The power of social media

There were two interesting examples of social media in action last week, quite different in scope and outcome, but equally powerful demonstrations of the power of user-generated content. The first relates to the referendum for the independence of Scotland, and the second is a response to an act of homophobic violence on the streets of Philadelphia. In this article we’ll take a look at the two examples – there may not be any direct strategies or techniques that you can immediately apply in your business, but they may serve as a useful reminder that it might be time to review and update your social media strategy and campaign because user-generated content has the power to change the world.

The referendum for independence in Scotland

While the outcome of the referendum was ultimately a vote for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, it was interesting to observe the key role that social media channels played in the strategies of both campaigns.

Facebook has reported over 10 million interactions on the topic in the five weeks leading up to the final vote (apparently one of the highest levels of activity on a vote ever recorded by the company); and Twitter also reported surges of activity during the key debates.

In terms of who won the social media battle, analysts are giving the edge to the Yes campaign, with the hashtag #YesScotland the most engaging hashtag used, reaching 13.6 million users on Twitter. The Yes campaign’s Twitter profile reached 112,000 followers while the Better Together profile reached only 43,000 followers.

But while the Yes campaign won the social media battle they ultimately lost the war – does this mean that social media got it wrong? Does it mean that social media is not an effective campaign tool in politics? Actually the result is fairly unimportant – what the Scotland independence campaign has demonstrated is that social media has become an incredibly engagement tool in the context of political discussion. Social media is more than just cute photos of cats, social media is also used for the discussion of issues – particularly among younger people. It’s also believed that social media has led to a higher voter turn-out in Scotland (where voting is not compulsory). The thinking is that Ii you are seeing your friends and peers discussing issues and talking about voting then you are more likely to vote yourself.

The streets of Philadelphia

On 11th September two gay men were walking along one of the city centre streets of Philadelphia when they were physically attacked by a group of men and women. The Philadelphia police released CCTV footage of the group of suspects that they were wanting to question. Within hours a Twitter user with the profile name of @FanSince09 had tweeted a photo from what looked like a birthday party with some of the suspects clearly visible, the restaurant was quickly identified as an Italian restaurant near where the attack had happened and the suspects were identified by their Facebook check-ins to the restaurant on the night of the attack. Concluding his social media detective work, @FanSince09 tweeted: “If you’re going to gay bash don’t fill your FB profile with gay slurs and also delete that restaurant check in from earlier.”

The power of social media should not be ignored.


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