Greens dominate social media election landscape
Published Wednesday, March 30, 2011 1:55PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:20AM EDT
OTTAWA - Blue, red and orange are the main political colours on the streets during this federal election campaign, but the dominant colour online could turn out to be green.
Word that Green party Leader Elizabeth May will not be included in the televised federal leader debates exploded on Twitter, briefly pushing out almost all other election-related chatter.
But unlike other issues, such as the coalition debate or tax breaks that are taken up online after a party announcement, this one was partly pushed forward by the Green party.
"People on Twitter are very engaged in these issues, people on Facebook and people on blogs," said Green party spokeswoman Camille Labchuk.
"Social media is really helping to push this story forward."
An analysis by The Canadian Press and digital public-affairs strategist Mark Blevis suggests that more than 1,500 messages about the Greens or Elizabeth May have been sent in less than 12 hours.
Before Tuesday night, there were fewer than 500 a day abut the Greens or May.
"What you really need is a good issue and people to get excited about it to drive the traffic," said Blevis.
As soon as the decision that May was being kept out of the debate became public, Green party activists headed to Twitter, signalling that those interested in the issue should use a particular hashtag to signal their support.
Fourteen minutes later, they realized the chosen tag was too long, switched it, and the newly chosen tag dominated the conversation for the rest of the evening.
In total, around 800 messages were sent in less than 12 hours with the #emayin tag saying that May should have a role at the debate.
Sixty per cent of the messages sent were from people just re-tweeting posts about the issue, suggesting a small core of people are responsible for the majority of the traffic.
It's a clear example of why social media can be a force in an election, Blevis said.
"It's not just about the conversation," Blevis said. "It's also about simple and scalable calls-to-action."
Among May's supporters has been Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who has been sending tweets asking why the Green leader is being excluded.
The party jumped into action quickly, throwing up an online petition site that received more than 90,000 signatures by Wednesday morning and creating a dedicated Facebook page as well.
May's Wikipedia profile has also already been update to reflect that at this point she won't be in the debates.
When the issue of May's participation surfaced back in the 2008 election, Facebook was virtually the only social-media platform in play. Twitter has changed the game, Labchuk said.
In 2008, it took two days for the other leaders and the parties to start responding to the issue, she said. This time, it was two hours.
"It's going more quickly and more people are being reached by the news," she said.
The Green strategy during this campaign will continue to focus on social media, as May is hoping to remain in her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in order to focus on winning a seat.
But it appears that May's online presence has also lured her opponent into that battleground as well.
Gary Lunn, the Tories' minister of state for sport and the longtime MP for the B.C. riding, sent his inaugural tweet Wednesday morning.
"I'm looking fwd to debating EM on the issues that matter to (Saanich--Gulf Islands)," he wrote.
The Canadian Press analysis of social media during this campaign is being carried out daily, with Blevis using a mapping program called Sysomos to scan Twitter, blogs, online forums and other social media sites for election-related traffic.
The methodology is not scientific, as searches are being tailored to try to capture material that is clearly linked to the campaign by using a set of 10 hashtags for Twitter and specific key-word sets for other media.
It is possible that some material is being excluded as a result.