think that is to be expected from a political campaign though. We wanted debate, and we certainly got it!

Through the course of the campaign they had a laugh, they got angry, they got upset, but in the end they were proud of what they achieved. That was lovely to see.

  1. Did anything happen during the campaign which surprised you?

Primarily our success to be honest. I didn’t think we’d reach nearly as many people.

Creatively, the success of our ‘celebrity video’ was interesting. A short funny, tongue in cheek video from the actor Paterson Joseph, in character as Johnson from Peep Show got amazing engagement and as a result, increased engagement overall on our page and importantly our ‘go register’ video exponentially.

I think the take out here is where possible, don’t simply rely on ‘celebrity’ but be creative about how you use that celebrity. Influencers are key, when used effectively.

  1. What were the results?

We achieved around 462,000 video views since we launched 4th May; we reached more than 1.6 million people; and of those reached, the majority are 18-24 – 26% 18-24-year-old women; 33% 18-24-year-old men; and we had over 300,000 post engagements.

  1. Will you do it again?

Absolutely. We’re meeting up next week to discuss next steps. Political, civic engagement is important all the time. Not just during elections.

  1. What else did you learn, now the dust has settled?

There has been a lot of debate as to whether the youth turnout was a result informed by deliberate campaigning on Labour’s part, or whether it was informed by things out of their control.

Firstly, Brexit and Trump. Were they simply looking for something or someone as an antithesis to recent events?

Secondly, key errors in the Conservatives campaigning and not addressing key issues, for example, choosing to not debate and choosing to focus on Brexit, when there were things in the here and now people wanted to hear them comment on. Tangible policy that directly and knowingly affects them.

Thirdly, young people and older people digest different media, and as a result saw completely different elections.

Social media had an overwhelming amount of pro-Labour content – from Labour’s campaign but also a wealth of activism from groups or individuals unconnected to it. We could therefore argue that Labour’s success was accidental. Evidenced by some campaigning efforts notably misjudged and effort focused in the wrong areas at times by their campaign, and also all the funny moments that some argue you can’t engineer in social.

In my opinion, Labour definitely got to grips with social media in a way the Conservatives failed to though – perhaps highlighting their over-reliance on their control of main stream press – and as such reached younger people. And I do disagree about the engineering of funny moments – comedy as entertainment is engineered funny moments, it merely needs to be bite sized in social channels.

Labour spoke to younger people, quite deliberately. Labour saw an opportunity and grasped at it with both hands.

They also put out direct messages, rather than messages with ambiguity. Woolly policy, rather than direct tangible policy doesn’t appear to fly. Labour was more direct in their promises and I think we can learn something from this for other campaigns.

They also put messages out there like ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’, almost shaming young people for not being part of the movement, and as such coercing them to be. Also, the obvious tempting policy around things like tuition fees. I’ve heard people argue young people having a keen sense of justice and shared values around things like multiculturalism, feminism, immigration, and social liberalism though. And I can see some truth in this.

My question therefore is about collective vs. selfish motivations. Academic research suggests when it comes to voting, the youth are motivated by the collective. When building communities in a social space, do we do this by harnessing selfish or societal motivations? If selfish, offering the opportunity for self-branding or simply offering the something we think they’ll want?

Take a look at the Facebook page for Voting:Why Bother?