With the Ontario election coming, those who live in the province have become inundated by campaign materials and messages – flyers on doorsteps, volunteers on street corners, debates – and Facebook ads.
While it is electioneering, it’s something else as well: marketing.
The attack ads do get tiresome and the messages are often recycled, but many entrepreneurs would love to have the name recognition in their communities that politicians have.
Like entrepreneurs, a lot of politicians are first-timers. The most recent federal election saw about one-third of the seats go to first-time members of Parliament. Many of them may have had successful careers in other industries, but are trying something new.
Social media work for politicians and entrepreneurs for similar reasons. Both are competing for a share of voice and share of mind. They fight in a crowded space to stand out from their competitors and gain support. They run lean – well, not all of them, but a lot of upstart politicians are running their campaigns on shoestring budgets, in makeshift spaces with small teams. That’s a situation familiar to most entrepreneurs.
Social media really earned their political chops in the 2008 U.S. presidential election as a tool in Barack Obama’s successful campaign.
Since then, we have seen social media figure very heavily in the 2010 Toronto municipal election, the 2011 federal election, and it is looking social media will play an important role in the upcoming provincial election.
So what can entrepreneurs learn about social media from politicians? Here are a few lessons:
Get out there
This is perhaps the most important lesson.
Some were prepared and had large teams, with clearly defined strategies. Others did it themselves and just started to connect with people.
Either way, the numbers are telling. In January, 44 per cent of elected MPs were on Twitter. Eight months and one election later, 67 per cent (209 of 308) MPs are now on the network.
They know it’s a great way to connect, ask and answer questions, and share information.
If you’re not sure about bringing your small business on to social media, the sooner you get off the fence and start to engage, the more you will learn, and the more time you will have to build your channel.
Your customers are out there
Realizing early that social media were going to be an important tool for building grassroots support, the federal New Democratic Party embarked on a large-scale social media drive leading into the most recent election.
They encouraged candidates to engage and built substantial followings on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Former leader Jack Layton famously used the popular Twitter term “hashtag fail” in the leaders’ debate.
One of the party’s key target audiences – young people – happens to be the most engaged demographic in social media, and the NDP saw the rewards of attracting younger voters more than any other party.
While young social media-inclined urbanites may or may not be your target demographic, keep in mind that Canada is one of the most engaged social media countries in the world, and the demographics are constantly changing.
If your customers, potential partners or audience aren’t out there yet, they will be soon, and they’ll appreciate it if you’re there waiting for them.
Social media can show people who you really are, but be careful
One of the most compelling features of social media is the value that authenticity can bring.
Public figures have had great success reaching new audiences and showing new sides of themselves through their adoption of social media.
While T oronto city councillor John Parker landed himself in hot water recently for tweeting about the “hot chicks” present at a work function, others have embraced new media more successfully.
Treasury Board president Tony Clement has become a model for politicians on social media in Canada. With frequent tweets and an honest, personable style, Mr. Clement has earned praise for his approach to Twitter and has built a large following.
On the weekend he was joking about the Emmys, tweeting that “Charlie Sheen looked like he was encased in carbonite.”
Once he was back to work on Monday, Mr. Clement was talking about what was going on in the new session of Parliament, and answering questions about the process.
This type of social media use will probably work well for Mr. Clement in the next election - if he’s careful.
For the small business owner, Mr. Clement’s model equates to a dedicated line to your customers, a network of brand ambassadors and a great group of people to share with when it comes time to launch your new product or initiative.
Who doesn’t want that?
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.
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