During a recent interview with Robin Bresnahan on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning, I was asked if I’d conducted a digital makeover of any high-profile MPs. The answer really depends on what you consider high-profile. For the most part I’ve focused on backbenchers since I’ve felt going after the big guns seemed a cheap way to get visits to my website. Still, I have reviewed a few high-profile MPs. Among others, I made-over Thomas Mulcair before the NDP Leadership Convention, Justin Trudeau before he entered the Liberal Leadership race, and House Speaker Andrew Scheer.
Today, I look at the big game, though admittedly “safe” big game, as I conduct a makeover of digitally-savvy Conservative MP and President of the Treasury Board, Minister Tony Clement.
He has been called the Minister of Twitter by some and I’ve called him a “Rock Star” when it comes to social media (a term I figure more people would understand). I’m not crazy about either term. But, I think they both try to explain someone whose personality presents itself well online. It comes down to this: Minister Clement knows how to achieve digital eye contact.
Minister Clement’s digital ecosystem is unique among MPs; certainly among the list of MPs I’ve already assessed. His ecosystem is much tighter than most.
While best known for his Twitter account, Minister Clement has a requisite website, a YouTube channel and a Google+ Page. No Facebook Fan Page, no multiple accounts on any given property. However, he does have a legacy, neglected photostream on Flickr. It’s been gathering cobwebs since July 2011.
Minister Clement’s website links to his digital outposts. However, not all link back to his site. His Twitter profile is complete and links to his website. His Google+ Page boasts a complete profile with links to his website, YouTube account and various Internet properties associated with the Treasury Board. His YouTube channel, on the other hand, lacks a complete profile and link to his website — though it does link to his Google+ Page (after all, it is part of his Google identity) and has an identifiable photo.
Some people may question Minister Clement’s decision to dismiss Facebook and opt instead for Google+ which many believe is struggling to establish itself. I think there is a great deal of merit in his approach. True he’s taking a risk not playing in the same playground most of the other kids are in, Google+ offers many advantages including being public (where Facebook is a walled garden which requires membership to interact with others and consume content), it’s fully searchable (Facebook is not) and Google+ feeds the Google monster which gives him an edge when it comes to search indexing. And, choosing only one platform rather than both ensures he doesn’t have to maintain too many properties.
By the way, his debut on Google+ is very recent — February 13 to be exact.
Minister Clement’s website is cleaner and easier to use than most MP websites I’ve evaluated. Relevant information on his constituency and his work as President of the Treasury Board are easy to find. There’s a multimedia section with an embedded photo gallery of generally “official” photographs and a video page on which his YouTube videos are embedded for convenience. There is a poll and a form to sign up for his mailing list.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Update your YouTube channel to identify you more clearly and include a link to your website.
- The text overlay for the slider on your main page covers too much of the photo. Consider moving the captions and slider controls beside or below the slider rather than across the bottom — or reduce the size of the overlay. Also, the title of the photo for the overlay always aligns with the “1″ for the first item in the slider. This makes it seem as though the text is associated with the first image in the deck of five. Consider separating the controls from the caption, or doing more to distinguish between the two.
- Delete your Flickr account or bring it back to life.
I’ll say this… if you want to interact with Minister Clement online, Twitter is the place to do it. While some of his YouTube videos and Google+ posts are off-script (that is, not written by a member of his staff or following party talking points — in other words, not stiff), Twitter is where you get the Minister’s point of view. So, if you don’t want to see photos exclusively of the Minister and would rather see the world through his eyes, ignore Minister Clement’s website and his Google+ page where a lot of content is clearly written about and for the Minister in both official languages rather than by him in his personality (for the time being, anyways — I’m sure his Google+ usage will come around).
On Twitter, Minister Clement provides updates on his work and interests, thoughts on his travels and events he attends and promotes music he enjoys. I remember years ago he tweeted that he was taking his daughter to a Taylor Swift concert (I think it was Taylor Swift) which was great father-daughter time, plus there wouldn’t be a line for the men’s bathroom. He also tweeted about an event he attended in Nunavut where he became of fan of The Trews (he’s also a fan of Radiohead which earns him street cred among the data geeks who follow him).
He’s tweeted photos of sunsets and holding baby chicks (a photo I use to illustrate the point of human-relatable feelings that can’t be explained in words) and once reminded followers about water safety after saving a cottager from drowning. On Saturday Minister Clement tweeted that he’d attended the memorial service of a friend. My condolences to you Minister on your loss.
Most of his videos are official as well. The best videos on his YouTube channel are those captured by someone with a mobile phone including one in which he’s filmed playing “Whack-a-Mole.”
His Flickr account is home to 100 photos posted after the last election. The photos lack titles, descriptions and tags.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Lighten up your Google+ Page. I understand the importance of “official” content. I think there’s a great opportunity for you to extend your Twitter voice and exploit the extra character count.
- More videos of you being you; whether behind the scenes doing your job, showing off your desk-less office, mingling with the data and political geeks of the country or making the case for people to become more civic-minded.
- Add a “Through Tony’s Eyes” photo gallery on your website which features some of the best photos you took rather than strictly featuring the photos taken of you by a professional.
Participation & Community
I think it’s safe to say Minister Clement does something very significant with his Twitter account… he shortens the distance between himself and the Canadian public, particularly those with an interest in politics and those who identify as stakeholders of issues he’s taken on. This includes Minister Clement’s focus on open data and open government.
Agree with him or not, Minister Clement has managed to connect with people of all political stripes because he builds community through a human-relatable personality rather than being partisan or anchored in ideology. A friend who ran provincially for the NDP once told me that if Minister Clement was within driving distance and announced online that he was available to meet for drinks, he would be there in a heartbeat. That’s because my friend feels like he could have a meaningful conversation about life and politics rather than spar on a contenscious issue such as (at the time) copyright.
Minister Clement hasn’t always faired well in online interactions. He drew criticism for his handling of online debate about the long gun registry. He made the papers for mishandling an online interaction with an elementary school student and nearly lost a great deal of online credibility for enlisting help during a Twitter town hall. On the other hand, he earned a lot of respect from all opinions for his handling of online discussion about copyright reforms. He regularly interacts with with opendata geeks, political enthusiasts, fellow politicians and music lovers.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Turn the online enthusiasm into in-person enthusiasm. Organize an impromptu meetup for coffee or pints. I’m certain there will be interest. (Count me in for Ottawa)
- Collaborate with MPs from other parties to create a non-partisan guide on the use of digital for public engagement. I know Dr. Carolyn Bennett is keen to make something happen. (I’d be happy to help organize/facilitate/coordinate.)
- Help your caucus-mates be themselves online.
Interruption (the bonus category)
Minister Clement is not afraid to take chances online. While I can’t confirm he was the first MP to host a Twitter town hall meeting, I’m certain he was the first ever Canadian federal Minister to do so. In fact, he’s conducted a few. He is also the first Canadian MP to participate in an official Google Hangout about open data.
Most importantly, he seems comfortable taking risks (some might say “failing forward”) which is probably why so many people respect his approach even if they don’t agree with his politics.