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The Punditocracy, my awful prof, and winning elections (a how-to guide from an amateur)

28 Jan

As we’re on the cusp of two elections – federal  and provincial – I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to win, who has the power, and what well-run campaigns have in common.  What caused NB’s Tory sweep?  Not just electricity issues.  Political organization and election readiness.  But was there more to it?  I haven’t figured it all out yet, I guess.  But with talking heads chomping at the bit for stories in slow-news January, election predictions have me thinking about pundits.  Are the people who write scathing editorials actually ruling public opinion?


On Tuesday night, I sat through a grating Public Policy class at UPEI.

“I hate Harper,” said the prof, “…he’s a dictator! People have said that he’s a dictator!  He has all the power and can do anything he wants.”  I grimaced instinctively because she sounded like a 2003-Bush-Basher.  Nine times out of ten, the Bush Basher was fairly correct in their bashing, but were unclear exactly what Bush did wrong.  I’m not a great Harper fan myself.  I didn’t vote for him, though I will next election because I support Donna Profit.  But, without sounding  like a self-righteous twat, I was kind of shocked by how this ‘educated’ woman was more or less repeating Liberal talking points.  Of course Harper’s not just going to wantonly run the country on his own personal agenda.  Of course he has advisors and a party and public opinion to be concerned about.  Her arguments sounded like the abysmal first-year Global Issues papers I used to mark.  Her politics were pretty self-evident throughout the class, which is fine, but I got the distinct sense she only half knew what she was talking about.  I might be judging too harshly, but Liberal talking points are free on the internet and I’m paying money to take that course..  Anyway, I left annoyed but vowed to stick with it so I can effin graduate, finally.

Not thinking much of it, a couple days later, my mind wandered back to a Summer day in Opposition Office with The Director.  We were talking about Federal politics and what it would take for Islanders to like Harper. It’ll never happen, he said, the Liberals were really successful in branding him as evil.   And he was so right.  The Libs had the longest party dynasty and very successfully used it to their advantage to negatively brand Harper in a long-lasting way that especially resonated in Atlantic Canada*.  But how much of that was the Liberal’s fault, and how much could be attributed to parroting talking heads?  As Rick Mercer says in this video(feat. the best Canadian attack ad spoof ever made), the Liberals built a political dynasty that was one of the longest in Canadian history.  They successfully branded themselves as ‘the’ patriotic party during a period of weak opposition. It was great politics.  And without diminishing the cleverness of pundits, the Liberal talking points paved the way for hundreds of articles on how Harper acts unilaterally, when, in fact, there is some evidence of this – but it’s wildly blown out of proportion.   There are so few ideological cleavages between the federal Liberals and minority Conservatives.   Anyone who argues differently works for a party or lives in Alberta (which is, more or less, working for a party.)

This Summer I was at a McKenna function trying to cajole my large extended family into voting for Olive at the Tory leadership.  Eventually, most did**.  But this particular week, Paul MacNeill of the Graphic fame had written something scathing about Olive, or her chances of winning, or why she ought not win.  I forget now, but it wasn’t complimentary.  I was in the middle of my Olive pitch, and one of my uncles said, “Lookit, Paul MacNeill might have a point! He knows this stuff inside and out!”   And then whatever I said was worth less because I had an agenda and he didn’t.  Which is fair.  I’m not debating the merits of Paul MacNeill, whom I’ve admired from my Semantic/Cadre days. I’ve strongly agreed and disagreed with  him(and not just on partisan stuff) throughout the few years I’ve been reading.  In this case, I’m more interested in the importance of Paul as a pundit.  As this Vanity Fair article highlights, news has lost.  Opinion has won.  Most days I check the National Post before the Globe because their opinion stuff is better.  If you can sway the pundits, then you can sway the masses  – especially, it seems, on PEI.  Anyone in the middle of an election will tell you that momentum matters.  Seeing the Liberal caucus out dining last Summer, video camera in tow, was a blow to the gut because that sort of stuff is invaluable to election time.  And impossible for opposition caucuses who don’t have full shadow cabinets.  Talking Heads aren’t oblivious.  Even without platforms or candidates, public opinion suggests that the tories have lost already – which I will indubitably be discussing later!

