There is no MP who has the monopoly of digital prowess. Each has strengths and just as each has their “achilles heel.”
NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan is so close in so many ways and yet quite far in just a few. Still, she’s easily among the most digitally savvy and could take the crown (if there was one) with a few important changes.
It’s becoming increasingly rare to see an MP website anchored in their party’s digital domain. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this to be the case with rookie NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan. While she owns the vanity domain rathika.ca, that URL redirects web browsers to her page on the NDP web ecosystem. In that respect, her website is well put together though otherwise… well… hum, ho.
Her latest Tweets and Facebook posts are featured on the main page and YouTube uploads are included on her Videos page. Ms. Sitsabaiesan also has a Flickr page for which there is no mention on her website.
Ms. Sitsabaiesan’s profiles on her Facebook Page, Twitter and Flickr accounts are well identified though with varying levels of detail. Twitter leads the pack. I like that her Twitter avatar is an action shot (not an official pose) with her full name, complete title and a link to her website. Facebook is much the same though Ms. Sitsabaiesan has not exploited the opportunity to provide a complete bio on the About page.
Flickr lags a bit. While she’s configured her full name in her profile, the display name on the account is her account name. It’s identifiable, but clunky (“rathikasitsabaiesan”). She also hasn’t linked back to her website which is fair treatment since she doesn’t link to it from her website.
While “branded” in a funky way as RathikaTV (more about this in the next paragraph), her YouTube channel is not fully described. Her photo is spunky. Otherwise, there’s no descriptive information to say who she is nor is there a link to her website.
The choice of RathikaTV as a handle for her YouTube channel is worth noting for a few reasons. The title is one of several Ms. Sitsabaiesan uses for her web properties. This makes for inconsistent branding (she uses Rathika, RathikaS, RathiksSitsabaiesan and RathikasPage). At the same time, RathikaTV is easy to say and remember. RathikaTV is also more likely to survive a move out of politics should that day come. Properties tagged with “MP” or some indication of party affiliations or political status suffer in this way.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Provide a more thorough bio on your Facebook page. Perhaps break tradition by writing a made-for-Facebook version which reflects your personality rather than using the official party bio.
- Complete the profile information in your YouTube channel and provide a link back to your website.
- Link to your Flickr presence from your website.
Ms. Sitsabaiesan has a very natural and social media friendly “voice.” The updates she issues which have a political slant generally have a positive tone. It’s important to note many of her photos are clearly taken by her, from her point of view, rather than being photos of Ms. Sitsabaiesan posing with others and taken by staff. The latter are a necessary part of the mix and she clearly treats them as the exception rather than the rule. It’s an assurance we’re experiencing her take on her activities.
While some of her Facebook updates are unique to that outpost, most of the updates on her Fan Page come directly from her Twitter account. That is, rather than playing to the strengths of each platform and giving followers distinct reasons to follow her on both platforms, Ms. Sitsabaiesan is imposing the same content on people who choose to follow her in both places. On one hand, few people seem to complain. On the other hand, it comes across as lazy and would be reason enough for me to not follow her on one or the other platform.
Her use of YouTube is a refreshing change from most MPs. While it plays home to her appearances in QP and official messages, Ms. Sitsabaiesan has also uploaded a number of great off-the-cuff videos including some “video blog” entries (the last of which was uploaded in October), an apparent “selfie” Canada Day message and a December 2012 video promoting the Toy Mountain initiative.
Flickr has been generally neglected. It grew cobwebs from June 2011 until she uploaded an image of a media release this past December. The photos that are in her Flickr stream include a mix of candid and posed photo ops. Some are energetic and fun even if many lack a title, description and tags. On the other hand, they are organized into sets which provides a better understanding the photos and the events at which they were taken.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- De-couple your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Give your constituents, issue stakeholders and fans a reason to follow you on both platforms.
- Re-activate your video blog. It’s a great way to keep your followers up to date and shows a more lively politician than comes across in your QP appearances.
- Use Flickr more often. While many of your followers may have Facebook accounts, posting your photos to Flickr and embedding them in Facebook (and elsewhere) ensures they are accessible to everyone and that they show up in Google searches.
Participation & Community
Besides issuing her own status updates on Twitter, Ms. Sitsabaiesan often retweets others and prepends her own remarks. In the last six months, 34% of her tweets have been retweets.
The biggest weakness in Ms. Sitsabaiesan’s digital ecosystem is her level of engagement. Her Twitter replies sit at 13% which is noticeably lower than other politicians I’ve recently “made over.” On her Facebook Fan Page you’ll be hard pressed to find her name in the comment threads for the posts. A February 1 post about her press conference on the Tamil Heritage Month Act boasts 30 comments including questions. She’s not in that list. A question by someone asking where people can send clothing donations for a family displaced by a house fire is similarly unacknowledged.
Despite the redundant-coupling of her Twitter and Facebook accounts and her lack of participation in the conversation, Ms. Sitsabaiesan has a very active Facebook community. She enjoys a steady stream of “Likes” and comments — an average of 30 and 2.8 per wall post respectively. It’s a safe bet many politicians would love that level of public participation. On the other hand, Ms. Sitsabaiesan has done little to harness that goodwill and energy. That’s a significant missed opportunity in my view.
Ms. Sitsabaiesan seems to be using the Events section of her Facebook presence to keep her Facebook community informed. The same feature on her website is empty.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Remember to keep the publicly-accessible ouposts of your digital ecosystem up-to-date. Don’t penalize those who don’t have Facebook accounts. And remember, Facebook is not searchable. Help Google help others find you and your activities.
- Don’t ignore the people who are posting comments and especially those posting questions to your Facebook Fan Page. And another “especially”… don’t ignore questions about how people can help others in need.
- Do something to harness the energy of the people in your ecosystem. Their participation tells you something you’re not picking up on.
Interruption (the bonus category)
While this is generally irrelevant since the property has been neglected, I feel this is an important one to note.
Ms. Sitsabaiesan is making her Flickr photos available under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution, Non-Commercial Share-Alike license. That means she’s implicitly allowing people to include her photos in their own websites, etc… provided they don’t make money from their use and they credit the photo to her account. That implicit permission removes fear of legal reprisals. Those who understand digital culture recognize the importance of this decision. It shows Ms. Sitsabaiesan is digitally savvy.