Tag Archives: twitter

10 reasons political candidates shouldn’t use Twitter #elxn41 #CDNpoli #etc

I was reluctant to join Twitter at first, but now I really love it. It turns out that the reasons people think they’re going to hate Twitter don’t reflect the real experience of actual users. That being said, with #elxn41 (that’s Twitter-speak for “this specific federal election we happen to suddenly find ourselves in”) underway, all sorts of politicians are rushing to use the service, usually for the first time. In turn, the mainstream media (or “MSM” as we say in tweets to save characters) is breathlessly analyzing the importance of political microblogging, and claiming that all politicians are “expected” to play the game.

Maybe I’m just in a contrarian mood. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I haven’t blogged in awhile and I figure some link-bait like a top-10 list is what I need to regain some momentum and clout. (Yes, Twitter friends, apparently that’s how that word is supposed to be spelled. I’m surprised too.) Whatever the reason, if you’re a political candidate considering taking the fail whale for a ride, here are some reasons you might want to think twice.

1. You’ve never tweeted before now.

You’re heading into a very short election, and while Twitter isn’t hugely complicated or difficult to use, it does involve a bit of a learning curve. Better you focus on the tools you already know how to use well then start trying to learn a new one at this late hour. Also, a big part of using Twitter successfully involves building up a following overtime, and unless you’re already a very high-profile person it’s probably too late for you to start that now.

2. You’re not going to do it yourself.

So, given point number one, you might choose to hire a social media expert (or, more likely, take advantage of the most pimple-faced volunteer in your campaign office) to run Twitter for you. But this isn’t like outsourcing your flyer text (which presumably you direct and approve) or hiring a speech writer (to create a product you will ultimately deliver with your own voice). Twitter is real-time and interactive. Done well, it should be spontaneous and (with apologies to Andrew Potter) authentic, and unless you’ve staffed your tweets out to someone who knows you so well they can speak for you and finish your sentences, it’s not going to work. Even then, if someone else is doing your tweeting for you that probably means you’re not actually reading anyone else’s tweets, which brings us to…

3. You’re not interested in real conversations.

Twitter is not a broadcast medium. It’s not just another channel for you to get your message out there. One of the amazing things about Twitter is that previously inaccessible people from famous movie stars to local columnists will actually respond to strangers and even enter into conversations. If you’re not going to do that, and do it quickly (people often expect Twitter replies within a few hours, if not immediately) the only message you’ll be sending is that you’re not going to be a responsive representative.

4. Your tweets will be boring as sin.

This is the hardest point for me to admit because, as a recovering politician myself, I’ve been guilty of this multiple times. It’s almost impossible to avoid: when you’re in a campaign, your life suddenly becomes A) more hectic and full than it’s ever been, and B) extremely lame to any sensible outside observer. Since most people use Twitter to comment on their day or share what they come across, it’s hard to blame candidates from publishing an endless string of “great meeting with a residents’ group this morning,” or “getting a positive response at the door” or “watch this video of me saying all the boring stuff I’ve been tweeting,” but NOBODY CARES EXCEPT YOU AND YOUR IRRATIONALLY SUPPORTIVE PARTNER. (And they’re probably just pretending.)

5. You’re just going to spam people with your party’s talking points.

The major parties have already started sending out suggested talking points as tweets. They even come complete with hash tags like #elxn41, #lpc and #gpc so that you’re not just spamming your own followers, you’re also spamming all of the other people trying to follow those hash tags. You’re not adding any value, and everyone will just tune you out.

6. I don’t want to have to explain to you how hash tags work.

I just…don’t.

7. You might say something stupid.

This is my least favourite reason, and I don’t fully buy into it, but regardless of what I think it’s hard to imagine this list not containing this point. Frankly though, if you or your campaign team is worried you’ll say something on Twitter that could get you into trouble, you’re just as likely to say that same thing to a reporter or at a debate. The difference with saying it on Twitter is that it’s more likely to be reported as part of an eye-rolling “dangers of social media” narrative, or mischaracterized by political opponents or reporters who are Twitter-illiterate themselves. (I’m not saying all politicians or journalists are Twitter illiterate. I’m saying that with your luck, the journalist assigned to cover your tweet screw-up will be.)

8. You’ll mostly be tweeting to the choir.

Who do you think is really going to follow you? The average voter does their research by watching the news and visiting a few websites, they don’t want to be bombarded by your talking points and boring itinerary all day. The two groups of followers you’re most likely to pick up during an election campaign are the faithful and trolls. Even if you manage to pick up some real undecided voters as followers, how many do you think that will be? 50? 100? Is that going to decide the election?

9. It won’t help you get elected.

Go knock on doors. ID your voters. Make phone calls and send email before you compress your bumf into 140 characters. Get your name in the local paper and your voice on the radio. Unless you can clearly explain how your tweeting is going to lead to votes, why are you devoting so much of your limited time and energy towards it?

10. You’re going to stop after the election.

Twitter is a community (or, rather, a collection of communities). If you’re just crashing for your own selfish interests, it’s obvious to everyone else. Imagine if the election campaign was the first time you showed up at the local rate payers meeting or worship service or whatever, and then you never went again. (Wait, you’re not doing that too, are you?)

All that being said, if you can avoid all or most of these pitfalls then go for it! Done properly Twitter can be a great way to communicate with new people and keep up with breaking developments. I just don’t think it’s worth doing badly.

