Promoting the census with social media

4th January 2011

2011 UK Census

2011 UK Census

I had a meeting at the end of last year with a colleague who is working on promoting this year’s census. The census collects data that a lot of government funding is based on (as well as being an opportunity for deeply conformist types to think they are sticking it to the man) and so councils are obviously keen to ensure that as many people fill it in as possible. This year’s census is the first one that can be completed online, which is one reason why my colleague was interested in how she might promote it through social media


Birmingham, in particular, has a lot of demographic groups that have had a low rate of return in the past. These include: young people (under 35); people with Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Caribbean or African heritage; young professionals; students; people who are the heads of lone families and people living in inner city wards. So the two of us sat down and came up with a few ideas about how we could reach people from though social media, and especially from these groups.  Our ideas included:-

Run a Twitter account. Ok, so not groundbreaking and radical, but we thought that an account that put out interesting facts about censuses, modern and historic, UK and worldwide might attract some interest and could then be used to encourage people to fill in their form.

Set up a Facebook page or group for Birmingham Census.

Approach people who already have established networks online. This came out of us wondering if many people would be interested in joining a “Birmingham Census 2011″ group and whether it would be better to ask people with established groups to spread the message for us.

Following this I instigated a discussion on Twitter about the same subject. Unfortunately I didn’t save that anywhere, which is a lesson for me to learn for the future. But from memory there was some support for the

latter idea. This was mainly from people who are bloggers saying that they would be happy to promote the census for us. I asked if people would appreciate something prepared by us to make it easier for them and the answer was yes. This would obviously be subject to people changing the words as they see fit to suit the style of their blog.

There was a suggestion that we use foursquare, although we were a little unsure how that might work. On reflection, I wonder if we could identify places in Birmingham that are already venues, that might be used by the groups we are targeting and have a high number of check-ins. I had a quick look on foursquare and the AMC Cinema on Ladywood Middleway has had over 400 check-ins for example.

Now, I just need to come up with a way of promoting the census through foursquare venues. I’d be interested in the views of people who use it on how this might be done.

And that leads me to the point of this post. How would you promote the census through social media? Do you know of anybody who is already doing this well? Or maybe you’ve run a different campaign whose ideas could be adapted.

With thanks to Dan Slee, Louise Kidney, Jon Bounds, Emma Wright, Pete Ashton and the other people who contributed towards the discussion on Twitter and I have shamefacedly forgotten.

4 Responses to “Promoting the census with social media”

  1. Neil Says:

    Is there anything that could be done along the lines of the Foursquare “I voted” badge that they ran with the US election?

    http://elections.foursquare.com/

  2. Simon Whitehouse Says:

    Hi Neil

    Thanks for the suggestion. In all honesty, I don’t know if we could do this now as this page on their website

    http://support.foursquare.com/entries/215406-how-do-i-earn-badges

    includes this

    “In the past, many of our badges were earned based on venue “tags,” but we’ve changed things up a bit to make it a bit trickier to earn badges and to keep the tags behind the scenes. Hey, we didn’t like seeing every other venue tagged with irrelevant tags either! If you see a venue tagged incorrectly, let us know.”

    I’ll take a better look at it later in the week though. Thanks once again for pointing it out.

  3. Nicky Getgood Says:

    It was an interesting Twitter discussion and bought to mind this post written by Birmingham Irish Heritage Group on Digbeth is Good: http://is.gd/kdn94 – a review of a presentation given by the Federation of Irish Societies about how under represented the Irish were in the previous Census and how people completing and declaring their Irish heritage in the next census can be ‘a valuable contribution to the amount of resources that would ultimately be availed to the Irish Community’.

    To try and raise awareness of the importance of the census amongst the Irish community they’ve created the clear, simple and lighthearted http://www.howirishareyou.com/

    I really like what the Federation of Irish Societies have done here – found out where a group that is traditionally under-represented in the census hang out both on and offline and used those spaces to highlight its particular relevance to that community, so the motivation to participate is personal and self-interested as well as civic duty.

    So in the social media vein, tapping into already established networks online, be they on Facebook, Twitter, community sites, whatever and making the message relevant to the people in those group will be particularly effective.

    I must admit although I use Foursquare to tell people where I am and what I’m up to it doesn’t really tap into my particular interests, I go to other places that are specifically for the people/places/things I’m into.

    Cheers, Nicky

  4. James Clarke Says:

    Some great ideas here!

    I’m very keen to help promote the Census on my hyperlocal blog so I’m thinking of ways we can do this.

    There’s some great content on the Census site already – simple explanations, historic facts about regions gathered via the Census, logos, press images etc.

    The countdown widget is nice too – although a portrait version that fits in the sidebar of blogs would be great – the current landscape version isn’t much use for most blog layouts.

    http://2011.census.gov.uk/2011Linktous

    http://2011.census.gov.uk/2011Countdown

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