If you want to reach younger voters, you have to… use the tools they’re using.

The title of this post is a quote. Not from a social media evangelist, but from Peterborough riding NDP campaign communications director Jeff Bergeron.

Canadian political parties are still a little wary of social media tools (the Conservative Party of Canada, in particular, was criticized for the lack of interactivity on its Facebook group, although that seems to have been rectified now). They’re a long way behind the US parties in using these two-way tools to communicate with citizens.

However, as the Peterborough Examiner noted recently, "From blogs, You Tube [sic], to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, this federal election is being battled out in the media and increasingly in cyberspace."

The ongoing cynicism is revealed shortly thereafter in the same article, as the local Green Party candidate Emily Berrigan states, "I value reality more than fictitious numbers."

What exactly do you think polls are, Ms. Berrigan? Certified?

She does have a point, to an extent. While there have been successes such as Michael Geist’s Fair Copyright for Canada group, there are many others that have failed to stir up support beyond people simply clicking to sign-up initially.

Untapped Potential

Facebook’s stats say over nine million Canadian residents have a Facebook account. That’s just under a third of Canadians.

We need to remember that these nine million people didn’t sign up to Facebook so that organizations could market to them, so any use of the site as a communications tool needs to be carefully thought-out. However, if you’re looking to start a conversation with Canadians, there are few tactics with this much potential.

You can be sure that less than nine million Canadians watch CBC News each night, or read the Toronto Star (of course, they don’t all go searching for your organization on Facebook, either)

Facebook also offers a wide variety of ways to reach people. Among those to consider (for a more comprehensive list check out Inside Facebook):

  • Facebook groups and pages for building communities (Jason Falls has a great guide to Facebook group and page best practices, which lays out the differences between the two)
  • Facebook applications to add interactivity (if you have something interesting or useful to offer)
  • Facebook polls offer a quick, targeted way to conduct research
  • Facebook advertisements offer one of the most targeted ways available to advertise
  • Facebook events are, I believe, the most-used event-planning application on the Internet

Of course, the effectiveness of Facebook as a communications medium will depend on the demographics you are targeting. If you’re looking towards the 50-plus age group, there may be better approaches (and they are quite likely offline). Bear in mind, though, that the 30-plus demographic is the fastest-growing group on Facebook.

Still, the very fact that a third of Canadians are on this one site shows that, if done in a way that doesn’t alienate people, there is a lot of untapped communications potential on Facebook.

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  • Do you think that’s one reason why Obama is leading McCain by a wide margin in the US? Obama’s use of new media is much better than McCain’s.

  • Dave — Nice post consolidating this thinking. I agree that it’s about identifying the audience, engaging where they live and adding value. What I am even more interested in is what these people do with these platforms once the election is over. I would assume most would just stop engaging now that they’re in office (or sitting at home wishing they were in office), but it is a huge waste of resources to let these die. I will be watching intently once November is done.

  • You are so very correct Dave… or rather, Bergeron is! Reaching voters – especially young ones – by using the ‘communications tools that they do’ would likely do much to counter the apathy we’re seeing. A CITY TV piece featured street interviews with young Canadians (under 25) and none of them said they were going to vote… Why? Because they didn’t know what was going on (i.e. not following the issues) or they admitted to paying attention to the US. Ugh.

    So using any and all tools at hand to get info out is key.

    , there is also a gap between young voters and the desire to actually get to the info.

  • oops… missed the “Granted” before the comma in that last sentence!

  • @Allan… I can’t imagine that Obama’s use of social media tools can be entirely credited for his popularity and margin. I would argue that by having the social media infrastructure in place for his campaign, Obama has given people a place to go to engage and show their support. The social media tools alone would have done nothing for him if he was not already an interesting and charismatic candidate with a strong media presence.

  • Catherine

    Obama has won the election only due to his campaign and not because of social media tool and all.
    ———
    Catherine

  • Catherine – fair enough, but you miss the point that social media was part of his campaign. As I wrote in a post the other day, his tightly-integrated communications strategy was key to winning – that’s how he got his message out.