I just finished an interview with CBC about the provincial byelection in Ontario. I was asked to comment on an interesting graph that shows trends in “engagement” with content published by the five leading candidates. My take? Likes and shares are initial steps in a ladder of engagement. They otherwise only indicate a click.

The power of digital is more involved than the simple count of followers, likes, favourites, shares and retweets. The journalist thanked me for bringing new ideas to her attention while fretting having to parse through a 20 minute recording to splice out a six-second gem.

Let me share two points I raised which seemed to pique the journalist’s interest.

Harness Google

Google is the go-to resource for a majority of web users seeking information on a particular topic. When searching for the various candidates by name this morning, I saw media coverage has pushed candidate websites down “below the fold” in the search results. This means the candidates’ own websites are being displaced by online news reports, impacting the campaign teams’ ability to lead with the messages they wish to communicate.

150202-GoogleSearch-SudburyElectionNDP candidate Suzanne Shawbonquit has apparently figured this out. She’s purchased targeted Google Adwords campaigns. Her website appears, as an ad, at the top of specific search results. Which searches? The important ones: her name and those of two competing candidates, Glenn Thibeault (Liberal) and Andrew Olivier (Independent). As it turns out, Glenn Thibeault advertises only on searches of his own name. Andrew Olivier doesn’t appear to targeting searches of any name; even his own.

What’s telling about Ms. Shawbonquit’s choices is who she views as her competition. She has apparently decided it’s not worth investing in searches of Paula Peroni (PC) or David Robinson (Green).

Digital Lawn Signs

Too many candidates measure their impact by the number of Twitter follows or Facebook fans their accounts have attracted. This discounts the likelihood that journalists, columnists, analysts, academics, and pundits — few, if any, of whom may actually support the candidate — are using these features as a convenient way subscribe to content streams.

To increase the level of attention, the candidate needs free advertising that piggybacks on routine social media activities. The candidate needs the equivalent of digital lawn signs — something I first wrote about on my own blog in October 2010.

What’s a digital lawn sign? Every time someone tweets or issues a Facebook status update, the content is accompanied by the profile photo (or avatar) associated with the person’s account. Some candidates make profile and cover images declaring support (“I’m voting for…”, “I support…” or some such variant) for the candidate for each relevant platform (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc…), and provide instructions on how to use them.

The net effect is every time a person issues a social media update, there’s a visual cue (or digital lawn sign) which reminds the viewer there’s an election going on and that the person they’re following supports a particular candidate.

Parting thought for the journalist

I apologized to the journalist for turning what she probably hoped would be a simple chat about a colourful graph into a lengthy discussion about integrated digital communications.

The power of online advocacy is not recognized by taking a simplistic view of obvious metrics. It’s in harnessing the simple metrics, understanding the people and opinions, and, above all, knowing how all of the pieces interact so you can segment, target and mobilize for success.

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