The number of Canadians using some form of social media is growing daily. In 2011, 35 per cent of Canadians visited a social media site everyday – representing growth of 16 per cent from 2010 (Jason, 2011). While young people are often the earliest adopters of new technology, once it becomes mainstream other generations jump on the latest, trendiest social media bandwagon too. Almost two-thirds of Canadians aged 35-54 years old – and over 40 per cent of those over the age of 55 – are now actively using social media (Jason, 2011).
If so many Canadians are using social media, wouldn’t it make sense that municipalities and governments adopted these tools to speak to their audiences? In theory yes, but in practice we’re seeing a different trend. Often the last to adopt new technologies are governments. If by chance they do adopt them early, in many cases they are not using these tools correctly or effectively.
Social media sites need to facilitate open dialogue with the public – after all “social” is in the name! Many times governments, or politicians, use social media as a means to promote news about positive changes they are making. While this is a starting point in online communications, there needs to be more interaction with the public. If an individual asks a question, or makes a comment, they should get a quick response (take a look at how Red Bull manages their social media).
While a real time response may seem like a simple answer to complex public relations issues, making someone feel that their opinions have been heard is important. It’s the little things that can really change a person’s perspective about a candidate or an issue. The feeling that “my opinion matters,” is critical when trying to raise low youth voting numbers. Only 38.8 per cent of Canadian youth (18-24) voted in the most recent Federal Election (Horgan, 2011). Could this have been higher if more creative, transparent social media strategies had been implemented?
News happens 24 hours a day, and with social media anyone can be a citizen journalist. If city or municipal issues arise,a good social media presence can let the public know you are aware and taking action. This is not meant to take the place of traditional media, but rather to work in conjunction with requisite PR and communications tools by acting as a method for real time response.
Many of the most popular social media platforms are free of charge; the only cost is the time you put in to manage your account(s). This is great for governments that don’t want to be seen as wasting taxpayer dollars. However, it does take man hours to respond to and monitor social media queries, but if there are two or three people tasked with the job of social media management (i.e. members of the existing communications team), the amount of time each will have to commit will be minimal and manageable.
Governments tend to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to adopting technology and social media tools. However, by implementing a social media strategy, and using these tools effectively, governments will have an innovative means of reaching out to, and interacting with, the public.
Horgan, C. (2012, November 24). Canada’s youth vote edges up in 2011, but still a drag on the total turnout. Retrieved from, http://www.ipolitics.ca/ 2011/11/24/canadas-youth-vote-edges-up-in-2011-but-still-a-drag-on-the-total-turnout/
Jason. (2012, July 20). Canadian Social Media Statistics 2011. Retrieved from, http://www.webfuel.ca/canada-social-media-statistics-2011/
Sean Ashbridge is an intern at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, from Loyalist College’s Post-Graduate Public Relations program. Previous to obtaining his post-grad in PR, Sean completed an undergraduate degree in Geography, with a minor in Political Science, from the University of Guelph. Sean is a member of both The International Association of Business Communicators and The Canadian Public Relations Society.