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Social Media and the Changing Face of Politics – Lessons from the Alberta PC Leadership Race

August 18th, 2011 · No Comments · Social Media

Big Ideas:

  • Social Media is transforming business, government and society in general.
  • Success requires embracing the principles of Authenticity, Transparency and Collaboration.
  • The Alberta PC Party Leadership Race offers a great case study in the future of politics.

Social media and technology in general, are having profound effects on all aspects of our lives. From toppling dictatorships in the Middle East, to getting an under dog in the white house, to outing rioting hoodlums in London and Vancouver, the world is much different than it was just a decade ago.

Social Media Big Three: Authenticity, Collaboration, Transparency

The Social Media Big Three

The way we work and live is undergoing nothing short of a revolution. Three themes that I tend to keep coming back to are authenticity, transparency and collaboration (or engagement).


Authenticity is somewhat of a loaded and overused term now, but it remains an integral part of this social media age. We can’t trust our food to have real ingredients, companies to represent our best interests, nor politicians to deliver on their promises. Everything around us seems to be a marketing pitch, so when we find someone or something that appears to be real,  we embrace it.

Consider this video series of Alberta PC Leadership Candidate, Doug Griffiths. It is very refreshing to find a politician that is not afraid to be himself and honestly communicate in the open without media handlers getting in the way.


In a world where everyone carries a camera with internet connectivity, it is very hard to hide anything for long. Police and governments are using social media to identify and locate criminals, just as the world is holding dictators responsible for the carnage they are wrecking on their own citizens. Corporations and politicians can no longer hide behind closed doors either.

Two of the Alberta PC Leadership Candidates had a short Twitter debate, highlighted on Stuart Thomson’s Tumblr blog. In the dialogue, candidate @Rick_Orman misrepresents @GriffMLA’s stand on a provincial sales tax and is soon called on it. Thomson offers a great commentary on the discussion, including “See if you can spot the younger candidate.”

With Doug Griffiths as the youngest candidate at 38 years old, it does appear that youth is a substantial advantage in understanding how to use the new new tools to connect and engage.

Collaboration (Engagement)

With social media, the one-to-many broadcast model of traditional communications has given way to a more egalitarian system where everyone has a voice and can publish their own articles, videos or anything else they wish. This change in power structure is hard for many to cope with. The ‘do as I say’ mentality of older and larger organizations, is not acceptable for younger generations brought up in with a culture of inclusion.

Even with smaller startups, non-profits and community groups, egos and turf protection still get in the way of the ultimate purpose of the business or organization. There always seems to be someone who thinks they are correct and refuses to listen to alternative view points. Skilled knowledge workers and citizens are no longer tolerating this lack of involvement and demand to be heard.

I have noticed substantial resistance to basic collaboration tools like shared Google Docs. General principles like respect for the ideas of others or inviting divergent view points are commonly overlooked by the stronger members of the group. Often, these people don’t even notice how they are trampling on the good intentions of others.

Politics, is no different. Inexpensive technology, ubiquitous internet access and robust social media platforms offer unprecedented opportunities to connect with constituents. Of course, there will be those who don’t get it, like Newt Gingrich and his purchased Twitter Followers. However, there is no doubting how integral social media was to Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign. As FastCompany magazine reported;

What Obama did so successfully is that he went to where his customer base was. He could no longer afford to meet with everyone at their kitchen tables, but he could friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Alberta PC Leadership Race

Getting back to the Alberta PC Leadership Campaign, here is a chart of all the candidates and their Twitter statistics. I will let you draw your own conclusions from this, but the real test is contacting the candidates via Twitter to see who responds and what they say. You can’t fake real engagement. It takes work.

Candidate Twitter Link Tweets Following Followers Listed
 Doug Griffiths  @GriffMLA  2,972  3,042  3,104 174
Alison Redford  @Alison4Premier  402  638 1,630  61
 Gary Mar  @GaryMarPC  260  359  1,287  47
 Doug Horner  @HornerForAB  228  84  930  44
Ted Morton  @Morton4Premier  123  151  784  29
Rick Orman @Rick_Orman  244  282  636  27

(Full Disclosure: I am volunteering on Doug Griffiths campaign for the Alberta PC Party Leadership because he embraces the principles of Authenticity, Transparency and Collaboration more than anyone I have ever seen. In fact, he has a 100% volunteer campaign solely on his ability to inspire supporters.)

Action Items:

  • Are you and your company pretending to be something you are not? How about embracing the core of what you really stand for and letting the whole world know about it?
  • Do you have secrets you don’t want the public to know? If you have to hide your actions, perhaps it is time to stop doing bad things?
  • Do your employees have all the information they need to know to help you grow your company? Why not open up the books and let everyone contribute?
  • Make time every week to really listen to customers, employees and partners and try to understand their ideas and view points. Even if you feel they are wrong, there is much to be gained from giving employees an opportunity to fail.
  • Are you connecting with customers and potential customers through social media? Effective social media takes time, but the rewards can be worth it.

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