Digital Makeover: Megan Leslie

Digital Makeover: Megan Leslie

I had the privilege of attending an event at which Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke last week. He was unsurprisingly articulate, demonstrating a keen sense of politics, the nuances of the different “orders of government” and how to communicate his idea.

Mayor Nenshi related a story of how he learned about “politics in full sentences” from now Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Mayor Nenshi took to the idea of unrestricted communication which dismisses sound bites, something the mayor admits he does particularly well given his professorial history.

Communicating complete thoughts is important. People should understand the nuances of an issue, particularly if the issue is nuanced and a clear cut answer or decision is not possible or practical.

Besides offering some very positive reinforcement on effective use of social media, today’s digital makeover provides a great example of something many politicians suffer from — that in an effort to provide complete information, they provide too much information and don’t organize it with the reader in mind.

The fall season of digital makeovers kicks off today with a look at MP Megan Leslie.

Digital Ecosystem

MeganLeslie-websiteMegan Leslie has recruited her website and social media profiles as important components of her style of activist politics. Ms. Leslie maintains an active presence on Twitter and Facebook, routinely updates her YouTube and Flickr channels and probably doesn’t realize she has a Google+ page.

While her website serves as the hub of her digital ecosystem, I’m not convinced it’s well conceived or organized. For one, Ms. Leslie’s role as Environment Critic only appears in the hear on the main page, and vanishes once visitors get inside her site. Those who aren’t paying attention to her role when they first arrive on the site, won’t know once they get clicking.

Second, there is too much information spread out in a massive navigational structure. Her main menu actually extends beyond the width of most browser windows rendering at least one of her links (the all important Take Action) invisible. The architecture also creates a deep and poorly formatted site map in the footer. It also makes mobile browsing overwhelming.


While she updates her YouTube and Flickr accounts regularly, she hasn’t fully identified herself in either profile, nor has she organized her YouTube channel for a helpful and engaging user experience.

The On the Issues section of Ms. Leslie’s website is extensive, made up of apparent media releases and some commentary covering everything from arts and culture to women’s issues. However, the Environment section is the only one that’s been updated in the last three months. Some sections have been update in the last six months. Most haven’t been updated in well over a year. As a result, people looking for recent attention from Ms. Leslie and the NDP will be led to believe these issues are of lesser consequence.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Streamline and focus your site architecture to cater to the user experience.
  • Rather than simply publishing a stream of media releases, consider breaking down each issue in a way the explains why the issue is important, the main elements of concern and what you and your party are doing to address concerns — one page each, with links to relevant articles.
  • Make sure your YouTube channel is organized for people who arrive there, including having a cover photo and organizing your videos in themed playlists to help those who are concerned about particular issues.



Ms. Leslie publishes a variety of content to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. She keeps all properties active, publishing to Twitter pretty much daily to Twitter, to Facebook at least a few times each week, to YouTube as often as she appears in QP, and to Flickr roughly once per month. That’s a healthy amount of activity and a respectable pace to keep.

Channels like Twitter and Facebook are used to share personally-minded comments more often than YouTube and Flickr. Despite that, there are many things Ms. Leslie could do easily, now, to supplement her video and high-quality visual content. Specifically, Ms. Leslie has published 210 videos to her YouTube channel since her first on December 18, 2008. With very few exceptions, all of this content is official and from the House of Commons. Her last non-HoC video was published in April 2013 when Ms. Leslie committed to the “Dance Manifesto.”

By contrast, Ms. Leslie’s Flickr stream, despite its more professional look, comes across as more upbeat and significantly more spontaneous. Among the photos is one of Ms. Leslie with three others wrapping themselves in Canadian flags at a reception for newly sworn-in Canadians. With few exceptions, the photostream skews toward images of a more political or official duty flavour.


While she does publish her share of political commentary on Twitter and Facebook, Ms. Leslie reserves her more “personal” updates” for both of these channels, allowing people to gain a better understanding of Ms. Leslie’s personal interests. In addition to her outdoors activities, this includes volunteering at the Jazz Festival and attending a Roller Derby birthday bash.

MeganLeslie-TW01 MeganLeslie-FB01

Ms. Leslie almost always attaches some form of attention-getting image to her posts.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Organize your YouTube content into thematic playlists and dress up/exploit that property in the same was as you do with Twitter and Facebook.
  • As popular as images are, Canadians love their online video. Adding energetic and informative videos to your communications mix will help you reach more people.
  • Get rid of your Google+ page. It’s been dormant since April 2013 and takes away from your other properties.


Participation & Community

Ms. Leslie is definitely comfortable using social media. And, she understands digital culture demands more than just broadcasting information. Among Ms. Leslie’s 1,578 tweets during the six months spanning March 9 and September 7 of this year, 57% have been retweets of other people’s content, 32% have been her own original tweets and 11% have been replies. During the same period, Ms. Leslie was mentioned in 8,537 tweets issued from 3,324 unique Twitter accounts.

Some prominent themes within the Twitter chatter include saving VIA rail service, the Progress Summit, community and climate, and Halifax of course. There was also a small concentration of activity related to the Trinity-Spadina byelection.

Ms. Leslie’s Facebook page has become something of an active community. Many of Ms. Leslie’s posts stir up a fair number of likes, shares and comments. Analysis using Sysomos MAP shows her 126 wall posts between June 20 and September 7 attracted an average of more than 71 likes and nearly 6 comments. Some of her posts attract over 200 shares.

