One week ago last Sunday, France was in the grip of election fever – as much as any western country is in the grip of election fever these days. The regional elections were hugely newsworthy as Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, was hoping for the breakthrough that would provide her platform for a bid for the presidency in 2017.

The elections were also the first part of an experiment by newspaper Libération. Libé had decided to attempt to provide an added layer of live coverage using WhatsApp for the first time. This kind of experiment is very important as traditionally print newspapers attempt to find new outlets to engage readers, sell more copy and also, ultimately, monetise online readers. Many countries (notably the UK) have seen both extremely successful and, more often, incredibly bad attempts by newspapers to move online – so Libé’s experiment (the first time I have seen Whatsapp used in this way) is very interesting.

The regional elections in France are two part with a one week gap and, following that timetable, Libé’s experiment was also in two parts. I was fairly brutal about the first week and, in my view, the second week was either going to be awful or fantastic.

Round Two

Libé’s second attempt started very early – at 12.10pm. This gave everyone a wake up call as well as an update on turnout (19.59% at that stage). The tone of the message was good. A jokey comment – If you are at mum’s house this Sunday, make sure that you charge your phone because it will be a long day – was a nice way to open the channel.

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Just after last week’s experiment, Libé had sent out a questionnaire to ask what people thought of the Whatsapp coverage – their first message showed that they had listened to what they had been told.

More updates at 4.51 and 5.04 were followed up by a picture of a busy and vibrant newsroom – what an excellent idea!

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By 6.34 we had the likely rate of abstention…

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and, at 6.58, a breakdown of abstention by region…

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I mentioned in my last blog that the people who would be reading the feed were likely to be political obsessives and that they would love lots of numbers – we were being given numbers. Lots of lovely numbers!

And then, to break the tension, a cartoon.

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Before the polls closed, it was clear that this was a completely different experience than the previous week. It was engaging, it was fun, it had numbers and updates. And then the polls closed and at 8.02pm…

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…followed by 8.03pm…

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Look at all that! Clear graphics, percentages, ticks – fantastic! Three minutes in and we had the estimates.

Then at 8.09…

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Followed by, at 8.15…

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(I still don’t like that graphic style but I’ll let it go because it’s personal preference!)

A nicely handled clarification at 8.16…

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A map with the headline of the night at 8.23

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…and more and more and more…

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I was a tiny bit concerned that there was no video – video works great on Whatsapp – and then one appeared! In a corridor with a Libération logo clearly in view too!

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Then more…

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And a front page…

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…and another picture of the team hard at work…

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Week 1 v Week 2 – The Results

If you were to ‘de-brand’ this week’s and last week’s Libé Whatsapp election coverage, you would never guess they were from the same place. This week’s was so much better, so much more engaging, so much more vibrant – simply put, this week’s experiment was great.

Are there things that I would have done differently? Of course. Are there things that I would have done that were not done? Yes but not many. However, I am not going to address those here because to do so would be to detract from what was achieved by the team at Libération last night. (If they want to know, they can always contact me directly!)

They did not just pull off a great night’s election coverage – they pulled off a great night’s election coverage on a new platform, just one week after it all went a bit wrong.

All too often, faced with a negative and public social media experience, organisations give up – it is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to make it work. Last night, Libération proved that it was not scared to innovate, to take chances and, best of all, it proved that it was not scared to learn and improve – rather than just give up and run. They did it in style and they created a fantastic experience.

Excellent work, Libé! Excellent work!

Written by James