Archive for the ‘facebook’ Category

Alberta election campaign heats up online… but is it all for naught?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

According to political scientist David Taras, quoted in a recent Canadian Press story, apparently so: “The basic rule so far is that things that go on in cyberspace don’t have an impact unless they’re picked up and legitimized by the mainstream media.”

And while I make no claim of academic rigour in my argument against Mr. Taras’ assertion, I tend to disagree.

Amid all the hype around the 2.0-ification of politics, and in particular the impressive application of these tools south of the border, I would suggest the web is still having an increasingly powerful impact on how politics is conducted and in the way voters inform their decisions – particularly those still sitting on the fence.

Without question, the mainstream media is still a highly relevant channel by which to engage voters of all stripes on the issues (as well as the non-issues). And it’s certainly easy to be dissuaded by the various attempts of various political parties and activists to exploit social media – we’ve all seen the “blogs” that offer no RSS nor any ability to engage with the authors. We’ve seen the Youtube channels that are simply a re-hash of TV ads with view numbers that only reinforce the perception of irrelevance. And we’re seeing the myriad yet seemingly necessary Facebook groups – be they official party pages, activists both “officialandun-official“ - emerging with little by which to measure their effectiveness or visibility within the broader campaign universe.

Likewise, the considerable noise among political bloggers of all stripes might speak more to the echochamber effect than real debate or dialog on the issues.

But, to me, that misses the point. First, a considerable part of any campaign is to mobilize existing supporters and provide them with the tools to support their activism on your behalf. Set aside the need to convert fence-sitters (which is still important), the real goal of a campaign is for my party to bring out more supporters than yours. And if I have the tools at my disposal to actively engage supporters, mobilize them, arm them with content to convert the fence-sitters on the party’s behalf, and make them feel like they’re part of a team – then I’m a long way toward achieving my goal (and doing so in a way that is extremely cost-effective, time efficient and visible to all supporters – and non-supporters – alike).

Sure, the social media stuff is sexy as hell… but from this observer’s perspective, only if it’s used well to mobilize supporters – getting them out to events, driving them to the polls, donating and putting forth arguments on your behalf in whatever forum is required – traditional media or otherwise. I would suggest, however, that we might see more of sites like this and this, examples of how political parties and candidates might use a blog to quickly and visibly counter misinformation, rumour, inaccuracies and other points of contention.

With respect to fence-sitters – and I’ve tended to be a fence-sitter for many different elections – my guess is that it would take a lot more than a Facebook group or a video to sway me. That said, and if used appropriately (and perhaps Dalton McGuinty nearly did it best in the last provincial election in Ontario), I would agree with Laura Shutiak, an Alberta Liberal candidate, who said in the CP article: “I think it gives people a sense of who I am. If it translates into a vote, great,” she said. “There are so many undecided voters right now that they’re looking for a sense of who a person is, and they’re looking to go a step further to find out more.”

As a means to create a more human connection between a candidate and a potential voter, the potential certainly exists, and I’m surprised it’s not more fully exploited across all forms of media.

Is it a first point of information as blogger Dave Cournoyer points out in the article? “The Internet is playing more of a central role in these campaigns because it’s where a lot more Albertans are looking for a first source of information,” said Cournoyer, who will also make his TV debut this campaign as a political analyst. “I don’t think it’s a distrust of the mainstream media. People are just accessing information in different ways.”

I would agree wholeheartedly, given the number of campaign guides and tools (including our very own Alberta 2008 election predictor) that exist to help point voters to informed education and debate. As the Internet expands what’s available to us – and as we seek out those who share similar ideas and viewpoints – it will certainly reinforce our existing political affiliations. But will it change them? I’m not so sure. And as Dave notes, we still for the most part put a degree of trust in the mainstream media to provide accurate, if not unbiased, analysis of the platforms and issues.

So what’s my point in all this?… like everything about social media, I think we need to ensure that we don’t get caught on the dark side of the hype, and understand the “real” value of what the web offers. And I think that’s something we’re still all looking for.

Alberta Election Predictor 2008 launches… What’s your take on the numbers?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

2008 Alberta Election PredictorOnce more into the breach! H&K Canada has today unveiled the newest edition of its highly popular Election Predictor franchise in time for the March 3rd election in Alberta, home to much of Canada’s oil and gas industry, and key driver of Canada’s economy.

As with previous versions, we’re giving Albertans (and anyone else with an interest in Alberta politics) to test their predictions and view how those predictions translate into seats.

You can also register to save your prediction and share it via your own blog or Facebook profile, and to see your predictions and the saved predictions of others via our Google Map.

As bloggers of all stripes jump into the debate, we hope the election predictor will provide an informative and entertaining perspective on the numbers. As always, we look forward to your feedback.

Update: Those of you seeking a good summary overview of the election platforms of the various parties, current polls, and links to a variety of relevant sources, can find it here and here.

Kerry Diotte at the Calgary Sun is also seeking your predictions on his blog here.

Check out the Globe & Mail’s Alberta Election blog (Alberta Votes) here.

When employees take it upon themselves to "communicate"… right way or wrong way?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Is Facebook ever dull? Not so long as issues such as this rise from the echo-chamber. Today, the National Post printed a small piece on a Facebook Group (3500+ members strong) created on behalf of Tim Hortons’ employees (although whether the creator is an employee is yet to be determined) to “educate” consumers on how to order.

