Conservatives limiting their networking options
Over the past couple of years, Facebook has slowly been building a reputation as one of the top social networking sites (websites whereon people can create profiles, build networks of friends and acquaintances, and share photographs and blog postings) in the world.
Along with Myspace and Nexopia, Facebook attracts thousands of users.
Some of Canada's political parties have taken advantage of the broad networking opportunities that Facebook, in particular provides. Stephane Dion has a profile with 7,940 supporters. Jack Layton has amassed 3,220 supporters via Facebook, and Green party leader Elizabeth May has a less public profile with 530 supporters.
Conservative party leader (and Prime Minister) Stephen Harper has no official public profile. In a move that underscores this fact, the Conservative party recently banned many of its staff members from using Facebook.
The ban has been supported by some on the basis of message control. This may be a fair assessment. That being said, this does take a powerful communications and networking tool out of the hands of the Conservatives, and abandons it to their opponents. That is not a wise political move.
While strict message control may be key to any successful political campaign, the fact remains that the ultimate point of those campaigns is getting that message out, and getting people to engage with it. While the blogging features offered by Facebook may represent a risk in the hands of party staff who may or may not be prone to poor discretion, the communications tools offered by these sites allow -- and encourage -- a two-way dialogue between politicians and their supporters. Facebook allows politicans a unique opportunity to disseminate and discuss their ideas and policies with their supporters. It allows them to spread the message, grow the message, and potentially expand their support.
Even the "grouping" features offered by Facebook allows politicians to identify interest groups, make appeals to them, and build the coalitions of voters that are so necessary to winning elections.
The Conservative party is making a considerable error by choosing not to embrace this potentially powerful tool. They may come to regret it come election time.