Andrew Abad and Robyn Stiles filed this final report on their project:
For this project, we created a hashtag (#TigersVote) and measured its use within the LSU community during the 2014 Louisiana U.S. Senate Election (including December runoff). The purpose of this study was to focus on using one particular aspect of social media sites (a hashtag) to engage the LSU community around the upcoming election. We were particularly interested in what social media platforms are used by the LSU Community for election-related posts and how students will build off of the hashtag to create any new content related to voting or the election.
The 2014 election cycle was the perfect context in which to study the hashtag usage. The three-way US Senate race between Mary Landrieu, Rob Maness, and Bill Cassidy drew significant national attention. As a result of the heightened media attention, paired with the large amounts of money that were at play on the Left and Right, the race became a focal point of the 2014 cycle for pundits, activists, and bloggers from both sides of the aisle.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
When designing #TigersVote, we outlined four main questions that we hoped to answer through this research:
- Determine if we could use the #TigersVote hashtag to mobilize LSU students and encourage political discussion and civic engagement
- Track the potential role of hashtags play in the broader election context
- Measure the effects of direct marketing efforts –does an added incentive of marketing materials result in any additional hashtag use?
- Analyze the greatest catalysts for hashtag usage across platforms – who posts what why?
Planning and Preparation
Before even the launch date, we began creating marketing items to publicize our #TigersVote hashtag outside of social media channels. To do this, we drafted designs to use on stickers and t-shirts.
Initially, we planned to use #LSUVotes and LSU’s logo to market our hashtag to students. As LSU graduate students, we felt that the project should tap into the students’ pride in their school and use it to encourage use of the hashtag, and in a somewhat broader context, student voting. However, when we ran our initial designs by University Relations, we were alerted us to the dangers and liabilities of using LSU trademarks in our project, an issue we had not anticipated. To remedy this, we collaborated with the LSU Trademark department to find a way of achieving the major aspects of the project without violating university trademarks. As a result, we chose to use #TigersVote instead of #LSUVotes. After modifying the designs, we ordered approximately 3,000 custom stickers and 50 purple and gold t-shirts to market the hashtag to the student body and relevant voting groups and campaigns.
- Set the launch date of October 29th, coinciding with the Manship-hosted US Senate debate. Prior to the debate, we handed out stickers, and encouraged activists and debate-watchers to use #TigersVote in their live-tweeting of the debate, and ongoing online conversations about the Senate race and broader 2014 election cycle.
- Reached out to Senate and Congressional campaigns, voter advocacy groups, and official LSU-affiliated pages to encourage use of the hashtag to increase the perceived legitimacy of the hashtag. Specifically, we distributed materials to the Republican Party of Louisiana, the Black Conservatives Fund, Equality Louisiana, the LSU Student Government, and large undergraduate political science and mass communication classes.
- Tabled in Free Speech Alley on November 3, and December 2, directly preceding the general and run-off elections. While tabling, we distributed #TigersVote t-shirts and stickers to students to encourage them to vote and to use the hashtag online
- Post-election, we cross-referenced peaks in hashtag usage with the events to identify the specific events and outreach methods that were most effective in mobilizing students to use the #TigersVote hashtag throughout the October 29th to December 6th time period.
DATA AND ANALYSIS
Overall, we saw the greatest concentration of use around the October 29 debate hosted by the Manship School. The majority of the remainder of the hashtag usage came as the result of classic outreach efforts, such as speaking at larger undergraduate classes, and tabling.
The #TigersVote hashtag garnered 103 uses throughout the 39-day mobilization period (October 29-December 6). The vast majority of usage was on Twitter, which came as no surprise. The Twitter platform has utilized hashtags within its content since 2007. Instagram was the next major platform to adopt hashtags in 2011, while Facebook did not introduce hashtag usage on its platform until 2013.
Overall the Twitter #TigersVote usage can be broken down into two distinct chunks: 55 tweets came as a direct result of outreach or discussion around the October 29 US Senate debate, while 42 additional tweets used the hashtag between November 3 – December 6, as a result of the tabling and offline outreach efforts.
In the 39 days, Instagram garnered only 6 #TigersVote usages.
Twitter Hashtag usage: October 29 – December 6
55 Original October 29 debate // 12 by Steve Buttry, Andrew and Robyn // Oct 29 – Nov 3
42 (41 original, retweets) // 4 internal tweets // Nov 3 – Dec 6 from tabling
Instagram Hashtag usage: October 29th – December 6
6 posts by others, 4 posts by us
The main person who used instagram also used twitter.
#TigersVote: Hashtags in Action
We found that the greatest motivations for using the hashtag came not from an interest to engage civically or initiate conversations about the elections, either online or offline, but rather, the direct marketing efforts of handing out stickers and t-shirts in public spaces on campus and within undergraduate classrooms.
We were aided in our efforts by several Manship professors, who offered extra course credit for social media commentary of the US Senate debate and of the elections. While this is disappointing from a civic engagement perspective, it speaks to the continued power of offline grassroot outreach efforts and traditional community organizing.
We found that hashtag usage works if the people creating and pushing it are opinion leaders within their respective communities.
Twitter, as a whole, we find to be better for event-based commentary and in bringing people together around specific events or interest topics, rather than for broader systemic conversations.