Being online takes a fair degree of effort. Great ideas can be easy to find and prepare. However, they need follow-through. They need energy and resources to maintain. Great ideas can quickly become weak once the cobwebs collect. Left long enough, they can become liabilities. Even other ongoing efforts, as current and strong as they may be, can eventually become overshadowed by digital artifacts.
I’m not suggesting the subject of today’s makeover is doing it all wrong. I’m saying, even some of the most active and engaged online MPs have room for improvement. And the rest, well, they can learn a lot from them.
Today, we learn from MP Nathan Cullen.
Like many of his colleagues of all political stripes, Mr. Cullen has a few aces up his sleeve, and a few cobwebs and holes in his digital footprint.
The information most noticeably missing is any indication of Mr. Cullen’s role as Finance Critic (on his website). It’s not in the masthead of his site. Nor does any mention appear on his About page.
The Issues page identifies five issues of significance. It appears the last time this page (and any of the issues listed on it) was updated was May 3, 2012. The next most-recent update on this page goes back to December 9, 2011.
Mr. Cullen does a few things differently from other MPs. A few that jump out include some non-standard implementations. For example, he has an unusual icon at the top of his website. It looks like a magnifying glass with a plus sign in it. This has become a common visual representation for zooming in. The suggestion here is clearly for searching the site since clicking on the icon takes visitors to a search page. It’s an odd implementation and unnecessarily adds an additional step to the search process.
The search function is powered through an integrated Google search through which the results are provided on perceived relevance. There is no way to sequence the results by date. So, a search for “pipeline” for example, puts some 2011 hits at the top of the results, links from 2009 through 2012 in positions two through nine and provides a link from last month in the 10th position.
Another unusual implementation appears in the social media links section. Rather than use the familiar Flickr icon, Mr. Cullen uses the Facebook icon twice: once for Flickr (far left in the image below), once for Facebook (far right).
Perhaps more confusing is the fact that Mr. Cullen has literally buried one of the most creative and interesting parts of his site… The Help Desk, a collection of relevant and helpful links with site visitors in mind (more no this in the Interruption section towards the end of this post). The link to the Help Desk appears in the footer of the site. Elements of the Help Desk appear in a bullet list on the Contact page as well.
A summary of Mr. Cullen’s QP appearances on the In The House page is another interesting idea buried in the footer. That may not be a bad thing, though, since the last update to that page was made December 3, 2012. Also neglected, and buried, is his Good News from the Northwest page on which Mr. Cullen highlights good goings-on in his constituency (last updated June 14, 2012).
Then there’s double-buried “gems” such as his Take Action and Contests, Events and other info pages. They are great ideas, dormant since 2011.
Another link double-buried in his Help Desk section, Public Disclosure, should have greater prominence (in a manner of speaking, it does have some more prominence under the intriguing title Disclosing MP expenses link on the site). Public disclosure is a bit of a cryptic name. Since it’s largely expense reports, statements and reports related to ethics and campaign activities, perhaps something like Expense, ethics and campaign reports would offer greater clarity.
Then there’s the Revenue Canada section of his Help Desk which offers a PDF of tax tips for 2010 tax returns. Links to government sites from Mr. Cullen’s Federal Funding Programs and Employment and HRSDC pages are broken.
I noted above that Mr. Cullen hasn’t provided any indication of his role as Finance critic on his website. His Twitter and Facebook profiles do offer this information.
Mr. Cullen’s YouTube channel doesn’t readily identify him as an MP in the masthead where visitor eyes are naturally drawn. However, the video channel URL includes NathanCullenMP and almost all video titles include the text NDP MP Nathan Cullen. His Flickr account still suggests he’s the NDP critic for energy and natural resources.
A Facebook ticker appears in the right sidebar of his site. It feels cluttered given Mr. Cullen’s posting style, particularly when his updates include photos or links to news stories and other websites. Of greater concern, his Facebook ticker doesn’t render properly on some of his pages.
While Mr. Cullen’s website is not optimized for mobile devices, the mobile experience is not terrible.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Update and recommit yourself to the dormant/abandoned sections of your website. Or, remove them.
- Make the parts of your website of greatest interest to the public easier to get to, and easier to find.
- Use more familiar interface (replace the “search icon” with a search field in your main menu) and branding elements (use the Flickr icon for Flickr) and name your sections more meaningfully for your website users.
