Budget 2.0: Social media tools will be key to communicating next federal budget

OTTAWA – The standard pre-budget photo-op features the federal finance minister buying a new pair of shoes.

Now, Jim Flaherty’s preparing to tell Canadians how it feels to walk a mile in those shoes.

His department will use its Twitter account to chronicle Flaherty’s day as he prepares to deliver the 2013 federal budget in the House of Commons on Thursday .

It’s one of several social-media and digital strategies the government is using to communicate the new federal spending and savings plan.

They include live-streaming a so-called “enhanced” version of the budget speech to the House of Commons, which the Finance Department has dubbed “speechPLUS.”

While the minister lays out the government’s fiscal plan, those watching online will be privy to graphics and videos the department says will provide context for the information he’s sharing with MPs.

Meanwhile, the department will also post links to those materials via its Twitter account.

All of it will be branded with the hashtag #eap13, which is short for “economic action plan,” the phrase the government uses to refer to the budget.

The document itself will be made compatible with mobile and tablet devices and the online version will have a better search function to allow the document to be scanned quickly.

The department began the digital campaign on Tuesday, posting an introductory video about the budget on YouTube.

The comprehensive digital plan is a first for Finance, though officials did tweet elements of Flaherty’s speech in previous years and also made the document available on some mobile platforms.

It represents the increasing integration of social media into government communications as part of an overall strategy, rather than just an afterthought.

Data released by the digital analytics firm comScore earlier this month shows the government of Canada is the second-largest advertiser on social media sites, representing 40 per cent of all ads people see.

Rules for the use of social media by civil servants are now in place and further guidelines are expected later this year in an effort to standardize how tools such as Twitter and Facebook are used to communicate with the public.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s own Twitter account has had a recent facelift, with staff using it to share previously unpublicized interactions or comments that may not merit a formal news release.

Harper offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his own day via Twitter in January.

With its plan for the budget, the Finance Department is taking a page from efforts in the United States.

President Barack Obama’s state-of-the-union address for the last two years has been live-streamed with an enhanced format.

After this year’s speech, some questioned whether the graphics presented data fairly or whether they had been generated to emphasize the points Obama wished to make.

They are an effective marketing tool, one observer noted.

“I will say that I think the use of the charts was very successful and does make the president’s speech more effective,” Randy Klum, the president of a U.S. infographic design company, wrote on his blog.

“By their very nature, the charts imply that the president has data behind his message, and that can be a very persuasive, compelling tactic.”

Research has shown that people are increasingly taking in live television events with their smart phones or tablet computers and political events are no exception.

The Pew Research Centre for People and the Press found that 11 per cent of those who watched the first U.S. presidential debate were following it online at the same time as they were watching it on television, with that number rising to 22 per cent for those under 40.

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