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Open Source Brett Bell

Lessons From The Municipal Front

campaigns. T

wo municipal races that took place in Oc- tober are driving discussion on the role that social media and technology plays in modern According to a few breathless advo-

cates, social media was primarily responsible for getting the new Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, elected.

According to those who observed that

particular municipal contest, it was Nenshi’s savvy use of online tools that propelled him to victory. The results, they tell us, are proof positive that so- cial media is the ultimate campaign weapon. Only a few weeks later, outspoken Toronto councillor Rob Ford crushed his opponents to be- come the 64th

mayor of Canada’s largest city with

only a website, some YouTube videos and a few tweets. In that race, those who follow social media trends – even purveyors of social media software – were calling the Toronto mayoral contest the race that social media forgot. And Ford still managed to get elected.

The [Rob] Ford campaign treated social media as an adjunct to their campaign, as opposed to a key element of it. Instead, their campaign team focused on more traditional campaign techniques. Social media did play a role, but it was arguably minor.

Both results seem to tell us very different things about the role social media has in political cam- paigns in Canada. On the one hand, we have a campaign where social media played an important, if not critical, part in the victory of the candidate. On the other, social media and the online com- ponent of the campaign played a secondary role and seemed to have minimal impact on the results. So which is it? Let’s look at both campaigns a little more closely. By most accounts, the Naheed Nenshi cam- paign fully integrated social media from the

26 Campaigns & Elections | Canadian Edition

outset. Both the candidate himself and the sup- porting campaign utilized the most common- ly used social media tools to maximum effect. Nenshi had a clean and easy-to-navigate web- site; he conversed with voters regularly on Twit- ter; his campaign offered a series of videos that gave voters an opportunity to learn more about Nenshi and his policies and ideas for the city that he wanted to lead. His team held town hall meetings (posted on- line) where voters could ask him questions directly via Facebook or Twitter. His Facebook Page was an interactive community that had four to five times more fans than his opponents. Nenshi and his team understood the medium and they used it to get Nenshi‘s message out on a regular basis throughout the campaign – especially in the early days, when the mainstream media was virtually ig- noring his candidacy. Mayor-elect Rob Ford also ran a decidedly suc-

cessful campaign, but social media played a far less central role in core activities. Ford’s website was basic: the site design wasn’t particularly inspired and featured pretty standard information about the candidate, his policies, contact information, etc. His team did have a Twitter account and Facebook Page where the campaign posted updates on policy announcements and upcoming events. Occasion- ally they even interacted with voters.

But nothing

really new. Instead, Ford’s team focused on offline activities. Most notably, they spent considerable resources on “tele-townhalls”, where thousands of voters were called simultaneously and offered the chance to participate in a conference call with Ford to answer questions on his platform, his record on council or whatever else participants wanted to discuss. Ford was mocked in the media and by oppon- ents for releasing a number of YouTube videos to accompany major policy announcements, videos which consisted of Ford sitting in his office, looking into the camera and reciting remarks either written on paper or through some sort of a prompter. His team also released some humorous, crudely drawn cartoons spots

featuring an animated, muscular

Ford, adorned in a Superman costume, flying in and literally stopping the city hall gravy train in its tracks.

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