With the monsoons striking New West over the past week - not to mention that nasty windstorm - there's one obvious advantage to campaigning via social media: You can stay dry and warm doing it!
This seems particularly appealing as I'm typing this on one dark, dreary and tremendously sodden Saturday night, when (if Twitter is to be believed) a few diehard candidates are in fact out there knocking on doors despite the weather.
Brrrr. I'd rather be blogging.
In any case, with two official weeks of the campaign behind us, it's become obvious that social media is definitely an integral part of this New Westminster election in a way that it wasn't a mere three years ago, the last time we had to go to the polls to elect our mayor, council and school board.
A number of candidates are using some fairly effective tactics to get themselves noticed, on Twitter and Facebook in particular.
A few highlights of what I've seen over the past week or so:
* Engaging in debate: Some candidates have clearly learned that both Facebook and Twitter can be put to good use as a platform for debate, both candidate-to-candidate and voter-to-candidate.
Granted, you can't take an in-depth look at the issues in 140 characters or less, but you can certainly stir the pot a little bit and raise questions to get further discussions started. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, of course, depends on your point of view, but there are a couple of candidates who have been using this stir-the-pot tactic on Twitter in particular.
Notable in this category - school trustee candidate Casey Cook, for his raising questions about labour endorsements (with nods to Patrick Johnstone and Kelly Slade-Kerr for their willingness to debate right back at him), and of course mayoral hopeful James Crosty for his constant use of the 140-character "jab."
Of course, there's no telling whether their willingness to take pokes at other candidates will resonate with voters or whether the tactic will be perceived as too much negativity - we'll find out on Nov. 15.
* Providing broader community links: Many of the hopefuls have figured out that establishing a good presence on Facebook and Twitter requires them to do more than just talk about their own campaigns and those of their friends - it's nice to see links to interesting news stories, invitations to non-campaign-related community events, and information about causes or issues that might be of interest to residents of the community.
Notable in this category - school trustee candidate Jonina Campbell, for doing all of the above quite consistently, especially on Facebook.
* Reaching out to the voters: Of course, that's what all campaigning is designed to do, but by this category I mean addressing specific questions to elicit specific information - and recognizing that social media shouldn't be just about adding to the noise, but rather engaging in genuine conversations with voters to learn more.
* Becoming human: No, I don't mean that I suspect any of the candidates of being artificial life forms. Rather, I'm noting that social media allows candidates to reveal themselves as people first and candidates second - in a way that they wouldn't otherwise get a chance to do unless they literally shook the hand of every voter in the city. Candidates who are willing to let down their guard a little and reveal some insights into their own lives and personalities just come across as more likeable and more, well, human.
That means things like posting photos of themselves and their families (and not all of the staged, photo-op kind), being willing to poke a little fun at themselves, sharing light-hearted thoughts and moments alongside the serious business of the campaign, and generally revealing some personality in their tweets and statuses instead of just coming across as an update machine.
Social media also gives candidates (and everyone else) a chance to show interest in the lives of their voters, too.
Case in point: I just posted a couple of photos of my two-year-old daughter on Facebook, which earned "likes" from candidates MaryAnn Mortensen, Jonathan Cote, Cort Caldwell, Mark Gifford and Kelly Slade-Kerr. We joked in the newsroom that "liking" a kid's photo on Facebook is the 21st-century equivalent of the traditional politico's "kissing babies." Does it tell me anything about their political beliefs or their policy direction? Of course not. But it does give me that one extra brief interaction and remind me that they also have families, that they're also my neighbours here in New West - and again, that they're also human.
With all that said, to whom will I award my (highly coveted) three stars of the week?
Anyone mentioned above is certainly a contender, and last week's three stars - David Brett, Kelly Slade-Kerr and Patrick Johnstone, for those who've forgotten - are all continuing to use social media well, as is mayoral hopeful Jonathan Cote.
But after much consideration and in-depth completely non-scientific analysis, I award this week's three stars to (drum roll, please ...)
Mike Folka: For all of the above. Plus, I promised him bonus points for being the first person to respond to the first social media blog post. In seriousness, however, this new candidate is proving himself to be an engaging presence on social media with an apparently genuine desire to hear from voters and use what he learns to make a difference. Can't ask for more than that.
Patrick Johnstone: Patrick continues to be a steady, impressive presence across all social media platforms. He knows what he's doing, and he does it well - with personality, and with the backbone to take on those who don't agree with him. He's an all-around good campaigner and he's hitting all the right notes.
Cort Ray Caldwell: A number of candidates were certainly in contention for this spot, but Cort seals the deal for that above-mentioned ability to reveal himself as a human being. Yes, having personality matters - but being a genuine person matters even more. Cort is doing a great job convincing me (and, I suspect, others) that he's a likeable, approachable guy. And let's face it, that goes a long way.
ON THE FLIP SIDE: WHO'S NOT
This week's invisible-or-nearly-invisible candidate list hasn't changed a whole heckuva lot, except that Heather Boersma has withdrawn from the council race.
Still not making much of an impact - or, in some cases, any impact at all - on the social media scene are council candidates Jim Bell (also running for school board), Tracey Block, Calvin Donnelly, Raj Gupta, Matt Kadioglu and Gavin Palmer, and trustee candidate Rajiv Pandey.
So there you have it. The social media scene as I saw it this past week.
Who'll rise to the challenge in the week ahead? Who'll buckle under campaign pressure?
Stay tuned for more next week.
Want to chat with Julie on social media? Find her on Twitter, @juliemaclellan, or on Facebook, www.facebook.com/JulieLMacLellan. You'll find her regularly Tweeting using the #NewWest and #elxnnw hashtags.