Meeting Young Voters Where They Already Are: Social Media.

If there is one thing we heard every single one of our research participants say, it was:

“I get my news on Facebook.”

This statement was sometimes prefaced by a disclaimer acknowledging the potential for content to be “one-sided,” and for many it was just one source among others (search engine news pages, podcasts, personalized news aggregators, etc.), but the consistency was eerily interesting.

While there is substantial debate around biases and the “filter bubble,” the fact of the matter is, Facebook, and social media in general, are *the* place for consuming political content for young voters.

And this is not new. A few years ago, the media deemed that 2008 was the “Youtube election.” Then, in 2012, we had the “Twitter election.” Social media was portrayed as “democratizing media access” as well as “humanizing public figures,” and in doing so, amplifying the political conversation online.

Social Media as a Touchpoint

When designing a voting experience, this presents us with an opportunity, or what we call a touchpoint. Social media is where potential young voters are having conversations around politics, and feeling as their most “political” or “civic” selves. It’s the perfect time to meet potential voters at the source of the political dialogue, when they are more susceptible to political messaging, and turn political “enthusiasts” into voters.

For anyone using social media during this 2016 election (which, if you’ve come to read this post, I assume includes you!), you may have noticed a flurry of call-to-action buttons from all major social media sites to register to vote (both during the primaries and now gearing up to the general).

These call-to-actions have the potential to significantly boost voter turnout (as demonstrated by a 2012 Facebook experiment), but as designers, it is interesting to see how the website or app handles the hand off of *their* user to this new voter registration service or website. This is why Snapchat’s partnership with TurboVote to offer users the chance to register through the app is so exciting, since it makes the experience feel truly seamless.

Privacy and Convenience

We wondered, how comfortable would young voters be showcasing their political motivations in their social media lives? As it turns out, it’s not an unnatural behavior. In our research, we found that participants had a very low threshold for what they would consider “too much information,” some even sharing their experience from within the (usually private) voting booth, and snapping pictures of their filled out ballots, sharing them not only with their connections, but submitting them to Snapchat’s public Live Stories for the entire world to see. (Note: If you are inclined to do the same, please be aware that ballot and/or polling place photography may be illegal in your state).

Snaps taken inside the voting booth during the 2016 primary season

When we asked our research participants why they relied on Facebook as their primary source of news, the answers boiled down to one factor: convenience. Similarly, the goal of all these online call-to-actions is to increase the ease of taking action, while also reminding young voters opportunistically, by meeting them where they are. And it works: the Center for Election Innovation and Research reported data showing massive spikes in online voter registration following Facebook’s call-to-action, in what they deemed their “megaphone” effect.


This blog post is part of a series showcasing the findings of a qualitative study conducted by SAP’s Design & Co-Innovation Center and commissioned by Democracy Works to better understand first-time voters in the US. To learn more about the study, feel free to reach out to the author.

Sign up for TurboVote: turbovote.org