Mr. Cullen routinely posts content to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. His style is generally well-suited to all platforms, and it’s clear he does do his best to distinguish his use of each. Mr. Cullen’s YouTube channel, for example, is very much focused on his appearances in QP. There are a few videos of Mr. Cullen speaking extemporaneously at events. There should be more of that. Particularly when you see some of his tweets. You get the sense that he’s good at capturing the moment with a photograph from his point of view, and accompanying it with a message that tells the rest of the story.
A short video of the event with a voice over, posted to YouTube, would add to the content mix and engage his followers and the public in a variety of media. This can help get his voice to a wider audience rather than speaking specifically to his most attentive followers.
Here’s an example which demonstrates his understanding that Twitter and Facebook demand platform-specific content even when covering the exact same moment. You can see how lazy and awkward it can become if Tweets are cross-posted to Facebook (which some MPs do).
Even when Mr. Cullen posts apparently official moments, he manages to inflect a relatable human voice to the image.
Mr. Cullen’s Flickr stream has many great photographs of him in action on the campaign trail, in his riding, with Jack Layton, and more. There’s even a photo (but only the one photo) of him growing a moustache during Movember (2009) with a caption about being in a contest with Glenn Thibeault. Otherwise, his Flickr account has been dormant since April 2011.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Open up your YouTube channel to more than just QP appearances.
- Reactivate your Flickr account. Post a few pictures a month.
- Inject more personal content into the mix. Not too much. But relevant and fun stuff. Like the moustache competition. Whatever happened to it? There’s only the one photo.
Participation & Community
Mr. Cullen is engaged on both Twitter and Facebook. And, he enjoys a fairly active and engaged community. His personality, affinity for online networking and his profile as senior member of his caucus and former leadership candidate have helped substantially. Still, his online success is due in a large part because of his committed participation.
It’s interactions like the one depicted in this screen shot that demonstrate why Mr. Cullen has an engaged following.
Most of Mr. Cullen’s 629 tweets over the last six months were regular tweets (47%) with a healthy number of retweets (35%) and what I would consider to be about average reply activity among MPs (18%).
During the same period, 4,788 Twitter users issues 13,201 tweets mentioning Mr. Cullen. Most of those participants issued only a single tweet (60%) followed by replies to any other Twitter user (21%) and regular tweets (14%).
His Facebook community is also very active. Over the last month, Mr. Cullen’s 127 Facebook updates have attracted 14,352 likes, 1,896 comments and 228 replies to comments. This averages to 112 likes, 15 comments and 2 replies per post. That’s a heckofalot of activity.
However, Mr. Cullen himself is rarely part of the threaded conversations that result from his updates. This is terribly unfortunate. Sometimes even committed fans and strong supporters can be as much a problem as commited critics.
Mr. Cullen’s April 10 post expressing his shock over the death of Jim Flaherty attracted some horrific vitriol which has gone unchecked. Even one of his community members called out Mr. Cullen for his inconsistent message in light of the toxic comments. The problem is amplified by the fact that he has no community or commenting policy on his Facebook page. This means that even though the comments in question are repulsive to most people, deleting them could draw additional criticism since there is no indication under what conditions comments will be removed and/or people blocked from his page.
UPDATE May 5, 2014: I just discovered that, sometime in the past week, the aforementioned post and comment thread have been removed from Mr. Cullen’s Facebook page. It’s unfortunate this was necessary. However, it was probably the most effective way of dealing with this particular situation. A commenting/community participation policy has not been posted to the page.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Publish a simple and clear community participation and comment policy on your Facebook About page. Make clear what is acceptable and under what conditions content will be deleted and (if necessary) users blocked.
- Get into the conversation. Remind people to keep it above the belt and call out the people who are testing the limits of your policy. Coach participants into being positive, or at least respectful. Be a mentor first; then an enforcer.
- Answer legitimate questions and offer additional insight/context to conversations that are taking place. This applies to both Facebook and Twitter.
Interruption (the bonus category)
There are many cool features/concepts incorporated into Mr. Cullen’s site. I assume that at one point they were tended to and may have been valuable resources to site visitors. I’m talking about features buried in his footer; features like Good News on NW and especially his Help Desk (now both apparently neglected).
The Help Desk concept is perfect for an MP site all under the name which may resonate with the public. Help Desk. I like this idea a lot. It would be great to see it more prominently placed on the site and perhaps renamed a bit to help people understand its purpose. For example, Your government services help desk.
It could use a refresh (see above) and the Take Action section should pulled out and given its own rightful prominence on the site.