Social media predictions for next NB election

While this post relates specifically to my home province of New Brunswick, I believe most of it applies equally to any jurisdiction.

The next provincial election in New Brunswick will be held on Monday, September 27. In anticipation of the start of the official campaign later this month, candidates and their teams throughout the province are gearing up their social media strategies and efforts.

Teams are setting up their Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, YouTube accounts and websites. In this day and age, these are all necessary in modern political campaigns. While their effectiveness may be debated to some extent, the fact is that their omission in any campaign would likely be noticed. If you’re a serious candidate, you’ll have all or some of these.

I’ve heard it said that this is the first provincial election in New Brunswick where social media will play a major role. While I agree to a certain extent, I’m not so sure it will truly play a role in getting anyone elected.

There will be a lot of repetition (candidates from a certain party sharing the same links, messages, etc.) and you have to take what everyone says with a grain of salt.

After all, let’s be honest, no political candidate or anyone on their team is completely unbiased. That doesn’t mean that everything they do and say is stretching reality, however the perception is there.

No, I don’t think the next election will be won in the realm of social media, but I do believe that it may be lost there.

There are five main parties – the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, NDP, Greens and People’s Alliance. Let’s say that all 55 ridings have a full slate of candidates, as well as about 10 independents. That’s 285 candidates. Out of those 285, I would say that at least 90 per cent of them (257) will be involved in social media activities of some sort, many of them for the first time. Let’s just look at Twitter and Facebook and leave websites aside, as the “instant gratification” of social media interaction isn’t there with them. Let’s assume that all 257 involved in social media have a Twitter feed and Facebook page. That’s 514 recipes for disaster if not handled well. (257 Twitter and 257 Facebook equal 514.)

Many candidates are getting involved in the realm of social media because they have to. It’s just what you do when you’re running for office in 2010 – whether it be in New Brunswick or elsewhere. Candidates are popping up all over social media. Because they don’t have a lot of experience and haven’t learned by their mistakes yet, we can assume that they’ll be making them during the campaign.

Here are some predictions for how social media will impact the campaign:

1) Inexperienced candidates or their workers will post messages to their public Facebook walls or Twitter feeds that were meant to be private messages. This will put the response in their newsfeed and send it out to everyone, much to their shock and chagrin, especially if the tone of the message is negative. Controversy will ensue.

2) At least one candidate or his/her team will say something so outrageous in a moment of politically charged and passionate online debate that the candidate will be forced to resign as the party’s choice to run in that riding.

3) Several apologies will be posted throughout the campaign for things written that should never have been written. This happens to even the most experienced people on social media. With the heavy usage by inexperienced people about to begin, this is pretty much a sure bet and will happen several times.

4) Social media-savvy journalists will have a field day with candidates’ mistakes online. Virtually nothing will go unnoticed. If you’re a candidate, be prepared for this and know from day one that anything you or your team says online will be fodder for reporters.

5) Some candidates will make the mistake of assuming social media has replaced door-to-door campaigning. This is not true. Social media is just a tool. It’s not really campaigning. Attending events, shaking hands, going door to door, etc., have not yet been replaced. While there are many older adults now using social media, they’re still in the vast minority compared to younger folks. And remember: older people vote, while younger people tend not to. While social media is important, it’s not a substitute for old-style politicking and meeting people.

6) If you’re a candidate, make sure you respond to people asking questions in social media forums. It’s not a one-way street of you posting links and sending out messages. People will ask questions. Make sure you’re monitoring your social media inboxes and feeds and getting back to people in a timely manner, just as you would if they had sent you a traditional paper letter, an e-mail or called your campaign office.

7) Remember that much of what you do and say in social media is public. Your opponents can see what you write, too. If you’re talking openly about strategy and upcoming events in a public forum, you can be sure that your opponents are watching closely – and you can be sure they’ll use it to their advantage as much as possible.

8 ) While you’ll probably have a younger crowd working your social media feeds, they also (usually) have less experience when responding to online arguments and controversial subjects. Make sure you have a process or response-approval hierarchy in place for responding to touchy issues or complicated questions.

9) Learn how to spell. Perfection isn’t required, but there are limits.

© Brian Cormier 2010

One Response to Social media predictions for next NB election