Can Twitter win an election?
Social media profiles offer student voters something that advertisements, posters and flash mobs do not a chance to get to know the candidates of the upcoming election.
While Google searching cannot replace the understanding gained through a one-on-one conversation, for the average busy student viewing platforms online, following candidates on Twitter and watching campaign videos will be the most realistic way to determine their vote.
“If you don’t have a strong online presence, you won’t win the election,” asserted current Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president and CEO Nick Gibson.
Technology blog mashable.com reported that in 2011, 63 per cent of recruiters checked social media sites for information about potential employees.
President and CEO of WLUSU is a job. Just like any other, candidates should expect to be “Googled” to prepare for the fact that good versus bad web presence can influence whether or not they get the job.
Looking at their social media profiles from the perspective of professionalism, political strategy and insight from the current president himself, The Cord investigates how the presidential candidates are qualifying themselves for the role in the web world.
Jenny Solda: online branding
Fourth-year BBA student Jenny Solda’s campaign branding is one of the strongest in the election as her physical presence on campus extends to the digital world, making her memorable in the election whether you’ve seen her in person or not.
According to mashable.com, one of the major qualifiers between good and bad online presence is successful digital branding.
Branding the question, “What’s your WLUSU?” students hold up signs answering Solda’s main platform question through Facebook and Twitter profiles to support her campaign.
Career development specialist Graham Sogawa who talks to university students about successful social media strategies, agreed that consistent branding is effective, noting that he especially likes Solda’s @SoldonSolda Twitter handle.
“There’s a little bit of humour here, it’s not over the top and I think that’s really interesting, I think it’s really great how creative the students are being when they’re trying to brand themselves to their fellow students,” he said.
Political science professor and journalist Geoff Stevens suggests that to be effective in a student election, the message must be kept simple because the campaign is short, and it can sometimes be difficult to get students’ attention.
“A parallel would be in the Toronto municipal election last year … Rob Ford ‘stopped the gravy train’ and it resonated a simple message and everybody got it. I disagree with everything Rob Ford stands for, but it worked.”
Solda’s slogan is well-advertised through multiple Twitter accounts of campaign team members. “Recognition is the key thing, most students don’t know who the other students are. You’ve got to get out there and get yourself known, your name known and your brand known,” continued Stevens.
One of Solda’s downfalls was misspelling words on her Linkedin profile at the time of The Cord’s interview with Sogawa on Jan. 20.
“I know from experience, reading a resume, it’s hard to overlook those things, they tend to jump off the page at you,” Sogawa explained, adding that it’s important to put time into the details.
As of Jan. 24 at 12 p.m. Solda had 343 @SoldonSolda Twitter followers, 249 Facebook fans, and 237 connections on Linkedin.
Michael Onabolu: interacting with personality
Like Solda, Onabolu brands a specific message through his advocating for mental health, but the fourth-year student differs from the three other candidates through his personalized style of interaction with potential voters.
Onabolu is one of two candidates that has two Twitter profiles, a personal account (@Onabolu_Inc) and a campaign account (@MikeforLaurier).
Through both twitter accounts, Onabolu tweets topics of general interest to students — such as a song or quote of the day — opposed to just promoting his campaign.
Sogawa liked this use of social media because it gives followers some personal insight to the candidate, “He’s using a twitter as you hope he would which is to communicate and to put some great content out there, I like that he’s putting quotes, I think that’s interesting. It speaks to his own interests.”
Gibson agreed with Sogawa that this communication is an effective way to connect with students. Even on the web, authenticity is key.
“Have a little bit of fun about it, sometimes if it’s not even directly related to the campaign. Tweeting about the football game last night… it gives a little bit of insight into what things you’re interested in,” he continued.
“The one thing I would note though is that social media does not replace actually engaging with students one-on-one,” the Gibson added about this interaction.
Although Sogawa suggested that Onabolu complete the profile summary about himself for professional purposes, he also pointed out that Onabolu’s Linkedin appropriately reveals more skills to students and employers.
“Given how many extra curriculars and some of his ‘job work’ he’s obviously keeping busy which speaks to perhaps time management skills,” added Sogawa.
