Using social to create a political tsunami
On Friday, I got the exciting news that the campaign I worked on for the Cambodia National Rescue Party was awarded Bronze in The Warc Prize for Social Strategy. The prize recognises social ideas that drive results, which is exactly what the Political Tsunami campaign aimed to do.
Last year, while I was working in Singapore, I had the opportunity to be involved in Cambodia’s national elections campaign. Together with Pete Heskett and Jamie Macfarlane, we took on this project in our free time and for the first time ever, fought an entire election campaign on Facebook.
The challenge seemed impossible. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has a stranglehold on every mass media channel and uses intimidation at the polling stage, and so the status quo has prevailed for the past 34 years.
Our pro bono client, Sam Rainsy, Cambodia’s long-standing Opposition Leader, president of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was forced into political exile, and had remained there, since 2009. And ever since he had been losing touch with the people of Cambodia – not to mention the fact he would be absent in the run up to the crucial national elections in July 2013.
Our challenge was to find a way to “virtually” bring Sam Rainsy back in the country and make him a part of the daily lives and conversations of the Cambodians, even if he couldn’t be physically present.
Facebook is the fastest growing social networking site in Cambodia and was the favourite outlet for youths to express their opinions, especially those daring to criticize the government.
So we turned Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page into Cambodia’s number one rallying place for a restless youth who were eager to discuss the political issues of their country.
Over the course of four months, we encouraged mass participation by creating rich and diverse content every day. We published topical news, supporter testimonials and vox pop videos to stimulate debates around issues like corruption, land seizure and human rights. We then let our supporters lead these discussions, with debates continuing over hundreds of posts in the form of hundreds of comments and user generated content.
As we didn’t have access to national TV coverage, we created our own channel: “Rainsy TV”, a series of short online videos touching upon the key issues of the election, published weekly on our Facebook page.
Once we’d built a solid Facebook supporter base, our challenge was to mobilize our online supporters to take offline actions.
We asked our core young online activists to carry our message to their parents. Their parents’ generation would traditionally be government loyalists, a legacy of the government’s role in overthrowing the Khmer Rouge. So we asked their children to remind them to look forward, not back.
We created the “Rescue Pack”:
A week before the election and after four years of political exile, Sam Rainsy was finally given an amnesty by King Norodom Sihamoni and allowed to come back to Cambodia.
As his return wasn’t covered on television, we created our own live coverage, broadcast on our Facebook page to enable everyone in Cambodia to celebrate his return. More than 325,000 people watched our live videos on Facebook and website. And more than 100,000 welcomed their Leader and marched in the streets of Phnom Penh in the name of Democracy.
As we approached Election Day, we wanted to help people memorize the party number – 7. We launched the Facebook meme “7”, asking our fans and their friends to upload photos of them showing their 7 fingers.
We also enabled people to register their names and phone numbers to monitor the election and reduce fraud.
On July 28th, 2013, Sam Rainsy’s party (the CNRP) made unprecedented gains, picking up 55 seats out of 123 – an 89% increase on the last election.
For the first time in the history, the ruling party lost 22 seats, scoring just 68 seats in 2013 compared to 90 seats in 2008.
By the election, Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page gained 182,000 likes. This meant that an incredible one out of three Facebook accounts in Cambodia liked the page.
Today, Sam Rainsy has become the No.1 Facebook page in Cambodia, with nearly 500,000 likes and skyrocketing engagement rates (ranging from 10 to 15%).
Facing the massive elections fraud, with at least 1.25 million people not included on the electoral roll, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has boycotted its 55 seats in the National Assembly. They have led nationwide demonstrations, rallying hundreds of thousands of people for the past eight months and are currently negotiating the organisation of new elections.
Facebook has permitted a real democratic advancement. And this ‘Cambodian Spring’ is only beginning.