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How social media influenced the 2015 Canadian election

Tonight by 11 p.m. ET, we should know who will be Canada’s Prime Minister: Will the Progressive Conservatives’ Stephen Harper remain in power, or will the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau or NDP’s Tom Mulcair helm the country?

Much ink has been spilled about the party platforms and the heavy campaigning courting voters across Canada, but another battle is being waged on the Web: social media continues to play an important role in endearing voters to party leaders, from Twitter engagement to Facebook video posts.

First, let’s look at how Twitter is a key pillar to the political landscape in Canada. Twitter Canada’s Steve Ladurantaye told CBC more than five million election-related tweets appeared on the network in the past 78 days.

He noted all the parties are using Twitter a bit differently from each other: the Conservatives highlight policy and the Liberals are trying to reach younger voters.

“The NDP is a blend of the two, but that it’s the Green Party’s Elizabeth May that is capitalizing on the power of Twitter by engaging directly with Canadians.”

Toronto Sun reports the economy was the most discussed issue on Twitter throughout the entire campaign, “despite the best efforts of war rooms from all sides to draw attention to a series of odd scandals and past indiscretions by rival candidates.”

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are enjoying a lead right now in the polls, and also a substantial lead on Twitter. Even though Trudeau joined Twitter a year later than Harper, he has posted 9,255 tweets compared to Harper’s 3,577 (at time of publication). Also, according to iPolitics.ca, Trudeau enjoys a high engagement rate on Twitter, at number one with 36 percent of tweets mentioning him, followed by NDP’s Mulcair at second with 28 percent and Harper with 25 percent.

But a caveat is necessary here: CBC writes that journalists, for whom Twitter has become a very important tool, “risk inflating its importance and distorting what is actually happening online. The people who are politically active on Twitter and other social media sites tend to be the small subset of people who are already very interested in politics.”

Turning to Facebook, which more than 19 million Canadians have joined, the Liberals and Conservatives are top of the pack, in different ways. iPolitics reports that in share of Facebook interactions, the Tories double the Liberals in percentage points, but Trudeau leads Harper in Facebook interactions via their leader Pages (compared to the party Pages).

“I think the Liberals have been very innovative in using new tools on Facebook. Two things that Trudeau did were really firsts, both in Canada and across the world. First, he did a Facebook 50-second challenge, which is basically a video where he answers in 50 seconds rapid-fire questions that are more personal, showing him more as an individual,” said Kevin Chan, the head of Canadian public policy at Facebook.

“And second; what he did, or what the party did, was announce his whole platform live on Facebook. He went live from behind the stage and started it by saying ‘Hi everyone on Facebook, I’m Justin Trudeau and I’m about to announce my entire platform live just for you. Follow me on stage and let’s get started’. And people could send questions in while he did this live and they were answered live.”

Let’s not ignore the NDP’s influence on Facebook, though. iPolitics adds that while the Conservative party holds the top position and has a high level of interactions, “if you look at all four parties over the past 12 months, the NDP demonstrated the highest percentage of growth, with an astounding 355.61 per cent, compared to the Conservatives at a still-impressive 297.15 per cent and far beyond the Liberals and Bloc with 76.62 and 81.74 respectively.”

It seems all parties are pouring all their efforts into Facebook and Twitter, and ignoring Google+ and LinkedIn. The Liberals haven’t updated their LinkedIn Page in two months, when they posted about a job position. The LinkedIn Page for the Tories feels like a placeholder for text. And there’s not an NDP Page on LinkedIn to be found.

On Google+, the NDP haven’t posted anything since June 26, the Liberals have been AWOL on G+ since Aug. 2, and the Tories have neglected their Google+ Page since 2012. Ouch. Is Google+ such a dead zone as many marketers have claimed?

We have long been curious about social media’s impact on politics. It’s meant to offer two-way conversations between voter and candidate, and to open the gates to a more democratic medium to give marginal voices their spotlight. As we’ve seen with the Arab Spring, social media can also be a catalyst for political movements and protests.

But judging by the feeds of the Canadian parties, whether on Facebook or Twitter, social media isn’t being used to its best abilities: more often than not, the Libs, New Democrats and Tories are using social networks to bullhorn their platform messages and promote policy, instead of having that conversation the medium could engender. Sure, Trudeau had a live Q&A via Facebook, but it’s a rare bright spot in a grey desert of social engagement.

Whatever the result of tonight’s election, social media will be lighting up with reactions from Canadians home and abroad. And to be frank, that is where some of social’s true value lies – not in seeing where party leaders use hashtags and Twitpics of campaign HQs, but in gauging how Canada feels about its future government.

Tonight, be sure to follow @DigitalJournal on Twitter to stay updated on Canadian election coverage starting at 730pm ET.

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