It's time politics took social influencers seriously
A view from James Erskine

It's time politics took social influencers seriously

Vloggers offer a route to young audiences not engaged by traditional channels, writes Social Circle's chief strategy officer.

Young people have power. In particular, they have voting power. Thus far, politicians have been slow to recognise this, but they are starting to recognise that the younger demographic has an ability to dramatically shift agendas.

There’s a good reason Nicola Sturgeon lobbied hard for 16- to 18-year-olds to be allowed to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum - even if the result didn’t ultimately go her way.

Influencers have always driven a very loyal, targeted group of consumers. When an opinion is posted the message they preach spreads between fans, friends and likeminded people.

But influencers aren’t consumers. They are unique individuals who drive huge amounts of engagement, and discussion on topics they feel strongly about. The power these hyper-connected individuals hold is huge – their millions of followers can make or break a campaign with one video.

And quite frankly it’s a good thing. It’s about time people brought some colour to the election to make it appealing to youngsters who haven’t voted before. Political parties are witnessing a fracturing of their "loyal" voters and so they need to make a push into our plethora of young voter virgins.

In an article for The Independent during the 2015 general election, political satirist Armando Ianucci pointed out that young people were immensely engaged with the "political process and political causes, but not political parties."

They are frustrated because they can’t sift through all the party-political nonsense to find out what they’re really saying. It’s no wonder when manifestos seem designed to hide the details of what each party really stands for.

Vloggers, on the other hand, speak their language. And if political parties are savvy enough to get their message through with authenticity and clarity to vloggers, then they have a fast track to the disenfranchised.

But for this to happen, vloggers need to become more transparent about their beliefs. It’s all well and good prompting people to vote, but demonstrating their political allegiance will make a stronger impact.

Younger millennials don’t watch the TV debates and take notes on what each party is promising. Influencers have the power to not only change voters’ minds, but educate the younger generation on what the election actually is, and help them understand the impact of their political choices.

So, what are we working with? In the UK there are roughly 5.7 million people in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket. According to the Electoral Commission, nearly a third of those – 1.7 million –  are not registered to vote.

In the EU referendum, 2.6 million young people voted – 64% of the registered group – and 71% of them voted Remain. If all of those able to vote had done so in the same proportion, Brexit would have been rejected.

In the 2015 general election, Labour got 9.3 million votes and the Conservatives 11.2 million. If we add the 1.7 million unregistered young voters and the 36% of the registered voters who didn’t turn out at the referendum, we have a super-powerful group of 3.1 million young people with the ability to swing the result – and this is why political parties should be desperate to reach them.

It’s not as if they don’t have proof of vlogger effectiveness. US vlogger Casey Neistat has attracted 5.9 million views of his protest vlog over the treatment of immigrants under Donald Trump’s six-nation ban executive order. The video helped raise awareness of the impact and grow opposition to the policy.

The general election has only just been announced and since 2015, vlogger influence has grown significantly – so it’s still a little early to say what their ultimate impact might be.

But UK vloggers have already used their influence in other areas. Zoella, for example, has raised awareness on issues such as anxiety and mental health to great effect.

Hannah Maggs has worked with Tommy’s infant safety charity to champion its "Count the kicks" campaign and brought it to the attention of her audience. We know influencers are more than just beauty tips and football trick shots. They can be a force for good.

The traditional channels that political marketers use are in decline – terrestrial TV is on the wane for young people and print magazines targeting young people are becoming thin on the ground. Even online advertising is heavily blocked by this age group.

The opportunity offered by vloggers is clear.

James Erskine is chief strategy officer at Social Circle