By Beth Macdonell
“I heard someone call this the Seinfeld election. The election about nothing,” says James Norrie, a social media researcher and associate dean at Ryerson University. “It seems pretty apathetic out there.”
Still, Norrie believes in the power of social media. “If social media can provoke social unrest to the point that a government can fall,” he says, “it can mobilize voters.”
All the major candidates in Trinity-Spadina are using social media. They’re hoping to turn some of the apathy into engagement, albeit with slightly different strategies.
With the NDP’s Olivia Chow winning by only 3,484 votes over the Liberal’s Christine Innes in the 2008 Federal Election, how social media is used in the riding could impact who wins the race.
There are about 17 million Facebook and 4.5 million Twitter users in Canada. In urban Trinity-Spadina, Norrie says the impact of social media “is more potent because of density, population demographic, and availability of mobile devices.”
Trinity-Spadina’s Green Party candidate Rachel Barney is managing her own Facebook page as well as helping tweet throughout the campaign, but Jonathan Sas will be managing most of the social media communication. He’s an executive with the Trinity-Spadina Riding Association.
“A major strategy [of ours] is trying to engage a conversation with other candidates, not just tweeting our policies, but tweeting them at other candidates to differentiate and be vocal about where we are different,” says Sas. “We are battling two very popular candidates.”
Sas says the use of social media is integral to the Greens campaign in Trinity-Spadina. “We see a lot of wiggle room in the riding and we think social media is a key area we have traction in, where the Liberals and NDP might not.”
Chow and the NDP appear to be the most aggressive online. “It’s an integral part of our campaign,” said Joe Cressy, Chow’s campaign manager.
“Our campaign focuses on engaging with the residents wherever they are … Condos where people don’t answer the door, young professionals across the riding, people in apartments, homeowners in the north end of the riding. These [social media] tools are invaluable.”
In addition to Chow managing her Twitter feed and some Facebook updates, the NDP has also introduced online video streaming of their events, a new app for the iPhone and iPad, and a new text messaging service.
For Innes and the Liberals in Trinity-Spadina, the social media strategy is based on a philosophy akin to serving hot breakfast cereal.
“Our buzzword for social media is porridge,” says Tom Allison, campaign manager for Innes. “We want to make sure we are updating when it feels right,” he adds. “Not too hot, not too cold, just right.”
Allison also emphasized that messages should be interesting or else people will lose interest.
“Trinity-Spadina has more tech start-up companies than any other part of the country,” says Allison. It’s a very connected place.”
He says Innes is tweeting herself and helping update her Facebook page. So far, Allison says social media has been particularly helpful mobilizing volunteers. “On the first weekend of the campaign we were able to canvass one third of the riding because we used social media to alert everyone what our plan was.”
The Conservative party appears to lag behind the other parties when it comes to social media in the riding. Facebook pages have been created for the Trinity-Spadina Conservatives and their candidate Gin Siow, but a staff member will manage updates.
“It’s one of those things you need,” said Doug Lowry, Siow’s campaign manager. However, Lowry is quick to point out that social media is not the only place voters go for information and updates. “We know that there are a lot of people in Trinity-Spadina that use social media and that’s the way they communicate,” he said. “And there’s older people who like to read The Annex Gleaner, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and they don’t use it.”
Lowry said as of Tuesday, March 29, online messaging in the riding should reflect what the party tells them, “to a degree.”
“Ideally it takes on a life of it’s own and helps people take look at the party that wouldn’t have.”
“What’s really important if you look at Trinity-Spadina, is the candidates’ personal interactions,” says Norrie. ”It’s less important what the party is doing instead of how candidates are engaging with voters,” he adds. How many people the candidate is able to engage and have vote for them will be very interesting to see, he said.
Finding your Trinity-Spadina candidates online
NDP – Olivia Chow (Incumbent)
Website: www.oliviachow.ca , www.trinityspadinandp.ca
Facebook: oliviachow, Trinity-Spadina NDP
Doing herself: Twitter and some Facebook
LIBERAL – Christine Innes
Doing herself: Twitter, some Facebook