Why do pundits cause momentum?  I’ll propose two answers. One is the most commonly used: constituents want to vote for whoever will be in government so that their roads are more likely to be paved.  The other reason, I think, is that people want to feel like they’re informed.  You can read the news and absorb it.  You don’t necessarily form an opinion on it.  I’ve read every article on the Eastern School Board and have no idea what the right decision is.  But if someone tells me what to think, then forming an argument is easy.  That sounds condescending to the electorate, but think about it: you can swallow up news daily, every hour, or you can read a weekly column and, depending on the pundit, get relevant information and a solution or problem with it.  No wonder pundits have sway.  They’re impartial and tell you what to think.  They’re not looking for your vote.  Which is why it is kind of scary that PEI has so few, because – ironically – the pundits who preach that too much power is in the hands of too few are actually the people with the power.  But think critically: even if pundits aren’t biased, the people who inform them are. I’ve been a pundit, I’ve been the person who’s informed pundits, and I’ve listened to pundits to help form my opinion.  I’ve also listened to pundits in dismay as they get stuff wrong often.  But good communications people in politics can have a heavy hand in convincing commentators what to say, particularly when there’s a looming deadline.  So please don’t just repeat what you heard on CBC or read in the NationalPost.

Anyway, in my opinion, one of the only ways to counteract the pundit is to have politicians own voices intertwined in the discourse.  It’s no secret that I’m a fan of social media.  It puts a face and a voice to the press releases that parties send out.  The futureof politics is going to limit the use of traditional media.  And why not?  You can edit what you say online – you have little control over what lands in the papers.  It’s an easy way to disseminate information quickly and efficiently while still being somewhat personal.  Naysayers are morons.  Listen to me.  Now that I have a blog, I’m more or less a pundit.

I’d love to hear your thoughts though!  Am I completely off in left (or right, as it were) field?

Next blog post: in which the answer will not be ‘social media fixes everything,’ I promise

Footnotes______________________________________________________

*Not withstanding the PC/Reform/Death of Red  Tory sentiment that prevailed after the 2003 Merger.  Admittedly that probably had something to do with PEI’s Conservative shutout, though tradition, being a have-not province, having a lower-than-average income median – all those things didn’t help.  Talking in generalities, I guess.

** A success, since there were like, sixty of them there.  Go Team McKenna.  Catholic Conservatives since the boat ride over from Ireland.

 

No one who doesn’t work for google is a ‘google optimizer’ and most social media experts are scamming you.

26 Jan

That’s probably not a great headline given that half of my job title is ‘social media secretary,’ but lookit –

There are definitely ways to make your company/brand appear on google more effectively than others.  If you live in Charlottetown and own a store that owns pencils, it makes sense to name your domain or your company ‘Charlottetown pencils’ if you’re looking for Google hits. But do you need to hire a consultant to tell you that?  As well, incorporating your name or your industry into your website should be common marketing sense.  Social Media isn’t a big bad new playground.  It’s the same old playground with a couple extra pieces of equipment.

This is a simplification, but, ironically, you could get all the social media tips you need online.  There’s no need to hire a social media consultant if you’re familiar with very user-friendly platforms like twitter, flickr, linkedin, etc.  There’s merit in hiring someone to monitor your online presence at all times – that’s just good business sense.

Anyway: If you or I had the ability to make our website come up at the top of any google search, google would be ruined forever.  My Charlottetown Pencil search might be good if I’m in Charlottetown looking for pencils – but how useful would it be if I was searching wrenches in Malawi?  The precise reason that Google is so great is because it can only be tampered with minimally.   I use Google because it links me to the site I’m looking for, not a corporation or political party.

To conclude: buy a book, don’t bother with a social media consultant.

Twitter users are smarter than facebook users

5 Jan

and other unsurprising stats

Source: hypebot.com

Source: hypebot.com

Two quick thoughts, neither brilliant:
1. I doubt twitter’s more educated demographics have much to do with the actual platform. It’s an internet trend that the newer social media platforms are used by the more educated people until they’re popular among everyone. Facebook and Gmail are the two examples that jump to my mind, though maybe they’re unfair because they were both regulated (facebook, with college networks, gmail with invites)
2. Twitter is only one percent less unknown than Facebook? Skeptical. I’ll believe it when Twitter has its own movie.

source: http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2011/01/facebook-vs-twitter-a-graphic-breakdown-of-2010-social-demographics.html