If you go to the polling station to cast your vote in a couple of weeks, the chances are that your next door neighbour won’t be doing the same. Around 40% of people don’t bother to vote in UK General Elections. Many people think they are registered to vote, when in fact they are not – and that means around 3.5m will be unable to vote. Altogether, millions of people can’t be bothered to vote and millions more can’t be bothered to find out how to vote. Apathy. It’s all around us.
For several years researchers have been trying to find out why so many people are disengaged from politics. A cynic might say it’s because politicians are out-of-touch with the real world, that they only have their own interests in mind and that they are a bunch of power-crazed individuals. However, a new study about participation in YouTube could give politicians – and website owners – a clue on how to engage people more.
After all, if you own a web site you are like a politician – you want people to engage with you, you want people to actively participate and you want people to connect with you. The YouTube study looked at what prevented people from engaging with YouTube and participating more actively with the site. The findings reveal that there are two factors which prevent people from active participation and engagement
- Social pressure
- Ease of use
In other words, if people in your circle of friends or in your business sector are not actively taking part in YouTube, or politics, you are less likely to want to engage as well. But if you do feel the social pressure to take part, then you will only do so if you find it easy.
For politicians it means they can get more people to engage in the political world if only they helped create social pressure – getting young people, for instance, to encourage other young people to participate. But they also need to make it easy to participate. Getting on the Electoral Roll, for instance, is comparatively complex. Even the forms to stay on the Roll are full of unclear language and caveats, rules and other “officialese”. In other words, the “ease of use” of the political system is nowhere near as good as it could be to encourage wider participation. After all, if you want to truly participate you have to join a “party” first – and then stick to their “rule book”, perhaps even be forced to sing a song at their annual convention. Gosh.
For many websites, it is similar. Active participation and engagement is not likely if few of your friends and colleagues use the site you are potentially interested in. As a result, you feel less pressured to take part. For your customers, this means they are less likely to engage and actively participate in your site if other customers they know are not doing it either. If you want more comments on blogs, for instance, you need to encourage more people to do so. That way more people see others who are commenting and then feel the social pressure to do likewise.
But if you want participation in your website then it needs to be straightforward. The more difficult you make it for people to comment, or the harder it becomes for them to be active with your material, the less likely you make it they will engage.
What this YouTube study also shows is why other video sharing sites are less successful. For a start, fewer people use them – and therefore there is much less social pressure. But also, take a look at how easy it is to upload a video on YouTube compared with other video sites. YouTube wins hands down.
So, if you feel that fewer people are taking an active part in your site you need only to consider two things: firstly are you using social pressure to create a feeling in the minds of your visitors that they too wish to take part? And secondly, how easy is it to actually participate in your website or blog?
If politicians truly wanted us all to participate they merely need to do the same – make it easy for us to engage with politics in the first place and then use social pressure to make us feel it is important to us. At the moment they are failing on both counts – but then you expected that anyway I guess.