When it comes to election years, all the focus tends to be on set-piece events: debates, leadership contests, candidate selections and more. These scheduled events are the mainstay of political junkies, who sit glued to 24-hour news channels.
But often election-defining events will not get into the television news. It will happen quietly and quickly, in micro-moments when undecided voters become die-hard voters, who then become evangelists who go online frequently and shape the opinions of those around them.
As a result, social media micro-moments influence voters in the election. But let me explain further
What are micro-moments?
Micro-moments are small things, like a meme, a vox pop or a Facebook post that go viral. Political analysts can then track these micro-moments to watch their effect.
Think of the 2017 reaction of Brenda from Bristol, when told by a BBC News crew that the then-prime minister Teresa May had called another general election. "You're joking, not another one?!" she exclaimed, thus capturing the mood of the nation. In the resulting election, Mrs May's gamble failed, in part due to the voter fatigue summed up by Brenda in the video that was viewed by an estimated 87 million people through social and traditional media. This classic micro-moment shaped the election.
Election micro-moments occur when voters see something that prompts them to research a candidate, event, or issue.
According to research by Google, 91% of smartphone users look up information on elections while in the middle of watching video content online or on traditional news channels, resulting in today's debates moving firmly online.
While those within the inner circle of politics still read newspapers, watch television news and monitor Twitter, 87% of voters in advanced democracies do not. Today's voters want to quickly make a decision based on referrals, reviews and research; in other words exactly as they would make a purchase. During election cycles, research into candidates peaks after gaffes, speech grabs or soundbites are shared online.
Just like purchasing decisions, voters look to trusted sources in making their electoral decisions. Voters search for a recap of a debate, how-to-vote instructions, or the latest post from satirists. They turn to YouTube, Facebook or TikTok. And voters of all ages, not just young people, are turning to social media when they want to know. While 59% of people who turn to online videos to learn more about candidates are under 35, one in four is over 45.
Micro-moments are fueled by video content
When it comes to responding to micro-moments, a well-stocked armoury is needed. Your campaign needs to be able to respond when topics trend, with fresh video content. Timing is everything. Voters don't just want the right content, they want the content now. The key to this is having a well-stocked video library of raw footage from which to make new social media posts.
While micro-moments can happen at any time, some are more predictable than others. Search engines see a surge of interest around key decision points, such as debates and key speeches. In the US, for example, when Donald Trump lost the Iowa caucus to Ted Cruz in 2016 and immediately claimed that Cruz had cheated, searches for Trump rocketed 1700%. This micro-moment catapulted him into the national mainstream and ultimately to the White House.
Not only did Trump make the claim, but his campaign team already had B-roll footage of his aggrieved supporters to hand over to the networks to run in their news packages. This kind of reaction to a micro-moment is what political campaigns are aiming toward today.
Viewers then followed what Trump said at future caucuses and debates. The more outrageous the better. Each time, his campaign has reels and reels of "ordinary people" to add pace and color to their news coverage. Once the TV networks became wary, these talking heads were curated for Trump's social media channels, where they could be less varnished and rawer vox pops.
Knowing that voters will be asking "when will the election be?" in Australia in early 2022 should be a no-brainer. Voters are vaguely aware that there will be an election, but there are no fixed term lengths for the Australian Parliament, due to the arcane Westminster system that it inherited from Britain (that Britain later on abandoned in favor of 5-year terms, only to re-abandon that once the government saw how useful holding all the cards was). So Google ads targeting that search term by all political parties should lead to both informative, but also slightly biased videos explaining the issue.
How can campaigns leverage micro-moments to influence voters?
We discussed understanding what voters look for in election micro-moments and when those moments occur most often. But who has the most influence in these moments? Seasoned politicians can make the most of them by being interviewed by YouTubers or co-producing videos with bloggers and influencers to share conversations. For example, after President Barack Obama's last two State of the Union addresses, six YouTube creators interviewed him.
The main way campaigns can leverage micro-moments to influence voters is by being close to voters at critical micro-moments. To do this means knowing what they are looking for.
