For the Philippine midterms, I conceptualized and led the launch of a voter education resource network for progressive candidates. We reached millions of Filipinos in a month, with materials directly shared over >100k times. Now, Iboto.ph is gearing up to be a go-to platform for disruptive digital grassroots campaigning for 2022.
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May 13, 2019 would mark the midterm of President Rodrigo Duterte—with it, key senatorial, party list, and local positions to be contested.
In the months preceding the election, I began brainstorming with Developh organization mates on how we could propel voter education to the masses. Intentionally targeting social media and more visual-oriented, compact means of information dissemination, I was thinking closely about the 76 million social media users (71% penetration) in the Philippines, with 72 million of those being mobile social media users. Filipinos are communicating, learning, and congregating online.
Despite this, majority of senatorial candidates did not have platforms or materials up. Most had at least a somewhat active social media presence, but no websites or information sheets—at best, you'd find a Facebook description.
From senatorial candidate surveys, it was clear that awareness and education were paralyzing issues. At the same time, majority of Filipinos reported the internet and social media as their tool for information in the electoral season.
OUR QUESTIONS—How can we educate voters through social platforms? How can we encourage discussion and conversations for the Filipino voter?
MY ROLE—For this project, I acted as a lead researcher, project manager, and engineer developing the flow of Iboto.ph and our presence on different platforms. By the end, Iboto.ph had garnered millions of hits on our website, reached over 600,000 engagements on Facebook, and received the official attention from over 6 senatorial candidates.
Research and connection building for the project began as early as September 2018; though it was incredibly hard to get in touch with many campaign teams, even far before the campaigning season had kicked off
In its inception, the vision for Iboto.ph was to be a database for all candidates. We already knew that certain parties topped the popularity charts and that it was difficult for other senatorial candidates to put together resources to match these campaigns.
Instead of being an all-around platform, the team decided to publish pages for progressive candidates only to specifically forward and act as a unique network collating these candidates together. This decision would then pave the usage we would imagine for the tool, as well as how we would position and distribute ourselves.
Meaning "to vote" in Tagalog, the title Iboto.ph was chosen for its simplicity and forwardness.
Mostly made in three weeks prior to the May 13 elections with a small team, we surveyed the Philippine digital landscape and tried to get a deeper sense of what kinds of Filipinos were out there.
Class D or Broad C; uses Facebook often to chat with friends/family, game, post pictures. Frequently comments and shares, uses Messenger and also text messaging a lot. Uses mobile data and Facebook free. On occasion, visits computer shop but for more work-related tasks. Online every single day.
To present information effectively, we opted for a website with infographic-like displays. On first glance, viewers would be able to see candidate stances on critical and timely issues — from lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to divorce. Each point would link the user to a relevant article or claim about the chosen information.
Procuring viewpoints on each issue was a bit of a challenge: we wanted to standardize viewpoints on key issues as much as possible, but shifted the list of stances based on what users frequently searched. We also sifted through their social accounts, past interviews, official senatorial debates, and program lists (for the few that had materials) in order to come up with eight key stances for the landing.
To better this process, members of the team conducted card sorting tests with a selection of respondents to prioritize what stances to highlight after constructing the initial list.
What are my values? What change am I looking for in the Philippine senate? What qualifications am I looking for in a candidate? What am I looking for in a candidate? What information do I need to retain about my candidate? How can I further engage with my candidate?
From these key questions, we made assumptions that we would then support with all our project's choices: that voters are looking to actively learn, and have changeable minds. Our marketing and language would then target demographics of active, online users who were still undecided in their voting slate, or receptive to change as our key audience—as opposed to wasting critical time on set-voters. (A similar focus on "undecided" voters also happened in the Cambridge-Analytica scandal.)
While continuing inquiry through our first pages, we kept these questions in mind. We then primarily designed for two demographics: Existing supporters to spread awareness, and undecided voters to educate.
Broad C or B class; active on social media and is engaging with political discussion. Strong values, poll choices are still incomplete. Online daily and frequently receives news on Facebook or television first. Shares political posts on their feed and/or with peers.
B or A class, based in urbanized area within the Philippines and consciously attempting to become more politically engaged. Online daily (if not every hour), frequently receiving news on social media platforms before any other. Engages in political discussions on occasion.
Iboto.ph was being frequently used as a starting point for discussion, targeting the issue of weaving candidate connections beyond drawn party lines and offering multi-format, extensive backgrounds for our chosen candidates compiled from all the online sources we could find.
