Social Media Campaigning Is the Norm, but Many Fail
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Social Media Campaigning Is the Norm, but Many Fail

For the past five months, my social media radar has included the mayoral and council candidates running in the upcoming Monday, October 24th, Toronto election. 

As I write this, there are less than three days left for candidates to explain why Toronto would be better off with them as mayor or on the city council.

In this day and age, when candidates have the ability to get their name and platform out without mainstream media interference, I am disappointed by what I’ve seen.

Side note: Candidates are not entitled to media coverage. Journalism is a business. The business model of media outlets, usually private enterprises, dictates that newsworthy candidates get covered. Obviously, a candidate’s newsworthiness will not be universally agreed upon. However, it is a media outlet’s prerogative to decide whom they should cover and how much coverage they receive.

It is painfully evident that when it comes to social media, many candidates, even incumbents, do not understand:

  • How to compose tweets and posts that sell their qualifications and why they should be elected.
  • The importance of hashtag usage. (e.g., #TOpoli, #Toronto, #TorontoVotes, #TOVotes22, #VoteTO, #Ward24)
  • How to build support around their candidacy.
  • Engaging in flame wars (READ: Fighting to prove “they are right.”) is never a good look.

Most candidates lack a robust social media presence. Therefore, they are unable to leverage social media to promote themselves and their platforms. This is equivalent to, If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? 

It takes years to prepare for an election. Winning an election takes more than simply posting a few statements on social media, usually to a small number of followers, or constantly bashing the incumbent you are challenging.

In 2022 anyone running for public office needs to prioritize cultivating a following BEFORE seeking office.

Many candidates, especially those who have not been visible in their community, seem to think they will secure votes simply by showing up on the scene. All they have to do is make cliché promises, which often exceed the mayor’s or councillor’s absolute powers or scope of influence, and presto! they will win. 

Conveniently forgotten when making election promises: The provincial and federal governments have overarching powers over Toronto, and global factors, such as inflation, the climate change, impact the city, which local politicians have no control over. 

It has become political scriptto use the following rhetoric to get elected: 

“I promise to fight against crime, to help the homeless, to build affordable housing, etc…” 

Since Toronto was founded, every elected official has promised to “fight, help and build.” Yet, Toronto still has its share of crime, homelessness, and lack of affordable housing et al., issues that every metropolis worldwide struggles with. The many social issues Toronto experiences are the same issues all large cities experience.

Instead of pointing out their opponent’s shortcomings, candidates should be using social media mass communication capabilities to explain why their experience (if any) and community involvement (if any) make them the best candidate.

I expect that throughout the next three days, there will be a flurry of last-minute activity among mayoral candidates and those seeking council seats. Ideally, candidates will step away from their laptops and spend this weekend interacting with the people of Toronto. When running for public office, social media does not beat meeting people face-to-face. However, as we have seen, social media is the primary means of campaigning for many candidates because it is easy to sit at home typing on a laptop. In either case, candidates should consider incorporating the following into their social media activity while they still can.

Live video.

Why have candidates not utilized live video when meeting constituents at community events, conducting virtual town halls or knocking on doors? 

Social media video allows candidates to break their own news and communicate with constituents in real time. Unlike traditional newscasts, live video is available 24/7 without editorial interference.

Streaming live on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and even Twitter, where most candidates seem to like to hang out, can be highly effective. Rather than just talking to voters one-on-one or in group settings, live video has a much greater reach. The added benefit is that the recording can be posted for constituents to view, share, and comment on. 

·Don’t make election promises that can’t be kept.

At this point in the election, the horses have left the barn on this. Countless election promises have been made on social media platforms to get votes.

I get it; political campaigns are all about getting votes. I also understand that telling people what they want to hear is a vote-mining strategy that’s been around since the Greeks invented democracy.

Much has changed since the ancient Greeks raised their hands to indicate for or against the most notable: technology.

Candidates should keep in mind that nothing on the Internet ever disappears. Posts, tweets, and comments made on social media leave a digital footprint, which, if someone screenshots, exists forever. Social media makes it possible for constituents to find out what a candidate promised years after the election. Hence, candidates should be careful to make only election promises they can genuinely keep. If a candidate is elected, the last thing they need is promises they made on social media that are being unfulfilled, coming back to haunt them. Worse than broken promises haunting the candidate would be their unprofessional behaviour on social media.

As I mentioned, many candidates, especially those running for councillor, make promises that they cannot be fulfilled by a councillor. In many cases, municipalities, provinces, and the federal government hold overriding power, which candidates conveniently overlooked. Additionally, Toronto’s mayor has new veto power. 

A councillor’s job is to serve the residents of their ward. However, many candidates think that being a councillor means they will have a platform to advocate for social change. On the contrary, a councillor’s job is to be a conduit between their constituents and city hall, assisting residents in navigating city hall’s complexities. Therefore, being a councillor is about serving your constituents. Servitude may not be as glamorous as “I will save the world!” but it is the essence of a councillor’s job.

SUGGESTION: Candidates, especially those with a good chance of winning, should edit their social media posts and tweets that they don’t want to be associated with in the future.

Ask questions!

The use of questions on social media has been proven to increase engagement. Yet, I’ve not seen candidates asking Torontonians questions. 

Asking questions relevant to Torontonians or residents of their ward is a simple way for a candidate to generate some back-and-forth. Furthermore, asking questions shows a candidate’s willingness to listen to voters.

Facebook and Twitter appear to be the preferred platforms among candidates. However, there are several other social media platforms candidates should consider using, such as Instagram, LinkedIn, which offers outstanding targeting abilities, TikTok and even Snapchat.

One last piece of advice to all candidates, incumbents included. This weekend, get out in the community! Knock on doors, attend events, stand on busy street corners handing out flyers—do whatever to introduce yourselves to voters. Explain to every Torontonian you speak with why you should be Toronto’s next mayor or sit on the city council. 

As I mentioned, many candidates have been using the lazy strategy of campaigning solely via social media. Regardless of how media savvy a candidate is, “couch campaigning” doesn’t replace meeting constituents and engaging them in a meaningful way, even in 2022.


Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan

Nick Kossovan
Nick Kossovan
Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job. You can send Nick your questions at [email protected]