Social Media in Manitoba Provincial Politics: Would it Have Mattered?

2011 Manitoba Election Results In the Manitoba provincial post-election Tweet-stream, @susie_parker kicked off a brief discussion about how there was little to no social media activity from the political parties. If you were following, you may have noticed that none of them seemed to have a social media strategy at all. One comment ran along the lines that during a busy campaign, they wouldn’t have had time to tweet consistently or effectively. (I’m paraphrasing and interpreting some brief tweets here.)

The comparison to Barack Obama’s legendary campaign was inevitable for his effective use of social media. Would social media have changed the outcome of the Manitoba election? Not likely — as @miguelcarrasco tweeted:

Social media is no silver bullet — if people don’t connect with your message, they’re not going to talk about it. At least, not in a positive way. A couple of points in the discussion made me think about how social media might be used  effectively in a political campaign despite the mayhem that these can be. And it dawned on me pretty quickly that not taking on social media as a tactic for spreading a campaign message is based on a misconception, a poor strategy, or a complete lack of one. If you assume that you’ll have to generate all the twitter (or other social media) traffic yourself, you have no strategy. The point of spreading a message — political or otherwise — is to have other people engaged in doing the work of spreading it, adding their own voices to the dialogue as it ultimately reshapes the message.

I said that the fact that social media is time consuming is a poor excuse for not doing it, for which Erica Glasier took me to task, saying it was in fact NOT a poor excuse, because social media genuinely “takes strat[egy] time, production time, monitoring time, training time, [and] chit chat time.” She made some good points, noting that Social Media

And here I don’t disagree — she identifies the challenge well, knowing this one from the inside. We also agree that a poor effort can backfire and come off worse than no effort… but I’m not convinced that it shouldn’t have been tried.

Does social media take time? Of course it does, if you’re going to monitor it properly and respond appropriately in real time. But the tactic can’t be written off without evaluating the potential reward… that’s just lazy. In this case, the reward is enabling a huge number of people to easily participate in not only spreading a message, but shaping it as well, taking part in a dialogue, and getting engaged enough to make the effort to vote.

Speaking as a Social Media Professional, @EricaGlasier’s opinion is that the political parties in Manitoba could not have afforded the cost of running an effective social media strategy. But I’m not quite convinced that some of the money spent on media buys, travel, telephone, and printing election signs could not have been diverted to an effective social media campaign.

What do you think? Should Manitoba’s provincial parties have used social media, and how could it have been done effectively? Or is it too seismic a change, better to let lie? Would it have made a difference either way?