By Jason Menard
For a sub-species of people that make their living, in part, by going from door to door, it shocks me that certain politicians – including those who would benefit the most – are neglecting an opportunity that’s knocking louder than ever.
In fact, not only are they not hearing the knock – they haven’t even bothered to put up a door whatsoever.
Twitter can be the great equalizer in getting one’s political message out. It puts all candidates on equal footing and that’s why I’m shocked to find that, in my riding alone, the three so-called fringe candidates have no presence on that social network (and only one has a half-hearted Facebook presence).
Social media has been a godsend for those of us who enjoy watching the political theatre as it plays out. Not only does it allow us to stay abreast of the candidates’ activities and platforms, it also enables us to interact with other like-minded citizens. We can discuss and debate the issues, and learn from each other all with the goal of casting the most-informed ballot possible.
The savvy candidate will also see the benefit of engaging with the conversation as it’s happening – but you can only do that if you’re on-line.
Those so-called fringe candidates have a hard time competing in our semi-exclusive political system. Most of the ink (and the pixels) go to the big three: the provincial arms of the Conservatives, Greens, Liberals, and New Democratic Party. And adding the Greens to that list is stretching it as they’re often marginalized from the debates.
So if a party the size of the Green Party finds itself on the outside of the process looking in, what hope do the Libertarians, the Family Coalition Party, the Communists, the Reform Party, or the Independents have to reach the eyes and ears of the voters?
In the mainstream media? Very little. And in a city like London, with one major newspaper (and one other smaller daily), a couple of weeklies, one TV station with almost no local analytical content, and only a couple of news-focused radio stations (that mostly run syndicated programming), time and space is at a premium.
Some candidates over the years have raged against the media machine, but really there’s not much the media can do about it. You want to be fair to everyone, but they also have to be realistic. Until voters turn out en masse and make one of these fringe candidates a viable contender, then they’ll be relegated to also-ran status.
So knowing that the rules of the media game are stacked against you, why simply succumb to it? Why not be creative? Why not build your fan base upon interactivity, word-of-mouth, and interaction?
On a daily basis on Twitter there are numerous conversations, many bearing the hash tag #onpoli or, locally, #ldnont. There are solid questions being asked, platforms are being discussed, and the information is getting out there through the social networks. As a fringe candidate, why would you not want to get involved with that from a promotional level?
And, as a campaign team, not having a Twitter feed is absolutely irresponsible. Even if you don’t want to talk TO your potential constituents, you should be interested in hearing what they have to say. Social networks can be wonderful listening tools as well – you can ‘hear’ what people are saying about you, your political brand, and that of your opponents. That knowledge can be extremely valuable.
It’s low-cost, highly effective, and the ability to interact with the voters in your riding is absolutely priceless. And while social networking isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of political campaigns, it’s certainly a valuable item to have in your campaign arsenal. When you’re already fighting a political battle with a few arrows less than your opponents in your quiver, you need to make sure the ones you do have hit the mark.
Social media levels the playing field for all, giving each candidate equal access to the voters. It’s an extremely cost-effective opportunity – unfortunately opportunity can’t knock when there’s no door. And with no social networking presence that foundation isn’t just shaky – it’s non-existent.