Today, I’m recording an interview with Joseph Planta for TheCommentary.ca (I’ll post a link here when it’s available.) We’re talking, in part, about how political parties and politicians use social media. As a case study, I’ve been observing five Federal political parties on Facebook and Twitter over the last couple of weeks and I’ve learned a lot. Some of that research has swayed my opinion but I still won’t tell you my vote.
So, let me tell you a bit about the players (in alphabetical order):
The Bloc Québécois has no official party presence on Facebook. However, there is a community page with content automatically pulled from Wikipedia. Leader Gilles Duceppe has a Facebook Page with 7, 705 fans and that is where visitors to the Bloc’s website are redirected. Mister Duceppe is also the party’s face on Twitter with a total of 495 tweets and 55,457 followers. The tweets are all broadcast messages with no public replies, @mentions or responses to other people’s content.
The Conservative Party of Canada was easy to find in Facebook search and the name of the page acknowledges that we are a bilingual nation. I note that the page does not have a vanity URL at this time. They offer a good mix of content with videos, links and text messages some of which are in English and many of which are presented in both French and English. To date, they have 15, 422 fans. On Twitter, the Conservative’s shift their strategy to focus on Prime Minister Stephen Harper (@PMHarper) with a verified acount. His 396 tweets so far include some conversation with followers and a lot of broadcast messages to his 128, 864 followers.
The Green Party of Canada gets top marks from me for the best mix of content that really utilize the features of Facebook including text updates, photo and video sharing as well as mini polls using the new Questions feature. To date, the Greens have addressed their 10, 443 fans in English only. On Twitter, the Greens have wisely split their efforts given the party an official Twitter feed @CanadianGreens separate from that of leader Elizabeth May. I like the personal feel of Ms. May’s tweets. She’s talking with people not at them. So far she’s written 1, 054 tweets to her 22, 307 followers.
The Liberal Party of Canada was easily found on Facebook and they have the most efficient vanity URL. As with the Conservatives, their page name is in both official languages. Their content bounces between text updates and video sharing with some content in English only and some posts in both official languages. They have 14, 921 fans. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is the party’s voice on Twitter and his tweets are almost exclusively broadcast messages. I see no evidence of interaction with followers or replies. He’s also uses the hashtags #elxn41 and #db8 in most tweets of his 460 tweets. 93, 543 people follow this verified account.
The New Democratic Party of Canada or NDP has no official Facebook presence. However, as with the Bloc, there is a community page with information from Wikipedia. The NDP’s online visibility is further diluted with pages of their Provincial counterparts. The party has created a Facebook page for leader Jack Layton which currently has 48, 052 fans. All posts are done in both official languages – first in English, then in French. Mister Layton is also the frontman for the NDP’s Twitter account @JackLayton. The 891 tweets are notable as the broadcast tweets are interspersed only with replies to “media” outlets not individuals. The account as 84, 433 followers.
Note: All of the fan and follower counts throughout this post were current as of 20 April 2011.
Now you have the facts and links to explore to inform your own vote, let me give some social media advice to politicians and political parties.
1) Members of social networking communities HATE autofeeds and autoreplies. Don’t send a “thanks for following” direct message and please don’t automatically feed all your tweets to Facebook.
2) Delegate appropriately. I know candidates are swamped on the campaign trail but surely someone could lend them an iPad on the campaign bus to respond personally. I think it’s fine to have a team member schedule broadcast updates in a tool like Hootsuite and to take care of video uploads, keyword tags and other technical aspects. It’s not ok if someone else is pretending to be the candidate and replying on their behalf without revealing themselves.
3) Scheduling content is something I changed my mind on recently. I used to think everything should be live, in the moment but now I know that’s not practical. So, on Facebook share 2 or 3 times each day, broadcast tweet 1x per hour during peak hours for your time zone and blog 3 times a week or when you have something meaningful to say. But it is also essential to schedule time to respond on a regular basis. You can’t automate this interaction.
4) Use hashtags as appropriate. I found it interesting that some parties are using the hashtag #elxn41 as are many voters but the other parties aren’t part of this election conversation. Odd, don’t you think?
5) Consider your spelling problem and help the public find you. Is it Jack Layton or Jack Leyton? (It’s Layton just to avoid any confusion.)
6) When an election is announced, it’s not the best time to start a social networking campaign. Jumping into the dialogue when you want something (votes!) isn’t the ideal way to start a relationship. Aspiring politicians take note and start building your online community now.
7) Don’t let your accounts lie dormant between elections. This reduces the parties’ long-term visibility and reinforces the impression that they only want to talk when they are seeking your votes. On a practical level, there’s a risk of losing Twitter followers especially among those who use tools like ManageFlitter and your Facebook page’s Edgerank is sure to decrease due to inactivity.
8) I also question the decision to build followings around specific leaders. Eventually Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton will step down as leaders or retire from politics altogether and then any online momentum won’t do the party any good.
With all of that, I encourage you – the voters – to get out and learn all you can about candidates in your riding and then, on May 2, 2011 and VOTE!