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Make Your Vote Count! Scottish Youth Parliament Elections

Campaign graphic

Later this week I’ll be attending a national awards ceremony, at which one of our campaigns has been nominated for an award. ** UPDATE – we won! **

Edinburgh’s 2009 Scottish Youth Parliament election campaign has already won a Bronze award in the Marketing Society’s Star Awards – the only local authority campaign to win in any category. It was also a finalist in the CIPR national awards, in the category of best campaign under £10k, and won the CIPR Local Public Services Award for Hard to Reach Communications, where the judges commented on how the “strong and effective use of social media and online marketing together with celebrity endorsement succeeded in creating a vibrant and healthy parliament and increased vote.”

It has now been shortlisted for the “Government to Citizen Communications” category of the Good Communication Awards, and I’ll be representing my organisation at the ceremony on Thursday.

The tremendous reception that the campaign has received is thanks to the enthusiasm, innovation and hard work not only of my colleagues, but also of the young people involved in the elections, and I’m proud to represent such a campaign as just one of the many people who worked to make it happen.

The following gives a flavour of the efforts, and hopefully offers some inspiration to others, especially those involved in e-participation and youth engagement.

Scottish Youth Parliament Elections in Edinburgh

The challenge

Every two years, the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) holds elections for young people between 14 and 25 to represent the views of their peers. In Edinburgh there are 11 SYP members. In 2007, 13 candidates stood for election, just 25 votes were cast and elections were held in a single venue on one day.

For the 2009 elections there was clearly room for improvement, and an integrated campaign was launched, utilising traditional, social and web-based marketing, to try to increase awareness of the elections and boost the number of candidates and voters.

The solution

To encourage more young people to stand for election, the following was carried out:

  • A dedicated page was created on the Young Edinburgh website
  • Posters were distributed featuring the celebrity endorsement of local lad John Loughton, former chair of the SYP and well known to the target audience as the winner of Celebrity Big Brother Hi-jack 2008
  • Briefings went to all schools asking head teachers to use in-school communication channels
  • Information was posted the Council webpage and an announcement made to the local press

We received around 25 notes of interest and eventually 18 candidates stood.

Make Yourself Heard - Scottish Youth Parliament Elections Edinburgh 2009

One of the election posters

Next, to get more people voting, we introduced social media, setting up Facebook and Bebo pages as well as a YouTube channel.

Screen shot of the campaign's Bebo page

Bebo webpage

The Facebook and Bebo pages were used for posting candidate photos, written and video manifestos, allowing people to become fans and to share with online friends.

On YouTube, we uploaded videos of the candidates outlining their manifestos, again with links back to the information pages.

Video screenshot

A video manifesto

We also:

  • Made it easier for people to vote by extending voting from a day to a week and placing ballot boxes in schools, libraries and colleges
  • Updated the Young Edinburgh webpage with information on voting, with links to the social media sites
  • Distributed posters with details of the SYP social media sites and how and where to vote
  • Ran a radio campaign
  • Placed adverts on Facebook
  • Secured a feature piece in the local press and in the council’s newspaper, which goes to every household in the city

The outcome

The results were outstanding:

  • 18 people stood for election
  • 5019 young people voted – an increase of 19,984% from 2007!
  • All 11 seats were filled – three candidates in two areas were elected unopposed
  • In total, there were 2727 views of candidate videos on YouTube. The video with most number individual views amounted to 404, the lowest 107

Conclusion

Probably the most telling aspect of the campaign was how social media was used to compliment the other, more traditional, channels. Social media is rarely a solution in itself, but it is a significant addition to your arsenal and can dramatically increase your reach. The video manifestos were hugely popular, generating a lot of interest in the elections and in the democratic process.

The campaign was also testimony to the continuing trend towards utilising social networking to engage with young people. Only a few years ago, most local authorities would have discarded such an approach as too risky, too unmanageable, and too unknown. Now, there is a growing interest and understanding of the benefits of these platforms, along with a more rational and considered appreciation of the risks. Good experiences such as this one will continue to build the case for the wider adoption of such channels as a key method of engaging and informing our citizens.

I look forward to seeing how many voters turn out in 2011…

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