Social Media and the City Centre Airport Debate

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

On Thursday morning Jeff Samsonow and I chatted about the City Centre Airport for a few minutes on CBC Radio. During the interview I was asked if I thought social media played a role in the debate. I answered, “absolutely”.

Also on Thursday, Graham Hicks mentioned the “rise of youth” in his column, observing that “the younger demographic flexed its muscle” and that “the "social media" was solidly anti-airport”. He specifically mentioned myself, Jordan Schroder, Dave Cournoyer, and Michael Janz.

Scott McKeen got things rolling on Friday with his column in the Edmonton Journal, stating that “a new reality emerged along with a new establishment.” He too mentioned age:

Blogger Mack Male used Twitter to go live from council chambers during the final debate. In one Twitter post, he wrote: "There is a silver-haired guy in the audience shaking his head during Don Iveson’s remarks."

Global Edmonton’s Linda Nguyen interviewed me Friday for a piece that aired during the evening news (click on “silent majority” because their video system sucks). Councillors Iveson and Krushell were also interviewed for the story, and cited the use of social media by young people as a trend to keep an eye on.

On Saturday, Todd Babiak’s column in the Edmonton Journal took the story to another level. He interviewed both myself and Jordan Schroder, and said:

It must have been devastating for the city’s most powerful men and women to watch a group of virtually connected–but politically unconnected–young people creating and controlling public debate with speed, elegance and respect.

Is it just coincidence that so many stories on the same topic appeared over the last few days? Were they all just trying to avoid another negative comment from Cal Nihols and his side? Maybe, but I think there’s more to it than that.

Social Media Lessons

Social media definitely played a large role in the City Centre Airport debate, on both sides. As I mentioned in my post introducing NotMyAirport.ca, AEG made use of social media for its campaign too, though the local media seems to have glossed over this fact. David MacLean was active on Twitter, and actually was the first to use the #ecca hashtag that has become so popular. You may know that I didn’t create the Not My Airport group on Facebook, Jordan Schroder did. I just looked for the largest pro-closure group and linked to it – Jordan then renamed it and made me an admin. David told me a similar thing happened with their side’s Facebook group. David and I both took part in the web debate hosted by FusedLogic, and we both encouraged others to email their councillors.

All of which begs the question, if both sides had such similar stories, why were the pro-closure side’s social media efforts so much more effective? The fact that, at least in my opinion, we had a stronger case notwithstanding, I believe the following reasons are key:

  1. Blogging

    Blogs are still the stars of social media. The pro-closure side made use of blogs quite extensively. Myself, Dave, Michael, Adam, Adam, and Jeff all blogged about the issue numerous times, and I’m sure there were others too. A blog has many benefits, but three in particular played a role here: a place to expand on thoughts and to lay out facts, a good ranking in search engines, a place for others to leave comments and have a conversation. The pro-Muni side didn’t have any blogs, and they missed out accordingly.

  2. Consistency

    Perhaps the most important thing you can do when you have a blog is to post regularly. I did that, as did others. We were also consistent with other tools. We kept the Twitter stream updated, and we regularly sent messages to our Facebook group and posted on the wall. The debate seemed more alive because we were consistent with our communications.

  3. Using the right tool for the job

    Blogs are great for sharing a relatively large amount of information. Twitter is great for short, real-time bits of info. Here’s an example: I listened to the live stream for the public hearings, and Twittered about it in real-time. The pro-Muni side was nowhere to be found. Similarly, I live tweeted the final decision, because that’s what Twitter is good at. The pro-Muni side again was silent. Even the web debate is a good example – I suggested it because I knew it would give us time to explore the issues and a chance for others to converse online.

  4. No distractions

    You might call it grassroots or simply having no money, but the pro-closure social media efforts were not affected by other “distractions”. The billboards, lawn signs, etc. all have an impact – in this case, they made the pro-Muni side seem like it had some money, and that took away from the authenticity of their social media efforts.

Over the weekend, Adam and Dave wrote about Babiak’s story. Both suggested that there’s more to the story than just young people using social media. I agree with them. If age played any role, it’s that young people are more comfortable with social media tools and thus used them more effectively. That’s a bit of a generalization, however. There were young and old people on both sides of the debate.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt in my mind that the City Centre Airport debate and the role social media played in that debate will have a lasting impact on politics in Edmonton. Having said that, it’s important to realize that change doesn’t often happen overnight. Just as it will take years for the airport itself to give way to something new, political decisions will continue to be made the way they always have been, at least for the foreseeable future.

The difference now, I hope, is that social media has been legitimized in the eyes of our local political system and should see greater use in the future.

I think that’s something to be proud of.

7 thoughts on “Social Media and the City Centre Airport Debate

  1. Great post, Mack.

    I think the build-up of social media will happen in sprints and spikes. So you’ll see a slow creep in popularity and relevance of things like twitter, Facebook groups, and blogging, and then along will come some issue that will galvanize and intensify use of these media and create a new, higher plateau of use and engagement until the ubiquity is achieved.

    And I agree with your assessment that this will not happen quickly. It will be a slow evolution, and people like you, Dave and Michael will have to keep moving the ball forward. But you’re all already doing this to great effect!

  2. Thanks Adam. Don’t forget to include yourself in the group moving this forward. I think audio and video will play a larger role in future issues, and you’re positioned well with your podcast!

  3. Thanks for the rundown post-debate, Mack.

    I was just commenting on Mark Roseman’s blog (http://blog.markroseman.com/2009/07/social-media-impact-on-local-events.html) because he’s asking a lot of questions you answer and allude to. The big one is going to be whether or not another issue comes along that the social media crowd will take up.

    I think the airport debate also speaks to a lot of people currently on social media (a “younger” crowd looking to build up, not out) and that may have helped.

    As to whether or not this will be a flash-in-the-pan event, it’s much like any organization or group of people, it’s going to be up to people to rally around an issue and use social media to get the word (and relevant, intelligent information) out.

  4. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog Mack.

    I think that billboards, lawn signs and other traditional mediums will continue to have less of an impact than inbound mediums like Twitter and blog posts. I have to use this example when speaking to my clients! Thank you!!!

    Jason

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