To get a map of what voters want and need when it comes to video, Google Trends is a good place to start. From the Brexit referendum, through successive US presidential campaigns and the recent Canadian general election, Google Trends has been more accurate than the official polls. Just as in the ballot box, voters reveal their true feelings in a web search far more than they would to a questioner.
Knowing what is trending among voters is one thing, having the video library to counter that is another. User-generated video collection platforms like Vloggi allow political campaigns to gather the voices of thousands of ordinary voters in video soundbites. These form a qualitative mosaic of talking heads, usually accompanied by their electorate or voting district, that can be quickly repurposed into social media content to respond to the latest micro-moment.
As you watch what voters want, ask yourself: Do I have video content to answer their questions? Are my videos shown to voters experiencing micro-moments on social media?
In France, during the last presidential election, En Marche, President Emmanuel Macron's start-up political party was, above all, adept at digital marketing. It had rebuttal videos ready for any negative attack and positive videos featuring voters' voices to advance every positive piece.
Video content to micro-target niche demographics
Successful political campaigns are increasingly combining data-driven voter research with personalized political advertising. This move towards online political micro-targeting is driven by efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Through political microtargeting, a political campaign can identify the individual voters which it is most likely to convince. Additionally, a party can match its message to the specific interests and vulnerabilities of these voters. Modern online marketing techniques promise to make microtargeting even more tailored to individual voters, and more effective.
Although pioneered in the US, micro-targeting is now common across the developed world. In the lead-up to the 2017 New Zealand election, for example, the FlyLocal campaign run by government affairs agency Message Shapers only targeted voters with an interest in business (and thus travel to Auckland and other commercial centers) living in regional seats. This correlated exactly to those seats targeted by the National Party. The result was a very cost-effective campaign, that no one in the metropolitan centers ever saw, that delivered pro-airline candidates in six key New Zealand seats.
But as government affairs agencies conceive grassroots video campaigns, they often struggle to get sufficient videos from real people. The bottleneck to creating niche video content, is, however, the availability of raw footage. This is why campaigns around the world have turned to video collection tools to build vast libraries of voter talking heads. The more people they get speaking on camera about issues, the more likely they are to have the footage from which to create fresh content for social media for use in micro-targeting.
At a time when politicians and pundits are wondering "Do political TV ads still work?" trends on social media show that online video ads are now the bigger threat to network television revenues.
How to stock your video library for any micro-moment
Political campaigns have moved to the digital world quickly, after a hesitant start. Politicians themselves are networkers and prefer pressing the flesh, broadcast television appearances or holding babies to any cyber platform, virtual townhall meeting or livestream. They also, overwhelmingly, prefer the echo chamber of Twitter as their social media platform of choice.
However, political campaigns, run by strategic communications agencies, government affairs consultancies or digital marketing teams do love micro-targeting. Telegram, WhatsApp, and Facebook groups are monitored 24/7 for hints about trends or topics that are shifting sentiment. These micro-moments are then amplified either through repurposing the original content or through new content produced and posted quickly.
The challenge for these agencies is sourcing enough video from real voters to use in the new content. In North America, political movements such as Toronto's Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam's Toronto Centre Projects, US grassroots movement Our Revolution and Sustainable Columbus have been using Vloggi to build video libraries of supporters' voices and views to use in both internal market research and external social media content.
Similarly, The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) ran a national mobilization campaign for COVID relief in 2021 with Vloggi to bolster its case for government assistance. They collected its members’ views in video clips to present to decision-makers in Canberra which resulted in the COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program (Round One), which gave travel agents access to A$130 million in relief funding to pay employees, rent and keep businesses open. Read more about how AFTA collected video messages with Vloggi to secure a A$130 million assistance package.
In the era of fake news, the use of real people is crucial to gaining trust among swinging voters. One of the core features of Vloggi is to capture consent at the time of upload from contributors. All the people feared on video clips have given their consent for their image and views to be used in marketing or internally. Because the platform can segment contributions by the electorate, voter district or other demographic, a living video library of clips can be easily maintained, ready to use.
With many elections taking place across the world in 2022 and into 2023, this could be the year political campaigns effectively harvest supporter video content for re-use in response to those micro-moments the campaign will inevitably through up.