As noted last week, the selection of MPs for my digital makeover blog post series is usually made randomly. However, following the request of a few people, I’m currently in the middle of a three-part selection of MPs who don’t do digital particularly well.
My hope is all of the MPs I “audit” will take my thoughts in good stride and will be interested in doing an interview with me for a podcast. After all, the intent of this series is to inform so that MPs and candidates can be more effective and have a greater impact in their online activities.
Last week I examined the digital ecosystem of Conservative MP Dean Allison.
This week I hope to communicate the idea that being effective online isn’t just about the successful impact of an individual MP and his or her ability to connect with their constituents and issue-stakeholders. MPs of all stripes need to know that doing things well helps their caucus-mates, party and our political system. Not being online, or worse, half-heartedly being online, can actually be a liability. In fact, as digital continues to evolve, that liability is only more likely to increase.
Which is why today’s digital makeover looks at NDP Deputy Leader David Christopherson. As you’ll see, his online activities do not reflect well on the leadership of a party that is making a connection with a younger cohort.
In most cases, having a small digital ecosystem can be a good thing since it allows the MP and his or her team to be particularly focused about their activities and where they direct their energy for public communication and engagement. It means that limited financial resources can be allocated to doing something particularly remarkable on a small number of properties rather than trying to be everywhere for everyone. The latter doesn’t really scale well without a large team and a large supply of cash.
As Deputy Critic of the NDP, I expected David Christopherson to have a pseudo-Thomas Mulcair approach to online activities. After all, as part of the senior leadership in his caucus, heading a team infused with young energy and a party that continues to enjoy significantly more support and attention than it had prior to 2011, one would expect the leadership would be leading by example.
Don’t get me wrong, the political world doesn’t begin and end with digital. Yet. Online engagement is growing in popularity. Politics will never be fully digitized. There will always be hand shaking and baby kissing. But, imagine for a moment that a member of the party leadership didn’t use a phone, didn’t respond to postal mail and had a constituency office which provided no value to constituents. That would be… odd. Wouldn’t it?
I think you’re getting the idea.
So, at a superficial level, NDP Depulty Leader David Christopherson’s digital ecosystem could be viewed as a strength. With only a website, Facebook Fan Page and YouTube channel, one would think a lot could be done and done well. However, it turns out Mr. Christopherson’s online properties (a website, Facebook Fan Page and YouTube channel) have only be deployed in a weak manner.
Specifically, his website is a stock NDP placeholder which, aside from contact information, does nothing to inform his constituents about issues of concern to them. His bio, while concise and snappy to read, reduces a 30 year career in politics to nine bullet points. Otherwise, the page is all about the party: party news (in which he makes some random appearances), party tools, party leader… There is no indication of what Mr. Christopherson is working on, and the “Videos” link brings visitors back to his main page. No videos.
His website does not feature links to his other online properties. Which is probably a good thing since they’re nothing to boast about. His Facebook Fan Page and YouTube channel suffer from poor planning, weak branding and light supporting information. His Facebook About page identifies Mr. Christopherson as an MP, provides the same bullet-summary of his political career and a link to his website. His YouTube channel only identifies Mr. Christopherson and being an MP in the text name of the channel.
I completely understand that Mr. Christopherson’s riding is a save NDP riding and he has established himself as a committed and results-getting politician for his constituents. I have no doubt he is active in his community and does many things politicians need to do to keep his voters informed. However, his party talks about the importance of engaging young people and being active online. His late party leader even drew the digital world in to the debates, telling Stephen Harper his prison policies were “a huge hashtag fail” knowing it would appeal to a cohort. So, I believe his not doing digital, or doing it half-heartedly, softens his leadership profile.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Make your website more about you and less about the party. Provide constituency information and identify the issues you’re working on for your community.
- Update your digital outposts (Facebook and YouTube) to provide a consistent foundation for the “David Christopherson” story. This means having your photo and bio on each site. Links from your website to your outposts, and your outposts back to your website are a good idea if you’re committed to maintaining the whole ecosystem.
- Fix any links that don’t work. Like that Videos link.
I already noted that Mr. Christopherson’s website has little information of immediate value to his constituents about the work he is doing. Some of the updates in the party news feed made available in the party’s cookie-cutter theme are about Mr. Christopherson’s appearances in Parliament.
His Facebook Fan Page has been updated only 12 times since it was launched. The first post dates back to December 13, 2011, and his most recent on December 4, 2013. None of his updates say anything. They’re simply links to articles from the party news feed on his own website (when he is mentioned).
Only two videos have been published to Mr. Christopherson’s YouTube channel. Both are appearances in Parliament, neither of which from Question Period, reading member statements into the record.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Describe your content and why your audience should care about it. Simply posting links comes across as lazy and suggests you feel inconvenienced by the task.
- Don’t just promote your own content (on Facebook, anyway). Be a voice of your constituency. Give people a place to go to feel connected and acknowledged. Think of it this way… anything you do in your in-person political activities can be augmented online.
- Post more than just member statements to your YouTube channel. QP appearances, community events you attend, etc… Be creative.
Participation & Community
Despite the lack of contextualizing information, the links Mr. Christopherson posts to Facebook do attract some likes, shares and comments.
It’s the comments that carry the greatest value for a number of reasons. This includes the host of the page can engage in a dialog with participants. Mr. Christopherson does not. Of course, he may be doing so on the phone or in email or over private Facebook messages. However, by failing to acknowledge and respond to questions and comments posted to his updates in the same public forum to which they are posted, Mr. Christopherson and his team look decidedly disconnected and disinterested in the concerns people have. As a member of the party leadership, ignoring them models apathy.
There are no comments posted to his YouTube videos.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- As noted in the content section above, provide context for your Facebook status updates. This creates the basis for participation.
- Respond to comments and especially to questions posted to your updates. People ask questions because they don’t know the answers. Provide them.
- This is a more advanced recommendation which you can get to once you have your participation in order… post questions to learn more from your community.
Interruption (the bonus category)
This category is meant to acknowledge things MPs are doing particularly well, above and beyond what I would normally expect to see as part of my makeover evaluation. Mr. Christopherson’ digital ecosystem doesn’t qualify for a bonus grade.