Time to create engaged voters

85% voter turnout

The referendum on independence that the voters of Scotland participated in on September 18 was a close result. But the nays had it in the end by a ten percent margin.

What struck me most about this referendum was the voter turnout – almost 85 percent of the 4.2 million Scots registered to vote actually did vote. I’ve seen it reported that this was the highest voter turnout in any election of any type in the United Kingdom since 1918, the year that women won the right to vote.

Clearly there are significant differences in a rare event that can radically change the very nature of a country compared to an election in which you vote your political representatives into a parliament every five years. But surely there are lessons to be learned (the favourite phrase of politicians!) in not only the outcome of this referendum but also the campaigning beforehand and how the passionate minority – politicians and citizens alike – influenced the views of many in the voting majority to actually get out and vote never mind vote in a particular way.

Of all the politicians I saw and heard in the run up to last Thursday’s voting, none had an impact on my thoughts as much as Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, in a passionate speech supporting the Union between England and Scotland that he gave the day before voting.

You can listen to it here, see what you think:

(Audio extracted from the BBC News video report available on YouTube.)

I was never impressed with Brown as Prime Minister. But what an orator! In this speech, there was no script in his hands, no prepared statement he read. Just the power of his words and how he spoke them.

Would such passion – believable passion at that, genuine not scripted – make much difference in what voters think and do as politicians make their cases to those voters? Some might say that’s what they already do. I don’t support that view at all, certainly not from watching and listening to almost any politician today.

I think politicians of every stripe should be examining what happened in Scotland last week and considering what they need to do to aim for such high voter turnout when the general election arrives in May 2015.

Do we really want to repeat the dismal showing that saw UK voter turnout of just 36 percent in the European elections earlier this year, and even worse elsewhere in Europe? Surely not. But you have to make it interesting enough for voters to believe they want to become engaged, want to have their say.

You have to persuade voters to believe.

That’s a great deal to do with communication, specifically:

  1. Having a compelling story.
  2. Understanding which media are the most effective means to connect with voters in every single instance of reaching out with your story.
  3. Being honest, open, authentic, credible.
  4. Telling your story really well, in such a way that it will stimulate an action – in this case, engaged voters having their say, too.

Is it possible that politics might get really interesting between now and May 2015?

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Scotland referendum results via WhatsApp and more

Yes / No

Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will not be the same no matter what happens in Scotland today as citizens there cast their votes in a referendum to decide whether Scotland will separate from the UK and become an independent country, or not.

The campaigning is done; now it’s up to the voters of Scotland to decide what they want for their country and the union with England that’s been in place since 1707.

Obviously media of all types – mainstream, social – and from all over the world are devoting huge time and resources to coverage of an event that has got the world’s attention especially in countries where the flames of separatism may be further fanned on the outcome in Scotland.

I’ll be following events as time permits during the day on TV and online. It’s once the polls close at 10pm tonight that interest will be most strong as the votes are counted with the first results to be declared expected sometime around 3am on Friday morning.

What appeals to me is the idea of key news as it breaks coming to me in a way that lets me focus just on that and gives me just the facts. I can choose whether to look for more detail, if I want, whether that’s online or via more traditional news channels.

So an idea from Channel 4 News in the UK is most interesting – broadcast breaking news on the results as it happens, directly to your smartphone via WhatsApp and Snapchat:

[...] We’re going to publish all of our best content, as well as live updates, via Snapchat and Whatsapp, from the moment the polls close on Thursday night right up to when the results are announced on Friday morning – ahead of publishing it anywhere else.

That last sentence is most interesting: “ahead of publishing it anywhere else.” Before TV?

My interest is WhatsApp; here’s how to set it up:

WhatsApp the message INDYREF to 07768555671 and add us to your contacts list to sign up for all of our best overnight news and analysis, pictures and video, delivered to you ahead of all the other social networks.
If you change your mind, WhatsApp STOP to the same number.

I’d added C4News to my WhatsApp and can’t wait to see how this plays out.

C4News

It’s great to see such innovation from mainstream broadcasters, especially communication methods that clearly show the broadcaster not only gets audience preferences by demographic according to social medium but also is able to execute an idea well.

Channel 4 is not alone in this. BBC News, for instance, announced this week that its content will be available on smartphone instant messaging platform LINE. Earlier this year, the BBC experimented with WhatsApp and WeChat in English and Hindi.

And Sky News launched its Stand Up Be Counted initiative, described as “a place for 16 – 25 year olds to safely upload and share the videos, pictures or blogs they make on the issues that matter most to them.” It’s been a very active place in relation to the Scottish referendum.

