My Ontario election report cards have been very popular. So, I thought I’d subject myself to a few long nights and some hard core analysis of the use of digital channels by┬ácandidates representing the four major parties within the nine ridings of the Ottawa-Carleton region in the 2011 Ontario provincial election.┬áThat’s right, 36 candidates.

It’s encouraging to see so many candidates in the current election using or attempting to use social media. There was a time when very few candidates used digital communication and engagement tools. Those were the days when it took very little time to do meaningful assessments.

The assessments were restricted to the period of September 7-30, 2011 and are based on observed use, expected user experience, digital culture and the application of digital channels to the candidate’s campaign and political career.

I’ll be sharing more of my individual findings during election night television coverage hosted by Sandra Blaikie on Rogers Cable 22.

UPDATE 7:45am: My most sincere apologies to Madeleine Meilleur. For some reason I messed up her assessment and recorded that she had no digital presence. I have updated the summary table with corrected grades.

UPDATE 11:25am: I added another chart; The digital engagement leaderboard.

About the grades (a disclaimer)

The grades are neither an endorsement of or statement about the quality of the individual or his/her abilities as a candidate or politician. The grades are strictly an assessment of the candidate’s use and integration of digital channels, particularly social media, into his/her campaign.

The summary table of grades (below) shows grades assigned to candidates for their use of individual digital channels as well as an overall grade which also considers how selected elements work together within a digital ecosystem. This explains why some overall grades may appear lower or higher than the average of the individual grades.

Assessments were performed on digital channels which were linked on the candidate’s website or easily stumbled upon. Any channels not obviously promoted were excluded from the assessment.

Three fields within the summary table contain a lone hyphen (‘-‘). This indicates that a Facebook assessment was not performed because the identified Facebook URL was for a personal profile rather than a Fan Page. I decided that publicly accessible personal profiles are about the individual first rather than serving as a digital political outpost.

Observations

Lacking integrated strategy
Digital remains an afterthought in many campaigns. Oddly, this is just as apparent, perhaps moreso, among the younger candidates as with some of the more seasoned politicians. The role of digital in our lives and as part of politics has evolved substantially in a short time. Candidates and their campaigns need to do their homework when they prepare a strategy. They should know how traditional and digital campaign activities augment each other. Campaigns should also know that people expect to find what they’re looking for, online, and quickly. And, they want quality. The newest wrinkle is, increasingly, people want to engage with their elected representatives. There’s a believe that politicians should be accessible, personable and accountable.

Party politics and leader first
With very few exceptions, digital channels and candidate messaging put party politics and the leader ahead of local issues. In many ways, it seems the candidates have been marginalized and lost within the party brand. As if to further embellish the point, candidate websites often boast links to their party’s YouTube channel and leader’s Twitter stream rather than their own.

Websites range from overwhelming to underwhelming
The ability to fill all areas of a webpage with lots of flashy content, embedded social media streams and political messages has resulted n sites which confuse the eye. The PC and Liberal web templates in particular appear to be designed for the parties rather than the visitors. There’s too many places to look, too many buttons to click. The NDP template is much more simple. Perhaps too simple to the point of serving as a digital brochure. However, information about local issues is not obvious. To its detriment, the Green Party has no web template.

The right tool for the right job
It’s apparent many candidates are using a variety of tools because the names of the tools are recognizable. Candidates and their campaign teams should do more to determine which tools are most appropriate and how to best use those tools, in concert with each other, to effectively engage with the public. (see Lacking integrated strategy)

Disconnected ecosystems
A number of candidates have missed out on opportunities to direct visitors of one digital channel to another. For example, some candidates have not provided links from their Twitter profiles to their campaign websites. In some cases, candidates have linked their Twitter or Facebook profiles to their party’s website.

Ecosystems depend not just on the connected elements, but also in securing all of its pieces. One candidate discovered other people can register domain names “you” may want and then use them in their own campaign activities. Candidates should register domain names for all obvious (and maybe a few less obvious) versions of their own name.

Taking the ‘social’ out of ‘social media’
Most candidates view social media as another channel over which they can broadcast to a large audience. They have chosen to not engage with or respond to their supporters or potential supporters in the online world. In the traditional sense, this would be the equivalent of not mingling with the public.

Missing opportunity to harness support
While some candidates know how to build and activate communities online, very few have figured out how to effectively harness support through scalable calls to action.

Aging content
Several candidates have YouTube channels which haven’t been updated for many months. The Liberal party’s group blog has been silent since July. It’s important to keep content current and relevant. Site visitors may view neglected sites as an early warning sign.

Need more personality
Many candidates insist in publishing stiff, scripted, performed videos. These do nothing to present the candidate as a human being. Digital culture has conditioned its participants to enjoy personality first — some information with entertainment and humanity. There are a few fantastic examples of videos which capture candidates doing what they do without requiring multiple takes. Also, videos meant to engage constituents can do without emotional undercurrents and opening fanfares.

Share smart
This one may be nit-picky… some websites have buttons to share content most people won’t share (e.g. candidate bio).

Digital campaign report card (summary table)

Headings: T (Twitter), FB (Facebook), FL (Flickr), YT (YouTube), BL (Blog), G+ (Google+)

The digital engagement leaderboard