The serendipity isn't lost on the folks here at CityCaucus Tower. We asked you yesterday to follow us on Twitter, and mere hours later that same medium took a virtually unknown candidate to electoral victory. The ramifications of this "Twitter victory" (or, how about "Twictory"?) are potentially huge for Canadian politics.
Thirty-eight year old Naheed Nenshi (@Nenshi) is the City of Calgary's new mayor-elect after a nail-biter three-way race with a former broadcaster with huge name recognition, and a well-liked city alderman. Early media reports are focusing on Nenshi's Muslim heritage, but this kind of typical profiling ignores the true lesson of Calgary's civic election.
The real story of Calgary's election is the use of social networking to secure victory.
A Twitterer commented, "It's official, the days of traditional land-line based GOTV are over." GOTV is an acronym for 'Get Out The Vote' – the number one job of election campaign teams, pushing voters out to the polls. Twitter's advantage is that it drives messages to ubiquitous hand-held devices. Get someone on their cell phone and you've connected with a potential voter.
My CityCaucus.com colleague Daniel Fontaine watched the Calgary horse race with bated breath all last evening. He reports that tweets with the #yycvote hashtag (hashtags explained here) at one point were pouring in at about 250 per minute. Fontaine spent all evening tweeting about the Calgary mayoral contest, which in turn created a huge reaction among other Twitter followers of this contest.
Daniel's best line to describe what happened was "Calgary suffered from a good case of e-mocracy", coining the 'e' word in one of his early tweets.
Voter turnout spiked in the Calgary contest because youth voters went to the polls in record numbers. Having people tweet "if you care about your city then get the f*** out and vote" all day might have been an incentive.
Nenshi's day job as a university professor at Mount Royal College endeared him to thousands of students. Reportedly he enlisted 700 full time volunteers from the ranks of his current and former students. Volunteers are the lifeblood of election campaigns and hundreds of workers on a municipal campaign is a huge feat.
There are other details to Nenshi's campaign that make it so remarkable. By supporting Nenshi you became a part of a so-called "Purple Revolution". Nenshi's chosen campaign colour set him apart from the traditional campaign colours. Further, says the Canadian Press:
Nenshi's supporters stood out at rallies in their grape-hued ``Purple Revolution'' T-shirts while his website included a self-deprecating video of people trying to pronounce his name (NAH'-hed NEN'-shee).
His self-deprecating sense of humour defined Nenshi's style, which is a marked difference between him and the leading candidate in Toronto's mayoral contest, Rob Ford. Some are joking that Toronto's and Calgary's mayoral candidates have been swapped. The visible minority, Harvard-educated candidate winning in a town with a redneck reputation, and the redneck looking to win in Hogtown.
Will the Calgary example affect outcomes in Toronto's race for mayor? So far we're not seeing much action on #yyzvote, but Neshi's win will surely change that. Will Ford or Smitherman eke out a victory because of a brilliant social media strategy?
For Vancouver there are also big implications. $2 million campaigns have become the norm. Vision Vancouver willingly buries itself in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to win. Will social media mean that lean & mean campaigns can take over? Will the far less financed NPA (no USA sugar daddies for these guys) be able to capture the public mood with an exciting direction for the city and a rejection of Vision's arrogant style of politics?
So far no one is talking about #yvrvote on Twitter – yet. You know it's coming though. Which is why we continue to recommend this new communications tool, even to Twitter skeptics. There is no question in our mind that Twitter will probably be the defining difference in Canada's municipal politics from this day forward.
Read more: Neshi's acceptance speech from last night.
On a related note, a big plug for a fantastic social media tool created by a Vancouver-based company. Hootsuite (@Hootsuite) is a web and smart phone based platform that allows you to connect multiple social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) under one interface. I think the free web-based dashboard version of Hootsuite is second to none.
Hootsuite is also available for Android, iPhone and now Blackberry devices, with both a free version and a nifty full-featured version for $1.99. It's definitely worth spending two bucks on, and supports a great Canadian company.
Last Friday evening I attended a talk by Ryan Holmes, founder of Invoke Media, Hootsuite's creator. Mixing in the crowd I got to meet some of Invoke's fantastic team, whose positive energy reminded me of my days at Electronic Arts in the late '90s. Holmes comes across as a humble and thoughtful guy, who wasn't afraid to take some risks and learn from trial and error. He talked about the many days he's "bootstrapped" with fellow employees over the past decade.
Hootsuite is taking off not just because of hype but because it's just good. Apparently it's now used by people in the White House and Ophah's business operations. Invoke have received considerable financing to move Hootsuite to the next level, which is why I encourage even more folks from Vancouver to try it out. At the very least it makes using Twitter and other tools more user-friendly.
- post by Mike