I’ve been doing my digital makeover series for quite some time now. Today’s is number 37. That’s a lot of makeovers. And a lot of time. At between four and eight hours for each makeover, I’ve invested a full month of full-time work on these. At no pay. Pure interest. Pure research.
I’ve learned a lot from doing the digital makeovers. And, don’t worry — this is not my farewell speech. It’s me realizing that today’s makeover highlights a particularly common truth about MP digital ecosystems and online activities: Most online MPs seem to throw together their websites and engage in online activities in a tactical, in-the-moment manner. There is little to suggest a stake in the long game.
MPs, including the subject of today’s digital makeover, are generally quite good at what they do online. It’s just that they don’t step back and look at the whole as a sum of its parts. Or, if the MP is lucky, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
They see a website, not a place to deliver something meaningful to the public. They ask for retweets rather than leverage a powerful channel over which they can reach critical stakeholders and interest groups. They count likes rather than invest in building an engaged and ready-to-activate community. They see a media platform based on views rather than a place to distill and communicate important information in a popular (and increasingly mobile) visual medium.
All of these matter. A lot. Particularly if the MP has aspirations for leadership. Showing one can connect with and engage the public makes one a valuable leader.
Today’s digital makeover examines the digital footprint of MP Niki Ashton.
I’m always caught by surprise when I discover some of Canada’s youngest and arguably most-connected politicians having loosely assembled digital ecosystems. Such is the case with Niki Ashton.
Ms. Ashton has a number of digital outposts connected in a way that suggests she may not fully understand the importance of a digital ecosystem’s structure to SEO, or the message it sends to constituents and issue stakeholders on the interconnectedness of, well, everything.
To be fair, the challenges Ms. Ashton faces begin with something beyond her control: her party’s website template. It favours centralized party communication over MP constituency-relevant issues and shadow cabinet portfolios. Ms. Ashton has obviously fought against these challenges to promote her role and the work she’s doing as opposition critic for the status of women.
The main menu structure of her site, particularly the news section, is over-complicated and over-architected. It’s peppered with party information which should be presented in its own area on her site. And the news section lacks a consistent style (randomly switching between titles in “Mixed case”, “Title Case” and those in “ALL CAPS”).
In fact, the architecture of her site isn’t really cohesive at all. Portfolio-related menus are scattered, separated by her photo and video menus. There’s a link to the agenda for a conference which took place in October, and a digital archive page for that same event, many of the links on which appear to send visitors to non-existent (or expired) SoundCloud pages. Further, her menu offers the link title “M 444” which probably means nothing to those outside the political-class. For the record, it’s a link to a page with information about a motion for a coordinated national action plan to address violence against women. [NOTE: I accidentally put “M 144” instead of “M 444” in the digital ecosystem drawing, above.]
There’s also the challenge with her photo gallery which never seems to load.
Back to the ecosystem. There’s a noticeable absence of links to Ms. Ashton’s digital outposts on her site. She has a few well-maintained social media properties including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Her Twitter page is linked to from the main page of her site through a two-step process, and her YouTube channel is accessible by clicking on the right spot of the videos she embeds on her Videos page. Neither of her Facebook or Flickr (last updated in November) profiles is linked to on her site. Nor is Google+ which, like many MPs, Ms. Ashton may not be aware she has.
Her Twitter and Facebook profiles link back to her website, while her Flickr, YouTube and Google+ properties do not. Her YouTube and Google+ channels link to each other.
Ms. Ashton also has a personal Facebook profile to which she cross-posts political content from her Fan Page. It’s an active community with 4,999 “friends”, one shy of the limit imposed by Facebook on personal profiles.
Something else I stumbled on is a minor spelling mistake in a link to “Attend Question Peroid.” (Note that even here the first menu option is a mix of mixed case and title case, while the second is all title case.)
Aside from its name, there is no information about Ms. Ashton’s constituency on her site.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Strengthen your digital ecosystem by making sure it’s fully self-aware. This will help your SEO and will be especially helpful to the people who stumble on you from any location on the web.
