At its best, Twitter offers a platform to fire up a group of people, forge a strong community, and use their combined force to make change.
This is what we're aiming for with social media: assemble and inspire a community around an issue, and use their collective voice to help change government policy.
The Women and Equalities Committee's inquiry into the Gender Pay Gap exemplifies this. By making their inquiry easy and interesting to follow, they increased the number of people - into the tens of thousands - who knew and cared about the inquiry.
The result: this community went on to amplify the Committee's message, sharing it with tens of thousands of people. At the end, Twitter was the largest source of traffic to the report, increasing the readership by 50%.
This is how we did it.
1. Launching the inquiry
Back in November, when the inquiry had just been announced, we decided to experiment with using an image to launch the inquiry. This reached over 15,000 people, was the most shared tweet the Committee had ever sent, and paved the way for the rest of the inquiry.
It was the crucial first step to building an online audience who knew and cared about the inquiry.
Because of this success, we now regularly produce images to launch inquiries for many other committees.
2. Defining the terms
We've written elsewhere about why it's so important to define the terms of an inquiry, and how best to do it. In this instance, the crucial distinction was between unequal pay and the gender pay gap. If we did this effectively, it was a piece of content that could used throughout the inquiry.
We clarified this distinction in two ways: an image and an animation. This offered a way of testing which medium was best suited to defining terms. We found that the image was far more effective: it was retweeted 301 times in total, and seen over 50,000 times.
The animation, by contrast, gained far less traction, receiving only 108 views and two retweets. A fairly conclusive victory for the image.
This miniature split-test demonstrates that just because animations can appear more impressive than a still image, it does not mean they are more effective. Animations must be used with purpose and planning, especially given how resource-intensive they are to create.
3. Informing the debate
Committees are in the fortunate position of gaining access to tremendous amounts of useful data, statistics, graphs and general information. Alongside original content that we specially create for inquiries, this can be an important way of acting as a resource for a community, and informing the debate.
By sharing this information, the Committee contributed to a more invested audience. This helped to demonstrate a genuine interest in keeping followers informed, using their platform to share information.
4. Building up to the report
As noted earlier, animations aren't necessarily the most effective way of communicating information. It's therefore important to be clear, firstly, about your objectives, and then secondly, what medium will best help you deliver it. Objective first, content second.
In order to prepare their community for the report's focus on productivity, and raise awareness that the report was about to be published, we created an animation that treated each point in detail.
Our animation reached over 25,000 people, reigniting interest around the inquiry.
The stage was now set for the report.
5. Launching the report
When we launch reports, we have two key objectives:
i) Drive traffic to the report
ii) Publicise key recommendations
i) Driving traffic to the report
Our 'read the report' images have proven highly effective at driving traffic. An enticing quote can emphasise the urgency of the report, as well as a key message; a clear call-to-action can then encourage viewers to go on to read it.
ii) Publicizing recommendations
Rather than requiring everyone to click-through to the website (which is, in digital terms, a bit of an effort), we bring key conclusions and recommendations into Twitter.
What's more, these recommendations convey one of Parliament's core messages: Select Committees make recommendations to Government. The more that statements like 'The Government should...' proliferate, the more that this core message spreads.
Reactions from stakeholders
The Committee also held a launch event, and we captured some of the reactions to the report.
This helped to reiterate the human side of the inquiry, and demonstrate stakeholder involvement.
For committee reports, an average of 7% of the readers will come from Twitter. This is our benchmark to beat with any inquiry.
For the Women and Equalities Committee's Gender Pay Gap report, 33.5% of the readers came from Twitter. For the first time ever, Twitter was the single largest driver of readers to a committee report.
As well as increasing the readership by over 50%, the Committee's work on Twitter helped spread the inquiry to thousands of new people, as well as the work of House of Commons Select Committees as a whole.
Nurturing a community from start to finish
To recap, we worked on five key chronological stages of the inquiry. These were to:
i) announce the inquiry
ii) define the terms
ii) inform the debate
iv) build up to the report
v) launch the report
By providing clear information about the inquiry at each stage - in terms of the inquiry's subject and its progress - we aimed to make it easy and interesting to follow.
This was crucial for developing a loyal following, who spread the word about the inquiry, and in so doing furthered its aims.
Multimedia with a purpose
The temptation is to start with content - an animation, for example - and make it fit your objective, or avoid an objective altogether. But it's important to, firstly, work out what you're trying to achieve, and, secondly, work out what content can best achieve that.
Animations look great, but they are not always the best option; they often aren't. And, given their labour-intensiveness, they should be used with particular selectiveness and planning.
A colour palette is a useful method of helping followers identify inquiry content. When multiple inquiries are going on at once, identifiable colours can help make content recognisable. Again, this ties into making an inquiry easy to follow.
Stay tuned for more blog posts where we'll cover the story of an entire inquiry.