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How the SNP is using social media to win votes

Digital expert Ewan McIntosh gives an overview of the role of social media in the SNP’s election campaign.

If last year's General Election was social media's damp squib, trumped by the television debates in terms of impact, the Scottish Parliamentary Elections are proving quite the opposite. The Times believe the SNP is "ahead of the game", and the stats would back that up.

Key to visible online successes has been the large degree of thought given to how online social media activity can be encouraged, listened to, engaged with and, vitally, converted into "offline" action: donate, volunteer, place both votes on 5 May for the SNP.

The party is Scotland's first to have a dedicated in-house new-media team, and, in partnership with my own company, the SNP HQ, its Cabinet, supporters, activists and candidates have led the way in terms of online content creation and engagement with potential voters.

Specifically for the campaign, a new web platform was launched, with the SNP first in the world to put Nationbuilder.com to work. Built by members of the Obama 2008 campaign, the campaign site links in with users' Facebook and Twitter accounts to give a fuller picture of who's saying what to whom, and provides new opportunities to engage potential voters in volunteering on the ground, volunteering for the digital campaign or making a donation.

SNPstudios.com, developed in-house, allows supporters and members of the public to use their talents in film, photography, graphic design and podcasting to upload their contribution to the SNP’s campaign for re-election to a dedicated SNP site.

Once uploaded, the crème de la crème is selected to be shared on the SNP’s official Youtube, Audioboo and Picassa channels.

A leaderboard captures all discussions about the campaign, whether or not the individual is registered through the site, and awards "political capital" points to those who share a link, follow one of the Party's candidates on Twitter or "like" a post on one of the party Facebook sites. This "gamification" of political campaigning has helped drive more donations to the campaign, and hundreds more have come forward to volunteer.

Kirk J Torrance is the SNP's in-house new media strategist: "Our main success is empowering people with the online tools to deliver SNP messages in a relevant and meaningful way to their existing networks. By adding a competitive element to that processes we have seen a dramatic increase in donations and digital information distribution as people compete to be top of the charts."

Another in-house invention brings Facebook from the virtual to the realworld, with physical ‘like buttons’ placed around events, such as the SNP party conference venue in Glasgow. Delegates to the two day event installed an app on their Facebook profile, registered their RFID swipe card and, as delegates ‘liked’ events such as Alex Salmond’s keynote address, the app updated their statuses with details of the event and provided a link to the SNP campaign's livestream. The ‘like boxes’ alone spread the message to over 30,000 people.

The Times proclaimed that the SNP is “ahead of the game” in online technologies, but the key to this online success still remains its ability to engage people in offline activity: volunteering, donating, placing both votes for the SNP. In that sense, there's only one metric that matters, and you can't follow it in real time. It comes once. On 5 May.

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