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Could this be the most photographed Christmas tree in the world ...

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Parliament Christmas Tree @UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
© UK Parliament/ Jessica Taylor

Parliament isn't necessarily something that people usually associate with Christmas ... unless you count Eleven Lords a Leaping. But, we try and do something each year to mark the run up to Christmas on our social media channels. In 2015, we got a bit creative with a Parliament themed advent calendar but for 2016 we thought we'd try and create a mini-campaign around the Parliament Christmas tree.

The hashtag - #ParliamenTree

Every year a Christmas tree from the Kielder Forest in Northumberland is transported to the Houses of Parliament so it can stand in New Palace Yard next to Big Ben. According to the Forestry Commission the Parliament Christmas tree is 'the most photographed Christmas tree in the world'.

It's pretty difficult to prove this claim though. I imagine the tree in New York's Rockefeller Centre gets photographed quite a lot, but the backdrop of Big Ben and the London Eye probably helps boost our numbers. A few weeks ago we launched the #ParliamenTree hashtag (see what we did there?!) inviting people to share their Christmas tree photos.

How it went

We had a great response on Twitter. Our first tweet promoting #ParliamenTree had over 80,000 impressions and over 1,000 engagements. It was also our most popular tweet in December. Our subsequent tweets, sharing submitted images, all performed well with an average of 372 engagements per post.

Alison Thewliss MP Christmas tree
© Alison Thewliss MP

We received Christmas tree photos from a diverse range of UK Twitter accounts from Crabtree Farm Primary School to Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital. Victoria Prentis MP and Alison Thewliss MP also used the hashtag to share photos from their constituencies. We even had a Christmas tree photo from the Nova Scotia Legislature in Canada.

Nova Scotia Legislature Christmas tree
© Nova Scotia Legislature

The hashtag attracted a little bit of negativity, and was also briefly hijacked for a parliamentary debate on trees (fair enough) but on the whole we were pretty pleased with the Twitter response.

On Instagram we had less of a response but we did get Christmas tree photos from the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Welsh Senedd. It was great to link up with other UK Parliaments and Assemblies and we'd like to do more of this in the future.

Northern Ireland Assembly Christmas tree
© Northern Ireland Assembly

The hashtag didn't get much traction on Facebook, so it was good that people liked the idea (we got over 1200 likes) although, as expected, we didn't get any images via the post.

Crowdsourcing images

I'm a big fan of crowdsourcing and I've written before about our experiments crowdsourcing questions on Twitter. There's now pressure on accounts like ours to deliver high quality image and video content across all our social media channels throughout the year. Sometimes we struggle to meet this demand and crowdsourcing images is a great way of making up the shortfall. The #ParliamenTree hashtag worked as a way for us to generate festive content where we wouldn't had much to offer otherwise.

We recently ran a #BigBenPhoto Twitter competition. This helped us get high quality images to share but I think there's potential to do a lot more. Historic Royal Palaces run a weekly #PalacePhoto competition and I think we could do something similar. It would also be great to try and crowdsource photos reflecting the character of the 650 parliamentary constituencies across the UK.

Parliament and photography

For a number of years I've been lobbying to get the rules on photography inside Parliament relaxed. At the moment public visitors are only allowed to take photographs of St Stephen's Chapel and Westminster Hall. If there were greater freedom to take images of other parts of the visitor route, such as the Commons and Lords chambers, that would open up a whole new content stream for us.

In fact Instagram were keen to collaborate on doing an #emptyevent where Instagrammers would have access to Parliament after hours. Hopefully we can make it happen one day.

In the meantime we'd like to come up with more social campaigns that will encourage people from across the UK to share their images with us. We'd love to hear any ideas you have for future campaigns, Christmas themed or otherwise.

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