The UX Election Diaries: Social media, passive consumption and forming habits around content

Beth Robins
Oct 26, 2018 · 3 min read

At CBC, we’re a bit obsessed with understanding human behaviour in the digital age, and we get particularly excited about seeing how people interact with CBC during big events. So when the Ontario Election rolled around in June 2018, we decided to do a deep dive into election research by conducting a diary study.

We recruited a handful of Ontario voters and asked them to log their election-related activities over six days leading up to and including election day, June 7, 2018. Our goal was to gain a better understanding about how people follow an election; in particular how voters maneuver through the ubiquitous election information.

Diary studies offer detailed insights into human behaviour, and our Ontario election diary study didn’t disappoint. Although we didn’t get the number of participants we would have liked, the study provided valuable clues into how people follow an election.

For our diary study we used a mobile app that allowed participants to type their entries or film themselves speaking. (Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

What did we learn?

  1. Most of the participants were interested in the election but rarely sought out election information. Instead, they happened upon it as part of their regular news consumption routine. For example, they might hear a candidate interview listening to the radio at breakfast or notice an election article as they browsed the headlines at lunch. On the rare occasions they did actively seek out election information, it was to help them decide how to vote.
  2. Unsurprisingly, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were a source of pointers to election stories that exposed participants to coverage beyond their usual news sources. Reddit was an information source for millennials in particular — they enjoyed reading the comments because it showed them different perspectives on an issue.
  3. Confirming personal experiences, participants were frustrated by the polarized political views on their social platforms. They complained that discourse was often one-sided with no room for thoughtful discussion of the issues. As one participant remarked: “(It’s) not inspiring to see friends so ideologically rigid on either side of the spectrum”
  4. Maybe the most interesting finding was how participants formed habits around content and not platforms. They followed the election by weaving through an array of content sources on a plethora of platforms and devices. One participant started his morning by checking his social media feeds, then played talk radio on a smart speaker while getting ready for work. He then listened to a political podcast on his smartphone during his commute, while he also browsed online news. All this before his workday began.

What’s next?

These insights just touch upon the wealth of information we gained from our small diary study. So what’s next? We want to refine our method and build on these insights with more research. As we look toward the 2019 campaigns, we want to develop a richer understanding of how Canadians follow an election as the media and information landscapes continue to change.

The ultimate goal is that we will be able to use these new insights to help us improve our election coverage while giving Canadians the experience they want.

CBC Digital Labs

Telling stories about who we are, what we are doing, what we are learning, and how we are making decisions as we work to create the best possible experiences for Canadians in digital spaces.

Beth Robins

Written by

CBC Digital Labs

Telling stories about who we are, what we are doing, what we are learning, and how we are making decisions as we work to create the best possible experiences for Canadians in digital spaces.