I’d wager it’s not easy being a politician. Especially a federal politician. Especially a young, female federal politician. It’s bad enough people default to hating you because you represent a point of view different from their own — and that you’re part of a system which people love to hate — you have the added bonus of being viewed as an outsider in what has typically (and in many ways is still) viewed as a boys club.
People within your own party, from parties opposite, and the general public will be tough on you, trying to make you prove your worth rather than accept you’ve earned your place and have value to offer.
Now, add to the mix that you’re part of a cohort that understands the importance of social media enough, and you have a grasp on digital culture, and you’re suddenly seen as fair game.
Besides showing the importance of a strong online presence, today’s makeover seems to illustrate the importance of resilience and the ability to make tough choices in the digital wild west.
Minister Michelle Rempel, this is your digital makeover.
Michelle Rempel’s digital ecosystem is more connected than most MPs’. Her website serves as a hub, linked-to from all of her digital outposts: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. However, Minister. Rempel does not link to all of her digital outposts from her website. YouTube is the odd one out. Though, does get a link from her Facebook Fan Page. Like many MPs, she probably doesn’t realize Google set her up with a Google+ account.
There are many things about Minister Rempel’s digital ecosystem I like. For starters, her website
is not modelled on her party’s template, she (update: it turns our she is using a party template, it just happens to be a good one) uses visuals, colour and white space to help direct visitors’ eyes to important information, and she does a decent job of cataloging her content. The Minister has also done a much better job of consistently branding her properties, and (more importantly) providing current and consistent information about her role as a politician and her status in Cabinet.
But, that’s not entirely what my makeovers are about.
Rather than exploit the power, popularity and shareability of YouTube, the Minister has chosen to implement a video streaming service on her own website. There are several problems with her implementation. First, the videos are pretty small in the browser window and can’t be enlarged. Second, it’s not possible to share or easily promote her videos.
The decision to do handle videos this way may be a result of inappropriate online commenters — both her haters who freely (and in many cases, anonymously) make mysoginistic remarks about her, and her supporters who’s “nice girl” and “cute girl” remarks come across as backhanded compliments, dismissive of her work.
While Minister Rempel does a respectable job of cataloguing her content, cleanly organized in easy-to-find sections on her website, she doesn’t do much to help visitors understand the relevance of her content. Titles likes “Message from Michelle” and “Report to Constituents” don’t tell visitors why they should read the content or what they’ll get out of it. More descriptive titles and even a summary sentence of what’s inside would be helpful.
While we’re on the subject of content curation, and this is a problem I’ve observed for all MP expense reports across all party lines, the links to Minister Rempel’s expense reports are properly dated, however, there is no indication of the date or purpose of her various expenses in the report.
As easy as her site is to navigate, the absence of a site search feature is perplexing.
Minister Rempel’s Facebook Fan Page is striking. Visitors are greeted with a clean, bright shot of the Calgary downtown skyline and an identifiable profile picture. Below the profile photo is an About summary rarely implemented by MPs. The Minister has chosen to promote her Twitter handle in this space. More on that later in this makeover.
The Minister has also done a good job with her YouTube page. Though, her use of YouTube is minimal at best.
Still on the subject of Facebook… Minister Rempel appears to have dabbled in the Events feature of her Facebook Fan Page. However, that section has been dormant since 2011. No recent or upcoming events are listed.
Minister Rempel’s website looks good, if small, on a smartphone screen.
- Site search.
- Provide more descriptive information about the content you make available.
- Optimize your site for mobile users.
Minister Rempel’s online profile has increased substantially over the last year. There are probably a number of contributing factors to that.
First, Ms. Rempel became Minister Rempel last summer.
Second, Minister Rempel has become very active on social media (more on that in the Community and Participation section, below) sharing holiday greetings, messages of sympathy and concern (Calgary shootings, floods, etc…) , photos of her and her team campaigning, speaking at schools, hosting school visits, at town halls and events, on CTV Power Play, photo ops, social activities, the Calgary Stampede and official statements (the boring stuff).