To reflect this, we had altered our personas and added an additional user: using our social platforms as one of their main information sources during the elections, with our information being their primary gateways to other news sources or candidates.
At this stage, we had begun sourcing feedback from volunteer campaign groups (mostly youth ones), friends and family, and other organic online reach who quickly pointed out accessibility issues, talked about policies to focus on, or specific points about each candidate we should highlight.
We sourced through contextual inquiry and through volunteer users who had reached out to us. Most users were sharing the link with the generated candidate previews, then poking around the rest of the site.
A piece of feedback helped us recognize we were neglecting a key demographic: users on free Facebook data. On "free" mode, users can browse, message, but are unable to access external links or view videos. We began releasing text-based "tl;drs" and infographics for candidates to encourage more sharing.
Another key piece of feedback was exposure to new candidates that users found most insightful. At this stage, most of our candidates had no large media presence. Users were delighted and found the most use out of discovering new candidates, then using our site as a gateway to explore more about them and others.
Value sharing: After getting a better sense of actual use cases, we understood that from now on—the point of expansion was to convert, and engage people with candidates who hold aligned values. We constrained our selection from our initial goal of displaying voter information for all, making an intentional choice to serve more overlooked candidates with shared values.
From here, we focused on extending the platform: creating downloadable posters, PDFs, text-based information sheets, and more from the candidate base we had created. The template we had served 7 candidates, displaying salient issues to their background to educational experiences. Iteration here was a lot of refining content and methods of display, most especially when direct campaign leads for these candidates reached out to us.
Challenges The language, presentation, and marketing we would deploy across our social platforms would dictate the initial user attitude to the website. We wanted the candidate pages to be as neutral as possible, serving to inform—this design decision made us put more weight into marketing and methods of dissemination, as well as focusing more on research and information. This was supported by the analytics we had on our organic growth.
For our marketing materials, we kept in touch with campaign teams of as much candidates as we could (particularly Leody de Guzman, Samira Gutoc, Pilo Hilbay, and Neri Colmenares) to help disseminate information and provide additional context + historical information. To keep up to date, I was managing a team of over 8 active volunteers from around the world, around-the-clock to release publicity materials. We had come up with design templates and a system, as well as a protocol for article writing and announcements. Our Twitter was reaching 10,000+ engagements per tweet, and our Facebook with 6,000+ engagements and 50,000+ views on the regular.
Through Iboto.ph, we were astounded not only by the traction and numbers we hit, but by the engagement of the platform. The internet is a tool not maximally used by Philippine candidates: this project we came up with in only three weeks, sometimes doing the barebones work of comprehensively talking about a candidate's platforms, set us up to realize how much more work could be done in the space.Peak organic reach in May 2019
Our page and contact email frequently received questions about how to further a specific cause, or support the work of candidates. Other inquiries that we received were on the actions and next steps of candidates that we had featured, and also people sharing information on candidates that align with their views that weren't necessarily up on the site.
The highly iterative research and design process was very constricting at times. There are over 150 spoken languages and 6 were frequently requested. Although the Philippines is largely English-speaking, emphasis on expanding language offerings and designing with a visual-first approach is highly suggested.
We want to explore more methods and flows of how users navigate our tool, and help better cater the experience for different needs—and nudge existing users towards new means of engagements.
With how the product and its platforms were established and structured, we were able to move forward and execute mini-campaigns and fact-checks on disinformation and illegal campaigning done in the election season. This was from fixing vote counts, informing the public about fallacious statements made by officials, and more. Although lots of transformation happened in the social media space, we also re-emphasized the value of dedicated sites, especially for political use that establish stronger credibility and connections.
Iboto.ph evolved beyond our initial goal: we wanted to initially build a website that displayed information about each and every candidate. We made a very early decision to focus on progressive candidates that then set a new opportunity area: conversation and communication—one that wouldn't have risen in its original form.
The next Philippine elections are happening in 2022. The team behind Iboto.ph is thinking of how to further transform the digital space for education, awareness, and discussion as we did with Iboto.ph—with these 2022 elections, we have a lot to tackle. Thankfully, Iboto.ph's pilot taught us about establishing user loyalty—and how things will never end up as you expect.
There's value in engaging with the principles that voters believe in, and using those as grounds to understand, listen, and respond effectively. Fighting categorization and labeling through engagement was key, and we're looking forward to more spaces that encourage discussions like this.