The wireless revolution, with devices like the Blackberry and the Iphone making it possible to walk around in constant touch with the internet in addition to the ubiquity of cellular phones, constitute a sea change in the way people communicate. Here in Alberta the recent debate over Bill 44 (see post below) energized a politically aware population to reach out to one another via the new ‘social media’ of Twitter, Facebook etc. What was revealed was that these media had the power to bring together hundreds of people, both specialists and non-specialists, in direct contact in real time. This new information environment is going to change the way politics in Canada works.
There are a number of elements to this process of change, but for today I want to concentrate on two. The first is the importance of information management. The single greatest advantage of these new digital communication media is also their greatest weakness – essentially limitless access to information. On the up side this means that it is possible to access information about events or individuals with ease. On the other hand it is difficult to track the importance of a given piece of information, given the sheer mass of data.
To cope with the drawbacks inherent in the sheer scope of the available information a few things are necessary. The first is proper use of modern database technology, with which the social media world is a treasure trove of data as well as another platform for discourse. The second is the ability to dedicate the time to learning how to use the technology and to understand the players who are important to the issues that matter to you. This will allow you to sift the wheat from the chaff with greater ease.
To take advantage of the up side you need to get your voice out there, and contribute to the discussion. There is enormous potential to build relationships with potential supporters and allies, and to keep an eye on the thinking and actions of your political rivals. Recognize the strengths of these media, and attempt to add content and respond constructively to those who reach out to you. Press releases are best done elsewhere – link to them in social media, don’t treat them as content.
That leads me to the second major area I wanted to talk about today - messaging. With the move into the information-rich environment of social media the importance of a clear and coherent message becomes magnified. It is possible, via twitter and Google, for a potential policy resolution to be leaked, the research inspected and thousands of decisions made before the document is even announced. It also means that everyone on your team is now a part of your communications staff, whether you want them to be or not! As a result politicians and political parties are going to find that the value of a powerful vision and solid communications preparation are magnified.
The development and rapid spread of social media is an evolutionary challenge for the inhabitants of the political jungle. Those who are able to develop clear and compelling visions and then build strong relationships will prosper. Those who treat social media as an annex to traditional non-interactive mediums will be punished by receiving less information and fewer new allies. In blunt terms the first party to understand and develop the potential of social media to meet and develop its supporters will have a lasting advantage over their competition.