Case in point: 

  • Stop telling us to “stir it well” there is no button on the cash register for that.
  • when you drive up to the speaker box have your order ready, we don’t carry “Give me a seconds” or “Hold ons”
  • Don’t ask “What kind of donuts do you have?” come in and look for yourself…

Albeit direct and to-the-point (bordering on… nay, definitely snarky) in terms of its “do’s and don’ts”, it highlights the growing issue of employees becoming unintended guardians of the brand (assuming that the creator is an employee given her intimate knowledge of all things behind the counter) – in this case from a potentially damaging standpoint. Or is it?

Well-intended it may be – though born out of frustration, no question. It certainly does not reflect the tone that the corporation would want to see communicated to customers. However, in this age of transparency and authenticity, I can’t help but wonder if customers wouldn’t appreciate such information – packaged perhaps a bit differently. I for one, still can’t order anything other than a “regular” coffee, and refuse to say any equivalent of large, one cream, one sugar. And while I support the notion that the customer is king (or queen), I also feel that my time is precious, so any information to move the line forward is appreciated.

Ultimately, I wonder if this form of communication highlights not only the issues and complaints of customers (which typically has been the focus of social media) but also those of employees – who are (in a roundabout way) communicating to their employers that a different form of customer communication could create a better experience all-round.

Keep hitting the refresh button… over and over (and over) again

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Easing gently into 2008, I thought I’d start off with a more light-hearted and somewhat ironic ode to that great time-waster, Facebook.


Issues management and the social Web – black and white, or shades of gray?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I was quoted this morning in an article related to an issue pitting Dalhousie University against a Facebook group protesting the school’s use of animals for research. You can read the story here (and find additional context here). It’s an interesting piece, although I feel the need to clarify my rather “sensationalist” quote.

Without question, this imbroglio is a clear example of the changing face of crisis communications and issues management in today’s networked world. It speaks not only to the speed and efficiency by which an issue can erupt and spread – both in the media and the blogosphere – but also to the issue of what organizations can or should do to respond. My colleague, Boyd Neil, a senior crisis practitioner, has also posted his thoughts on this issue.

In a growing number of instances, issues move through the blogosphere and social networking sites so quickly that trying to respond on a one-to-one basis would be virtually impossible, and a massive drain on resources. It would be akin to playing “whack-a-mole” versus strategically targeting your communications to those audiences and influencers that really matter, be they employees, loyal customers, communities, regulators etc. Likewise, the speed by which communities spring up around such issues, as was the case with Facebook, only adds to the complexity of this new landscape that we, as communicators, face. And that was, to some degree, a key point of my quote.

Further to that point is the question of when to respond and, if a response is deemed necessary (depending on the impact of the action being taken), how. In times of crisis, timeliness is still an essential component to any communications. Increasingly, however, timeliness must also be matched by an even greater focus on credibility, transparency and authority. As the social web grows, so too will the level of misinformation and speculation, either intentional or inadvertent. And that has clear implications around how an organization should consider the response they take. 

Ultimately, an organization must first decide if the issue (if left unchecked) might ultimately impact their “business” – be it a negative impact on sales, a substantive hit to an organization’s reputation, or reduced enrollment (as in the case of Dal). Or might it, as Boyd suggest, fade into obscurity?

Secondly, it must consider the environment in which this issue is unfolding. Per my comment on Boyd’s blog earlier today, and as I noted to the reporter yesterday, the social web can often be, to a degree, self-policing. In reading the comments on the Facebook group, you see a lot of folks supporting Dal’s arguments and taking a highly critical stance against the creator of the group. Which begs the question, should the school itself should seek to participate on this forum or let the masses fight the battle for them?

Additionally, it could be argued that when the “author” or “instigator” of an issue hides behind anonymity (or a name only), or is in no real position to comment with authority (meaning, is either a spectator or does not have the appropriate perspective or knowledge to truly decipher what that person has either seen or heard), does responding lend credibility to the “instigator” where none previously existed?

Furthermore, an organization must also explore how it might, if necessary, use its own online footprint to correct misinformation, address inaccuracies, and provide clarity on the issue in question. This might include posting links to third-party accreditations of its practices, and other endorsements from credible parties. It might include photos or video tours of specific facilities accompanied by neutral observers. And, as Boyd mentioned, it might include offering doubters the opportunity to see for themselves. In doing so, you are also arming your supporters with information and content that they are then able to use in other forums.

For the most part, legal action should, as Boyd infers, be considered a last resort. At the same time, organizations need to better understand the implications of social media, particularly in times of crisis, so as not to over-react to every negative comment, but also to know when to respond to prevent an issue from having a lasting impact on their reputation or business.

Canada’s banks get social…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Quite the trend appears to be unfolding in the Great White North as TD Canada Trust and RBC join Scotiabank, representing three of Canada’s five biggest banks, in embracing social media to engage with existing and potential customers.

Today, RBC announced that they are looking for a crew of student bloggers to “speak openly and honestly about their financial struggles and successes”, as part of a peer-to-peer site that is expected to go live at the end of this month. This adds to the bank’s existing investment in its just-launched Campus Connection sponsored Facebook Group.

Alongside RBC, TD Canada Trust has also unveiled its own sponsored Facebook Group – The Money Lounge - with an accompanying Facebook app – “Split it” (thanks to Kate for the heads-up) – which, like RBC, is targeted exclusively at the university and college student population.

All of this, however, falls on the heels of Scotiabank’s earlier forays into this space with the Money Clip podcast and My Vault community. Unlike RBC and TD Canada Trust, however, Scotiabank’s efforts have focused less exclusively on students and more on the broader retail banking customer (although it will be interesting to see if that changes).

Given the skyrocketing cost of Facebook sponsorships, I’ll be curious to discover if the results justify TD’s and RBC’s investment. I’ll be watching with interest.