Naheed Nenshi elected mayor of Facebook, er, Calgary

Monday saw the election of a new mayor in Calgary, and Naheed Nenshi’s victory certainly is deserving of the term “underdog victory.”

Running in Canada’s most conservative city is a challenge for any candidate, but Nenshi, a Muslim academic with no formal experience and at a severe disadvantage in both name recognition and fundraising, managed to overcome some major obstacles in his bid to take the keys to City Hall.

His opponents were long-time alderman Ric McIver and CTV anchorwoman Barb Higgins. Both were very well-known candidates within the city, and both had well-oiled fundraising machines at their disposal. So how did Nenshi overtake these two heavily favoured front runners?

Some analysts are crediting Nenshi’s win to his far superior utilization of social media techniques. And it’s not hard to see why, just take a look at his Facebook page: it’s alive with, video messages from the candidate himself, an email list for supporters to sign up for, and timely, relevant updates right up to election time; the works, basically. All of this translated into a Facebook following of over 11,000 Calgarians, compared to 1,400 for Higgins and a laughable 74 for Ric McIver.

Nenshi was using other social media tools, like Twitter and even an iPhone app, and it just goes to show how valuable these tools are in modern electoral campaigns. As Nenshi said in this interview with The Calgary Herald, the most important thing about social media isn’t to use it as a new way to bombard people with press releases, but to “further the conversation.”

“We’re using the same tools as everyone else,” says the candidate. “It’s how we’re using them and the message we’re getting out that’s very different.

“We use social media to really engage with people in detail, to actually talk to them.

“Where Ald. McIver seems to use these things as news release tools, for instance, I regularly answer people’s questions and further the conversation.”

“At first I thought, who in the world would want to download a little app so they could have me in their pockets at all the time? It’s ridiculous. But hundreds of people did.”