I wish I could give you some examples of great political tweeters to model yourself off of, but for my own sanity I follow very few. I think my local MP and MPP Bob Rae and Glen Murray do a pretty good job (Rae clearly writes his own tweets — his voice is unmistakable, and Murray engages with his constituents, especially those who disagree with him, perhaps more than any other elected official I’ve ever seen). I’m told that federal ministers Tony Clement and Jason Kenney were both pretty good before the election, but that now they’ve succumb to the above traps. Who am I missing?

An off-the-cuff open letter to Charlie Angus

Dear Charlie,

Jane Taber reports over on globeandmail.com that you want MPs like yourself to be banned from Twitter “to save politicians from looking like idiots.”

“Here’s a better idea,” wrote Jeff Jedras. “Stop being idiots.”

We could probably just leave it there, Charlie, but I want this point to be very clear. Our MPs are letting us down disastrously. There are many good individuals who sit in the House of Commons and you may well be one of them, but as a group you are delivering concentrated packages of FAIL on a daily basis. Our MPs do act childish, they do play games, and they have created a complete vacuum of leadership at a time when we need it the most. The solution is not to hide that disgrace, the solution is to change it.

I’m surprised that anyone who believes in transparent and accountable democracy could conclude that a tool that  “exposes” a problem with how Parliament (doesn’t) work should be removed from the equation. On the contrary, anything that exposes the pathetic sideshow that is the current Parliament should be amplified in the hopes that it will snap us out of our collective slumber and elect a group of people who will actually work together for the good of the country.

And Charlie, those of us who follow the tweets of public figures? We’re not “imaginary friends,” as you called us. We’re people, voters, citizens. Don’t call us names.

As for your claim that banning Twitter would somehow force MPs to treat each other like humans because they wouldn’t have their noses in their mobile devices all the time, I’ll grant you that sounds like good meeting etiquette. But when I read that you’re someone who “freely admits that he couldn’t do his job without his BlackBerry — he uses it at committee to check facts with his staff and to Google other points of discussion,” it seems like you’re specifically targeting tools that allow politicians to communicate with the public while giving a pass to other equally anti-social BlackBerry habits.

There, rant over. Let’s get back to work. It’s getting hot in here.



What is Twitter, and how do I make it go away?

When I first heard about Twitter a few years ago, it was easy to ignore as part of the background noise of new Web 2.0 properties. In fact, I felt justified in my decision to delay adopting Twitter by a blog post titled “Top Ten Reasons Why Web 2.0 Sucks,” which included the challenge to “walk outside your door and try to find a Twitter user… You’ve got six hours. Go. Trust me, we’re talking to ourselves.” The author was right.

Nowadays, however, it wouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to find a Twitter user. (Ok, maybe only if you’re in a very densely populated area, but still.) When I finally caved and setup my Twitter account two weeks ago (initiating it with the same skepticism and reluctance I used to launch this blog), a search of my Gmail address book discovered I already knew 140 people on Twitter including my dad, one of my favourite novelists and my mother in law.

In the world of internet trends there’s a technical term for this. It’s called being “fashionably late.”

So, if you’re still hoping that Twitter will vanish before you have to learn to understand it, you may be out of luck. It’s here to stay, at least for the next few years. If you’re hearing the word come up with increased frequency in business or social circles, it might be time to try it out.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is an internet application that allows you to keep other people (friends, co-workers, strangers) up to date on your status. You can also use it to share quick thoughts, links, pictures, or pretty much anything you want. The only catch: you have to do it all in 140 characters or less. For example, so far I’ve used it to announce an upcoming musical performance, let people know I was on my way to watch an improv show (and then post a map link once I arrived), complain that I was getting sick, and announce that my train was arriving 45 minutes late.

These tweets, as they’re called, are very similar to a Facebook profile’s status line. (In fact, you can configure Twitter to automatically update your Facebook status.) They can also be described as “micro-blog” posts, good for quick hits that don’t warrant a long-form post, or that perhaps have not yet been flushed out into one.

Why would I use Twitter?

So if Twitter is just a glorified Facebook status, or a blog without any substance (yes, I am contending that some blogs contain substance), why does it matter, and why would anyone want to use it? Here are a few reasons I’ve discovered in my first few weeks:

  1. Twitter is a public conversation. All public tweets are searchable, which means you’re not just talking with yourself or with your friends: you’re interacting with other people who are talking about the same things you are, in real time. The applications for this vary from entertainment (people watching TV, or sharing random thoughts) to practical (people updating each other on the TTC’s status) to news (people reporting on and reacting to real time news events).
  2. Twitter is fluid and versatile. Users can tag their posts with any keyword they want on the fly (#carcrash, #iPhone, #dinner) to instantly create a limitless number of categories and conversations. No need for an administrator to create the conversation; the conversation begins as soon as the first phrase is muttered. You can search the public feed or see what people are taking about right now using trending.
  3. Twitter plays well with others. Instead of taking time away from your Facebook account, your blog and your other online activities, Twitter integrates with them and enhances them. Your blog can update your Twitter account, your Twitter account can update your blog, your Twitter account can update your Facebook status, etc.
  4. Twitter is highly mobile. So far I’ve updated Twitter using the web, an iPhone app, a BlackBerry app and a simple SMS text message, and I haven’t even exhausted all the options. That means that unlike most other things you do online, there are very low barriers to regular, spontaneous use.
  5. Twitter is low commitment. On most social networks (like Facebook) all connections must be mutual (if you want to be friends with me, I have to friend you back). Not so with Twitter, where the people who follow you and the people you follow don’t have to be identical. For example, I can chose to follow the updates of Toronto Mayor David Miller and city councillor Adam Giambrone whether they want to follow me back or not. (In case you’re wondering, the latter does, the former does not.)

Happy tweeting.