Influence Shift

Two things happened in recent days that signal a significant influence shift here in Wood Buffalo.  First of all, local blogger Theresa Wells wrote an open letter to Premier Redford imploring her to do something about Highway 63 - the not-so-twinned highway of our discontent.  She did so after it was announced that a 7th person had died due to a horrific head-on collision on Friday, April 27 - a teenage girl who had been pulled out of the raging inferno.

Theresa had a personal interview with Premier Redford during the recent election campaign, and brilliantly used this reference point to draft a compelling narrative of why something has to be done.  The dying needs to stop.

Response was overwhelming, as the blog post struck an emotional nerve that penetrated all age groups, cultures, professions, and geographical borders.  I don't know the current count, but the number of page views eclipsed 20,000 some time ago, with 275 comments as of this morning.  In this case, the difference between these 20,000 page views and 20,000 theoretical readers of a traditional newspaper is that this group of people actually came to this page to read something, from opening word to closing period.  That rarely happens with traditional newspaper readership these days; most of us have become creatures of headlines and the first few sentences.

How did it catch fire so quickly?  Because it was timely, relevant, authentic, and compelling. Every single one of us were talking about what had happened and what we were feeling.  And when word spread that the McMurray Musings blog had posted an open letter to our provincial leader, we seized the two things we could do to help - we shared the link and added our comments. All of a sudden, this beautifully crafted letter was being passed from one social network to another at a rate that was 'astronomical' - to quote the word I used in my TEDx presentation to describe the number of readers that Theresa has reached in the year that she has been posting articles online.

Through the weekend, she became the unofficial spokesperson for a grassroots movement to get Highway 63 twinned once and for all, fielding media calls from across the province and country.  There was a rumour circulating that the blog post had landed on the desk of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  And there is no doubt in my mind that Premier Redford was fully attuned to what was happening, even though we have heard no public response from her as yet.

If that isn't an influence shift, I don't know what is.

But, it was as hundreds, if not thousands of us gathered around our computers to tune into the live streamed discussion about the Highway 63 issue at www.ymmpodcast.com, that this idea of influence shift really came into focus.  All day, through our social media channels, we shared the news that this live conversation was going to happen.

Toddske, Theresa Wells, Ashley Laurenson and Steve Reeve sat around a kitchen table, talking into microphones connected to a small sound board, connected to the Internet, having an unfettered, unfiltered discussion about the hottest issue of the day.  Complete with multiple expletives, this is a discussion that could not have taken place on a traditional media channel.  There were no bosses hanging over their shoulders, no corporate entity watching over what they said or how they said it.  These were four people who empowered themselves, through technology and social networks, to have a conversation that needed to happen in the public realm.

How many of us dropped what we were doing to tune in?  How many of us had an overwhelming sense that it was a conversation not to be missed?

Through the power of you and you and you and you and you, we are seeing an influence shift that has shaken the core of how we get information, form opinions, share ideas, and vent our frustrations.

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