The Australian government decided to make use of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for their 2011 Census campaign, kicked off in June this year. Their strategy was to carry out an unconventional and edgy campaign designed to target the youth and make them aware of the important role their participation plays in the Census proccess.
The Twitter feed of the @2011Census took on a youthful and humourous tone, linking Census data with topical news and pop culture references. With 16 thousand followers, it became the second largest government account in Australia and was trending in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on the days leading up to and following the count.
The Facebook page, which to date has almost 22 thousand likes, was a key platform for interaction – containing interesting facts, quizzes and the opportunity to vote in polls. It also posted profiles and photographs of enumerators so people could know what to expect prior to the day and gain a greater understanding of the people behind the process.
The interactive ‘Spotlight’ application, available from the The Australian Bureau of Statistics, was designed to get people to engage with their demographic data. As a data visualization and engagement tool, it encouraged users to enter their information and then compared similarities between them and their fellow Australians. It then created personalized infographics that could be uploaded to Facebook and Twitter.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics also set up an eCensus, allowing people to fill in the Census online. It used encryption technology to ensure high levels of security and was easily accessible to all via the Census website.
We can all learn important lessons from the success of this campaign:
1.) Use relevant channels
A key driver of the campaign’s success was not necessarily the campaign itself, but the energized tone and the community that was built around it. By making use of social platforms that were relevant to young Australians, conversation and interaction on Twitter and Facebook could be used to weave important messages to the online community. By making use of these high engagement channels to create a significant buzz beforehand, the campaign achieved both high awareness and high participation levels among that target audience.
2.) Be strategic about your tone
The Australian government identified the younger population as their primary target and adapted their tone accordingly. Taking a fresh, humorous approach helped to detach the Census from the traditionally serious and bland tone it has been previously associated with all over the world. This resulted in a far more engaged community taking on a completely re-energized approach to the Census. As pointed out by Paul Lowe, head of the Population Census Program, it became something everyone to be a part of, instead of avoid: “Our mindset with the whole campaign was to make sure it didn’t look like a government campaign. We want to make the census seem less as an obligation and more something people want to be part of.”
3.) Get people to engage with data
The campaign was very tactful in the way that it provided the free ‘Spotlight’ app. This got people to engage with data and therefore better understand and relate to the benefits of the Census. The popularity of the Spotlight proved that people are more willing to participate with online apps when they have relevance to their individual lives and add something meaningful. The app would allow people to get an understanding of where and how they fit into the bigger picture of Australia, which encouraged not only community building, but nation building as well.
4.) Consider the benefits of an eCensus
Although it was the not the primary method of collecting information, the eCensus provided people the option to individually complete their Census forms. It received a positive response from those who chose this option, since it allowed them to skip the interaction with strangers and ultimately simplified the process. Electronic data is also much easier to work with and less time consuming than the traditional approach – resulting in a more seamless process for those having to collect and make sense of data.
How can the success of this campaign be transferred to other emerging markets?
Considering the low internet penetration rates in many parts of Africa and other emerging markets, it would be hard for such a social media-reliant campaign to have the same widespread effect. However, the lessons above can be applicable to any campaign. They emphasize the need for digital marketers to understand who they are wanting to target, how they want to position their campaign and then adapt the channel and the tone accordingly.
For instance, according to Internet World Stats, South Africa has an internet penetration level of only 13.9%. However, The Mobility 2011 research project, conducted by World Wide Worx, reveals that 39% of urban South Africans and 27% of rural users are now browsing the Internet on their phones. This opens up the potential for mobile platforms to be considered as key channels for raising awareness and encouraging participation in national campaigns.
There has been much controversy around the South African 2011 Census and issues of security. People have been hesitant to let strangers into their homes after various reports of criminals posing as Census officials. An option to fill in the forms online would potentially help divert negative publicity and attitudes around the Census – particularly in urban areas with high internet usage. It would be an opportunity to harness the South African online community and set a foundation upon which future online campaigns can be built.