Prior to announcing his candidacy for the NDP leadership, he didn’t have a Twitter account. That was something of lore among political observers. In fact, Evan Solomon pursued the issue during his appearance on CBC’s Power and Politics. That’s all changed now.

I’m talking about Thomas Mulcair. And today, after performing a digital makeover of his own, Mr. Mulcair becomes the subject of my latest digital makeover.

One site is better than two

Like caucus-mate Paul Dewar, Mr. Mulcair has two websites. It seems it’s an attempt to distinguish between his role as a Member of Parliament and his candidacy for the leadership of the NDP. That works in theory. However, the two are intrinsically connected. Separating them in practice and forcing people to go to two different places on the web complicates public interaction with him in both roles. This interference is made even more complicated by several other details which include:

  • Neither of Mr. Mulcair’s websites (clearly) point to the other meaning site visitors hoping to find one piece of information may not find it and will give up trying.
  • Google searches for “Thomas Mulcair” return his MP website as the #1 hit. Not surprising really since the site has been around for a while. Surfers hoping to find official information on or support his candidacy aren’t likely to scroll down to find his candidacy website listed as the #11 search result.

Depending on the number of people at his disposal, having two websites could work. Mr. Mulcair could assign dedicated teams to maintaining both sites, making sure they both remain current. However, because both sites exist as discrete efforts and are so disconnected from each other even according to Google, I feel he’s missing out on an opportunity to convert support. This is particularly important in Mr. Mulcair’s case.

I really believe that one political website is better than two.

While we’re on the subject of websites, let me take a moment to discuss tone.

For the most part, the text on his candidacy website is very official and written in third-person. It’s stiff rather than inviting. Which makes it all the more surprising when visitors arrive at his Help the campaign page. They’re presented with some very casual language.

I have no objections to casual tone. In fact, I believe politicians who use personal tone can cause visitors to forget about the official nature of the politician’s role and build a new type of relationship with constituents and stakeholders. I’m also not against surprise, or interrupting the interactions. However, I think the tone should be consistent in one style. This switch in particular seems jarring.

Connect the dots

I already identified the need to connect multiple web presences in the previous section. The same holds true when incorporating social media outposts. In previous posts I refer to this as creating a digital ecosystem; one in which each Internet property has a specific purpose/goal or reaches a particular audience. This makes it easier to decide what goes where, how it will be prepared and how to measure success. I’ve seen very few cases among politicians where this is done well. I’ll save a more expansive discussion on how I recommend doing that for another post. Of greater concern is making sure your audience(s) are able to find everything in your digital ecosystem with ease.

Mr. Mulcair’s MP website features prominent links to his Facebook Page and Flickr Stream. Otherwise, that page links to official NDP sites. His candidacy page features a stream of his recent tweets (which links to his Twitter account — yes, he has a Twitter account now!) and a link to his Facebook page. He also provides links to subscribe to his newsletter and a list of upcoming events (using Google Calendar!). However, links to his other social media outposts are tucked away at the very bottom of the page, or are missing altogether.

The footer of his site presents subtle icons to Mr. Mulcair’s RSS feed (to subscribe to candidacy website updates), Twitter account, Facebook page and video page on his website (although, it would appear the link is supposed to take you to his YouTube channel). Flickr is missing.

There is a link to his MP website. However, it’s so hidden at the bottom of the page in smaller text that I’d wager few people, if anyone, will think to themselves that they’ll find what their looking for at the bottom of the page.

Keep exploring the power of Twitter to engage and connect

Mr. Mulcair is new to Twitter. He issued his first tweet on October 26. To his credit, it was not the typical or variant of “This is my first tweet.” Mr. Mulcair went straight in to communication mode. This is good.

There’s very little in the way of content to evaluate at this time. Early indications are he will be tweeting on a regular basis and has a decent handle on the culture (including propping up other tweeters and using hashtags to identify content). I expect he’ll find his voice in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to find out how engaged he becomes.

His Twitter account is easily identifiable as his, including his official photograph and a link to his candidacy website. However, it’s missing a descriptive bio.

Publish current photos

Mr. Mulcair has published a respectable number of photographs and appears to be continuing to do so. That is, there’s apparently been a push to publish photographs to the site even though many of the pictures were taken a year (or more) ago. The photographs have descriptive titles which makes it easy to understand where the photos were taken and, in many cases, who is featured in them.

I think the photos could play a greater role if they were made available under a Creative Commons license. This is particularly true with Flickr which really punches up the licensing messages. All Rights Reserved seems very ominous and may discourage people for using his photographs in creating their own content to help promote Mr. Mulcair’s run at the NDP leadership.

Finally the account can use some administrative upkeep. It’s named “NDPOutremont” (the riding), lacks an identifiable photograph, a description and link any of Mr. Mulcair’s websites.

Use digital content to connect with people

It’s typical among politicians for their video channels to feature clips of their performances in Question Period, committees and at major events. Mr. Mulcair is no exception. His YouTube channel boasts nine video clips all fitting that description.

Unlike many of his House of Commons peers, he has disabled auto play. This is a good thing, allowing his audience to decide if they’d like to watch his main video rather than impose it on them.

While his personality comes through in some video clips, I think Mr. Mulcair should be doing more with informal (and unscripted) videos which allow supporters and potential supporters to get a better sense of him.

People are much more likely to get behind someone they feel they can relate to. Look no further to the popularity enjoyed by the late Jack Layton on how the public can connect with enthusiasm and playfulness in a politician.

Build a community

Facebook is often confused by politicians as a lectern, and their “likes” as a captive audience. They treat this powerful community-building tool as a broadcast channel, like a newswire service, over which to pump official communications. In the process politicians unwittingly dismiss the fundamental idea that made Facebook the popular service it is today.

Mr. Mulcair is no exception. His Facebook Fan Page is his weakest online property. It should be one he invests in heavily in the coming months as he looks to build his base of support as part of the NDP leadership race.

There’s an expression that goes “there are friends who will help you move, and friends who will help you move a dead body.” Mr. Mulcair needs to create relationships he can “activate” as his campaign picks up momentum — or to help his campaign pick up momentum.

Filling Facebook streams with information people can get through the news media is not going to build online relationships, or give them the foundation necessary to establish a groundswell of support in “the real world.” The two must be closely connected. The most successful politicians are going to be the ones who can apply traditional social skills to digital channels and make that work in both directions.