In fact, Minister Rempel is so good at showing politicians as people that this effort seems to have overtaken her publishing of partisan statements and weighing in on substantive political issues. This is part of the challenge with Twitter, her chosen platform: there isn’t much room for making a statement that doesn’t easily inflame others or properly communicate the full message.
Why her focus on Twitter? Well, besides the fact that Twitter seems to get the media attention and does a better job at driving awareness in-the-moment, it appears Facebook has frustrated the Minister on more than a few occasions. We can definitely relate to that.
Personally, I think she’s missing out on an opportunity to more effectively communication and build community. But, that’s for the next section.
Remember I spoke about content curation and giving audiences a reason to read your content, the following are other examples (this time from Ms. Rempel’s Facebook page) showing posts with nondescript titles and lacking any summary information to draw a click. By the way, they also lack attention-getting images.
For all the great humanizing images and comments she publishes to Twitter, Ms. Rempel has yet to crack the code, or try cracking the code, of video.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Give people a reason to click your content, on your site or on you Facebook Fan Page (which I think you should still be using). Answer the “why” rather than simply identify the “what” of the content you’re posting.
- Use a variety of tools to help you more thoughtfully explain the issues you’re working on and decisions you’re making. Twitter is not an appropriate platform, and not everyone will take the time to read an expansive piece.
- Make your video content available on YouTube so people can more easily find and share it.
Participation & Community
Minister Rempel has her share of haters. And they love to hate her. Some of the people who support her also seem to say inappropriate things in support of her, sometimes dismissing her work and work ethic. It’s enough to frustrate anyone; enough to keep anyone facing these issues from participating in online exchanges.
Ms. Rempel does not engage in closed replies. That is, she uses the more public reply syntax of placing a period in front of a tweet. This probably explains why only 4% of Minister Rempel’s 2,956 tweets over the last six months were identified by our tools as replies. She also retweets content issued by others (sometimes with her own comments pre-pended to the retweet).
Full Duplex’s 2013 Peace, Order and Googleable Government report notes that 23% of Minister Rempel’s tweets in 2013 were replies. Also, Victoria wrote about Michelle Rempel’s talk at a BPW event in December. As Victoria notes, Minister Rempel “doesn’t shy away from respectful debate, and engages with others regularly. Her feed also demonstrates that she takes others’ viewpoints and criticism into consideration.”
Minister Rempel’s Facebook posts have comment threads with unacknowledged vitriol, mysoginistic remarks and unanswered questions.
In fact, Ms. Rempel has only appeared in the comment thread of a Facebook post once in the last six months.
The fact is, if people, particularly those who hide behind anonymous identities, don’t treat others they way they themselves would like to be treated, they will only be advancing the polarization of our democracy and championing that divisiveness online.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Publish a comment and community policy which makes clear the conditions under which people can participate in chatter on your website. Make sure the policy defines the content which will be deleted and when users will be blocked.
- Respond to legitimate questions. If you’re responding offline, make sure you give an indication that you will respond or have responded to the question where the question is posted. Otherwise, it looks like you’re not listening.
- Sadly, accept that haters will be haters. They’re not looking for a conversation; just a fight.
Interruption (the bonus category)
This was an easy one. It’s always nice to see a little edge from our politicians.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi famously told a Tweeter challenging him on the purpose of a pedestrian bridge that he believed it was to cross the river.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told someone who declared on Twitter that the Mayor’s support of Canada’s gay athletes cost him a vote, that if that was the individual’s attitude, the mayor didn’t want the vote.
When asked how far he’d go during the October Crisis, Pierre Trudeau confidently challenged “Just watch me.”
Add Minister Rempel’s voice to the mix. Her response to a baseless mysoginistic comment from an anonymous tweeter delivered a checkmate zinger.