Is #GE2015 really the twitter election?

Weber Shandwick’s Head of Digital, Danny Whatmough, considers the growing importance of Twitter for voters

Weber Shandwick’s Hugo Winn looked at how some of the UK’s leading political parties are approaching social media in the run up to the 2015 general election.

As he explained, the approach varies from party to party and some seem more reluctant than others to embrace social media and give their candidates the freedom to really embrace these brave new platforms.

But research conducted by Twitter suggests that a social-friendly approach to campaigning might be a good course of action.

A sample of 3,000 Twitter users in the UK found that one in three (34%) voters aged between 18 and 34 have changed their vote from one party to another based on something they have seen on Twitter.

It also found that 45% of the same demographic have become interested in or have joined a political or social cause they have learned about through Twitter and 47% have reconsidered their views on a specific issue as a result of using the social network.

Ahead of a panel debate Weber Shandwick is hosting next week on the role of social media during the General Election campaign, all the pointers suggest that Twitter is growing in influence.

Made for debate

It’s no surprise that Twitter is being used as a platform for debate and discussion but it is interesting that this discussion is causing a significant number of users to change their political viewpoints – especially as the network is often seen as a place for noisy individuals with entrenched viewpoints.

There were 260,000 tweets that used the #battlefornumber10 hashtag during the first televised ‘debate’ last week demonstrating that Twitter has become the defacto backchannel for public political debate in the country.

And, of course, the live, real-time nature of Twitter makes it perfectly suited to the fast paced world of election campaigns.

Unsurprisingly, 34% said they would go directly to Twitter to actively look for information about politics or the general election.

Just a lot of hot air?

But what impact will this actually have on the final outcome?

In total, 83% of all Twitter users said they are planning to vote in the election (turnout was 65% nationwide in 2010). And Twitter’s potential to influence public opinion has been frequently documented.

What the network lacks in terms of user numbers, it makes up for in terms of influence.

With 78% of MPs now on Twitter and seven million tweets about #indyref last year, there is no doubt that Twitter will form a significant vehicle for campaigners throughout the 2015 campaign.

But whether tweeters will flock to hear the latest proclamations from their prospective MPs or political leaders is another matter altogether, with 64% saying they wanted to use Twitter to access genuinely unbiased content during the campaign.

The potential is clearly there and the opportunities to influence mindsets or even voting decisions seem more likely than you might have imagined.

But whether Twitter has a role to play in terms of influencing the final outcome is a much harder question to answer.

It’s a question we will be debating with a panel of experts at an event Weber Shandwick is hosting on 22nd April. Chaired by our CEO Colin Byrne and run by the PRCA Digital Group, the debate features ITV’s Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship, founder of Who’s Bored, Danny Bartlett and Richard Evans, Head of Social Media & Audience Development at Sky News. You can sign-up here.