Budget 2.0: social media tools will be key to communicate 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.

He’ll be tweeting elements of his day Thursday as he prepares to deliver the 2013 federal budget in the House of Commons.

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

They include live-streaming a so-called “enhanced” version of Flaherty’s budget speech to the House of Commons, which his 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 be posting links to those materials via its own Twitter account.

The government is also making online versions of the budget compatible with mobile and tablet devices and creating a better search function to allow the document to be scanned quickly.

The comprehensive digital plan is a first for the Finance Department, though officials did tweet elements of Flaherty’s speech last year 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.

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 used presented data fairly or whether they had been generated to merely mimic 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,” wrote Randy Klum, the president of a U.S. inforgraphic design company, 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.