It has been 4 years since Barack Obama swept to power on the backs of what many hailed as a mastery of social media. Books have been written on the topic.

It has been 2 years since Naheed Nenshi became Mayor of Calgary employing a similar tactic of openness, and engagement.

NO EXCUSES

In 2012, there is no excuse for a politician NOT to be on Twitter. Social media is not a flash in the pan, it has legitimacy, longevity, and effectiveness. For politicians not to be on Twitter, they recognize an inability to be innovative, open, and engaging.

Still, some try to turn on the social media machine just at election time. They start tweeting out policy platforms, broadcasting appearances for a few weeks while courting votes, only to turn the tap off once they win (or lose).

That is not how this game works. Social media is not something you turn on, it’s something you do. Always. And with that kind of “always on” mentality, there are massive pits that politicians can fall into causing social media backfires that can cost them votes.

Albertans go to the polls on April 23, an election many have seen coming for nearly a year. The social media savvy have been using Twitter to engage in policy discussions and platform debates. Unfortunately, while engaging the electorate in the debate, not all have done it in the best manner.

TWITTER OPENNESS CAN BACKFIRE

I have had no fewer than 4 interactions with members of one party that completely soured me on their reputation. One sitting MLA, one nomination candidate, one candidate, and party supporters all attacked me when debating various issues.

I have argued that political parties need to trust their supporters to spread the message by handing out ‘digital lawn signs‘. Banners, twibbons, and graphics that party faithful can use in blogs, twitter, and facebook to proclaim their affiliation and spread the gospel.

The problem arises when those who take the mantel of the party mantra are not trustworthy. In passionately defending their policy, the undecided voter sees not a supporter, but the party logo. The supporter becomes one with the brand and despite a leaders’ best intention, the branding is set.

I will not be voting for this party that had members, and supporters, attack debate on Twitter. When dealing with an undecided voter, you need to tread lightly, with respect. Undecided voters are valuable property that need convincing, and persuading instead of punishing.

In a parliamentary system, a team is sent to legislate with the team’s captain anointed as government leader. When social media is used aggressively, the team can bring down the leader a very slippery slope.

TRUE COLOURS

While this may cause many politicos to lock up the dogs and dial down the passion of their social media campaigns, I have found it a useful tool to see one party’s true colours. Very often, in politics, the electorate is fed a very tightly controlled message of strict talking points. When candidates, supporters, and leaders go off the rails we get to see the true measure of the Wizard pulling the strings in Oz.

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