The use of social media by politicians has increased in recent years as more and more people flock to sites like Twitter and Facebook. In fact, Bill Curry from The Globe and Mail referred to last year’s federal election as “Canada’s first social media election.”
I wanted to see if Manitoba politicians were using social media during the provincial election campaign. I did some very basic research, and quickly discovered that very few politicians used Twitter as a two-way communication tool. Rather, for the most part, politicians on Twitter used the social media platform to rehash their parties’ campaign announcements.
I also tried sending direct messages to a few politicians to see if anybody would answer me. To my chagrin, I am still waiting to hear back from all of them.
The question then lends itself: If politicians and candidates aren’t using social media effectively in their campaigns, should they be using it at all?
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In an article on NPR’s website written by Linton Weeks entitled Politics In The Social Media Age: How Tweet It Is, Facebook employee Adam Conner states that using the social media website is an excellent way for a candidate or campaign to keep everyone – constituents and the media, in particular – up to date on goings-on.
Although social media sites such as Facebook are important, Matthew Hindman, assistant professor from George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, noted that updating social media sites is cumbersome. Referring to the American political experience, he said that “many candidates just use them as window dressing.”
Both Weeks and Hindman’s assessments are quite accurate when considering the use of social media in the Manitoba election.
Can using social media effectively work to a politician’s benefit?
Simply having Twitter and Facebook accounts isn’t good enough anymore. Politicians who use them as platforms to communicate with their constituents reap the rewards.
To use a Canadian example, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s campaign was fantastic. He used social media effectively to build-up a grassroots movement that swept him into office. As his chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim stated, online followers could expect personal responses from Nenshi himself regardless of whether the post praised him, or was critical.
Building a genuine and personal connection to your constituents is the only practical way to use social media. Without two-way communication, the use of social media to persuade them to act – whether by volunteering, contributing funds, voting, or otherwise – is squandered.
So, should politicians use social media?
Yes, they should use it only if they are willing to engage voters rather than rehashing press releases.
Though it is impossible to truly measure how successful and important the use of social media is in political campaigns, we can draw one undeniable conclusion: If politicians aren’t willing to make the commitment to use social media as a two-way communication tool, there is very little point in using it at all.