Social media marketing and elections. A match truly made in heaven. The candidates are both human and brand, and need to quickly activate their target customer base to buy at a one day sale. Retail politics has been supplanted by influencer marketing. Handshakes and baby kissing have been overtaken by retweets, likes and views. Campaign communication managers must now contend with spin, counter-spin and social spin.
While the impact of social media on Canada’s “Twitter Election” is widely debated and quite possibly overstated, how well are the primary prime ministerial candidates using the social web to speak to the electorate? We looked at each of their online properties and graded their efforts. What we found is that all of the candidates have integrated technology to reach their audience, but few are genuinely participating in social media to truly engage with Canadians.
Stephen Harper, Conservative Party – B minus
Facebook Fans - 46,598
Twitter Followers - 120,241
YouTube Views - 810,571
Twitter: Harper has earned a reputation as a strict command-and-control leader so it wouldn’t be surprising if social media made him nervous. A quick look at his twitter feed affirms this – the majority of the posts are carefully worded, properly punctuated policy statements that link back to the Conservative website. Upon occasion, one sees a little personality poking through but my guess is that Harper has an aide doing the keystrokes. If showing a more human side is key to using Twitter effectively, Harper fails to make the grade here.
Website: Clunky in design, the Conservative party website provides all of the requisite links to the various social networks, but the content could be made more easily shareable directly from the page. The campaign blog is buried in the top navigation bar. It is updated regularly with footage from the campaign trail, but unfortunately, most of this content could be picked up by watching the six o’clock news.
Taking a page right from the Obama playbook, the website also features a beta for “ToryNation.ca”, an online community designed to help party faithful to spread the gospel, raise money and recruit volunteers to the campaign. While it’s not evident how many members have joined this community (attempts to find friends yielded no results), the Tories should be commended for creating a community platform for supporters to share their views and recruit like minded Canadians.
Michael Ignatieff, Liberal Party, B plus
Facebook Fans - 51,999
Twitter Followers - 83,739 (E), 3,362 (F)
YouTube Views - 1,301,663
Website: My first impression of the Liberal Party website: slick. It features crisp design, smart integrations with social networks and a prominently featured blog. The website content is approachable, shareable and accessible. In an election that will be probably be decided by a handful of ridings, the site makes it easy to quickly find and connect with the candidate in your local riding through customary channels or via Facebook or Twitter. The blog is maintained by an Ignatieff speechwriter, Adam Goldenberg, and each post can be shared out via the channel of your choice. There’s a Google Maps mashup that shows you the location of upcoming events in your area or across the nation.
Twitter / Facebook: Ignatieff is the only candidate who operates separate English and French Twitter feeds, and shows a lot more personality than Harper. I particularly like how Ignatieff threw down the gauntlet on March 30th, tweet-challenging Harper to a one-on-one debate. Ignatieff’s team continued to pursue the issue with a Facebook Question poll, asking his fans if they’d still watch the one
YouTube: Clearly, the Liberal camp is geared to work at the speed of the social web. It took them less than 24 hours to get a YouTube video up about how the Conservatives were denying people entry to their events if they had befriended Ignatieff on Facebook. Quite rightly, Ignatieff is willing to be more freewheeling in social because he’s got a lot less to lose.
Jack Layton, New Democratic Party, B
Facebook Fans - 37,639
Twitter Followers - 74,236
YouTube Views - 495,015
Mobile: Want to vote for the New Democrats? There’s an app for that. With the NDP mobile app you can get photos and video content from NDP rallies, follow Jack’s tour, stay plugged in to the campaign’s every twist and turn and share all of the above with your own social network right from your iPhone. (No BlackBerry super app? Isn’t this a Canadian election?)
Twitter: Layton is a Twitter power user, with appropriate use of hashtags and custom ndp.ca short URL’s linking back to timely web articles. We even found a cute little Easter egg in the form of a cheeky 404 error message claiming that “Ottawa is broken and so is this link, but we have a plan to fix both”.
Facebook: Lots of user engagement on Layton’s Facebook page, but where is the NDP? Like most of the parties in the race, there is no community manager engaging with fans, letting the community duke it out on the issues.
Elizabeth May, Green Party - C
Facebook Fans - 8,948
Twitter Followers -18,118
YouTube Views - NA
Twitter: Compared to the other parties, the Green Party is decidedly weaker on the technology side, but gets top marks for voter engagement. May takes the most personalized approach to Twitter, regularly thanking supporters after an event. She also pens her own blog, leading to some quality user discussion and engagement.
Website / Facebook: Owned online properties belonging to the Greens and May are a fractured mess, unlike the other parties, which have seamlessly melded their online presence to their respective leader’s image. On Facebook, there is a May Fan Page, her personal profile, and two separate pages for the Green party which splinters the community’s attention. There’s an inconsistent use of content sharing tools, and missed opportunities to syndicate content between websites. Elections are supposed to help unite a country, but if the Green
’s get elected we don’t stand a chance if their web presence is any indication.
Gilles Duceppe, Bloq Quebecois – B plus
Facebook Fans - 6,427
Twitter Followers - 51,794
YouTube Views - 208,887
Website: Give the Bloq full credit, they know their audience. There’s no English site available, which must make it difficult to attract Anglophone voters. Not very social, in the customary sense of the word!
Twitter: Not wanting to waste too much time analyzing a regional party hell-bent on secession, and using my high school level French (with a little help from Google Translator), I read Duceppe’s Twitter feed. it’s clear that Duceppe is using Twitter to maximum effect. With posts like “Le Bloc propose un plan pour protéger et développer le St-Laurent, ses écosystèmes, ses berges. Le fleuve c'est l'épine dorsale du Québec.” (“The Bloc has a plan to protect and develop the St. Lawrence River, its ecosystems, its banks. The river is the backbone of Quebec”), Duceppe is using evocative language to tap into the spirit of Quebec nationalism. Tais toi!
Will social media determine the outcome of our national election? It’s unlikely. Social media is still relatively new, yet make no mistake; it is a permanent feature to elections moving forward. Each of our party leaders see the potential, but not all of them have quite grasped that social media isn’t really media – it is a conversation.