Naheed Nenshi and Social Media

by Jordan Richardson on October 22, 2010

Calgary mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi has his knowledge of Facebook, Twitter and social networking to thank – at least partially – for his win on Monday. Canada’s first Muslim mayor and Calgary’s first from a visible minority, Nenshi worked the new media to his advantage and proved how valuable technology and community can be in terms of politics.

While some naysayers continue to cling to outdated talking points about the internet and about social networking, many more are making the concept work in unique ways.

With traditional media often filled to the brim with corporate-sponsored nonsense, it’s hardly surprising that many people are taking to the internet in search of information. Social networking has played a key role in the spread of that information, as individuals are participating in a broader community and actively engaging in the public discourse. Some may still consider sites like Facebook to be time-wasting at best, but the more astute users are finding more ways than ever to get their messages out.

For Nenshi, the spread of his message pushed him into office. Just a month ago, he wasn’t even considered a contender. By Monday, however, Nenshi had defeated the front-runner by a over 27,000 votes.

Much like the election of Barack Obama in the United States, part of what worked for Nenshi was the fine art of moving new voters to act. 54% of registered voters turned out to have their say in Calgary on Monday. Contrast that with a turnout of  less than one in five voters just six years ago and you’ve got quite a shift.

For Nenshi, the use of social media to expand the scope of his message was key. While he did use traditional media, he enhanced it with re-posts on Facebook and re-tweets on Twitter. He also had an app for the iPad and iPhone that transformed information about his campaign into a single page. Facebook, Twitter and traditional news pages were all collected as a part of the page for the app, giving users the ability to get information in one place.

So could this mean new things for Canadian politicians? It’s possible.

For the time being, most of the users of social networking in the political realm are stuck on controlling the message. Follow a politician on Twitter and you’ll get a boring litany of carefully-prepared statements and bland talking points. But the tide is changing as more and more users become acquainted with the potential of social networking as it relates to spreading news and messages quickly. With future elections, social media will play an ever bigger role as we move to a greater sense of community across the nation.

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