Innovation really is thriving.

(Via Journalism.co.uk; picture at top via The Guardian.)

Making politics interesting again #EP2014

Houses of Parliament, London

If Nigel Farage has achieved one other thing apart from his seismic shifting of the political landscape in the UK following elections for the European Parliament across the European Union on May 22, it’s making politics more interesting again.

And not just in the UK, either.

Unquestionably overshadowing the election for local government councillors that also took place in many constituencies in England and Northern Ireland last week, Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) – firmly to the right-of-centre in political terms – has consistently banged the drum of anti-EU sentiment that is broadly strong in the UK, especially on populist issues such as reducing immigration and its related topic, open borders to any citizen of an EU member state – and closing them.

It’s been touching a chord for many months now, one that translated into votes when it came to the ballot box last Thursday as became readily clear as the election results started to be announced across the EU late on May 25.

UK European election results 2014

In the UK, UKIP out-performed every other party with its share of the vote, and how many MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) they’d be sending to Brussels/Strasbourg.

The big losers are the Liberal Democrats (LD in the chart above), who were just about wiped out in the EU with only one candidate voted in, losing nine others elected in the last European Parliament election in 2009.

So a period of soul-searching begins for the main parties in the UK, less than a year before the general election in May 2015.

“What to do about UKIP?” is the question political experts and pundits alike are currently saying is no doubt on the lips of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

If it is, it’s the wrong question.

The right question must be, “How can we re-engage with our citizens that leads them to believe that voting in an election is a compelling act for them?” Here’s the pointer in this map posted by the AFP news agency showing the percentage of non-voters in each EU member state.

The non voters

While the UK is at 64 percent, it gets worse the further east you travel in Europe – over 77 percent of voters in Poland didn’t vote, for example. The figure was 79 percent in Slovenia and 80 percent in the Czech Republic. And a whopping 87 percent in Slovakia. (I wonder what pro-EU Ukrainians think about the EU and their country’s fractures when they see apathy like this.)

Looking at the UK again, here’s ampp3d’s more dramatic perspective on voter apathy.

Did note vote

It seems clear to me what politicians of every flavour need to do – whether in the UK or in any other of the 28 member states of the European Union – and that is to give voters two things:

  1. Reasons why they should care
  2. Reasons why they should vote

Certainly in the UK, it should be a very interesting 335+/- days between now and the forthcoming general election.

  • If you’re wondering what the EU election results mean for communications and public affairs, you can find out and add your own voice in a tweetchat on this topic organized by the CIPR, taking place on June 4 at midday UK time. Follow the hashtag #CIPRCHAT.

[The attractive Houses of Parliament postcard-type image at the top of the page is by Jenny Scott and is used under a Creative Commons license.]

Redefining today’s communicator in Norway

Communications Day 2014When I look at the landscape of the communication profession around Europe, I see similar issues that concern communicators, most notably how strategic are communicators (and the profession itself), abiding by codes of conduct and practicing ethical behaviour, and being professional.

It’s a topic in the front of my mind as I finalise plans for a keynote presentation to the members of the Norwegian Communications Association on March 27.

The devil’s in the detail, of course, and what’s hot in one country isn’t necessarily at the same temperature in another.

In the UK, for instance, a current strong focus is on professionalism following the findings published by the CIPR last month in its ‘state of the profession’ survey and a clear call to action by CIPR President Stephen Waddington who asked, “How serious are PR practitioners about putting their ambition to be considered a professional into practice?”

I do wonder at times how serious people really are: behaviours people say they want to emulate too often don’t match what I see people do.

Actually, I think this is a very hot issue everywhere even if many individuals may not realise it is. You only have to read the Edelman Trust Barometer 2014 – the results of a survey of 33,000 people in 27 countries – to get a sense of why it’s hot.

So while professional associations like the CIPR and the Norwegian Communications Association look at the big picture and ways to galvanize action among its members, I’m focused on what individuals can and must do to be professional, whatever their role in organizational communication and whatever their level in their organizations.

On March 27, I’ll be in Norway at Communications Day 2014 (or, rather, Kommunikasjonsdagen 2014 – hashtag #komdagen) to deliver a keynote presentation that I’ve titled “Redefining Today’s Communicator.”

From the description on the event website:

Today’s communicator must, as never before, have clear vision and understanding of how communication and the communicator are key strategic assets that support measurable business objectives. Today’s communicator has a key role to play in the rapidly-changing landscape that embraces organization change, behavioral change and technology change; and the online world where the three intersect.

In an age where anyone can claim to be a communicator in business, Neville Hobson will illustrate what professional communicators must do to prove their relevance and context in what they do for their employers and clients.

