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Digitizing the Human Touch


By Mark Blevis I


n his 1987 song “Straight to My Heart”, Sting laments a coming day when technology will negate the need for human intimacy. It’s a cheery pop tune that consid- ers “a scientific means to bliss will supersede the human


kiss.” I believe intimacy and politics have a lot in common when it comes to technology; advancements may enhance the experience, they’ll never replace it. Despite the push toward digitizing election campaigns and Calgary Mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi’s recent election victory (which was attributed in part to his effective use of social media), I foresee no significant technological up- heaval on the horizon -- certainly not in Canadian politics. This is where I should acknowledge a comment on one


of my recent blog posts. I wrote about some missed digital opportunities of candidates in Ottawa’s municipal election. In response, a commenter noted (in a productive way) it’s easier to be a critic and if professionals like myself were part of the campaign team, we wouldn’t have to blog about them. Touché. I would love to see political engagement and voter


turnout increase and I believe digital channels can play a significant role in making that happen. The problem is po- litical campaigns are still treating digital as an afterthought -- a stick-on to traditional campaign activities. In some cases, campaigns are only half-heartedly adopting digital, deciding to allocate a portion of funds to social media as a discrete effort loosely connected to the campaign and run by a volunteer’s teenage son or daughter. Loose integra- tion will do just enough to ensure digital efforts will fail, perhaps chipping away at the effectiveness of the tradi- tional activities in the process. So, I’ve started pulling my thoughts together. They’re


producing one heck of a great mind map that, in its cur- rent state, makes sense only to me. And yet, I feel it’s im- portant to translate some of my experience with online


56 Campaigns & Elections | Canadian Edition


community building and social media engagement in the corporate world into something useful for the politi- cal community. For the purpose of this article, I will offer three collected insights. A campaign strategy must be integrated. We're past the point where traditional campaigns can function in isola- tion. Digital activities must be conceived, planned and ex- ecuted in the same way and at roughly the same time as traditional activities. This means making tough decisions on the allocation of people and money (nobody said an election campaign would be easy) or recruiting more vol- unteers and doing more fundraising. I've noticed, for ex- ample, there were fewer lawn signs in our recent municipal election. This means either fewer people are making public declarations of candidate support, or candidates are saving budget dollars (and the environment) by cutting back on printing signs. Sadly, there was nothing like a digital lawn sign for supporters to declare their intentions in the online world. A truly integrated strategy would have made sure signs were available for passing eyes to see in any world. Use the tools you need and use them well. It's easy to want to


reach the masses by creating profiles on all of the recogniz- able digital channels and social media networks (e.g. blogs,


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