The power of #indyref – 1.15m uses in August, 150,000 in a day

Number of #indyref uses– July to 9 Sept 2014
Number of #indyref uses– July to 9 Sept 2014

#Indyref in numbers

In August, the number of uses of the twitter indyref hashtag reached 1.15 million. On 25 August, the day of the second televised debate between Salmond and Darling, the use of #indyref topped 100,000 in a single day for the first time. On Tuesday 9 September, it was used 150,000 times. To compare this to the rest of the campaign, only 16,000 uses were made on launch day of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence.  These recent figures demonstrate the extent to which the UK and the World has turned its attention to this debate.

The use of this hashtag surpasses recent UK political history on twitter. #vote2011 for the Scottish Parliamentary elections didn’t come close; neither did #GE2010 for the UK General Election in 2010. There was an impressive 420,000 uses of #EP2014 on election day for the European Parliament. But in September so far there have been 800,000 uses of #indyref. Since February this year #indyref has been slowly burning at over 10,000 tweets a day and has gradually increased. For some, it is annoyance that Scotland’s twittersphere is dominated by this issue but for debate followers, commentators and politicians, it has become a mainstay of the political day – a point of reference for the latest development. How will we cope without it?

Undoubtedly, it has been scarred by vitriol, abuse and has been used as a platform to trade insults, but ultimately it has been an important central pillar of a prolonged debate. But how useful has #indyref and social media played in the rise of the Yes vote?

The rise of the Yes vote – strengths and pitfalls

Under the stewardship of strategist Stephen Noon, Yes has sought to orchestrate a social media campaign which fuels a network of Yes activists to initiate conversations on independence off and online.

In addition to the data, a glance at the #indyref stream will tell you that Yes supporters outnumber No in the virtual world. Although followers have been enthused by the centre, a more extensive and vocal twitter base has made it easier to spread key messages. A TNS poll in June identified Yes supporters as being three times more likely to discuss independence online. This must be a satisfying statistic given the campaign’s goals of being decentralised and driven from the ground up.

The Yes Scotland twitter and facebook accounts have out ‘followed’ and out ‘liked’ Better Together. The difference in facebook ‘likes’ between Yes Scotland and Better Together now stands at around 80,000. The quantity of twitter and facebook posts for Yes Scotland also outstrips the unionist campaign. Stephen Noon describes this as creating “mood music” which provides “information that supports conversations”. The psychology of this approach is to create a stream of arguments which positively reflect back on undecideds and wavering Nos who may be persuaded to make the shift to Yes. Stephen Noon encourages activists to identify soft Nos and undecideds online and advises on the number of people activists should engage with per week. This approach is reaping results. However, the Yes strategy is not without weaknesses and potential pitfalls.

Although the quantity of conversations created by Yes outweighs No, the level of engagement with Yes is lower. The engagement rate refers to activity on a page compared with fan interactions. So as social media analytics company Bird Song found, an update from Better Together achieves 38% more ‘likes’ than the Yes campaign and ten times the number of comments. Although a greater number of posts create a perception of dominance online, Yes appear to make more statements and arguments but which generate less interaction.

Yes will also face a challenge on polling day. The most vocal age groups on social media are the least likely to vote. Twitter conversations, and to a lesser extent facebook conversations, are dominated by younger cohorts. Approximately 64% of 18-24 years olds are on twitter compared with only 14% of 55-64 year olds and 3% of over 65s. Put simply, social media over-represents young people and distorts the appearance of overall support. The most recent TNS poll showed a 12% difference between the youngest and oldest cohorts who said they were certain to vote. With polls showing the No side has a stronger following in older cohorts, the Yes campaign will be sure to have a strategy in place to maximize their social media channels to guarantee their younger supporters turnout next week.

1 million in 1 day?

In recent times UK politics has been tarnished with scandal, is viewed with deep cynicism and apathy is a main feature of elections. This referendum campaign has been lively, interesting and intriguing at times. But most importantly Scotland has participated in a wide-ranging democratic discussion and social media, particularly #indyref has been a backbone for that discussion. Let’s see if #indyref surpasses 1 million on the 18th. I expect it will.

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