Social Media in Politics

Grant Bachand | Team Member

In today’s highly technological era, everything is available at the touch of button. Even getting in touch with certain elected officials has become easier than ever before; at the same time there are officials who are still as inaccessible as ever.

I had this realization the other day as I was commenting on an article posted by the MLA for Vanderhoof, John Rustad. Commenting on an article he had posted about global warming, I found that he was exceptionally easy to for me to get ahold of, and if I had a grievance that I wished to air I knew I could contact him. This was due to the fact that Rustand is very active on social media. On the flip side we have Dick Harris, the MP for Caribou – Prince George, who doesn’t even have a Facebook page for me to look to. If a voter wanted to talk with him, they could go down to his office or email him, but past experiences of doing those things have proved to be unfruitful, as a response (if any) has sometimes taken weeks.

This got me thinking: should being a politician in the 21st century obligate you to be highly accessible and easy to contact? Should politicians start a Facebook page devoted to the purpose of keeping communication easy and simple as soon as they get elected into office?

Naheed Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, is a prime example for social media utilization, and how to do it right. During the floods in 2012, the mayor was on Twitter, contacting residents of Calgary and replying to their needs during the freak rainstorm that hit Calgary in the summer. He was coordinating rescue services and answering question of residents who were in need at a time of crisis. He has since been a great example of a politician who knows what he is doing when it comes to social media. Nenshi, @nenshi, has 88,600 thousand likes on his Facebook page and has 209,000 thousand followers on twitter. A quick glance at his Twitter shows retweets of missing dog posters and replies to people’s questions. Nothing is below this mayor to reply to, including one comment from a resident of Calgary asking the mayor if right hand plows would work better than their current model. This question prompted immediate response from Nenshi about a study the city had conducted on the effectiveness of the current model instead of a change. Keep in mind that this is the mayor of a city that has 988,000 people living there. Nenshi is a great example of something that all politicians should look at and strive towards when it comes to open communication between the people of a community and their leaders.

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Looking towards our own local government we have some who are really promising and some people who need to do some more work on their online presence. Brian Skakun seems to be one of the better city councilors at this task; his Twitter @BrianSkakunCity has 1,388 followers, and he has a separate Facebook page that has 727 likes. Keep in mind that Brain Skakun is no newbie to the idea of open communication between city council and its community. Last winter he chimed in quiet extensively about the city’s failure to keep the streets clear of snow, even going so far as to post pictures of city equipment doing nothing while a huge dump of snow hit our city.

Jillian Merrick, @newjillenium, like Brian Skakun, is excellent at social media; for a new councilor she has 698 likes on Facebook, and 484 followers on Twitter. Garth Frizzell, @garthfrizzell, can teach all his colleagues a thing or two about social media. Leading the roster at 2,202 followers on Twitter, he knows how to use the Internet to help people stay informed.

The other councilors either have Twitter and have so few followers that it isn’t worth mentioning, or they don’t have it at all.

Mayor Lyn Hall does not do a bad job on this front either; @Lynhallpg has 585 followers with whom he openly speaks and answers questions. The Nenshi model shows us that if you are going to have social media you need to be active and ensure that communication is not just a one-way street. Hall uses the Nenshi model, and has tried to structure his mayoral campaign after the example Nenshi set. Hall did a good job during the campaign of keeping up with social media, although it would appear he is slowing down a bit after the campaign.

This amounts to more transparency in government and healthy communication between residents and local leaders. Provincial and Federal politicians could learn from the Nenshi model too. The twenty-first century is a whole new world, and social media is a huge part of that world, so it is important that our elected officials adapt to it. Because they are representing our needs, they should easily be able to hear those needs, or what are they doing in office any way?

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