Election 2006 and Social Media – The Conservatives

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Be sure to check out all five articles in this series:

The blogosphere is no stranger to political opinion and debate. Canadians of every political stripe are blogging about candidates, policies and issues in all levels of government. In some cases, elected officials are also blogging, both to keep their constituency informed and to take swipes at their political opponents.

With Election 2006 fully underway, I took a look at the major political parties in Canada and how they, their candidates and their supporters are using social media to get their message across.

In this 5 part series, I review who’s blogging, podcasting, emailing, and interacting to promote their agenda online. In the spirit of full disclosure, I tend towards the left hand side of the political spectrum, but as a marketer, I’m interested in what all parties are doing to further the political conversation. But first, what do I mean by “social media”? I like Stowe Boyd’s definition of it:

Social Media are those forms of publishing that are based on a dynamic interaction, a conversation, between the author and active readers, in contrast with traditional broadcast media where the ‘audience’ is a passive ‘consumer’ of ‘content’.

It’s the conversation part that’s important to me; social media offers mechanisms (e.g. discussion forums, comments on blogs, event calendar/MeetUps, ecards, even branded downloads) to further a conversation between readers who are interested in a particular topic. This is a change for marketers where we have not always been interested in such a level of discourse; ditto for political parties. This conversation can take place online or off, in a single venue or many, but social media helps facilitate the conversation.

So, first up, the Conservative Party of Canada. There is a lot going on at conservative.ca and the language of social media is certainly present. On the home page, in addition to the “Volunteer”, “Donate” and “Request a Lawn Sign” links that are standard fare on political sites in 2006, there are links to Email Updates, Podcasts, eCards, and two Blogs; at face value, it seems like the CPC is using social media quite extensively. However, let’s take a look behind some of these features.

The eNews (newsletter) signup is pretty straightforward, just email and name. It’s actually also available on every page asking for just an email address. Very simple and effective.

eCards are a popular form of social media to engage audiences in conversation. The key is whether or not the eCard includes an invitiation to engage. The creative of the CPC’s eCards is not particularly engaging (although it is definitely on-message and on-brand).

I was able to preview the eCard I wanted to send, and I was pleasantly surprised by the opportunities it offered to the recipient to further engage with the CPC. The eCards contain tools that invite the recipient to Learn More (with direct links into the CPC website about the topic of the eCard), Donate, Volunteer, eNews Signup and Join.

Cpc_ecard_finish

The CPC website also invites visitors to subscribe to their podcasts. They provide feeds for both audio podcasts and video casts, along with instructions on how to subscribe in iTunes.

The CPC podcast itself is not original content produced for the web; it is an aggregated feed of speeches by Stephen Harper, an assortment of announcements by the CPC and CPC radio ads.

The videocast feed is a feed of their TV commercials and other video content. They have been ‘casting since November 2005 and  offer new content several times a week.

Cpc_podcastlisting

Cpc_youthblog
Conservative.ca promotes two blogs on their homepage: one for their youth contingent CPC Energy and one as an overall campaign blog . Social media proponents generally agree that the hallmarks of a blog (vs a website) is that it is personal in tone, that the author is clearly identifiable (even if it is an “anonymous” blog, there is still a known author), and that it provides a mechanism for readers to interact with the author – usually through comments and trackbacks. Neither CPC blog has any of these characteristics. It is unclear who authors each, the tone is relatively impersonal and there is no mechanism for readers to submit comments. This is actually the situation for most top-level party blogs.

If we look to individual candidate websites, however, a number of them have blogs that fit the above criteria, including allowing comments as well as actually responding to them. Individual candidate websites can be located through the Meet Our Candidates functionality on the CPC site, or through an independent conservative blog aggregator site, The Blogging Tories. Now, the Blogging Tories is not directly affiliated with the CPC, but they provide a valuable service, listing all conservative bloggers in Canada, including current MP’s and CPC candidates.

Supportfletcher
Steven Fletcher
, CPC Candidate for Charleswood/St.James in Winnipeg, has a blog (integrated into his campaign site) that allows both comments and trackbacks. He also has something that I’ve seen on very few party or individual candidate sites, a blog badge – a graphic that a blogger could put on their own blog to promote a particular candidate. Without exception, all candidates have a way for a supporter to request a lawn sign; the importance of real-estate on cyberspace lawns is not as well recognized.

Mr. Fletcher also offers a full feed of his blog postings as well as other announcements on his site.

Speaking of RSS, the CPC also has a number of feeds on its website; however, they are quite difficult to find. Bloglines cannot autodetect them from the homepage; they are buried under the “Press” navigation item. Even when on the CPC feed page, Bloglines cannot autodiscover them which is unfortunate as the CPC’s feed list is quite comprehensive: 10 different feeds ranging from announcements to speeches to press releases.

Most candidates who have blogs are promoting their RSS feeds as well. One example of excellent use of RSS feeds for a particular political candidate is Cindy Silver, CPC Candidate for North Vancouver . Ms. Silver has a single feed, visible on every page and easily auto-discovered by Bloglines, that integrates her press releases, speeches and appearances in the media. Well done!

Another feature that I looked for on national party sites is an Event Calendar; calendars and MeetUp schedules have proven effective in the US political realm for grassroots mobilization and fundraising. The CPC offers an RSS feed to its calendar, but it only has 7 entires and the last update to it was on Dec 19th. The event calendar listing on the homepage is only for the current day. Individual candidates will often post their calendars, but not with any consistency in content or interface.

The final element I looked for on a party site is branded downloads; does the party offer me anything I could take with me to continue my experience and relationship with the party. This could include desktop wallpaper and icons, screensavers, branded desktop feed readers or other gadgets as well as elements to include on my own blog (e.g. blog badges, election day countdown, cyber-citizen action pack templates, etc.). The only thing I found on the CPC site was a collection of desktop wallpapers, most of them of Stephen Harper.

So, how does the CPC stack up? All in all, the Conservative Party, both through its national party site and particularly indivdual candidate sites, is doing an admirable job trying to continue the conversation with its constituents. A little more openness and transparency in the authorship of its “blogs” would go a long way as would allowing comments and trackbacks on all blogs.

Additional support to the less “tech-savvy” candidates would help; clearly some really get it – leverage that expertise! Also, the creation of collateral for constituent bloggers to use would be a good idea.

Finally, even if the content isn’t created originally for the web, the CPC is kickin’ it with its podcast and videocast feeds – it makes it easy for press and citizen alike to stay on top of the latest from the Conservatives. Next up, the Bloc Québécois.

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