One cannot get by on a Tweet alone.
That’s the message social media experts and young political advocates want to share with Canada’s government hopefuls as the May 2 federal election draws near.
Tim Robeson, director of advocacy for the College Student Alliance (CSA), says that while the majority of political parties are active on sites such as Twitter, they’re not utilizing the social aspect of social media to fully interact with their audience.
“There still seems to be some sort of disconnection,” he said. “We’ve had a number of cases where students have actually attempted to contact the political leaders via Twitter, but there has been no response.”
Stephanie Fusco, a post-graduate public relations student at Humber College, agrees. She says social media is making information more accessible, but online posts that purely regurgitate party rhetoric are unlikely to hold young people’s attention.
“Those (leaders) who are less social media-inclined have been using it to simply link to their websites and push information,” she said. “If you look through someone’s Twitter feed and see that all they do is push content without engaging and responding, you’ll probably ignore them.”
According to the CSA, the number of young people heading to the polls has dropped steadily since the 1960s. In the 2008 federal election, only 37 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds registered their vote.
To help turn around the trend of youth voter apathy, the CSA launched a new website on April 4. Itsyourvote.ca aims to be a “one-stop shop” for students, Robeson said, offering access to each political party’s website and all of the necessary information needed to vote. Through social media, the CSA hopes to not only inform, but to encourage debate, providing a platform from which students can share their views. Young people can interact on ‘The Social Student’ Facebook page, follow a live stream of election-related tweets and watch YouTube videos ranging from Rick Mercer’s rants to footage of last week’s flash mob by Guelph University students.
Daniel Gatto, president of the University of Toronto Liberals, says social media is helping to generate election buzz among students and inspire them to get involved.
“Since the election came around, I’m seeing more interest and initiative from people on campus that are new to the party,” he said. “Things are improving and I think Toronto youth in particular has become more interested in the political process.”
But for Fusco, political parties could be using social media more effectively. She says on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, transparency, interactivity and a personal touch is key. Canned tweets from PR staffers, particularly when not identified as such, won’t wash with this social-media savvy generation.
“When you use social media, you’re essentially putting a part of yourself online and engaging, authentically, with your audience,” she said. “Be personal. While posts about platforms, rallies and policies are important, we want to see a Twitpic of your cat and anecdotes about that funny thing your kid did on the campaign trail.”