I wasn’t planning on doing a second digital makeover in the same week. However, this MP has been in the media lately and I figured there was relevance in doing a makeover of this MP now.

I’m talking about Labour Minister Lisa Raitt. Ms. Raitt is the MP who had to publicly apologize for referring to the medical isotope shortage as a ‘sexy’ crisis, and who was criticized for her cheeky tweets about opposition MP fashions (issued during Question Period). I actually thought those tweets were kind of fun.

I heard Ms. Raitt on CBC’s The House this past weekend. She was well spoken and addressed questions about her handling of labour disputes involving Canada Post and Air Canada. So, what digital recommendations can I offer?

Connect the pieces

Ms. Raitt has several domains. As nodes in the social web, it’s unclear how they’re connected. Which means, among other things, Ms. Raitt is distributing potential search relevance in an illogical manner. A search for “Lisa Raitt” puts LisaRaitt.ca at the top of the search food chain, immediately followed by LisaRaittMP.ca. The former links to a landing page which allows the user to choose between Ms. Raitt’s constituency office and the Halton Conservative Association. I’ll leave the Association out of this analysis.

Clicking on the constituency office takes the surfer to LisaRaittMP.com. LisaRaittMP.ca and LisaRaittMP.com are the same site. However, distinguishing between the two on the web rather than forwarding one to the other may be costing her Google search rank. I’d pick one as the main hub, forward all others to it, and promote only one URL to make things easy. That is, point .com to .ca and keep it tidy.

More importantly, Ms. Raitt has failed to connect the pieces of her digital presence. While she has many digital outposts as you’ll read in this post, with the exception of her Facebook Fan Page, none of them have descriptive text or (more significantly) links to connect all the pieces. There are no links to her Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or YouTube accounts from her web page. Basically, Ms. Raitt’s digital presence is made up of discrete and isolated efforts.

More personality

Ms. Raitt’s constituency website is pretty good. It’s easy to use and follow. As a surfer, your eyes generally know where to go. Her embedded photo gallery boasts good photos that are often well described, even if not always dated nor associated with her Flickr photo stream. Ms. Raitt’s Riding News is very well written, personable and informative in the spirit of blog culture. There should be more frequent updates to this section — August 22 to October 17 is too big a gap between updates. I’d like to know if she does her own writing.

In contrast to the writing on the site, the featured video (currently a Remembrance Day message) is scripted and performed in a very flat way. The video would be much more compelling if Ms. Raitt was herself. By the way, I watched the video on the LisaRaittMP.com site and the video features the .ca extension on the display. I recognize this is nitpicky, but it serves as a reminder that she should be building her online presence around a hub-and-spoke architecture.

Do one thing well

Ms. Raitt has two Twitter accounts: @lraitt and @lisaraitt2011. It’s hard to know why she has and “maintains” both, particularly since the latter is titled “Re-elect Lisa Raitt” and described “Running for re-election with the Harper Conservative Team to keep Halton and Canada strong.” The election’s over. There have been only two updates to @lraitt since August 24. Most of the activity on that account is retweets (rebroadcasts of content published by other people). A single tweet has been issued on @lisaraitt2011 since August 12.

Neglected digital outposts don’t look good. They’re fully public, fully searchable and findable and say a lot about the level of engagement of the individual. This isn’t a problem for the vast majority of individual Twitter account holders. For a politician, it’s the kind of thing that can raise questions and draw criticism.

Don’t delete

Tony Clement is often hailed as having set the high-water mark of digital engagement for Canadian politicians. I’m sure that does nothing for his reputation among his colleagues of all political stripes; perhaps more so with his caucus-mates. I’ve been guilty of promoting Mr. Clement in the past and I’m doing it again here. Why? Because back in June 2010 he faced online criticism of the new copyright reform bill head-on. He tweeted with critics as part of a productive and respectful dialog. As a result, many of his detractors publicly declared their respect for the minister and his approach even if they didn’t agree with his politics. In an informal and unscientific study, many said they’d still happily have a beer with Mr. Clement. It hasn’t been all sunshine and apple pie for the minister since. However, the example has been set.

