How can social media be a vehicle to driving more votes and shares in this year’s general election? Is there a way brands can get involved in what is set to be the most social general election ever?

In the United Kingdom, the next general election is in May and the lead up and discussion on social networks is well underway and already trending on Twitter (check out the hashtag #GE2015). The dialogue between politicians and journalists is already underway. And while they carefully cement their social statuses, I expect that advertisers who want to be tactically involved are close behind.

There is more potential than ever this year to get users involved with a campaign, with the Electoral Commission reporting that only 44% of those aged between 18-24 voted in 2010. There is potential to reach a younger audience (the late teens and twenty-something demographic) by driving awareness.

Social media is key to making it part of the dialogue.

Enter Facebook, which, around the time of the last U.S. Congress elections, conducted an interesting new experiment that explored the influence social media has on politics. Sixty-one million Facebook users were involved in a study where they were shown an icon containing a link to find their nearest polling station and also a button that could be clicked to show they had voted.

This icon was also inserted into tens of millions of users’ news feeds. In addition, many users were shown nothing at all (the control group). Once the election was over and the votes counted, the professors conducting the study cross-referenced the participants’ names with those of the voters making some interesting connections between them.

In summary:

  • Users who were notified of a friend voting were 0.39% more likely to vote than those who were shown the “control” message.

  • Decisions to vote caused a close friend on Facebook to do the same – even those who had not seen it in their news feed.

  • The outcome was 340,000 additional votes on that day.

The results shed light on the influence of sponsored and natural posts related to the election and that, in certain cases, this experiment was able to persuade apathetic voters. This is certainly an issue in the UK, where the voter turnout was only 65% in 2010!

The research can only be seen as positive, and it opens up the discussion of how much we as individuals are influenced by our social media posts in the same way.

Facebook and other social channels have become a record of the person we want to portray; they also enable us to quickly and easily share our experiences through text, images, and video.

So, in the lead up to the next election, you will find more users than ever telling their colleagues and friends that they are up-to-date with current affairs and expressing their views through a simple “like,” “share,” or post.

While most users are savvy enough to know that Facebook serves us information based on algorithms, as a twenty-something social media user (and borderline addict) myself, I know that I am much more likely to have a discussion about politics or share my views if I see my peers are also doing the same.

It makes an important and – to some – daunting topic more accessible and certainly impossible to ignore. Both this and the ubiquitous hashtag is the key to encouraging users to vote and share their views and experiences with journalists and peers through social media channels.

Brands can get involved in the general election. It may sound far-fetched, but consider this example: Bookmakers will be coming up with the election odds over the next five months, and you might see a car client or glasses brand coming out with tongue-in-cheek campaigns to get users’ attention online. What can a smaller business do to essentially “newsjack” this very publicised process?

As we have seen, users can be influenced to vote through social networks. So why not talk to them about meaningful and relevant ways they can keep up with the current affairs? Can they use your technology to ensure they don’t miss a thing? Do you provide a service that helps them to stay better connected, saves them time, or allows them to watch videos and read articles offline?

In 2010, Forbes published the best social media campaigns that “newsjacked” the election. Well worth a glance, it shows campaigns such as IKEA’s that educated users and also managed to go viral, although I’m not sure how many kitchens were sold in the process!