As part of efforts to inspire residents to participate in local democracy, Southampton City Council plans to produce content from Thursday night’s count in addition to facilitating the role of local media.
"This is important for local engagement and also for encouraging those that perhaps did not vote this time around to make sure they are involved next time," said Patrick O’Shea, senior communications officer at the council.
Local media include the daily newspaper Southern Daily Echo, commercial radio stations such as Wave 105 and Heart Hampshire, community radio stations such as Unity 101, hyperlocal websites such as wemakesouthampton.co.uk, and the regional output of the BBC and ITV.
In addition to hosting the media at the count, the comms team will publish behind-the-scenes video and photography on its own channels.
The council has stepped up its use of visuals and social media this year as it bids to boost voters’ engagement following a relatively low turnout of 31.5 per cent in the last local elections in 2016.
The area has a young voter profile, thanks to the presence of the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University attracting about 40,000 students. This is high relative to the number of eligible voters for this round of elections, which totals 168,995.
The comms team went to the lengths of buying Facebook ads, targeting 18- to 24-year-olds in the city, to persuade students to register to vote and inform them they are eligible to vote at their term-time address – but only if they register.
The ad featured a video created for use across all aspects of the campaign, which explains when the election is, what the council does and why it’s important to register to vote.
The council has shared the video on its Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as sending it to public sector partners, including local NHS bodies for them to share with patients and staff. It also shared content with the comms teams at the two universities to help it reach the students.
On social media, it is using polls for the first time in an election campaign. For example, it asked: "Are you registered to vote in Southampton?" inviting followers to answer "Yes", "No", or "Don’t Know" and carrying the message: "If you’re not make sure you get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re not registered make sure you do so before Tuesday 17 April!"
O’Shea said: "Local elections play a vital role in determining how councils are run and how services are delivered to local communities. As a communicator, I feel really inspired by the fact that my work in the lead up to the elections might encourage people to get involved in the democratic process by voting."
Hastings involves its young voters
Further east along the south coast, in East Sussex, Hastings Borough Council has also focused comms on boosting the youth vote. Its Youth Council has joined council officers to visit local colleges and universites to sign up young people to the electoral register.
In addition the leaders of the three main parties were invited to talk about the relevance of their manifestos to young people in an item posted on the Youth Council’s Facebook page.
Kim Forward, deputy leader of Hastings Borough Council, said: "I am very pleased to see our Youth Council leading a campaign to encourage young people to join the register so that they can use their vote to have a say about the future for our town. We live in a democracy and it is important that people vote in local elections."
There are 64,344 eligible voters in the borough’s boundaries.
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