Social Media – The Future of Voting?

I believe that in the last week in Yorkshire we have seen the future. And it’s powered by social media. And cycling.

After welcoming the Tour de France to Yorkshire last July for the Grand Depart, the world of two wheels returned last week for a dedicated three-day tour. There was a real mix of teams featured – pro teams who ride the big tours, such as Team Sky and Team Giant Alpecin, smaller teams such as Bradley Wiggins’ new team and even a national team in there, with Great Britain featuring as a team in its own right. This made it all set to be a very interesting race with such a variety of teams taking part.

If you know your cycling you’ll know that as part of most tours there are 3 podium jerseys that are awarded during a tour, both at the end of each day (stage) and overall at the very end once the final standings are decided. They are:

  • Overall Leader – the rider who completes the overall course in the quickest time
  • Points Leader – this goes to the best sprinter
  • King of the Mountains – this goes to the best climber

In the run up to the race, the organisers announced that a fourth podium jersey would be featured – a “world first”, which was later unveiled to be the Digital Jersey.

digital jersey

What’s a Digital Jersey?

The holder of the Digital Jersey will be selected by fans – more specifically, via Twitter. The jersey is to be “presented to the rider who has distinguished himself as the most aggressive, the rider who has made the greatest effort, and who has demonstrated the best qualities in terms of sportsmanship, at each of the three-stages of the event.”

All of a sudden it opened up the way for riders who were unlikely to win the race overall or one of the other top two jerseys, to distinguish themselves amongst the competition.

How did it work?

Each day, after about 80% of the race was completed a jury chose a shortlist of riders that could be voted for – anywhere from 4-8 riders based on their performance that day. Around 40 minutes before the end of the race, the vote opened.

Everything was handled on the official @letouryorkshire Twitter account, with a tweet going out before the start of the vote so that people could be ready for the limited 30 minute window in which they had to submit their choice, via a Twitter card. This meant that the vote closed 10 minutes before the end of the race so that everything could be confirmed and verified and the jersey could be presented to the winner on the podium, minutes after the end of the race.

If for some reason the vote hadn’t worked, or if it ended in a tie, then the jury would instead select the winner. This would also have been the case if fraud or manipulation of the vote was suspected to be taking place – something that helped to ensure the integrity of the result.

On the plus side, because a Twitter card was used, which displayed the options and then refreshed after your vote to show the current results, there was no chance of things being miscounted, mispelled or otherwise done not-quite-right, which can happen when you’re compiling results via a hashtag. They did use a hashtag, #TdYvote for the conversation, but not for the vote mechanic itself.

What could have been improved?

Some may not consider this a problem, but you could only participate in the vote if you used Twitter. If you didn’t have a Twitter account, then you wouldn’t have been able to take part. You also had to ensure you could vote during the 30 minute window – this proved a little tricky for me, standing on the finish straight with thousands of other fans all trying to use their mobile phones at the same time – a working 3G signal, much less 4G was hard to come by.

No chance of getting a decent mobile signal here!
No chance of getting a decent mobile signal here!

What if the rider you thought deserved the jersey wasn’t on the jury’s shortlist? Not much could be done here – but for future tours, it might be possible to use votes to help determine the shortlist – although this comes with its own set of problems as there’s no way to guarantee it’s genuinely based on rider’s performance that day and could end up becoming just a popularity contest.

Was it a success?

It depends on how you define success. I would personally say yes as I feel it got more people involved in watching the coverage on TV (great news for sponsors – all of those eyeballs on their logos!) and it was also a great way to get people involved in the actual outcome of a race. It got people talking about the race on social media, debating who should win and why and helps people who couldn’t physically attend feel involved and part of something. Also, in what’s inherently a team sport, it’s a really nice way to reward individual effort – encouraging people to make those breaks and ride aggressively can fundamentally change the result and that’s something it’d be great to see more of.

What we don’t yet know is how many people across the 3 days voted – I’ve asked the organisers if they have any information they can share on that and will update the post if I find out as I think it would be very interesting to know.

Other Examples

Of course this isn’t the first time that social media has been used to pick a winner, or preferred option.

The BBC often use Twitter, albeit in conjunction with a survey on the website to choose the Goal of the Month, or on occasion the Man of the Match.

The Twitter portion does rely on the use of hashtags and users getting it right – not something that can be always guaranteed!

During Christmas 2013 Marks & Spencer gave customers the chance to choose the name for the dog in their television advert – over 130,000 people cast their votes on either Twitter or Facebook to select either “Magic” or “Sparkle”. The winning name was unveiled in a special 2 minute advert showing during a break in Downton Abbey:

In both 2014 and 2015 the Brit Awards used Twitter to select the winner for one of its award categories: Best British Artist Video. Both times the winner has been One Direction – which, with the size of their social media following is hardly surprising (shame on you, Great British public! 🙂 ) The vote started with ten nominees, whittled down to five – with the winner chosen based on hashtags revealed during the show.

What Next?

We are yet to see social media voting used for anything beyond the relatively frivolous. Imagine if you could use Twitter to decide the name of the Royal Baby, or vote for your election candidate via social media. Going one step further, what if governments allowed to you vote for the policies you’d like to see implemented?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Right now allowing people to vote in things they’d usually have no say in is a step forward – even if it’s currently restricted largely to the worlds of entertainment and sport. I expect that we’ll see much more of this in the coming months and years – if only because it’s a great way to connect with the “unengaged” youth of today – also known as Generation Y. In the meantime, I’d love you to mention any other examples you’ve seen of social media voting being used in an innovative way! Let me know below in the comments.

Arianne Donoghue

About Arianne Donoghue

Arianne Donoghue is a Digital Marketing Manager at Icelolly.com. Having started off her digital career client side in 2006, she's worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in search. She is now back client side delivering paid media digital strategy for leading holiday comparison site Icelolly.com.