Tweeting for votes

A look at Canadian politicians using Twitter successfully, not-so-successfully or not at all.

A London Free Press article by Kate Dubinski reports that Twitter is the world’s fastest-growing social media tool, with over 20-billion tweets in just four years. (“That’s the equivalent of nearly three tweets for every person on the planet,” she writes.)

She notes that despite that fact that Twitter attracts “millions of new visitors each month — from youths to business people, aid agencies and, yes, tech-savvy politicians”, only about 20% of Canadian politicians are active on Twitter. “About 10% have accounts but do nothing with them. Some — it’s not clear how many — have their staffers tweet for them.”

She notes that Toronto’s mayor David Miller was “one of Canada’s early political pioneers on Twitter, grabbing headlines by firing off tweets during council meetings.” But others haven’t followed his lead.

Dubinski quotes Mark Blevis, a “digital public affairs strategist whose 2010 report House of Tweets examined the use of Twitter in the House of Commons.” She writes:

“Making direct contact with voters — allies and otherwise — is Twitter’s real political virtue, said Blevis. He cited federal Industry Minister Tony Clement as an exemplary political Twitterer.

“He’s navigated some of the stormier political seas and still managed to engage people, some of whom were not even supporters.” Better still, said Blevis, Clement uses the platform to talk about the substance of policy, but also to convey his personality.

“It’s not just politics — he can talk about taking his daughter to the Taylor Swift concert, too,” said Blevis.

“Pretty soon, many more politicians will embrace the technology, he said.”

Some politicians use their tweets to show their softer side (read: photo opp): “Harper recently tweeted a photo of himself playing the piano while musician Bryan Adams played guitar, and Ignatieff has posted pictures of himself canoeing and helping a construction crew. Clement wrote about watching a Muskoka sunset, and Liberal MP Hedy Fry tweeted about “the most significant and important” man in her life, her father, dying at age 90 this week.”

“What Twitter does best.” Dubinski writes, “is personalize people who often seem out of touch.”

Want to keep up with political tweets but don’t want to follow every politician? Dubinksi introduces Trevor May, a Vancouver web developer who started politwitter, which tracks senior Canadian politicians and lets users follow their tweets without following them.