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January 19, 2006

Election 2006 and Social Media - The Green Party

Be sure to check out all five articles in this series:

If the NDP is the "little guy" on the national political stage, then the Green Party is still waiting to be given a ticket to the show.  Fortunately, the Green Party can stake a claim in cyberspace that's just as big, bold and interactive as any of the mainstream parties.  OK, enough terrible mixed metaphors.  Let's see if the Greens do take advantage of social media to rally their candidates and their constituents in an effort to change the political landscape.

From reviewing the national Green Party’s website, the blog of Jim Harris (Green Party leader) and various candidates websites, it seems that the Greens are still using the web as a static broadcast media channel in an effort to simply get their message heard and recognized. Generally speaking, there are not a lot of attempts to engage people in conversations or allow them to take the Green experience with them.

Now some of the Green’s use of social media is difficult to evaluate because it is part of their “members only” section. In this area of the site are sub-sections containing “Multimedia” and “Forums” which indicate that there is a discussion taking place, but only amongst members.

In reviewing candidate sites, about 50% to 60% of Green Party candidates actually have a campaign site (higher than most parties), but not a lot of them encourage the use of social media either. Jim Harris has a blog which isn’t updated very often (although comments are open). There is also a list of Green Party bloggers, but it is unclear which (if any) are actual candidates. However, there are a few things that the Green Party is doing well in regards to social media.

Green_livingplatform First, the Green’s Living Platform . This is a wiki where the Green Party posts its latest platform, and party members as well as members of the public comment and collaborate. A great idea, particularly to encourage buy-in and ownership of a political platform as well as educating the public about the development of a political position.

Unfortunately, it is not very current. A number of the platform planks have not been updated for at least 8 months. Also (like a lot of wikis) the interface is difficult for the lay-person to use. And it is not very well promoted on the Green Party’s site. But the foundation is there for this kind of collaboration to really be brought to bear on the political process.

On a positive note, the Green’s have one of the most comprehensive online event calendars that integrates appearances across the country of candidates as well as highlights appearances by the leader of the party, Jim Harris. It has past as well as future events, something that some of the larger parties did not have. The next step in evolving this calendar would be to serve entries via an RSS feed so that visitors didn’t have to keep returning to the site.

A note about the use of RSS. Providing feeds of a calendar or a press release isn’t only useful because I don’t have to return to a website. Think outside the feed reader and outside the computer. The feed of a calendar (or a sub-set of a calendar) could be sent to my cell phone. If a candidate needed additional support and he/she were appearing in my area, or if I were needed to protest an event of a political party, this would be a great way of mobilizing supporters. This technique was incredibly successful in the US 2004 elections when volunteers from the opposing party were mobilized on the ground and in real-time to protest at the other party’s convention. Real-time political action. Powerful. Smaller parties, like the Green Party, need to take advantage of these grassroots technologies in order to cohese a small, geographically more-diverse constituency.

Green_wallpaper The Green’s also have a standard collection of policy, position paper, and logo downloads, although there is no rich media section. However, the Green Party has good wallpaper. Now, I know this talk of wallpaper can seem a bit ridiculous, but if you want to generate a conversation and help people own your brand (see Mitch Joel’s article about brand democratization ), then you want to give people an experience (and artifacts of that experience) that they enjoy and talk about. That’s why viral is successful!

So, all in all, the Green’s have a way to go in taking advantage of the power of social media. No RSS feeds (except on Jim Harris’ blog), no blog badges, a difficult navigation scheme on the main site and a poor-starter of a wiki.

Green_virtuallawn On the positive side, it isn’t difficult or necessarily expensive to start to use social media. All it takes are the right volunteers putting together the right materials. For example, AlbertaAvenue has created a Virtual Lawn Signs section for candidates of different parties in their riding (scroll down, you’ll see it on the left). This kind of effort is small, easy, focused and targeted. Even more sophisticated social media like podcasting requires very little financial resource investment … more a creative and time investment; definitely do-able for the Greens. I look forward to their future efforts to engage Canadians online and off.

Stay tuned for the finale of this series on Election 2006 and Social Media - the Liberals.

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