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Facebook groups like CAPP are not meant to become a political force in and of themselves. The true utility of social media in politics is to provide people from all walks of life with the tools to engage on specific issues, and to organize themselves in an organic fashion that traditional political par- ties cannot. And by that measure, CAPP is a success. An unscientific poll

by the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute of over 340 members of the anti-prorogue group shows that its membership goes beyond the Generation Y cohort Facebook supposedly repre- sents: members cover a wide range of age groups, backgrounds and political experience. However, it’s interesting to note that almost all of those who answered the survey are somewhat or very engaged in federal politics (88%) and virtually all of them (96%) voted in the last election. If the self-selecting poll holds true to the rest of the members, CAPP has a formidable membership. The group could also boast that it directly assisted in the organization of over 60 rallies across Canada, the biggest one in Toronto numbering close to 15,000 people. However, poll- ster Nanos is essentially correct: groups like CAPP are a low- entry transaction. That’s the value they bring to individuals and groups that are organizing political campaigns. While media observers and political pundits may place a higher value on an individual who takes the time to ring up the local riding association and speak to the local membership secretary, the smarter campaigns are using Facebook as a point of first contact with like-minded or accessible voters. The user-friendly nature of the Facebook interface allows

individuals to engage in base retail politics in a manner and environment that is familiar to them. This particular value cannot be underestimated; if you are looking to engage Ca- nadians, you need to go where the fish are. And with over 8 million active profiles in Canada - only the U.S. has more of its population on Facebook - that social network is one mighty big pond. Further, with the “six degrees of separation” method which Facebook uses to disseminates information – where informa- tion shows up from your friends shows up in your feed – key messages from the CAPP page end up going out to a much wider audience than just the core group. Statistics tell us that the average Facebook user has approximately 250 friends; that means messages from the CAPP group have a potential au- dience of over 62 million people. So, those protesting the prorogation of Parliament weren’t just being trendy; they were using a social tool for (politically) social purposes. The key challenge to a group like CAPP is what to do with the members once they show up. This is an important area where traditional political parties hold a distinct advan- tage over new organizational mediums like Facebook groups. Facebook and other social networks can serve as excellent tools to connect and identify potential supporters. However it is absolutely crucial to future campaign success that the initial contact be transferred to a real organizational structure. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rob Willington, the social media director for the successful Scott Brown Senato- rial campaign in Massachusetts and one of the key architects of his candidate’s online domination of Brown’s opponent

and heavy favourite, Martha Coakley. Willington explained that upon adding their profile to Brown’s Facebook page, the Brown Brigade social network or even signing up to help Brown through a Google ad the campaign designed, they re- ceived a call from a field organizer within 24 hours. “If you sign up for something and then two weeks go by,

you’re going to forget you even signed up for it”, Willington said. “And our field directors had huge goals, so they had a self interest in signing those people up in their region because they had to report daily whether they’ve hit their goals for door knocking and phone calling. They had a real interest in getting people who signed up online into their networks.” This is where the Browns and the Obamas of the political

world truly excel. It wasn’t solely the sheer numbers they were able to attract to visit and interact on their Facebook pages; they were able to seamlessly fuse together a vast online social network with a sophisticated campaign infrastructure. The prevailing misconception of the Obama campaign’s use of social media is that it was an end of itself. In fact, it was merely the initial identifier that the campaign then used to scoop up volunteers and get them making phone calls in key areas, knocking on doors in their community and talking to their neighbours. That is not to say that the CAPP group did not generate some organizational capacity.

Rallies were only one, albeit

high profile, action taken by group members. The Facebook group also facilitated letter writing and phone calls to local MPs – or at least offered resources on how to do so. A num- ber of Conservative MPs I spoke to did indicate they were under varying degrees of pressure from the public to “get back to work”. But they also told me that the calls, letters and e- mails ended fairly quickly, which speaks to the reality of how difficult it is to maintain a sustained campaign of this nature without a real organization to support it. If the CAPP group and its role in the public prorogation debate has taught us anything, it is that Facebook has a utility far greater than building farms, conducting imaginary mafia wars or reconnecting with high school chums. Social net- works have the ability to cut a huge swath through established political paradigms and allow interested people to organize themselves how they see fit. Nevertheless, the CAPP efforts also demonstrate how im-

portant real “boots on the ground” organization is if one is to affect real political change. To properly use Facebook for political purposes, one must view it not as the final destina- tion, but as a huge intake area where campaigns must success- ful convert group members to committed activists through personal interaction and real online relationship building: the “social” aspect of social media. To achieve real political goals, your online efforts must mir-

ror those within you campaign structure. Otherwise, you may as well be spending your time perfecting that “Death To The U.S. Hockey Team” Fan page.

Brett Bell is the principal of Grassroots Online (www.grassrootson- line.ca), a consultancy specializing in social media and online cam- paign strategies. He is also the founder of Toronto Election News and Ottawa Election News websites.

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