by Mark Jodoin

It's surprising to see which of English Canada’s parties is beating the others to the social media puck.

Is it that bastion of youthful exuberance, the NDP? Or Canada’s ruling party for three out of every four years since Confederation? (er, that’s the Liberals). Or is it the Conservatives with their stiff and stuffy (as the media establishment love to tell us) economist-turned-party-leader?

The answers to the questions above are 'nope', 'bigger nope' and ‘you have to be kidding’. It’s those grey-suited and blue-haired Conservatives who are first out of the post-Gomery penalty box with a Web 2.0 play.

conservative.ca is blue and bold and bursting with content some of which is actually user-generated. It’s probably a little too much content if six columns of endless policy proclamations, distracting animated gifs, and pulsating banners aren’t your thing.

Aesthetics aside, their real digital strategy begins in their online Press Room where several RSS feeds are ready to syndicate party news to outlets across the country. And in the Media Centre there is a video 'vault' with downloadable commercials and – wait for it – podcasts.

You'll find an 'e' this and that pretty much everywhere throughout the site. It’s so rich in multimedia content that were it not for its extensive user-customizable features, it would be too much for any harried reporter to digest. But reporters are 2.0 power users these days and more than happy to have deadline-beating party statements fed directly to their desktops, laptops or smart phones.

As for the elusive youth demographic, the Conservatives have a CPC Energy site filled with podcasts, blogs, text messaging and a little ditty called ‘Radio Free CPC'. It’s a regular teen hootenanny.

Contrast that with the Liberal's static and lame national site which greets visitors with an unwelcome “tell us about yourself” screen (an odd message coming from a party that deifies Pierre Trudeau.) There's nary a citizen-empowering RSS button or 'cast' of any kind to be found on this site. It seems to have pulled up the drawbridge and gone turtle.

Nor have the NDP gone Web 2.0 crazy other than RSS. The only downloads at ndp.ca are black and white wallpapers of deceased (or soon-to-be) party leaders. The 21st century makes another brief appearance in the NDP youth site but only thanks to a one-page reference to their text messaging format.

That's just in case the youth of Canada isn't mesmerized by the very latest in Tommy Douglas screen savers.

But why have the PCs handed the Liberals their hats and shown the NDP the door rather than invite them to the social media party?

First, their online social media tactics are timed and aligned with the introduction of Stephen Harper's federal accountability bill that supposedly will "end the influence of big money in Ottawa". That may be code for "we think that small donations from thousands of online donors will make it up for our loss of big money donations from corporate donors".

Second, the Liberals and NDP either don't get social media or think they don't have to. The Conservatives, after all, frequently complain of an embedded Liberal and left-of-centre bias in the traditional media. Perhaps they’ve decided to do a Howard Dean-style end-run of the establishment by using social media.

Or maybe it's just that the parties of the left and centre can afford to put their messaging money elsewhere. After all, the Liberal leader’s smiling face is the first image on the Government of Canada web site.

With the talk today of an election this winter, we may soon have the opportunity to see who's right about the use of social media in the political arena. Stephen Harper enters the race as the most collegial and communal leader, at least online.

It’s anybody’s bet whether he ultimately goes the way of Mr. Dean with a savvy online entrance and a stunning 'yee-haw' exit. It's a sure bet the traditional media are tipping their hand by reprinting relentlessly their favourite photos of Mr. Harper and his frumpy cowboy hat.

(Blog entry by Mark Jodoin. Mark is Creative Strategist for market2world communications inc.)

Comment