Social Media at Federal NDP Convention 2009

I am currently in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I am attending the biennial federal convention of the New Democratic Party as a delegate for the Saint Boniface Riding Association. Our party’s last convention was in 2006 at a time when political blogs were just beginning to take off and Twitter was in its infancy. Today, party activists, journalists, and other observers are live-twittering policy panels, sharing photos through social media, and blogging every aspect of the convention. In this post, I want to explore some of the more interesting social media stories of the convention.

Democrats Live, Twitter, and Flickr: By the Numbers

I was one of a small handful of party activists who took this convention as an opportunity to promote social media in the party. To that end, we build a social media aggregator called “Democrats Live” (the name was in anticipation of a proposal to drop the “New” from “New Democratic Party”). The site mashes up tweets, blog posts, videos, and photos from social media sites to serve as a one-stop shop for online coverage of the convention. As of writing (about 1PM Atlantic), the site has received more than 10,000 hits from more than 1,000 unique visitors. Despite some issues with abuse of the rating system (which has now been disabled), the site has been working smoothly.

By far the most active social medium at this convention is Twitter. As of writing, the site has pulled together 1,254 tweets from 252 twits. This includes convention delegates, journos, and several observers watching the action unfold live on CPAC.

Dozens of photos from the convention have been posted to the HFX09 Group on Flickr, including shots of the keynote speakers, policy debates, MPs, and social events (incidentally, New Democrats know how to throw a hell of a party).

Video content has been slower in coming, which is as expected. I have a hunch that some delegates will be posting their videos only after the convention has ended due to the limited time available to edit and process video content. Personally, my goal of shooting video at convention has fallen by the wayside as I’ve been busy participating in the convention.

Dana Larsen Controversy

The biggest story in the social sphere has been the controversial decision by NDP national director Brad Lavigne to oust BC marijuana legalization activist Dana Larsen. On two occasions, Larsen posted messages on the left-wing discussion forums at indicating that he would subsidize travel and accomodations for those willing to support some of his drug policy motions. The party has taken the position that this constitutes a form of vote buying that is counter to the democratic spirit of the democracy.

Larsen and his supporters have been protesting outside the convention centre and making noise through social and traditional media. In particular, nearly half of the Twitter noise on Friday related to the Larsen controversy, both pro-Larsen and pro-party.

From my point of view, the most interesting dimension of this story is the party’s lack of understanding of social media in the whole controversy. As New Democrat activists take to emerging media to voice their concerns, the party is unable to control the story in a way that used to be possible in the days before Twitter. The party’s handling of the situation has actually created a platform for Larsen to promote his policies that he would not have had if the party had attempted to resolve the issue more amicably.

The bottom line here is that the party can no longer expect to do message control to the same extent that it could just three years ago at the last federal convention in Quebec City.

Where are the Bloggers?

While the activity on Twitter has been extremely promising , I have been somewhat surprised at the lack of convention coverage in the blogosphere. While a handful of bloggers such as Cameron Holmstrom, Northern BC Dipper, and Accidental Deliberations have been dutifully reporting on the debates and surrounding stories, other high profile New Democrat bloggers have been silent thus far. I think that there are a few reasons for this. Some bloggers were not able to attend this convention while others chose to travel light and leave their laptops at home. Facilities for blogging are limited at the convention centre; although there is wireless access, there aren’t a lot of great spaces for sitting and writing. Those on Blackberries (is that the proper pluralization?) have informed me that reception is sub-par.

Perhaps we will see more activity as the convention winds down and delegates have a bit more time to take a break and write their thoughts out online.

Tweet Up

On a final note, I am delighted that there will be a “Tweet Up” as part of tonight’s festivities. As one of the co-organizers of the event, I’m really hoping to see a large turnout of social media activists and party brass. The event is being held at the Carleton Restaurant and Pub, 1685 Argyle St. Several caucus members have already confirmed their attendance.

2 Comments on "Social Media at Federal NDP Convention 2009"

  1. Thanks for addressing the mystery of the AWOL bloggers.

    While you’re there, maybe you can suggest to whoever’s in charge of NDP PR that they enlist some sort of rapid response mechanism for their main party site that provides quick commentary from various pols on issues/controversies of the day. Our Canadian party sites need to be more attuned to the needs of bloggers who expect not to have to wait for MSM reports on major issues.

  2. catnip,

    Several New Democrat bloggers (myself among them) have been bugging the party to move in that direction. Unfortunately, most of the party staff and people who make these sorts of decisions have their experience in “traditional” PR and are very wedded to the concept of the press release. While there have been some promising developments of late, I would very much like to see the party undergo a paradigm shift to reflect the new reality of real-time publishing and social media.

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