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A Lens on Leadership: social media and #ELXN44

September 15, 2021

The federal election is in its dying days, which means Canadians are coming up on the deadline for a big decision: picking their local Member of Parliament. Most voters have been busy squeezing the most out of a summer they weren’t sure they’d be getting in the first place — and on their long list of summer to-dos, choosing a representative to go to Ottawa likely hasn’t been near the top. But with Labour Day behind us, that task is edging closer to the top spot.

And while voters will be checking off a local candidate’s name on their ballots, when it comes to influencing their decisions in the voting booth, it’s the party leaders who have the biggest megaphones, the greatest visibility, and the best tools for reaching and persuading them. Considering Canada has one of the highest social media penetration rates in the world, digital channels are critical for leaders to put that into practice and reach their key audiences.

So, with less than a week left on the campaign trail, we asked ourselves a question: how are Canada’s party leaders stacking up on social media?

Your Proof Strategies public affairs, government relations and digital experts took a close look at some of the top leaders’ social media footprints, to see how parties have been channelling their highest-profile spokespeople online. Here’s the snapshot:

Liberal Party of Canada | Justin Trudeau

Twitter5.7 million

Facebook8.4 million

Instagram4.0 million

TikTok: N/A

As the incumbent Prime Minister with six years under his belt leading the country, Trudeau’s tenure in the spotlight — and initial strong popularity with younger voters in the 2015 election — put him a step ahead on day one in terms of size of the organic audience on his channels — even after discounting non-voters and global followers. His evident personal energy, celebrity-level visibility, and a natural ability to engage with voters one-on-one have certainly played a role in creating engaging content and growing the sizable social media audience he enjoys today.

His team also has a strong track record of effectively using those channels tactically: they have a history of seizing on key moments that align with his brand, packaging them for consumption on social media, and amplifying them for the greatest impact. His 2016 soundbite explaining quantum computing, for example, has generated well over two million views on YouTube alone.

Executing a few of these hits in a series can leave a big impression on the electorate. Since the campaign kicked off, the Liberal team has been hustling to do just that — generating strong engagement for Trudeau on Instagram (where he gets the most interactions per individual post) and Facebook (larger volume of posts and biggest total aggregate interactions).

In tandem, the party’s also been executing with paid social ads ­— often using tight targeting to reach key pockets of voters. Recently, Trudeau’s personal Facebook and Instagram accounts were used to launch an ad in French specifically for Quebec voters (see the YouTube edition here). It showcases roughly a dozen Quebec-based Liberal candidates and features only a brief cameo from the leader himself — an interesting means of underlining the breadth of the party’s bona fides to the province’s voters.

Team Trudeau has also been using a more “old school” tool for results on social media: text messages. The campaign has been encouraging Canadians to text in questions to a central number, so the leader can respond to voters from the road. They’ve turned Trudeau’s answers into video content on Facebook — demonstrating his accessibility to voters, and no doubt collecting valuable data on potential supporters in the process. It’s a smart play and one that’s been used various on a range of other campaigns.

The team’s clearly been working hard. What remains to be seen — with the leader’s shifting personal approval levels — is whether team Trudeau’s history of success and built-in advantages on social can make up for the voters’ more muted views of the leader. Time will tell.

Conservative Party of Canada | Erin O’Toole

Twitter155.9K

Facebook160.5K

Instagram56.8K

TikTok: N/A

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has a different footprint and approach than his Liberal rival. As the newest leader of a major federal party — elected to the role just over a year ago — he’s had a shorter runway to capitalize on his new stature to grow an organic audience on his channels. The intense, ongoing news cycle created by the pandemic also didn’t make it easy for anyone trying to cut through the noise.

Despite that, his team made some smart choices over the last year to both introduce and define him with voters. They humanized O’Toole — through posts with Wexford the family dog, through shots of his morning runs, and by introducing both his family and military record to Canadians.

Since the launch of the campaign, they’ve built on that foundation with some sharp tactics that have generated solid engagement metrics. The Conservatives have been using O’Toole’s channels to help set the public agenda for the day, pushing out short clips at about 7 am that highlight that day’s policy announcement. They’re brief, digestible, and designed specifically for consumption on social media (e.g. sized for mobile screens, and using captions given most users watch videos without audio).

The Conservatives have also deployed a unique asset: their fresh experience campaigning digitally during the pandemic. Given the Conservative leadership race overlapped with the early part of public health restrictions, O’Toole’s team has been able to draw on that recent experience connecting with voters digitally to overcome the barriers created by social distancing. We’ve seen that through their virtual town halls and using their new state-of-the-art Ottawa studio.

The team has also capitalized on opportunities to get traction with voters: When popular Quebec Premier François Legault tacitly endorsed O’Toole the morning after the French debate, the Conservatives briefly turned the news into an ad on Facebook and Instagram, targeting Quebec voters.

We’ll see how all these pieces add up on Election Day, but there’s no doubt O’Toole’s team has made the most of their strengths to reach audiences on social media.

New Democratic Party | Jagmeet Singh  

Twitter504.8K

Facebook 378.8K

Instagram 707K

TikTok801.2K

According to media reports from the last several months, the NDP has been executing a deliberate, long-term strategy: to leverage Singh’s personal authenticity to connect with a cohort of younger voters who aren’t typically courted by federal parties. And TikTok — a channel immensely popular with the exact Gen Z demographic they’re looking to reach — has been a core part of that play.

There’s a lot about the strategy that makes sense. The monumental growth of the platform — it just overtook YouTube for average watch time in the U.S. and U.K. — underscores that the people are there. Research also shows that Generation Z strongly values authenticity — which makes Singh’s personal strengths an ideal fit for the audience he’s working to reach and the platform he’s emphasizing.

There’s also clear potential for this approach to have a big impact. In the 2015 election, successfully tapping into young voters was a key factor in the Liberals’ victory. In 2019, though, that surge faded: only 54 percent of those aged 18-24 voted (which means a lot of untapped votes to be picked up). Meanwhile, Singh’s favorability scores relative to Trudeau and O’Toole are highest in the younger 18-34 age bracket.

But as marketers, we know there’s a big difference between raising awareness and creating a conversion.

Based on the metrics, it’s clear the first half of that strategy — awareness-building — has been effective. In one TikTok post alone, Singh’s generated 6.8 million views and over 580,000 likes.

For part two: the ads the NDP is running on Facebook and Instagram (which can be seen on the platform’s publicly accessible Ad Library) show the second stage is in full effect. Several ads feature the party’s “get out the vote” message and push users to the NDP’s bespoke “How You Vote” information page, and the metrics show they’re overwhelmingly reaching younger voters.

It remains to be seen whether the NDP’s play will be effective at translating awareness and support into converted votes in time for the ballot count on the night of September 20th. For our part at Proof Strategies, we’ll be watching closely to find out how all these pieces helped the leaders reach their final result.