Overblown Twitter Hype In The 41st Election

Since Canada’s 41st election started, one of the main topics of discussion has been Twitter and its role in the campaign. There have been boatloads of articles written on how the parties are using Twitter, who’s winning and who’s losing. The current electoral contest has even been called the first “Twitter election”.

I’m admittedly a fan of Twitter. We use it daily, help clients to integrate it effectively and it can be an excellent resource on a whole host of topics and trends. We’re all pro-Twitter. But some perspective is sorely needed.

The good folks over at PoliTwitter are doing a fantastic job of offering up real-time stats on the volume of tweets related to the election and to parse out what is being said and by whom. It’s incredibly interesting to follow the wider trends and to see how that plays out in the results on May 2nd.

But let me be clear: Twitter will have the same impact on the election in 2011 that YouTube had in 2008, blogs had in 2006 and the Internet itself had in 2004: a new tool for campaigns to incorporate into their wider campaign efforts.

Am I diminishing Twitter’s impact? Let me put things into perspective for you. There are roughly 4.5 million Canadians on Twitter. Most stats tell us that an average Twitter user sends out 2-3 tweets per day. That is approximately 13.5 million tweets per day generated in Canada.

Politwitter says that roughly 18,000 tweets are being generated each day about the election (actually, it is only about 9,000 – the rest are retweets). So, if you do the math, only .13% of tweets from Canadians actually talk about the election on a daily basis.

Then the question becomes: who is actually tweeting about the election? Candidates, parties, spinners and the media. They account for the majority of the electoral tweets. As Star columnist Chantal Hebert said on The National last night, it is one big echo chamber and they are basically talking to themselves.

Why is there so much hype by the media over Twitter and the election? Two reasons: it’s new and the media absolutely love Twitter. But it is a situation where they are just too close to it. Saying the party who has the best Twitter strategy will win is like saying the team with the best brochures will win. It is important, but won’t make or break the campaign.

Right now, it is primarily a broadcasting tool for the parties, who use it to spin the media and the national punditry. From that perspective, they are fully leveraging Twitter as a new communications tool. But it likely won’t result in many votes being won.

So how could Twitter be used effectively? Find out what the rest of the 13.5 million people are talking about and make sure you’re engaging in the wider conversation while driving them back to your website or other online assets and getting them to give you some contact information, donate or volunteer.

Definitely easier said than done. It’s something all parties will struggle with. But that’s where things ultimately need to go if Twitter will become something that generates votes.

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