A lot of ink and air time is being allocated to the online activities of the government and our elected officials lately. In fact, this year has been a bit of a banner year for Canadian political enthusiasts who divvy up their attention between their television, computer, tablet and smartphone.
In addition to the growing number of MPs who are managing their social media and digital content properties on their own (and those who delegate the responsibility), the Conservative caucus appears to be trying to overcome a reputation of being a tightly controlled message-machine which has little appetite for showing a human side.
It began in earnest with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s #dayinthelife. On January 28 the PMO staffers (I feel that’s a safe statement) posted a trail of glimpses into the PM’s day. Videos, photos and musings about meetings, phone calls, meals and family pets continued a trend of breaking form.
You might recall the PM’s last attempt to present a lighter side over Twitter was a stiff and crafted ‘personal’ tweet congratulating his son and his hockey teammates for their win against “the big guys.” The PM’s more recent efforts are far more productive even if they offer opportunities for existing critics.
Other MPs are more natural at apparently being themselves online. It’s not uncommon to see MPs lament long hours of travel away from family. There have been announcements participating in cancer walks for friends and family, and a few online memorial posts. Some post the occassional tweet about a personal passion. Some tweet a play-by-play of hockey games and awards shows. Tony Clement’s I like chicks too tweet from Saturday features an undeniably human-relatable moment which can’t be faked. I still hold former Liberal MP Glen Pearson’s blog post The Swing is Gone as a high-water mark for closing the gap between the public and elected officials.
Today Tomorrow brings about another unconventional #dayinthelife. Canadians will be presented with a version of what it’s like to be Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for the day. Minister Flaherty has a Twitter account, @jimflaherty, which is home to four tweets issued between March 28 and April 5, 2011, and his Facebook Fan Page is a platform for broadcasting official announcements. That’s my way of noting the Minister is not known as an active member of the digital culture. In fact, don’t expect his day to unfold on his own account. Rather, @financecanada will be home to the Minister’s one-off diary. At the time of this post, 8:30amET, I’m still waiting for the ‘good morning’ post.
Tomorrow is also budget day and the online festival will continue with what I understand will be socially-shareable content about the budget rather than dry textual updates of fiscal clauses. They will be using the hashtag #eap13. Expect that as the volume of tweets increases, so too will the Twitter number of participating spambots.
MPs are warming up to the idea they have a powerful ability to connect with people on a human level, in their own way, whenever they feel the need. It’s an approach that peels away the layers of mediated experience and, if done believably, can be remarkably effective at closing the gap between themselves and the constituents and issue stakeholders they serve. Any effort to build a sense of community before you need will mean having a community to call on when you do.