Social Network Politics

By Allen Small, Leader

A bit of history here: if you have been following the Ontario Libertarian Party you will know that we have made great progress in recent years. Since the Party’s inception in 1975, it grew steadily until it fielded 45 candidates in 1990 attracting almost 25,000 votes.

Then came the Mike Harris “common sense” revolution. The next two elections 1995 and 1999 were devastating for the Party, fielding just 7 candidates in both years and even worse in 2003 with only 5 candidates.

Things began to turn around in 2007 when the Party had 25 candidates, in 2011, it was 51, and in 2014 it had 73 candidates. In each of those years the vote total increased, a 100% increase between 2011 and 2014. The last General Election, 2014, was the Party’s best showing ever with almost 38,000 votes.

How did this happen, what made the numbers turn around? It’s clear now, that our increased popularity had much to do with our determined use of social networks, especially Facebook. I don’t think I can overstate how important Facebook has been to almost every aspect of the Party.

The Party has 5 officially sanctioned Facebook groups and one Fan page. There is one group for discussions where anyone can join, one for members only, and a couple for special creative activities. All these groups are closed and private from the greater Facebook community, and some are restricted to just Party members. Other Party members have created their own groups, which adds to the mix.

Five years ago I repurposed the Fan page, which was doing nothing, to use it as a “mouthpiece” for Party positions, news and views. It was a way to spread our message and let people know we exist. Prior to that our web site, the Bulletin, election exposure, and word of mouth were the most common ways the Party received any notoriety or media attention.

The Party had an open Facebook discussion group that was quite active prior to the 2011 election campaign and it proved very useful in growing the Party for that election. Back then we had just a handful of people that came to the Fan page. It was at about that time I committed to “feeding” the Fan page daily. Each day I searched for media stories or shared and created memes that promoted libertarian ideas and especially the Party. I also had all the Fan page posts feed into our Twitter account. Eventually I began using the Fan page account as an advertising tool, paying Facebook to promote the page itself and then various posts.

The truth of the proverbial phrase “persistence pays off” became evident, the Fan page reaches thousands of people on a daily basis. I know this because Facebook supplies statistics (Facebook Analytics) to its Fan page users, and when Rob Brooks came on board with the Party we began targeting certain populations within the Facebook community in our paid advertising. But most of what we do on the Facebook Fan page is “free” if you neglect the time and effort it takes to create the daily posts.

I’m relating this story now because in the last days of May and early June 2017, as this Bulletin goes to press, the Fan page reached well over one million views for the first time ever. It’s estimated that by 2018, 19 million people will use Facebook in Canada occasionally, at least half of those from Ontario. How will that affect our prospects in the coming election campaign? Who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see.