In her quest for the federal Liberal leadership, Martha Hall Findlay wants to reach the wonks. And she’s looking for them on reddit.com.
Social news site reddit is home to everything from funny dog photos to substantive debate. The site has become famous in recent years for hosting live Q&As with celebrities and politicians, including one with President Barack Obama while he was running for re-election.
The platform allows users to ask questions of well-known people without a middleman, such as the news media. Questions are sorted by up or down votes from users.
But while Mr. Obama’s appearance was aimed to energize the youth vote, Ms. Hall Findlay says her campaign is targeting the kind of hyper-engaged online users who hang out on /r/CanadaPolitics , one of reddit’s more civilized corners.
It’s the wonks, interested in talking about serious ideas, whom Ms. Hall Findlay says she can get interested in her campaign and spread the word virally across their online networks.
“We can’t underestimate Canadians’ interest in politics when we’re discussing issues in a substantive way,” Ms. Hall Findlay’s social-media strategist, Richard Einarson, said in an interview.
The CanadaPolitics subreddit (as a section is known) has hosted Ask Me Anything (AMA) chats with such people as journalist Andrew Coyne , former Reform leader Preston Manning , NDP MP Dan Harris and fellow Liberal leadership candidate Deborah Coyne .
Ms. Hall Findlay's AMA takes place Thursday afternoon and she is likely the highest profile national Canadian politician to conduct an AMA so far. She was a Toronto Member of Parliament from 2008 to 2011 and is now based in Calgary. She ran unsuccessfully for the party leadership in 2006.
Ms. Hall Findlay’s social media strategy follows the kind of influencer-targeting successfully used by Naheed Nenshi’s campaign for Calgary mayor in the fall of 2010. Members of Mr. Nenshi’s campaign, including Stephen Carter and Mr. Einarson, are now working for her. Mr. Carter helped guide Alison Redford to the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and through her successful 2012 provincial election.
The Nenshi campaign was a lesson in how to run a successful political race on a budget. Without the money to buy television advertising (a position Ms. Hall Findlay finds herself in), Mr. Nenshi’s team relied on social media and web-data analysis. Tools, such as those available on YouTube, allow campaigners to track what videos worked and at what point viewers stopped watching. Mr. Nenshi has been an active tweeter before and after the campaign.
She’s already recruited one supporter: Dillon McGuire, 19, who moderates /r/CanadaPolitics and helps schedule most of the AMAs. Mr. McGuire is a business student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
He says he was nervous at first to bring politicians’ attention to his corner of the Internet. But most of those invited have said yes.
“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Mr. McGuire says.
Like the other moderators, he displays his political leanings next to his username: dmcg12, Liberal|ON|Hall Findlay. He admits most users of reddit are left-leaning, but says his section of the site has tried hard to keep out the trolls.
“Our community has been successful in creating a culture where we can all come together and share opinions and not be ridiculed,” he says.
In her race for the Liberal leadership, Ms. Hall Findlay has some serious competition. Montreal MP Justin Trudeau , one of her competitors, is one of Canada’s most popular politicians online.
But, Ms. Hall Findlay says, “a Twitter follower is not necessarily someone who is engaged in the political world.”
(Mr. Trudeau has about 179,000 Twitter followers to Ms. Hall Findlay’s 6,452. Marc Garneau , another frontrunner, has more than 10,000. Reddit’s CanadaPolitics section has more than 5,200 subscribers, with five to 10 times as many who visit the site, but aren’t registered.)
Ms. Hall Findlay says her fundraising has also been given a boost through social media, but declined to give exact numbers. Mr. Trudeau’s campaign announced earlier this week it has raised almost $600,000 so far, a number the other campaigns may struggle to match.
Ms. Hall Findlay said in an interview she’s looking forward to the quick and unfiltered nature of reddit AMAs.
“I don’t usually hold back,” she said, adding with a laugh: “I could say something really stupid.”