Can a Winnipeg candidate for mayor find a "Purple Revolution" on social media?

In 2010, Naheed Nenshi was a author, consultant and professor. He was also scoring about eight per cent popularity in some polls in the race to be Calgary's mayor.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the polling booths. Nenshi and his self-described Purple Revolution stormed off Twitter and Facebook and grabbed the city's top job.

Pollster Bruce Cameron, president of Calgary-based Social Media ROI, said Nenshi's win was a "coming of age" for social media in politics.

Brian Bowman

Brian Bowman takes a selfie at one of the country's most famous intersections. (Brian Bowman)

"What Nenshi and his campaign people were able to do was to tap into that group of people who felt there was no real inspiring reason to vote and many who had never voted before," Cameron said.

"He [Nenshi] used social media to connect to those people, many of whom were younger. He reached out to them and they reached out to each other."

Cameron said Twitter has become the dominant force in political campaigning, accounting for 70-75 percent of social media mentions. Facebook is the other piece in the social media puzzle but Cameron said it used more for sharing personal or amusing things.

Nenshi now has over 173,000 followers on Twitter and has tweeted over 20,000 times. In fact he tweets daily, engaging Calgarians on everything from traffic to food trucks.

All the candidates in Winnipeg have some form of social media presence, whether on Facebook or Twitter or both.

Privacy lawyer Brian Bowman got into the Twitter-verse early, amassing over 3,200 followers and tweeting nearly 10,000 times. His recently-started campaign-related Twitter account has a more modest 804 followers (as of June 4).

Robert-Falcon Ouellette

Robert-Falcon Ouellette has nearly 900 followers on Twitter and has stepped into the social media world with both feet, having a conversation on Reddit earlier this week. (Robert-Falcon Ouellette)

Bowman said he has a social media campaign just warming up and recently offered supporters a slick smartphone case with a campaign slogan on it if they retweet.

Bowman said he and his campaign team are taking lesson from Nenshi's social media tactics and said Twitter works when it's done right.

"In order for it to work it has to be an authentic conversation and it has to be a true reflection of who you are and what your brand is," he said.

Bowman said staff will work on the campaign Twitter feed but if you want to engage him personally, his own Twitter account is where to go. He said that dialogue is important.

'In order for it to work it has to be an authentic conversation and it has to be a true reflection of who you are and what your brand is' - Brian Bowman

"Some of the most valuable conversations are where people are pushing you on something and disagreeing. That's the best opportunity for us to learn from people who disagree with you on policy or your approach," he said.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette has nearly 900 followers on Twitter and has stepped into the social media world with both feet, having a conversation on Reddit earlier this week. He led the online discussion on the social networking site about urban planning, rapid transit and his personal background.

Paula Havixbeck

Coun. Paula Havixbeck poses for a selfie outside city hall. (Paula Havixbeck)

​Coun. Paula Havixbeck weighs into the Twitter world with 2,100 followers and tweets regularly. She began tweeting in her first campaign for city council in 2010.

Havixbeck called Twitter a "valuable tool," saying it can draw attention to a particular issue very quickly. She will use it to post photos, announce events and publish pieces of her platform.

But Havixbeck chafes at the 140-character limit on Twitter sometimes. She believes it will in no way replace the personal touch, like when she knocks on doors and chats with homeowners in person.

"I got the greatest support when I ran for council because people say 'you came to my door and I actually got to have a conversation with you.' I think the majority of Winnipeggers want that," she said.

Havixbeck said she is in charge of the tweets in her campaign for now. If it get really busy she may reassess that strategy.

Gord Steeves

Gord Steeves has just over 650 followers on his campaign Twitter feed. (Gord Steeves)

Gord Steeves has been in several campaigns, both for city council and provincially, and sees social media becoming a much bigger part of a modern campaign.

​Steeves has just over 650 followers on his campaign Twitter feed and said his strategy may evolve as the campaign goes on. For now it will be Steeves tweeting the message, though he says there is a vetting process that goes on.

"There has to be a personal touch to it. If not, you lose something," he said.

Steeves, like all the candidates who spoke to CBC News, said social media will not replace some of the traditional methods of campaigning. Shoes will be worn out door-knocking and throats will get dry from making speeches.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis said she's been in 14 campaigns in her political career. She joked that she had a party-line telephone at the start. Now she sports a tablet to send out tweets and post to Facebook.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

Judy Wasylycia-Leis' campaign Facebook page got over 1,400 likes in just over 24 hours after it went up this week. (Judy Wasylycia-Leis)

The former NDP MP and MLA has over 1,700 followers on Twitter so far.

Wasylycia-Leis said she started using Facebook in her last campaign and loves how it can tell some parts of a story.

"I've always used it like a diary, so if you go into my old Facebook page it tells my entire life since I really started using it four or five years ago," she said.

Her campaign Facebook page got over 1,400 likes in just over 24 hours after it went up this week.

Wasylycia-Leis said her team is developing her social media as the campaign builds but she won't always be the one keying in every tweet.

That said, she will approve everything tweeted on her behalf.

Bruce Cameron at ROI said social media moves fast and can allow candidates to build up followers quickly.

He has a 'do' and a 'don't for using it in a campaign:

Do:

  • Look at the metrics within the numbers. What are people talking about? What issues are resonating? Social media analytics are like overhearing tens of thousands of conversations.

Don't

  • Don't take what would normally be political literature on a website or a brochure and just tweet that out. It's just so boring, like watching paint dry. You will lose followers.

The two other candidates in the race, Mike Vogiatzakis and Michel Fillion, did not respond to requests for an interview.