As of Jan. 24 at 12 p.m. Onabolu had 153 @MikeforLaurier twitter follows, 212 Facebook fans, and 138 connections on Linkedin.
Zahra Sultani: jumping in feet first
The youngest student in the race, Sultani’s social media profiles display some interesting extra-curricular involvement, but lacks a strong online presence.
“You kind of get that new to social media feel,” Sogawa said in regards to Sultani’s twitter account. “That’s the thing with social media, if you’re going to jump in, you’ve got to leverage the resource and you’ve got to take advantage of what it can do for you.”
From her campaign account @zahra4prez, Sultani has tweeted seven times since Jan. 19. When Sogawa looked at the account on Jan. 20, Sultani had tweeted once.
Sogawa liked Sultani’s Linkedin account and was especially impressed with her language skills. The second-year political science and philosophy student is fluent in three languages and proficient in five.
“She’s really taken the time to include a lot of information, her language skills especially, I think that’s great.”
But like Solda, Sultani initially made the mistake of not proofreading her Linkedin account, misspelling assistant as “assistand” within the first line of her most recent job description.
While Sultani has put more effort into her Facebook fan page than Twitter account, Sogawa notes that from a professional standpoint, Facebook is less relevant than Twitter and Linkedin.“Most companies I work with, they could care less about your Facebook,” said the career development specialist.
As of Tuesday, Jan. 24. Sultani had @zahra4prez 33 Twitter followers, 108 Facebook fans, and 34 connections on Linkedin.
Nolan Kreis: a lacking presence
Like Onabolu, Kreis has a Twitter campaign account separate from his personal one, but it is not used with the same frequency.
The current photo for the Brantford candidate’s personal account is a tilted Bud Light beer can which Sogawa does not see as an issue for student elections, “I think back to university and it’s not shocking that beer plays a big role in some university student’s lives.”
But from an employment standpoint, Sogawa is unsure.
“When it comes time to start looking for a job, I think it’s important that you take a quick look online … I’d rather it be a screen shot of him looking professional. That enhances the sale.”
Kreis’s lack of presence on Linkedin concerned Sogawa from a professional standpoint, “Not having a profile can actually be really detrimental for him. That’s often times what I’ll say to a job seeker, is you want to be found, you want to give people the opportunity to learn more about you.”
Stevens is unimpressed with the generic handles of “insert name here,” “for president” that Sultani and Kreis have both advertised online.
“That’s really boring, isn’t it?” he said in regard to the two campaign handles.
A former managing editor at the Globe and Mail, Stevens said that slogans need to be creative if candidates want to get attention.
Gibson attributed social media interaction as being a big part of his campaign last year.
“If you don’t have an online presence, you’re not going to be able to effectively engage all those other people that aren’t normally engaged.”
Gibson said that while it may not be the candidate’s intention, a lack of online presence makes a negative impact on student voters.
“It speaks to something else, how organized are they? How much do they actually care?” he asked.
“Those are the questions I would start asking. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, but for random Joe student voter, it’s a natural question to ask,” Gibson added.
As of Jan. 24 at 12 p.m. Kreis had 16 @NolanforPres Twitter followers, 65 Facebook fans and 0 connections on Linkedin.
Applying online identities to the role of president
According to Gibson, the four presidential candidates need to be aware of how they present themselves online. With social media websites as the most accessible way for students to learn about the candidates, the WLUSU president’s election may depend on how well the potential presidents have communicated a strong online identity.
“You don’t need to necessarily have the strongest online presence, but you need to have a strong online presence,” said Gibson.
While some of the things learned from social media are not relevant to the campaign, social media can help students put together an overall vision of the candidate that a five minute speech in the Concourse cannot communicate — something that Gibson stresses is important because most of the job is made up of events that can’t be predicted.
“You may have a good platform, but what else? What else about you? What are the sort of common threads and themes that will drive you and get you through your term and how is that going to look at the end of the day?”
Gibson’s experience in the role of president leads him to believe that while overall interaction online is important, there is a lot of overlap with online strengths. For him the defining factor for good web presence is demonstrating personality.
“I’d say the personality … personality because I think you’re able to get more information from what things they actually want to talk about, you can kind of read between the lines of things that they are not talking about.”