This is the first in a new series of posts I’m going to publish. In each, I’ll do an assessment of one politician’s web presence. To be clear, each of these posts will examine and make recommendations for the MP to have a greater impact online. I am not going to redesign their websites.

In this first digital makeover, I’m going to look at the digital footprint of my own MP, Paul Dewar (NDP).

Website needs to be online constituency office and membership draw

Mr. Dewar’s website served well as the centrepiece of his online presence for quite some time. It featured solid integration of traditional and social media communications. With the exception of using a Facebook icon for Flickr, I felt his website was very well done and easy to use even though it featured a lot of aging content.

He recently unveiled a new look, likely to coincide with his candidacy for the NDP leadership. The new website is cleaner. However it’s much more official looking and features official communications rather than the human kind, catering perhaps to the media rather than the public. In the process, his new website pushes the tools of online engagement to the bottom of the page and removes the streams of digital content that made his earlier website an online constituency office — a hub of communication and information.

His new website is more like a postcard.

Connect the pieces of the digital ecosystem

Mr. Dewar also stripped down his digital integration. He had previously included prominent links his other outposts: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. Now he has identified only Twitter and Facebook while fracturing his online presence into two main pieces — Paul Dewar the MP and Paul Dewar the NDP leadership candidate.

I believe that’s a mistake — particularly for someone in a leadership race.

In my view, successful leadership candidacy involves demonstrating commitment, action, community building, momentum and engagement. Dividing his work and then failing to connect the pieces means Mr. Dewar will create two separate audiences for himself and at least two separate places for people to learn about him. The strategist in me feels he’ll be competing with himself and will make it harder to integrate the process of mobilizing support for his leadership bid.

So rather than strengthening his online ecosystem and keeping content up to date at his established outposts, Mr. Dewar has created a second YouTube channel and second Flickr stream, both dedicated to his Leadership run. This means he and his team have now more outposts to keep current. Neglecting any single one at this important stage of his political career, a stage in which he is supposed to be showing what he can do for his party and his caucus, presents opportunities for competitors to criticize him. Notwithstanding the fact that he’s had difficulty keeping the cobwebs off his existing outposts (more later).

One gets the sense this approach may have been poorly conceived particularly since the Leadership channel on YouTube and his two Flickr streams have no descriptions nor do they provide links to Mr. Dewar’s website. That’s precisely where  he should be sending people and potential sponsors to donate and become voting members of the NDP? If he’s not doing it for the people, he should at least do it for the search engines which put more stock in sites which are linked from other prominent sites.

Create more content and allow others to do more with it

Mr. Dewar’s videos and photos are actually quite good, even if sparse, particularly when compared to some of the content published by other politicians. He’s provided meaningful titles making them easily searchable and understandable to the public. There is plenty of room to improve upon descriptions using relevant tags. Also, in the case of Flickr, Mr. Dewar should make his photos available under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license which may encourage others to use his photos in their own blog posts and videos. After all, it is social media and giving people access to high quality media might help them create content to support his bid for leadership.

But, more importantly, he should publish authentic content on a more regular basis, showcasing to the public why they should join the party and help him become the next leader. Optics are very important in politics (and social media) which is ample reason to ensure there’s fresh content at least once a month (if not once a week) on each of his social media outposts — double (or even triple) that number during a campaign of any sort.

Be more engaged

Mr. Dewar has been on social media for quite some time. He has flashes of showing a good flair for language and tone. However, his use of social media suggests reliance on the tools for self-broadcast rather than community-building activities. He should be using his Facebook and Twitter accounts to host a conversation, or even post questions on important issues. He should use online polls in Facebook to measure opinion and galvanize interest rather than relying on people “liking” a particular statement. He should be inviting people to events rather than simply announcing where he’ll be. And… I suggest he organize Tweetups as part of the the travels he’s using to drum up support from the ground-up.

Also, Mr. Dewar seems to miss out on many opportunities to answer questions asked of him online, or statements which should be getting his attention. Perhaps he’s not actively monitoring occurrences of his name in Twitter, blogs, etc.

Mr. Dewar already enjoys a significant amount of popularity. He should be harnessing that support online starting from his own constituency and fanning outwards as part of a comprehensive strategy to gain more support across the country. Social media is going to be the place for him to “be there” for all Canadians even when he can’t physically be there. He should be building that online community now and look to it to help fan out his message, organize local events, build groundswell and raise his profile. Right now, his use of digital outposts makes it appear as though he’s going through the motions.

Connections, connections, connections

Real estate agents talk about the importance of location, location, location. In the digital world I believe it’s about connections, connections, connections – outposts, content and people. You’ll see a lot of that come through in the digital makeovers I’ll be writing. Politicians are slowly figuring this out. My hope is my digital makeovers, as critical as they may be, will help the politicians get better results online and, perhaps, better turnout at the polls.

UPDATE 3:00pm: I’ve learned that Mr. Dewar’s original website (the one I mentioned had been relaunched) has actually been spun off to a new URL (pauldewarmp.ca) allowing his known URL (pauldewar.ca) to take centre stage in his leadership race. Here’s where things start to fall apart in my view. Few people (read: constituents and stakeholders) will know to go to the new URL to continue their relationship with Mr. Dewar’s online constituency office. Google has ranked the new URL as #8 which isn’t bad. However, it should be #1 since being an MP is his primary function and his established website should not change roles mid-stream — certainly not without clear indication. His new leadership website is now the page constituents and stakeholders will find when they search on “Paul Dewar”. This brings us back to the issue of energy and commitment necessary to drive two online presences when the earlier effort fell short when there was only one presence. It’s pointing to an ill-conceived integrated strategy. Also, the Flickr icon is still wrong. :)

PAUL DEWAR’S DIGITAL GRADE: C

Thanks to Paul Monlezun for the digital makeover name and idea.