A pretty broad brush, but I intend to speak to that big topic of professionalism and present some ideas on what we all need to do. I want it to be a relevant piece of the jigsaw, the whole of which will be revealed by presentations from others on the day – Michael Murphy, for instance, talking about the challenges, disruptive influences and opportunities which are shaping the communications functions of the future; and Sigbjørn Aanes, State Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, talking about “communication, sausages and politics” (can’t wait to hear that one!).

The organizers tell me that over 520 communicators will be there on March 27 – a really great representation of the communication profession in Norway.

There’s still time and space to sign up if you haven’t yet. And right below is a bit more information – an ad that was published in a Norwegian magazine last month.

Looking forward to being part of your day!

 Kommunikasjonsdagen 2014

Results you can measure when you have a content marketing strategy

Where Marketers See ResultsIf the real challenge of content marketing is when you don’t have a strategy – like the 50% and more of companies in recent surveys in the US who don’t – imagine the possibilities when you do have a strategy.

Possibilities are very real to businesses in EMEA, where communication professionals are seeing a high return on investment from implementing a content marketing strategy, according to a report published by integrated communications agency Waggener Edstrom in the UK.

The report, “Content Marketing: Puncturing the Hype and Getting Practical,” includes the summary results of a survey of over 150 marketing and communication professionals with decision-making responsibilities across EMEA.

While the report shows an upbeat picture of content marketing strategies in action, it also shows that a significant number of those surveyed say they have no plans to implement one. And, even more question whether they’ll see any ROI.

A paradox, it seems to me, when the evidence that points to measurable benefits that can arise when executing a well-designed strategy looks pretty clear.

Check the highlights summary from the report’s survey findings:

  • The majority (85 percent) of communication professionals who follow a content marketing strategy do so to promote awareness of their brand, closely followed by increasing engagement with customers (79 percent) and generating sales leads (77 percent).
  • 70 percent of marketers understand that content marketing helps drive sales leads more effectively, but 18 percent still have no plans to implement a strategy and over one third (38 percent) still question whether it can deliver measurable ROI.
  • A lack of staff resources was identified as the number one challenge in implementing an effective content marketing strategy (63 percent), closely followed by lack of budget (48 percent) and lack of content creation expertise (41 percent) – similar indicators to those in the US surveys I mentioned earlier.
  • 79 percent believe a strong content marketing strategy will help them use social media more effectively, followed by video and animation (70 percent) and news articles (62 percent).
  • 83 percent measure the effectiveness of content through web traffic, while 67 percent measure through media coverage and 56 percent through click analysis.

The report includes insights and shared experiences from Waggener Edstrom and their client firms such as AVG and Microsoft on topics covering content marketing and strategy, content marketing as a lead generator, and more; plus sidebars on broadcast and editorial strategies, blogging, and SEO; and one I contributed on the essential role of social media in content marketing.

It’s a good report, offering genuine insight and real-world examples, and makes a powerful case for actually having a strategy for your content marketing, and what happens when you execute it.

To get your free copy of “Content Marketing: Puncturing the Hype and Getting Practical,” register online.

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Careless talk can cost you your life

Face off...Belgian communications agency Duval Guillaume Modem is all about big ideas.

Only ideas are the carriers of new thoughts and can influence behaviour, the agency says. Ideas are what differentiate human beings from other animals and computers. Ideas originate from creative processes, not from procedures.

The award-winning agency is living up to this ideal with a video about identity theft its created as part of a campaign to promote safe online banking in Belgium and raise awareness of the www.safeinternetbanking.be website where tips for using internet banking safely are available.

The video tells the story of how one man’s entire life was easily taken over with the help of information he himself carelessly spreads across the social web, starting with the theft of his financial details and culminating in the cloning of his personal appearance through an impressive make-up job as the narrative presents you with a plausible scenario showing how you can make it easy for someone to literally steal your whole life.

Would you panic while internet crooks took over your life? We put one real victim through the test. We scared the hell out of him by gradually taking over his life. His freaked out reactions, should urge people to be very vigilant and never to share personal and banking information by mail or by telephone.

(If you don’t see the video above, watch it on YouTube.)

“Never share banking information, even by phone. Be vigilant with personal information” are the core messages in the video story.

Identity theft and helping consumers understand the genuine risks of such crime and what they can do to safeguard themselves is a hot topic everywhere. While an approach like this may not work in every country, hard-hitting and credible story-telling is exactly what’s needed if only to penetrate the noise and get your signal noticed.

It certainly is imaginative.

(Via Kris Hoet and AdAge.com)

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