- Organize and streamline your website menu system. Suggestions include making “Status of Women” a main menu heading which includes subordinate links to the “Women’s Forum” and “National action plan on violence against women (Motion 444)”. Move party news out of your own news section. Make sure you highlight the work you’re doing in a way that gets noticed rather than diluting it among a steady stream of party communication.
- Establish a website style guide and stick to it. Pay attention to the details. Be consistent.
Ms. Ashton has the content part of her ecosystem well under control. She’s active on Twitter and Facebook, and does a decent job keeping her YouTube channel fresh with new content on a fairly regular basis.
However, some of her structural decisions seem to work against her.
For instance, the landing page of her YouTube channel marginalizes her most-current uploads by placing it them the bottom of the page; below the top-billed section on Vale job cuts in Thompson, Manitoba (2011).
With few exceptions, her YouTube channel focuses on her appearances in QP (important for a very specific audience). This means that unless you go looking for them, you won’t find interesting and human-connecting clips like the one in which Ms. Ashton reveals her feminist superpowers and shares the names of her feminist superheroes, which is led by her mom. (Great idea for a video!)
In fact, most of Ms. Ashton’s online content hinges on “business.” She is clearly a driven person who has found her calling. With few exceptions, she seems generally unwilling to crack the door open to a more personal connection. Having said that, her tone generally feels human and conversational.
Ms. Ashton does share her point of view, occasionally. This is a refreshing change from the need most MPs feel to always be the subject of their own content.
Tweets like the one about getting stuck and needing the help of a heavy water truck do well to create a deeper connection between Ms. Ashton and her followers (and the public). If Jack Layton taught us anything in politics, it’s that the human connection does wonders for political interest and support. Jack, and many other politicians, have proven that a “connecting” online style goes a long way.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Make sure your content, particularly your most recent content, is front-and-centre.
- Don’t just show what you’re doing. Show *why* you’re doing it. What makes you tick?
- Balance your tone between the work you’re doing and the people around you — those in your community and in caucus. Showcase the people whose work resonates with you and your passion for the status of women file.
Participation & Community
Ms. Ashton has a pretty energetic Facebook community. She posts frequently and attracts a healthy number of “Likes.” The more interested leave comments and occasionally post follow-up questions. Ms. Ashton is part of that community, responding to questions and frequently liking content posted to her page by community members. Yes. Ms. Ashton allows that.
The result is a healthy amount of activity — a burgeoning online community which clicks an average of 29 times per post, and leaves an average of nearly two comments per post (based on data analysed over the last month). The latter is a low number, to be sure. Keep in mind that Ms. Ashton also posts a lot, and not all of her content inspires comments.
Over the last six months, 2,102 tweeters have issued 4,773 tweets mentioning Ms. Ashton by her Twitter handle (@nikiashton). A majority of those are retweets. During that same period, Ms. Ashton issued 1,052 tweets. Of those, 32% were regular tweets (fresh content), 53% were retweets and only 15% were replies. That’s a little on the low side for MPs.
Something I noticed Ms. Ashton doing, which is unusual yet intriguing, is that she seems to leave a comment on all of her videos to indicate what the video addresses. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. While it might reveal that her staff is managing her channel for her, it shows that she’s watching and adding context. It’s noteworthy that commenting is enabled, and the odd comment is left on her videos.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Slow down on your Facebook content production. The stats suggest you might be posting more than people can keep up with (four posts per day on average).
- Be more purposeful in your Facebook content production. Post updates that motivate more input or participation.
- You have an active Twitter community. Do more with them (e.g. reply).
Interruption (the bonus category)
Bi-partisan and non-partisan activity always causes a double-take. It assures people that there can be common ground, there is the potential for cooperation and that there is hope for a solution everyone can support. Ms. Ashton retweeted Michelle Rempel recently — clearly because she agrees. That’s classy!