My thoughts on #Elxn41 – Week 1

This first week has really shown that social media is creating a new playing field.

1. Social media and main stream media are mutually leading one another

We’re seeing a really interesting reinforcing effect here: when an event happens, social media is all a-twitter about it. The thing is, Twitter is dominated by the top 20K of tweeters and that means a small group of heavy commenters are setting the tone and agenda for the campaign.

The other thing is that birds of a feather flock together on twitter – so we are seeing journalists commenting on events on-the-fly as themselves (their private selves) on Twitter. Journalists talk to one another. Those conversations then lead to more in-depth, insightful reportage and editorial commentary in the mainstream media.

This promotes more convo on Twitter and Facebook as people share the mainstream media articles. Fascinating.

2. Canada is having a massive conversation on social media – politicians better be listening

Canadians are using the #elxn41 and #cdnpoli hashtags to have a rip-roaring conversation about this election.

Citizens are interacting with their local candidates and getting a feeling of familiarity and personal connection. This is making this election personal for many people on a level that they have never experienced before.

The personal touch is what is making Ignatieff’s “open campaign” so successful in week 1. Mr. Harper’s command and control approach to the campaign thus far is really turning people off. It doesn’t feel conversational, it doesn’t feel natural. It feels like the PM is hiding something.

The debate will be another focus-point for the population.

Since many, many people have been tweeting away (or at least using their twitter accounts to listen to the convo) that means that they are expecting a human connection with politicians. The debate strategies for the parties must reflect this – if they deliver canned key messages and engage in sound-bite style ad hominem attacks, then people will react strongly against them.

3. This campaign is not abstract – it’s human.

This election has not been about abstract branding. In fact, abstraction just isn’t working.

Just hanging out at the café in my local bookstore demonstrated to me that people are questioning the adverts. Some have been convinced by the negative branding strategy the Conservatives have chosen to attack Mr. Ignatieff with, others have been convinced by their peers on social media that the Conservatives have been “doing a number” on Mr. Ignatieff. This goes against people’s feelings of fairness toward another human.

Why is this election human? Because social media has de-mystified the leaders.

Harper called Ignatieff out to a mano-a-mano debate on twitter and Igatieff responded. People took ownership of those tweets by re-tweeting them. It became personal for citizens – they were part of the crowd watching the fight in the yard.

Then Canada’s beloved Rick Mercer stepped into the debate and said he’d organize and moderate it. It became funny, human.This shows that this election is not about big macro branding. The leaders are not Apple vs Microsoft.

The leaders are being perceived as people – and that changes the strategic political communications arena.

4. Conservatives adrift

The Conservative campaign is adrift. It looks to me that they thought they would strike a killing blow by making this election about the coalition and the abstract demonizing of Mr Ignatieff’s career as a world-travelling and world-famous journalist and academic. It didn’t work. In fact the ad they played on March 30 on radio and tv featuring the cutline “A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Michael Ignatieff” felt like a Liberal ad – I think it helped the Liberals by raising Mr Ignatieff’s profile. The fact that the Conservatives pulled it pretty fast supports this point, I think.

Harper has also alienated the mainstream media by only taking 5 questions a day – this is profoundly “off-code” for social media. The Conservatives need to change their tack this week or face a possible change in momentum.

5. NDP – the fight for relevance

What we are seeing in the NDP campaign is an attempt to remain relevant.

Mr. Harper validated the Liberals as the left-wing alternative when he went hammered home the Liberal-led coalition message. This is bad for the NDP, because it means that their moderates could drift to the Liberals.

On the other side, the Green Party is staking out some territory as the “civil liberties” option – with active internal policy conversations about topics ranging from polyamory to pot. This will, in the long run, eat away at the civil liberty wing of the NDP.

The final problem the NDP face is that it is becoming painfully obvious that they really are not a national political party.

The NDP is only competitive in about 60-80 ridings nationally (depending on where you set the bar) – this makes it seem less and less credible when their leader claims he is running for Prime Minister. It appears as though the NDP is beginning to resemble the Bloc Québécois as a special interest party more than the NDP resembles the Liberals, Conservatives or even the Greens, as national parties.

6. Who won Week 1? Mr. Ignatieff, hands down.

An open, personal campaign with MPs conversing openly with constituents on social media, coupled with Mr. Ignatieff letting his hair down and taking an easy conversational tone, has made him the big winner in week 1.

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  1. Outstanding analysis. There are so many gaffes in the Conservative campaign that show a complete misunderstanding of how the world has changed. Running a blitz of ads increasing your opponent’s name recognition?Thinking that if you only take five questions there will be no conversation, rather than that the conversation will continue without you.

    Pepsi wasn’t the number 2 brand when it created the Pepsi challenge, but by challenging the front-runner, people assumed it was. Harper is reinforcing the Liberal’s strength as the only other national party that can lead. He’s uniting the left! Not smart.

  2. A great read – thanks for taking the time to write it and share (I just referenced it on my blog and have encouraged others to read it).

    The first week has been interesting, though there seems to be a large disconnect between the chatter and the polling.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  3. I also believe that Ignatieff ‘won’ the first week. So why do the polls indicate a growth in support for the CPC? What are your thoughts?

  4. I enjoyed that analysis. But although it appears bloggers and twitterers are engaged, most Canadians aren’t paying much attention to the election…yet.

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