I was asked a very interesting question earlier this week. A colleague wanted to know what direction I would give at this time if I were in charge of digital for each of the three major parties.
If I were digital strategist for the Liberals
- Get out of election mode: be a governing party online. I’m embarrassed for the party that ran as the agent of change, boasting digital prowess, and is treating its anchor online presence as an afterthought. The election is over. The masthead should no longer identify each elected MP as the “Liberal candidate for [riding name]”. And, each MP’s landing page should be about the MP now, not the candidate they were. This means updating bios and changing the page to feature work the MP is doing for his/her constituency and what portfolio (if any) she/he has. Being lazy sets a culture (it certainly sends a message) that a relevant digital presence is not necessary. Such a culture will surely have spread and cause problems in time.
- Build a digitally-engaged culture with two up-and-coming backbenchers functioning as online ambassadors. To further build interest in the Liberal party and strengthen the party’s brand, I would pick two up-and-coming backbenchers to take the lead on strengthening the Liberal party’s brand and level of engagement with Canadians on online channels. This might include a weekly Google Hangout. The purpose would be to get more people talking productively and being engaged in the process and acting as interfaces for the party.
- Be engaged with real Canadians under a new directive: one in every five online posts should be a reply. A party that wants to do politics in a new way, that has brought new participants (candidates and supporters) into the fold to send it from third party to government, and that prides itself on being more accessible and digitally engaged than the previous government, needs to shift from a focus on online broadcast to online engagement. And, they need to build new supporters and participants rather than focus strictly on the media and digital high-rollers. Respond to them. Answer to them. Embed that thinking into the party culture.
If I were digital strategist for the Conservatives
- Break away from the culture that lost the election. Several members of the caucus have strong social media skills and flexed some of that muscle as members of the Conservative government at a time when that may have been unwelcome. With a new interim leader, and the need and opportunity to reinvent the party to appeal to more than just the Conservative base, now is the time to engage Canadians online and ask them for their meaningful input on the direction the party should take.
- Put Canadians in the picture. All politicians love to see photos and videos of themselves in action with text about how proud, pleased or thankful they are to be doing whatever, no matter how sincere (or not) they are being. Now is the time to start putting Canadians in the picture. If Canadians don’t see themselves as part of the Conservative party, they won’t be as enthusiastic to cast votes for it in four years. MPs need to post pictures from their own point of view, and express ideas in their own words rather than in canned phrases. That means showing the Canadians you see in your day to day activities and events.
- Be the soft landing for expatriates of other parties. A relic of the past 10 years, online hyper-partisanship strengthened the base while at the same time it fostered a culture of anger and, at times, hate. This played out horribly for the party during the election campaign (I can provide examples, if you’d like). Growing support outside of the base means showing you can do your job as the opposition party in a productive manner without having to get people worked up. This is particularly important if people leave the Liberal fold, the fold that just won on “sunny ways.” They’re not likely to make the jump to “stormy seas.”
If I were digital strategist for the NDP
- Show the party is strong despite its significant losses. The NDP seems like a ship lost at sea. The public sees a party without the experienced bench strength of Paul Dewar, Meghan Leslie and Peter Stoffer (among others). The party leader’s relevance has been questioned and he was recently the subject of a column that, among other things, noted he has four mortgages and is living out of a suitcase in Ottawa hotels. Show you’re still a cohesive team and an important part of the political system by being engaged in relevant online discussions and interacting with one another online in a team-focused manner.
- Get constituency-focused. Keeping your seats in the next election will be just as important as gaining new ones. As the digital age has made politics macro-focused, it’s important to do something no other party is doing online — putting local first, national and international second. This involves changing the NDP website template, which currently feels like a digital postcard. It’s a great design with plenty of white space, but lacks substance.
- Avoid a leadership race during this election cycle. The Liberals are in the process of reinventing Parliament. The Conservatives are in the process of reinventing themselves. This may not be the right time to go through a leadership change since, at best, it will only ever be the third story. Instead, use digital to remind the public of how effective an official opposition party you were — without invoking Jack Layton. Be the Montreal Expos of politics and build strength starting with what you have. Exploit digital channels to show more than video clips and transcribed quotes from QP. Show the behind the scenes work that’s going into understanding, elevating and advancing issues of importance.