For the Philippine midterms, I launched Iboto.ph (Tagalog for Vote), a voter education resource and network for progressive candidates through a web experience that engaged millions online. I explored learnings on the neutrality of tech as a medium, free internet, and more with a team of 25.
This was a key election. May 13, 2019 would mark the midterm of President Rodrigo Duterte—with it, key senatorial, party list, and local positions contested. Progressive candidates with limited funds for on-the-ground campaigning were easily lagging behind in polls and surveys. To many Filipinos, the election is inexpendable: it's a matter of life or death. To argue otherwise is privileged and ignorant of longstanding institutions that propagate hardship in our communities.
In the months preceding the election, I began brainstorming on how might we propel voter education to the masses. I kickstarted an ambitious project: to level the political playing field and empower voters with modern tools. I was thinking closely about social media: 76 million social media users (71% penetration) in the Philippines.
Who were Filipinos betting on?
From senatorial candidate surveys, a majority of candidates from the slate of 12 had low visibility or awareness. Voters didn't even know who their choices were!
Political surveys and media were buzzing with conversation in the weeks and months preceding the May elections.
With an idea brewing from my observations of the electoral race, I sought to learn more about how the electorate thinks.
While continuing inquiry, we developed proto-personas to guide us through the headspace of our target audiences. We assumed that existing supporters would seek to spread awareness, and undecided voters would seek information.
Broad C or B class; active on social media and is engaging with political discussion. Strong values, poll choices are still incomplete. Online daily (on mobile, or at computer shops) and frequently receives news on Facebook light 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.
To better understand where voters go to, we looked into common sources reported to be used by the electorate and what was available in them.
Understanding the landscape coupled with points from our voters helped us scope out gaps in today's resources.
Getting a sense of the digital electoral landscape and voter profile helped us realize something key: progressive, left-leaning candidates did not have social presences.
In its inception, the vision for Iboto.ph was to be a database for all candidates, but we learned that this may not be the right angle.
Instead of being an all-around platform, the team decided to publish pages solely for progressive candidates to specifically forward and act as a unique network collating these candidates together. They frequently have smaller campaign teams and budgets compared to other candidates. We wanted to drive our efforts into upholding them as opposed to having mixed content. Supporters and dissenters alike could use our page to inform them directly of these candidates and the work we believe they're doing well and right.
This decision would then pave the usage we would imagine for the tool, as well as how we would position and distribute ourselves.
In clarifying and synthesizing these problems, we identified three main issues in the current electoral landscape.
The masses don't hear or see any info about these candidates—they're not aware of them at all.
Online, candidates don't create primary sources for themselves plus the media exposure issue!
The "fake news" issue in these countries isn't only an issue of ignorance, funnelled by the platforms of political discourse.
OUR PRODUCT—a web-focused means for Filipino voters to be informed of progressive candidates, driving political discourse.
Initially, we started out with a website. Iboto.ph then heavily used social media to disseminate information and engage with voters, with a website as a primary tool.
How might we educate voters about progressives in the dominant space for political discussion?
Our key assumption: 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.
Next, our goal was to put ourselves in the place of the Filipino voter. We clarified intentions and desired through a journey map, guided by our developing personas.
This is a prettified summary of others in the landscape: we kept up a sheet of competitors, loves, dislikes, and any contacts we had at their spaces.
Understanding these actions and the nuances in user needs and considerations helped us move forward.
Our product would be a voter education website complemented by campaigns on social media platforms, centralizing information about senatorial candidates. Here's how we thought about it.
From similar sites (largely news websites), we wanted to establish a sense of identity that mixed formal elements with progressive, loud, and bold symbols.
Ethical Design—I guided my team's flow by sharing ethical design principles as we built for a majority market. Focusing on human rights: reducing inequality to access to information, then easing human effort: respecting functional, convenient, and reliable designs, and then creating for a delightful experience were key to our process.
Other readings were Jesse Weaver's "It's Time for Digital Products to Start Empowering Us" and Davey Alba's writing on the weaponization of social media by the Duterte administration.
Iboto.ph means "to vote" in Tagalog, emphasizing our brand's forwardness.
National Brand—we needed a strong, consistent identity that made it clear we were here to politically engage. Our palette uses accent colors (and a main red) borrowed from the Philippine flag. These components and mateiral were reused throughout the project.
Guided mainly by our uncovered touchpoints, we explored what resources and tools we could build for Iboto.ph.
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. Recall, 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.
After we determined key offerings and gaps for voters, we revolved our work around some synthesized points.
