As YouTube emerges as an important political channel south of the border, Canadian politicians are in dire need of more creative and strategic campaigns using social media, say two media observers. "People don't watch the news or read newspapers anymore, so YouTube is an expansion of news space," says Greg Elmer, director of the Infoscape Research Lab at Ryerson University in Toronto. "If you create buzz on YouTube, the mass media is quick to pick it up and you get double exposure." Although YouTube is perceived as a domain where the young rule, the majority of viewers are in fact older. A Nielsen/Netratings survey found that 55 per cent of YouTube users were between the ages of 35 to 64. "Politicians who get it know that YouTube is still viewed as an unofficial space to target the youth vote, but they use it tactically with official TV, radio and print campaigns," says Elmer. A recent example of this crossover occurred on CTV News' coverage of disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer, says Chris George, president of CG&A Communications, a St. Catharines, ON-based public relations firm that has developed campaigns for Transport Canada and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). "CTV used a YouTube video of a guy playing an accordion and singing a song about Spitzer to introduce the story," he says. Elmer says American presidential candidate Barack Obama's Yes We Can YouTube video, which has been downloaded by millions, was carefully crafted to reach both young and old so it can play in both traditional and online media spaces. "Yes We Can features hip-hop artists who are well-known to people under 25, but it's also coded with black-and-white images that could easily be from the sixties that cast Obama as an historic figure and civil rights leader." By contrast, Canadian politicians' ventures in YouTube space tend to miss the mark or worse, he says. A YouTube video by Michael Bryant, Ontario minister of aboriginal affairs, raised many hackles. The video presents Bryant's messages in the course of a visit to the town of Caledonia, where an occupation of disputed lands by First Nations protesters has dragged on for two years. "Opposition leaders Howard Hampton and John Tory came out with critiques, saying this is too serious an issue to take onto YouTube," says Elmer. In his view, the real issue is aesthetics, not the credibility of YouTube as a medium. "A lot of the content that's uploaded has an amateur feel," he says. But viewers expect politicians to produce more sophisticated videos than crazy skateboarders armed with camcorders. "I was shocked by the Bryant video - he didn't seem to use the medium effectively," he says. Nor are other Canadian politicians. NDP leader Carol James' video campaign presenting her views about the Liberal throne speech in BC received media attention because it was posted on YouTube, he says. "But it was just images of her sitting behind a desk giving a speech as she would any other time." Some Canadian politicians get it Even in the 2004 election, before social media existed, American politicians such as Howard Dean were successfully using the Web to reach voters. But Canada is two elections behind, says George. "Our national leaders' posts on YouTube are viewed by underwhelming numbers of Canadians. There's nothing much happening that's creative or innovative. We don't have a Harper Girl like Obama." But he says Canada is starting to catch up. The political blogosphere has really exploded in the past couple of years, he says. And some Canadian politicians are starting to get it. One shining example is the YouTube video entitled Top Ten Reasons David Letterman Should Visit Nova Scotia developed by Rodney MacDonald, Nova Scotia's premier. "MacDonald is a good fiddler from Cape Breton, so to generate media attention, he played his fiddle in Times Square in New York for NBC News. It was the lead piece on the daily newscast, and was all over the Web," says George. Other provinces also have mandates to promote tourism and attract talent, so there are opportunities for new media companies to create inventive YouTube campaigns in other regions, he adds. Lobby groups are also starting to use YouTube to criticize government policies, he says. "Parents for autistic children, deaf children's language rights, the Ontario music educators association - they're some of the organizations that are using YouTube to criticize what's being done by government, in addition to the Red Cross and other groups that use YouTube mostly for awareness campaigns." But Elmer sees a growing trend to gain greater control of online political communities. "In the past nine months, our research at Ryerson is showing many campaigns and candidates have started to systematically disable functions that let anyone post comments on their blogs or YouTube," he says. "Blogging Tories have even set up their own equivalent to Facebook." Going forward, catch-all social media spaces such as Facebook and YouTube will likely fragment and specialized political online communities and video sites will emerge, he says. "There's a movement to have more control over memberships, posts and functions within these networks," he says. Liberal party member Garth Turner, for example, uses Google Video instead of YouTube, the NDP rarely upload their ads to YouTube and the federal Tories have their own video protocols, he says. "When parties choose to put something on YouTube, it's typically because they want it to spread faster but they want control over their own sites."