Perhaps because of past mishaps in the media and over Twitter, Ms. Raitt is far more reserved. Too much so. Besides going through a period during which her Twitter account was made private then re-opened to the public, and now being largely absent from that channel, Ms. Raitt has taken to deleting critical commentary from her Facebook Wall.

On September 20, her Wall included posts from Ana Selke (“you took away our power of negotiation… not fair ! i [sic] thought this was a democracy.“), Sean The-Rules Goveas (“So our labour minister believes that legislating workers is crucial to our fragile economic recovery…“) and Maura Cimino (“…Back-to-work legislation is a direct violation of our rights.“) On October 15 those posts, and others, were gone.

Politicians should know they’re held to a higher standard of communication and interaction. Scrutiny of any sort comes with the territory. Not responding to criticism is one thing. Deleting it from the public record is not recommended — particularly when the criticism is respectful rather than filled with slurs and personal attacks. Ms. Raitt could have used those comments as an opportunity to build bridges. Instead, she burned them in a world where archives exist.

As part of the deletion of the criticism, some directed text was added to the page: “Any misuse of this page, inappropriate comments, or spamming of members or pages will not be allowed.” This text does nothing to clarify what constitutes “misuse” and “inappropriate” or how Ms. Raitt defines “spamming.” This entitles Ms. Raitt and her community administrators free license to enforce policies as they desire.

It’s my experience that respectful commentary/criticism is within the boundaries of most brands (political, corporate, etc…) that have succeeded or thrived on the web. Look no further than Mr. Clement for a working example in politics. In fact, I have a client that should be the poster organization social media leadership. This client is on the receiving end of significant and coordinated criticism and yet facilitates a productive and inclusive online conversation which has earned them respect even if not more support.

So, according to Ms. Raitt’s Facebook Wall, her political career and labour portfolio is all sunshine and apple pie–or, at least BBQs on July 8th (the most recent update at the time of this makeover).

Pictures need words on the web

I remember hearing a story on This American Life about a newspaper publisher in the southern United States. His philosophy is to fill the pages of his paper with photographs and stories of the people in his community. Names, names, names. That’s his strategy. If you print people’s names in the stories and the descriptions of the photos, they’ll buy the newspaper because they want to see their names in print. According to the segment I listened to, his strategy works. At a time of declining sales, his newspaper is doing just fine.

Ms. Raitt’s Flickr photo stream suffers from two primary problems, and one secondary. First, it hasn’t been updated since July. Don’t get me wrong, the photographs she’s published are fun, showing people enjoying themselves at volunteer appreciation barbeques, rallies, a non-descript “event”, home shows, town halls, and more. This brings us to the second primary problem. Names, names, names. The photographs don’t feature the names of the people or properly describe the events they showcase. I understand Ms. Raitt may not be able to share everyone’s name. On the other hand, prominent people in her campaign and constituency office, fellow MPs, etc… should all be identified for two reasons: this helps people who are browsing the photos; and, it makes the photos easier to find in searches. Flickr and Google only know how to find images that are clearly described in text. MPs need to help the tools help them. By the way, the description of the account is “Lisa Raitt Campaign.”

The secondary problem is a common one among MPs. Flickr photos are published with an All Rights Reserved license which, in theory, means the public cannot link to or embed the photos in their own posts. In using social media, MPs need to participate in the culture of the social web and should make content available as a rule, not an exception.

Use the channels to connect with constituents and stakeholders

Ms. Raitt has a YouTube channel which is home to a single video. The video is a scrape of a CHCH television report about the spring election candidates in the riding of Halton, a report in which Ms. Raitt appears articulate and energetic; a personality people can get behind. To her credit, Ms. Raitt is sharing a news segment which features all of the Halton riding candidates from the spring election — all women. However, it is the only video in the channel and it was about getting elected some months ago. Ms. Raitt is missing out of a popular and relatively easy way to communicate and connect with constituents in her riding and stakeholders of her portfolio.

From a digital channel and content curation point of view, a full description and appropriate tags would give her YouTube presence and video a little extra push in getting noticed. Aside from the name of the channel (“lisaraittcpc2011”), there is no identifiable description or photograph, and no link to her website.

LISA RAITT’S DIGITAL GRADE: D-