Parties use apps, QR codes to reach out to voters
The Liberal party's 'fRed' is a platform for supporters to congregate and gather information about the party and its events.
Published Monday, September 19, 2011 7:05AM EDT
This election, there's no debate about Twitter or Facebook. All four major Ontario political parties are on board, and it's become virtually impossible to compete for the public's attention without the help of social media.
But now candidates and campaign managers are expanding their digital reach, experimenting with QR codes and custom apps to stay relevant and win votes.
"The one thing people talk about around this time is the youth vote. Every party wants to obtain that youth vote like it's this mysterious thing," Rebecca Harrison, director of communications for the Green Party of Ontario, told CTVNews.ca.
"The people most comfortable with social media are in that 18-30 (age) bracket. You can't expect them to come to you, you have to go to them."
The Greens are a perfect example of "going to them." Though they are well behind the others in the polls, Harrison said social media has helped the party reach a whole new level of exposure.
She said it's been a challenge in past elections to get coverage from traditional media outlets (hence their "Let Mike Speak" website and petition to get Leader Mike Schreiner into the televised debates). But social media outlets like Twitter have helped them reach out to journalists.
The Progressive Conservative party is focusing this time around on reaching out to those supporters they already have.
They've put a spin on their Facebook presence with the party's "Change Ahead" app, allowing supporters to "work their way up the advocacy ladder" for points and prizes. Various points and badges are awarded for sharing a link, liking a photo, or updating a status in support of the PC Party.
The PCs hope the custom app will activate the supporters they already have by converting online enthusiasm into offline action.
New Democrat candidates are avoiding "bells and whistles" this election, sticking with the familiar Facebook and Twitter to capitalize on their strengths and reach the largest potential pool of voters.
"Frankly, some people are still not familiar with much of online communications, so we felt if we kept it to what we did well, in terms of communicating, letting people know what our message was, that was the best way to go about it," NDP social media co-ordinator Justin Stayshyn told CTVNews.ca.
"We're not using QR codes or anything, just videos and active responding and that kind of thing, so people know where to find us and where to find the answers."
Not to suggest they're behind the times. NDP leader Andrea Horwath is one of only a few Canadian politicians actively using Google Plus.
A growing trend this election are QR codes. They are those barcode-like blocks that can be scanned by a Blackberry to link to websites and other sources of information.
Tim Grant, a Green candidate in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, has them on his signs, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty has them on his campaign bus and Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi, of Ottawa Centre, has them on his lawn signs and campaign literature.
Naqvi acknowledges QR codes are a new tool and still unfamiliar to some, but said "those in the know are very impressed I'm using it."
And in his case they're especially useful since people so often spell his name wrong.
"They're used to putting ‘u' after ‘q,' so this is an easy way to get people to the site without having to type it out," he said in a phone interview from Ottawa.
"I think it's an easy way of communicating for people to get information about what I am, who I am, what I've been doing for the past 4 years."
Like the PC Party's Change Ahead app, the Liberal party has also created a platform for supporters to congregate and gather information about the party and its events. They call theirs "fRed."
Similar but more multimedia-oriented is the Green Party's site, GPOTV.ca. Candidates like Mark Daye of Toronto Centre upload videos almost daily.
Still, there are always kinks to be worked out.
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has an iPhone app that is only partially updated. Some buttons, like the budget, still link back to his 2010 campaign.