Election 2015 Scotland

Election 2015: Who won the social media campaign in Scotland?

Generation 2015 panel

Having seen how social media engaged voters during last year's referendum, politicians from all parties have been joining everything from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram, Vine and Snapchat in a bid to reach out to a younger and more digitally savvy electorate.

But are politicians using these platforms effectively to get their message across? And does their social media effort actually translate into votes?

During the final two weeks of the general election campaign, eight young voters from the BBC's Generation 2015 panel closely monitored Scotland's political parties and most prominent figures. They told the BBC Scotland news website who they thought got it right in the battle for Scotland's young voters.

The entire panel agreed that a major benefit of social media as a campaigning tool was in making politicians seem more "accessible" than ever before.

Young voter Rebecca Plenderleith, who has spent most of the campaign as an undecided voter, said social media brought a "humanity" to politics, while Conservative voter Struan Mackie said it enabled voters to see "past the party" and learn more about the personality of the candidates.

But others questioned how much this perception of politicians as "accessible" actually translated into reality.

Generic messages

Several of our panellists, while impressed with the high volume of politicians using social media, were disappointed that many of them would not interact with voters who weren't already clear supporters.

Similarly, several felt that much of the content posted on social media seemed to be intended to rally the party faithful rather than to attract new potential voters.

Lib Dem voter James Munro said: "Posts that are just full of rhetoric don't really add anything to the debate. Slogans like 'Only the SNP can make Scotland's voice heard' or 'Only UKIP can stand up to Westminster' have no effect on me."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Earlier this month, the Press Association reported that the SNP were the only party to have their candidates on Twitter. But is success more than just a numbers game?

Despite being a Green party member, Zoe Mcintyre has been trying to choose another party to vote for, as there is no Green candidate in her constituency.

One major criticism she had was that many of the official party accounts simply reposted statements they perceived as favourable to them, without attempting to explain to voters why their policy objectives would be of benefit.

'Winning at Twitter'

The panel noted that high profile party figures appeared to be much better than less well versed candidates at showing their personality in what they posted.

Several of the panel singled out Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson as "winning at Twitter" for her down-to-earth approach to social media.

Image copyright Twitter

After Ms Davidson's "You ok, hun?" Twitter comment [on David Cameron's Twitter feed after he was accused of "demeaning the Office of Prime Minister" by Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy], SNP voter Craig Maclean said: "That had me in stitches. I wouldn't vote for her party just now, but little things like that show a human nature and did warm me towards Ruth Davidson".

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption The way Margaret Curran dealt with abuse on Twitter impressed some on the panel

Labour voter Eva Murray said she thought Kezia Dugdale and Margaret Curran's "sassy" replies in response to personal abuse on Twitter had helped get away from the "people in suits" image people have of politicians, while Nicola Sturgeon was described as "rarely, if ever, slipping up".

By contrast, our panel said many other MPs lacked the personal touch, using their Twitter feeds as "a dump for links to manifesto points" or simply to plug press releases.

Voter Zoe Mcintyre was also critical of the length of David Cameron's personal Facebook posts, saying "not many people have time or care enough" to read three paragraphs of solid text.

Our panel's advice to politicians on how to appeal to young voters on social media

1. Don't run a negative campaign. Focus on your message rather than making "cheap shots" at your opponents.

2. Show personality in what you share, don't just post generic messages.

3. Similarly, don't just post endless pictures of you on the campaign trail - particularly when the photo op seems irrelevant to the election.

4. Using hashtags can be a good idea, but anticipate ones which may get hijacked by others to make jokes at the party's expense.

5. Adapt your posts to fit the social media platform you're on, e.g. creating easily shareable content or maybe even using emojis. But don't overdo, as it might make some young voters think you're trying too hard.

James Munro was frustrated that most politicians weren't taking advantage of opportunities provided by social media to speak directly to their constituents.

He said: "Coming from up north and with most of my family in the Highlands or islands, they are very concerned about an MP who stands up for local issues rather than what's on a national scale necessarily. That's one thing I've barely seen on social media."

Negative messages

While some voters liked the Conservative party's Your Manifesto tool - which extracts information from the user's Facebook profile to compile a set of policies relevant to their area - one major criticism was that while the application identified their area as Scotland, it failed to break down further into Scottish regions.

Image copyright Conservative Party

Our panel repeatedly mentioned "negative campaign messages" - that focus on criticising other parties - as a big turn-off, while photo-shopped images making jibes at other parties were described as "infuriatingly childish".

James Munro said: "This election has been far too much about inter-party squabbling. I couldn't tell you a single actual policy for quite a few of the parties because it's just not on their social media at all."

Meanwhile, Zoe Mcintyre said she was concerned that first-time voters seeing this kind of campaigning might be put off voting at all.

Image caption Our young voters said they were put off by scaremongering and photo shopped images making 'cheap shots' at other parties

Undecided voter Laura Fell said that more creative hashtags might have attracted voters, with most parties opting for self-evident but uninspired choices, namely #voteLabour, #VoteConservative, #voteSNP, #libdems, #votegreen2015.

But undecided voter Noah Brown was also critical of more inventive hashtags such as "I'm #SNPbecause" and "#WhyImVotingUKIP", saying "you end up with a list of other people's perceptions, rather than manifesto based realities".

James Munro also warned of hashtags like these being hijacked by those seeking to make jokes at the parties' expense.

Another thing that left our panel less than impressed was politicians sharing their endless photo opportunities, particularly when they seemed to have little relevance to the election.

Commenting on an image shared by the Scottish Conservatives, Zoe said: "How is a picture of Ruth Davidson with a hawk on her arm going to convince people to vote Conservative? Surely she should be having more photos taken with the electorate!"

Has social media influenced our young voters ahead of the vote?

Noah Brown: "In some respects I think social media brought out the worst in people, but I don't think it made a difference to how I voted. I voted Scottish Greens in the end and it was doing research on my local candidates that swung it for me."

Struan Mackie: "I'm still voting for the Scottish Conservatives. But references to the referendum or independence have put me off several SNP candidates, Mhari Black for example. This is a general election and rearing the independence question again isn't appropriate."

Eva Murray: "I think social media has a huge influence in getting people involved in politics and getting ideas out there, but I don't think it would have the power to persuade me to vote for a party other than Labour."

Craig Maclean: "I'm still voting SNP. My impression of the Conservative party in Scotland has become less negative due to Ruth Davidson, but I still wouldn't vote for them. My impression of Labour in Scotland has gone down, mostly because of Jim Murphy, but I do like what some of their figures in England - Andy Burnham and Diane Abbot - are saying on Twitter."

James Munro: "I'd definitely say Ruth Davidson has gone a long way to improving the Scottish Conservatives in my mind. I still probably would never vote for them but she seemed like the only politician on social media who was a human being and actually ran her own media."

Rebecca Plenderleith: "Social media has ensured that I definitely won't be voting for either the Tories or Labour. What they don't realise is that by insulting other parties on social media they come across as if they are scared that their policies alone will not be enough to win them seats. I was an undecided voter. I'll now definitely be voting Liberal Democrat."

Laura Fell: "Nothing in particular has persuaded my vote. I am stuck between the choice of two parties, Labour and SNP, but I hate it when parties slag each other off and start scaremongering."

Zoe Mcintyre: "Social media hasn't persuaded me to vote a certain way. I'm voting Labour, even though I think the majority of their posts have been pretty negative. But I would say I dislike Tories more from their social media because it's all so negative."

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