ACT Electoral Commission social media experience at the 2012 ACT Legislative Assembly election

Updated: 22 February 2013

Phillip Green
ACT Electoral Commission

This paper is based on the presentation given by the ACT Electoral Commissioner, Phillip Green, at the Research Forum hosted by the Australian Electoral Commission on 19–20 November 2012 at Old Parliament House, Canberra.

Logo for the 2012 ACT election

An election for the ACT Legislative Assembly was held on 20 October 2012. The ACT Electoral Commission (Elections ACT for short) undertook an extensive information campaign to inform people about the election.

Elections ACT faced a number of challenges, including:

  • A record low level of enrolment of young people
  • Indications of increasing disengagement with the political process
  • Increasingly diverse use of communication mediums
  • A complex multi-member electoral system: Hare-Clark with Robson rotation
  • A ban on canvassing within 100 metres of polling places
  • Extending electronic voting to 25% of voters

In order to reach as many enrolled electors and potentially eligible citizens, Elections ACT used a range of strategies in its information campaign, including:

  • Website
  • TV, radio, newspapers
  • Bus shelters
  • Internet advertising
  • Household mailouts
  • Media releases
  • Social media

Elections ACT used social media for the first time at the 2012 ACT election, focussing on Facebook and Twitter, with TV ads also posted on YouTube.

The information campaign used a colourful integrated "look and feel" based on tablet-style "icons" with an election theme. This look and feel was used on all the different communication channels.

The Elections ACT website home page looked like this. Note the prominent placement of links to the social media pages.

ACT election 2012 webpage

The 2012 election page on the website made prominent use of the icons.

The Elections ACT website appeared to be a particularly successful information medium. September to October 2012 website statistics showed:

  • Visits: 171 202
  • Unique visitors: 108 236
  • Pages viewed: 492 726

These are encouraging results for a jurisdiction with just over 250 000 enrolled electors.

The Elections ACT Facebook page and Twitter page were launched on 6 August 2012. The initial focus was on encouraging young people to enrol for the election, with only 48% of eligible 18 year-olds and 42% of eligible 19 year-olds on the ACT electoral roll. This campaign was accompanied by media releases and website updates which attracted considerable media coverage – including coverage of the launch of the Facebook page itself.

To encourage people to follow Elections ACT on Facebook, people who "liked" the page and entered a competition were eligible to win one of two iPads. As a result of this exposure and the competition, during the course of the election over 2 500 peopled "liked" the page and over 100 000 Facebook users were exposed to information posted on Facebook by Elections ACT.

The Elections ACT Facebook page looked like this.

Elections ACT Facebook page highlighting information about the 2012 ACT Legislative Assembly elections

Many of the posts used on the Elections ACT Facebook page made use of material developed for other purposes. The following post used a poster developed for placing in bus shelters around the ACT.

Elections ACT Facebook post highlighting the use of numbers on the ballot paper to achieve a formal vote

The competition to win one of two iPads appeared to be successful. The following post shows one of the winners receiving his prize – an 18 year-old who enrolled just before the roll close, encouraged by the iPad competition. And no, it wasn't rigged, as one Facebook poster suggested.

Elections ACT Facebook post showing the presentation of an iPad prize

The Facebook page attracted some lively discussion, including some praise and some criticism. A sample is below.

Elections ACT Facebook - samples of discussion

Twitter was also used in conjunction with Facebook posts and media releases. The main objective of the Twitter account was to alert the media to events and potential stories during the election. By the end of the election the Elections ACT Twitter account had 215 followers. The Twitter page looked like this.

Elections ACT Twitter page

The entry of Elections ACT into the world of social media appeared to be successful, although by its nature as part of an integrated information campaign, it is difficult to judge how much practical difference the social media campaign had.

While a key motivation behind use of social media was to motivate unenrolled young people to enrol, it would appear to have had only a modest success in this regard. By the time the rolls closed on 21 September, a total of 3435 electors who would be 18 on polling day were enrolled to vote, estimated to be around 67% of all eligible 18-year-olds in the ACT. A total of 3165 electors who would be 19 on polling day were also enrolled, estimated to be around 56% of eligible 19-year-olds. These results compare with around 80% of 18 year-olds and 85% of 19 year-olds enrolled for the 2008 ACT election.

While it is difficult to judge why the participation rate of young electors has dropped significantly in the last 4 years, it would appear that disengagement from and/or disillusion with the political process has played a part. If this is indeed the case, it is not likely that electoral authorities by themselves can adequately address this issue simply through information campaigns like this one.

Some of the other lessons learned include:

  • Social media is a new and time-intensive job
  • It's insatiable – every day the challenge was to think of something new
  • Two staff members drafted Facebook posts and Tweets and monitored public posts as part of their normal duties
  • The Electoral Commissioner personally approved (and often redrafted) all posts
  • The Electoral Commissioner and another staff member also monitored Facebook after hours and responded quickly to public posts
  • Anyone could post to the Facebook site
  • A very small number of posts were removed for violating the site's terms and conditions
  • Mostly self-correcting – other posters often responded to posts making comments or asking questions
  • Feedback from posters was almost all positive
  • iPad competition was very successful
  • Difficult to judge whether it made a practical difference
  • Exit polling indicated 28% of voters accessed Elections ACT social media
  • Of these, 35% found it provided useful information
  • 37% of all voters thought Elections ACT should use social media in future
  • 6% of voters (mostly young people) rated the Elections ACT social media as the most useful information medium

Based on its experience, Elections ACT intends to continue using social media as part of its information campaign mix. While most use would be around electoral events, it is hoped that Facebook and Twitter can continue to be used between electoral events to highlight ACT electoral issues, such as redistributions of electoral boundaries and the proposed review of the size of the Legislative Assembly.

Prepared for the AEC Electoral Research Forum, 19–20 Nov 2012, Canberra.

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author, and do not represent the views of the Australian Electoral Commission or the Australian Government.