From a vague start to over 1 million followers

10 Jul 2024

Written by Tatton Spiller, Founder and Director Simple Politics.

Simple Politics founder Tatton Spiller's headshot where he leans against a window facing the camera


A vague start 

Simple Politics started as a website. The idea was to track new laws going through Parliament.  

At some point I was going to launch a complex series in which you could sign up for laws that impact Education or Defence or whatever interests you. I’d email you and let you know what was going on as and when your topic was up for discussion. 

The aim then had been to help people have better conversations about politics. 

Everything has gone in the bin 

It’s now 9 years later. Simple Politics does none of those things. The entire premise of what was planned is gone. No bill tracking. No specific newsletters. There is hardly even a website. 

That aim, though? To help people have better conversations about politics? That’s still right at the heart of everything we do. That’s the point. Our mission. 

The mission 

It’s a pretty terrible mission. There is no way of measuring impact. We can’t record conversations in a pub in Dover before and after something I’ve written about small boats.  

 It’s something I believe in though. It’s something everyone at Team SP believes in. It drives us and we believe that it’s something we achieve. People tell us that we achieve it. Maybe that’s enough. 

Getting social 

Even in 2015, it became clear that people weren’t going to come to a website without being told to go to the website, or at least being aware of it’s presence. I had to go to where people were. 

The entire point of joining twitter (our first platform) was to drive people to our website. Flag that a bill was up and that people should head on over. 

I wasn’t doing very well. I hired a company to help. They did even worse. No, if I was to do this, it had to be me.  

It soon became clear that the tweets I was doing that were about what was going on were doing much better than when I was directing people to leave the app. 

Social media is forgiving 

When I was at this point, there were no followers to speak of. I was trying stuff out. It’s great having no followers. If you do something terrible (I did a lot of things that were terrible) nobody sees. If you do something good, it’ll be shared. People will see it. 

 In the early days, social media is a sandbox in which you can play. The early followers are on board because they like your vibe. They are forgiving. Some people have been following SP for eight years now. Maybe even more. They’re friends and allies. All the bad posts haven’t put them off.  

Examples of Simple Politics social Instagram posts

Examples of Simple Politics social Instagram posts @simplepolitics

Iterative approach 

Fast forward a couple of years. I had built a hundred thousand across twitter and Facebook, as well as belatedly launching on Instagram. (I didn’t want Instagram, but my colleague Hattie told me I was wrong and did it anyway. She was right.) 

It was 2017. We’d had the Brexit vote. We’d had a General Election.  

I was on the Start Up course at SSE.  Over and over again we were encouraged to use an iterative approach. Give things a go. Stick to what’s working. Ditch what isn’t (however brilliant you think it is). Invent. Create. Reinvent. Bin. Destroy. Rebuild. 

Over time, what might work became clearer. Too much text; telling people too much about what interested me, not what interested them. 

It’s not always clear. I’ve spend hours and hours on new things I thought would be so great. Then they aren’t. Nobody cares.  Even now, after nine years I get it wrong. It hurts a bit, but I get over it.  

This word – iterative –  gave a name to what I’d been doing. It gave a clearer framework for what was to come.  

If it helps with the mission, it’s worth a go. 

Building the audience 

Brexit chaos had continued. Boris Johnson was fighting for a General Election. Politics has never felt more complicated than those fractious days. It was an opportunity for SP.  

We could be friendly, open, honest, encouraging. We could speak with out own voice. Like a friend filling you in on what you need to know. People liked that.  By the end of the 2019 GE we had over 100k followers on Instagram. We were building our community. 

The pandemic 

That voice we’d managed to create. Approachable and trustworthy? It turns out that’s really what people wanted through the pandemic. 

We had got ourselves to a position, through Brexit and General Elections, where we were able to be useful. Still authentic, still us, still that voice, but made different by the horror of the situations.  

SP’s humanity is what sets us apart. Always.  

The world is full of voices trying to be slick and professional. Corporations have proof readers and style guides. Resources and staff. We’ve got a couple of stressed out people and a laptop. 

Even if we wanted to be them, we couldn’t possibly do it. Sky News already exists.  

No, it’s us. We chat.  We make mistakes. We apologise when we do. We make bad jokes. We’re whimsical. People stay with us because we’re friends.  

It’s not an act. It’s who we are.  

By March 2022, we had over a million followers across Instagram, Facebook and twitter. 

I don’t think of them as followers. I think of them as a community. The SP Family. We work together to have better conversations. When I’m low, I tell them and they help. We get DMs every day wanting to talk about stuff. 

Community is a natural thing. Coming together. If you have millions, you can create it super quickly with advert campaigns and the rest. Those campaigns never really last, they’re not designed to. 

 To build something real takes time and you have to give yourself to it. Commit. Be vulnerable. Be useful. Be fun. Be you.   

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