Identifying social networks key to victory at the polls

One of the biggest Canadian political upsets of the past decade caught many established media outlets and analysts completely off guard, but Stephen Carter knew Naheed Nenshi was gaining traction even when the polls showed him at eight per cent support in the 2010 Calgary mayoral race.

One of the biggest Canadian political upsets of the past decade caught many established media outlets and analysts completely off guard, but Stephen Carter knew Naheed Nenshi was gaining traction even when the polls showed him at eight per cent support in the 2010 Calgary mayoral race.

“Before anybody had the idea that Nenshi was doing well, we were tracking it on social media,” said Carter, the chief architect of Mayor Nenshi’s 2010 new media campaign and current owner of BBold PR, a public relations and management firm in Calgary.

Carter delivered a lecture on social marketing to a packed room of Alberta BRZ Conference guests at the Black Knight Inn in Red Deer on Thursday.

Three months prior to Nenshi’s unlikely Oct. 2010 surge, when conventional polls showed him trailing behind opponents Barb Higgins and favourite Ric McIver by no less than 20 points, Carter said he was encouraged by the one number Nenshi was dominating the other candidates in — the number of Facebook friends he had.

“There’s a strong correlation between the number of friends on Facebook and the likelihood of electoral victory,” Carter said. “Facebook is almost an exact mirror of the demographics represented in major metropolitan centres.”

Carter said women were a key demographic of voters the Nenshi campaign wanted to target, and because women are more prevalent users of Facebook than men, he crafted Nenshi’s social media efforts to address specific issues important to women in certain ridings.

He added women influenced the popularity of Jack Layton in the recent federal election in much the same way they helped Nenshi win the 2010 mayoral race.

“That’s the power of women, women decide to make a change; Nenshi when he won was due to women,” Carter said.

It is important to understand the distinction between a social network and social media when using Internet traffic to win elections or market products, Carter said.

He added that grass roots, word-of-mouth momentum is still valuable in creating a winning product or person, and identifying who will do the heavy social lifting for you is as important as knowing how to use social media creatively.

“If you go to a school council meeting, there are 18 women and two men; and the two men were usually sent by their wives — that is what we define as a social network.”

Identifying where these social networks “live” on the Internet, gives a marketing firm or political think-tank the data needed to spread targeted messages, seemingly organically, through social media, Carter said.

In the early stages of the Nenshi campaign, Carter’s team interacted with forum users on niche interest sites specific to Calgary that had nothing to do with politics — Calgary Flames fan sites, or car lover sites.

These one-on-one interactions paid huge dividends over time and essentially worked as a 21st century substitute for tedious political door-knocking, Carter said.

“You don’t have to be overly appealing in your social media efforts, you just have to be authentic.”

syoung@bprda.wpengine.com