Be the media. It’s something we hear said about the opportunity afforded to users of social media. YouTube (and other services) allows us to be our own television network. Google Hangouts allows us to host interactive video chats or panel discussions. Twitter allows us to broadcast our thoughts and amplify those of others. A blog allows us to host our own “print” publication. Flickr (and other services) allow us to be gallery curators.

The aforementioned tools, and others like Facebook, allow us to build and support communities. And yet, most politicians have not yet harnessed the opportunities presented by their digital ecosystems to achieve the next level — becoming the agent of engagement and activation in communities of interest.

Today’s digital makeover showcases an MP who is well positioned to get to the next level. A few steps are still necessary.

The subject of this week’s makeover is MP Olivia Chow.

Digital Ecosystem


DigitalMakeover-OliviaChow-websiteOlivia Chow is among a small group of MPs who manage a reasonably large ecosystem which features a steady stream of content in each outpost. With the exception of her Google+ page (which, as I noted with other MPs, she may not realize she is the deed holder to), Ms. Chow is doing a commendable job keeping her websiteFlickr photo stream, Facebook Fan PageYouTube channel and Twitter stream current.

WIth the exception of her Google+ account, each outpost has a photo and description to help people identify the site as belonging to Ms. Chow. I found the two-step process of getting to substance in the Meet Olivia section of her website unnecessarily long. Once there, it was a two-step process to go back out and then down the chain to get to Team Chow.

Despite the apparent barrage of information on the main page, the different sections of the website are actually well delineated. Your eyes can scan and find what you’re looking for reasonably easily, and the search function is prominent and consistently placed. So are the links to her ecosystem. The only isolated site is Google+ which is only interconnected to her YouTube channel. Otherwise, her ecosystem is well connected in a hub-and-spoke model.

Still on her website, I thought the Parliament 101 section to be an asset. I was surprised by the language on her Events page. With no coming events in the list, the site returned “Not found. Sorry but you are looking for something that isn’t here.” I would have expected something like “Nothing planned. Please check back for updates to Olivia’s calendar of events.”

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Think about user experience. Apparent error messages suggest something is broken on your site.
  • Too much information and visual stimulation can be overwhelming to some and can make a site look like a discount e-Commerce site. Less is more. Give visitors room to breathe.
  • You’re doing a good job with four social media outposts. Unless you have the resources to make something of it, I recommend shutting down your Google+ account (or at least updating the information and encouraging visitors to visit your website).



I noted in my February 2011 edition of Peace, Order and Googleable Government that Facebook user “Cash Tastic” had left a comment on Olivia Chow’s very active Facebook Fan Page saying ‘Could you please make more Facebook posts that aren’t tweets? Tweets make for pretty garbled reading, and if I wanted them, I’d be on twitter. Ms. Chow has since decoupled the two accounts and is doing a commendable job creating channel-specific content. And keeping each property up to date.

In fact, Ms. Chow’s Facebook Fan Page boasts some solid content. She often shares tidbits of information which appear to be new for her community. This is a great reason for her community to stay on top of her updates. With very few exceptions, all of her posts have photos. Her events page hasn’t been updated since March.

I have three major complaints about her content.

First, too much can be just as much a problem as too little. Ms. Chow’s Flickr account provides many examples of this. Some events feature an entire collection of “spray and pray” photos. For example, there were 73 photos (many collections of nearly identical shots) of a press conference showcasing sideguard rails on a truck. The entire event could have been more effectively communicated in five or 10. The same goes for the Remembering Jack event (I understand why, but several photos of the same thing at the same angle is redundant), Google Workshop for Seniors and to a lesser extent the arrival of Journey of the Nishiyuu walkers and the Budget Press Conference, to name a few.

Second, and still on Flickr, content should be properly titled. Every photo I saw spanning 68 pages was titled with the filename of the photo (e.g. IMG_1234). It wasn’t until page 69 when we see photos of Ms. Chow’s August 2012 Mountain River trip that we know what we’re looking at by the title of the image.

Third, I’m militantly against autoplay videos. Her YouTube channel is set to autoplay anything visitors call up. Ugh!

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Be selective with what you post. Don’t make your audience filter your content. If they get annoyed by essentially repeat content, they’ll tune it all out. Choose the best shots to represent an event — be brief, be brilliant, be gone.
  • Turn off autoplay.
  • Title, label, describe and tag all of your content. Put names of people in the photos if you can.


Participation & Community

Ms. Chow has a very active online community, mostly centred around her Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account.

In the last 47 days, Ms. Chow’s 125 Facebook wall posts have attracted 8975 likes and 926 comments. That’s an average of 71.8 likes and 7.4 comments per wall post. That’s fairly significant. However, Ms. Chow is not active participant in the comment threads on her Facebook wall. In a cursory review, I saw only a handful of responses on her part.

During the last six months, Ms. Chow has issued 414 tweets which break out into 61% status updates/commentary, 21% are retweets and 18% are replies. The replies number is a bit low compared to some of the MPs I’ve analysed, though not terrible. Her areas of focus include infrastructure, public transit and traffic issues. She was mentioned in 10,757 tweets issued by 5,861 Twitter users (of those, 4,918 were retweets of Ms. Chow’s own updates). Among the most common themes are infrastructure, transit and speculation Ms. Chow might have given up federal politics to run in the Toronto mayoral race which never happened. There was also discussion about Ms. Chow’s diagnosis with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

Commenting is enabled on Ms. Chow’s YouTube channel. Most of the comments appear on older videos which means either interest has waned or, if commenting is moderated, the comment queue is backed up. Of course, it’s possible commenting has migrated to the comment thread in Facebook and responses over Twitter. Her most popular video remains the November 2006  Olivia Chow’s Green House Tour which has been viewed 56,832 times. Take note politicians; it’s not always about the work you do.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Become a more active participant in comment threads on your Facebook Fan Page. If that means giving up a status update or two during the week, so be it.
  • Most of your retweets and replies over Twitter seem to be with high profile folk. Mingle with the masses a bit more.
  • I’d be interested in seeing what kind of participation you would get in a poll on your Facebook page.


Interruption (the bonus category)

I like the non-QP, non-official videos you’ve published. Her Mountain River Expedition video shows there’s more to our elected officials and they learn from outside experiences. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of this in political coverage. In fact, I’d argue mainstream media does a better job of showing this (in video) than our MPs do.



Links to MP social media properties and digital makeovers completed to-date can be found on The Digital House.

Sketch by Andrea Ross. Analysis performed using Marketwired/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.