Are politicians using social media effectively?

Blog post # 5

After Barack Obama’s first campaign, politicians in Canada began to see the power of social media to influence voters. While Obama’s use of social media to engage supporters seemed to mirror the advice of social media experts – engage, be personable, be sincere, and have a conversation – his imitators north of the border may not be as skilled in reaching out to constituents using this new suite of tools. As various companies offer tools to measure the impact and reach of social media messages, the political arena is one place to directly observe the impact of social media on action outside of the world of “clicks.”

Interestingly, most of our politicians seem to know that they need to use social media tools to stay connected to constituents, but no one is talking about how any particular individual is using the media, except when they post something so inappropriate that they have to resign.

Certainly, their efforts have not resulted in the same excitement and engagement that Obama’s campaign witnessed. While his messages inspired followers to form groups, organize online polls, raise money and hold rallies, with calls to action, Canadian politicians tend to use the tools just to push information. In Canada, politicians give updates, post photos of themselves and their families and open YouTube channels to make their speeches available. But nothing much seems to happen as a result.

Their lack of social media savvy has inspired Mark Blevis, a new media consultant, to set up a website offering “social media makeovers” to MPs across the country, and giving them grades for their performance so far. He finds that most have static web pages, bland Facebook pages, and poor integration of the tools they do use. Looking at four categories – digital ecosystem, content, participation and community, and interruption – he finds most politicians need one of his makeovers because they are only half-heartedly online.

Most pundits hold out hope that Justin Trudeau, most recently famous for his tweet announcing the birth of his new child, will show Canadians how to rouse the populace and reach young voters with the new campaign tools.

I have to admit that I do not follow a single politician on social media – if you do, what are the benefits that you see from engaging in politics in this new, more direct and interactive mode?


Tom Flanagan,

Mark Blevis,

Deborah Coyne,

One thought on “Are politicians using social media effectively?

  1. I can provide a few examples on politicians doing it right:
    For lobbying and advocacy efforts, connecting more directly with your MP is an effective way for your cause to gain notice. For example, I have tweeted back and forth with MP Peter Kent on carbon fees. On my end, it’s a way to show him, a former Envronment Minister, that Canadians (one assuming there are more) support alternative energy solutions. On his end, his responses allude to his platform, his stance, and counters why he thinks otherwise. This is all public so it benefits both of us in a way. Maybe more for him :S But the effect of my impression on him regardless of his views is wholly positive due to this interaction.

    Take a look at MP Carolyn Bennet – an MP who I came across as quite active on Twitter
    By being so active, she gives the impression of being connected and on top of the issues she cares about: aboriginal affairs and public health. The topics she represents are talking points we (the public) have every right to start a conversation on. I think it’s part of a politician’s job to promote discourse with citizens.

    Paul Dewar is quite active on Facebook – hence his popularity with youth. Through Facebook I knew when he attended Carleton University’s pub night in the past. His most recent posts touch on various topics: Amnesty meetings on conflict minerals, Rwandan genocide, engaging with the local Latin community, and Tamil organizations – within the past WEEK! By having such diverse tweets, he reaches out to many demographics and social groups – something so essential in a multi-everything nation such as ours. It also gives us a sense on the ins and outs of how they are mobilizing issues on behalf of many.

    Sometiems I watch Question Period on cpac and some MPs about to present to the House give instant feedback pre- and post- delivery! Most often because the issues they deliver are backed up by citizens and groups who they are in contant communication with – and yes, via social media! I remember when one of our issues was delivered live during Question period – we were very happy, and yes, we tweeted 🙂

    I notice that politicians aren’t always directly involved in their social media profiles – it’s usually their legislative aid who’s on top of it. But those who are engaged online – the effect is great. We get a sense of who they are because they are connecting with us. And they should be doing this because we vote for them. They are our voice on a large scale. Why do we not connect with them more often and on a one-on-one basis? This is democracy in action.

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