Instead of rolling out a fleet of pickup trucks on Monday and peppering every available patch of grass with election signs, Peter Tam hired a pair of social marketing gurus.
The Green Party candidate is gearing up to “explode” online.
“We are not going to pollute the environment with all kinds of junk out there,” he said.
“Here’s a way we can shift to a more environmentally friendly way of getting our messages out.”
The 41st federal election, or #elxn41, is one that’s being fought through social media, a platform that has the potential to reach more than 16 million Canadians with the click of a mouse.
After the election was called Saturday, the hashtag #elxn41 was soon a trending topic on Twitter across the country. (It’s since been by #idontunderstandwhy, #dontactlikeyounever and #hoodphrases)
It’s why every political party has been trying to lasso online followers, with incessant tweets, YouTube videos, even a Jack Layton app.
The Green Party, though, is the only one that’s provided local candidates with a guide on how to harness the medium, as well as ideas on what to post and tweet.
“The way that social media is changing the world right now is well beyond what anybody would have anticipated,” said Doug Shortt, a principal consultant with Net-Zilla, the Maple Ridge-based company that is going to steer Tam’s online campaign.
“I don’t mind tooting my own horn, but there are not many people who can build up a couple of thousand followers in a month or less and we are capable of doing that. That has a really viral effect.”
Shortt and his partner Jennifer are getting ready to launch Tam’s Green campaign via a website, blog, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
“If you want to hide, social media is not the place to be,” he says.
“It is not like advertising. The idea is that people want to know who you are, see what you look like, hear your voice, understand you, see if you have a sense of humour.”
It’s a tool that worked wonders for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In Canada, social media played pivotal role in helping Calgary’s new mayor, Naheed Nenshi, get elected, and during the B.C. Liberal Party leadership run by premier Christy Clark.
Overseas, Twitter and Facebook helped oust Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years.
Traditional politics, with its canned press releases, talking points and attack ads, doesn’t work in the social media landscape.
Its users look for candour, truth and creativity.
“People can see through the smokescreen,” explains Shortt.
“That type of stuff is ignored because there is an awful lot of cynicism around. People are looking at what you really think, don’t give me five minutes of talk. It’s an opportunity to set yourself apart and distance yourself from people – if you take it.”
‘Hey, I’m heading off to the store’
The Green Party isn’t the only party in the riding tapping into social media phenomena.
NDP candidate Craig Speirs has more than 500 friends on Facebook and keeps them apprised with status updates like this one – spelling mistakes et al:
“The Layton rally was amazing! While the other three parties are bickering about coalition this or coalition that Jack talked about the issues that really mean something in everybodies life. Truly a real family first platform. Off to the SPCA opening.”
He’s also been answering questions on Facebook and will soon be tweeting.
“I think the whole political system is going through a transformation of how we talk to people and, more importantly, people have gone through an evolution of how they want to be talked to, which is a really important thing,” Speirs said.
“If you want your message heard, you have to give it to people in a way that they are willing to listen.”
Mandeep Bhuller began tweeting even before he got the green light to run as a the federal Liberal in Pitt Meadows-MapleRidge-Mission.
He’s got a fairly substantial presence online that includes a website, a LinkedIn profile, several Facebook pages and two Twitter accounts.
Bhuller likes how social media allows him to clarify as well as broadcast his message.
“You can counter various perspectives, all in real time,” he said. “It gives you access to thousands of people to get your message out. It’s definitely an opportunity to engage new people and keep engaged people who are extremely busy in their personal and professional lives.”
Incumbent Conservative MP Randy Kamp has yet to write his first tweet, but is sure he’ll try his hand at a 140 character message sometime this week.
His online presence – a website and Facebook page – will be overseen by his campaign manager, Melissa Kramer, but you won’t find out what Kamp’s having for lunch.
“I think I am always fairly careful of how I communicate. I think I will be with social media, as well,” Kamp said.
“I have never really seen the value of simply saying, ‘I am heading off to the store’.”
Before he lets loose on Twitter, he’ll be seeking advice from his tech-savvy colleagues, MPs James Moore and Tony Clement.
“I want to make sure it’s an advantage, not a disadvantage,” Kamp said.
Find your candidates