Engage through social media, but educate deeper. Discovery and discourse was clearly funneled in through social media, but people sourced for truth elsewhere.
Empowerment is key. Every voter wants to feel like they're doing the right thing for the country. Every voter, despite their initial choices, deserves to be given the best suite of tools to help them decide—and even influence. Our philosophy was to resource knowledge to underrepresented candidates to spark discussion.
People are ready to engage. Hundreds of respondents and dozens of interviewees mentioned desire to actively engage: be it sharing a piece of content or sparking discussion. This helped us know that we could prompt our users and they would generate their own discussions—we were facilitators not only in education, but in dissemination too.
To raise awareness, raise stances. This was a non-negotiable we found to many voters.
My goals and metrics for Iboto.ph at this point were the following:
Are users looking into our content and materials and engaging with them in a meaningful way? These might later convert to referrals to our main site.
This might look like additional content on quote retweets or shares, comments, or answers to the surveys and forms we send out.
Serving content on a centralized sources, we were focused on conversions and referrals from our social platforms.
Because we were operating independently and were focused on engagement to our website and reach, this might look different the more our platform evolves.
Scattered all over the world and with time constraints ticking and constantly mitigating our potential impact and influence, we had to act quickly. I ended up wearing many hats as a director of th project (PM, basically), designer, and front-end developer.
To present information effectively, we opted for a website with infographic-like displays highlighting information on our backed candidates.
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.
We iterated through various layouts and information displays through card sorting and usability tests. From research, we focused on empowering users with information, and highlighting key leanings, deprioritizing meritocratic spaces like education.
Our data showed us that along with news, social media and candidate websites were the most valued, go-to spaces when voters sought candidate information.
We set up individual pages for each senatoriable, and used these as gateways to other candidates with adjacent politics.
Candidate Page—Collating candidate stances was a challenge to standardize, procuring information in general another. Our architecture shifted based on feedback and data
Key metrics were time spent on page (what sections), clicks to other candidates. These were always linked on our social channels.
Selecting Candidates—With a tight timeline, we published pages one-by-one, allowing us to stagger promotions and work more effectively. We looked at election updates and coordinated with campaign teams.
Iboto.ph was our site and home product, but we moved to social media to truly engage people and channel them to our resources. Here's what we considered.A series of candidate posters our team released across our platforms, directed back to Iboto.ph
From here, we focused on extending the platform: creating downloadable posters, PDFs, text-based information sheets, and more to funnel users to our website.
We developed a Google Slides publicity material template (Save > PNG!) that was easily editable and component-based to release any updates on mobilizations, vote counts, anomalies, and the like.
We strategized and quickly launched different campaigns, sourcing user comments, anecdotes, thoughtpieces, and more that our content writers and social media managers led charge on. These were effective funnels into our site and helped grow engagement with unique content from our users.
Tracking Iboto.ph Facebook public shares, we noticed usage of our candidate infographics as starting points for discussion, users sharing our links, and the like.
We focused on copy that was engaging and direct to encourage discourse—and build reach.
Key metrics varied per platform, but we valued shares with additional comments/context added on
As engagement soared through our social media channels, we were iterating on website and infographic content constantly.
Through usability testing and contextual inquiry sessions done in campuses & remotely, we actively tested interface and layout changes throughout our 3-week release period. In the future, A/B testing hierarchies would be invaluable.
While scaling Iboto.ph and iterating through our website and content strategies, we made sure to release descriptive content and make material as accessible as possible for free data/social media light users.
For demographics who weren't able to navigate outside social media platforms without a cost (and didn't intend to pay), we were still able to communicate news and journalism to them—in forms other news channels didn't frequently take on.
Messenger Campaign—since on free data you can't open other links, we provided copy-paste text versions of our candidate pages. We were also in progress of building a Messenger chatbot, but lacked resources.
Iboto.ph evolved into a space not only for awareness, but also activism.
After pivoting our product and focusing on funneling users from social media, we amassed over 3 million engages across our social profiles.
We created a Medium blog, filled in voters via Messenger/Facebook Lite, and continued delivering information from different campaigns to our followers.
In our three weeks of refinement, we moved closer to building marketing campaigns that would lead users to our website or directly to more information and action with candidates they're eager to support or learn more about—as reflected in our intentional move towards design-driven promotional efforts.
disseminated during election season
Across our website and social platforms.
working across the globe
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 our analytics.
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.
Iboto.ph evolved as a product far beyond our initial product: we wanted to initially build a website that displayed information about each and every candidate. We made an 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.
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.