As active a Facebook poster as Ms. Leslie is, she is decidedly less active in the comment threads of her posts. She occasionally jumps in with responses in light or comfortable discussions, and generally steers clear of heated discussions resulting from her posts. A number of questions in a variety of threads seem to go unanswered. To her credit, Ms. Leslie leaves “respectful criticisms” (that is, criticisms of her that don’t include inflammatory or abrasive language) intact in her threads, even if she leaves them unchecked.


Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Respond to legitimate questions. If you’re responding offline, make sure you give an indication that you will respond or have responded to the question where the question is posted. Otherwise, it looks like you’re not listening.
  • Consider sharing more “original” content on Twitter to spark discussions. Participate to the extent possible.
  • Keep publishing a great mix of content that’s spans personal and political.


Interruption (the bonus category)

With so many people itching to knock our elected officials down a peg or two, it’s difficult for politicians to juggle being a politician and being a person. It’s easy for politicians to become bland people (if not actually, at least in public appearance) in order to avoid offending people and to ensure some degree of job stability. Which is probably why we seldom see politicians actually doing what the rest of us do.

Megan Leslie shared a refreshing photo of a refreshing drink in her Twitter stream in July — an image of a Caesar she was enjoying to celebrate a friend’s newly acquired Canadian citizenship. No word, officially, if the drink had alcohol.




Links to MP social media properties and digital makeovers completed to-date can be found on The Digital HouseSketch by Andrea Ross. Analysis performed using Marketwired/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

Digital public affairs video playlist opens with #VoteON candidates

Digital public affairs video playlist opens with #VoteON candidates

At the encouragement of a few of my online followers, I’ve decided to add more video content to the digital public affairs mix. This follows the release of my first such video, a collage of interviews I conducted with candidates for Ottawa Centre in the current Ontario election. So, I’ve created a digital public affairs playlist and uploaded all four interviews, editing myself out as much as possible to keep the length of the videos down.

Here they are in alphabetical order (by last name).

Robert Dekker (PC)

Jennifer McKenzie (NDP)

Yasir Naqvi (Liberal, incumbent)

Kevin O’Donnell (Green)

Digital Makeover: Michelle Rempel

Digital Makeover: Michelle Rempel

I’d wager it’s not easy being a politician. Especially a federal politician. Especially a young, female federal politician. It’s bad enough people default to hating you because you represent a point of view different from their own — and that you’re part of a system which people love to hate — you have the added bonus of being viewed as an outsider in what has typically (and in many ways is still) viewed as a boys club.

People within your own party, from parties opposite, and the general public will be tough on you, trying to make you prove your worth rather than accept you’ve earned your place and have value to offer.

Now, add to the mix that you’re part of a cohort that understands the importance of social media enough, and you have a grasp on digital culture, and you’re suddenly seen as fair game.

Besides showing the importance of a strong online presence, today’s makeover seems to illustrate the importance of resilience and the ability to make tough choices in the digital wild west.

Minister Michelle Rempel, this is your digital makeover.

Digital Ecosystem


MichelleRempel-websiteMichelle Rempel’s digital ecosystem is more connected than most MPs’. Her website serves as a hub, linked-to from all of her digital outposts: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. However, Minister. Rempel does not link to all of her digital outposts from her website. YouTube is the odd one out. Though, does get a link from her Facebook Fan Page. Like many MPs, she probably doesn’t realize Google set her up with a Google+ account.

There are many things about Minister Rempel’s digital ecosystem I like. For starters, her website is not modelled on her party’s template, she (update: it turns our she is using a party template, it just happens to be a good one) uses visuals, colour and white space to help direct visitors’ eyes to important information, and she does a decent job of cataloging her content. The Minister has also done a much better job of consistently branding her properties, and (more importantly) providing current and consistent information about her role as a politician and her status in Cabinet.

But, that’s not entirely what my makeovers are about.

Rather than exploit the power, popularity and shareability of YouTube, the Minister has chosen to implement a video streaming service on her own website. There are several problems with her implementation. First, the videos are pretty small in the browser window and can’t be enlarged. Second, it’s not possible to share or easily promote her videos.


The decision to do handle videos this way may be a result of inappropriate online commenters — both her haters who freely (and in many cases, anonymously) make mysoginistic remarks about her, and her supporters who’s “nice girl” and “cute girl” remarks come across as backhanded compliments, dismissive of her work.

While Minister Rempel does a respectable job of cataloguing her content, cleanly organized in easy-to-find sections on her website, she doesn’t do much to help visitors understand the relevance of her content. Titles likes “Message from Michelle” and “Report to Constituents” don’t tell visitors why they should read the content or what they’ll get out of it. More descriptive titles and even a summary sentence of what’s inside would be helpful.


While we’re on the subject of content curation, and this is a problem I’ve observed for all MP expense reports across all party lines, the links to Minister Rempel’s expense reports are properly dated, however, there is no indication of the date or purpose of her various expenses in the report.

As easy as her site is to navigate, the absence of a site search feature is perplexing.

Minister Rempel’s Facebook Fan Page is striking. Visitors are greeted with a clean, bright shot of the Calgary downtown skyline and an identifiable profile picture. Below the profile photo is an About summary rarely implemented by MPs. The Minister has chosen to promote her Twitter handle in this space. More on that later in this makeover.


The Minister has also done a good job with her YouTube page. Though, her use of YouTube is minimal at best.

Still on the subject of Facebook… Minister Rempel appears to have dabbled in the Events feature of her Facebook Fan Page. However, that section has been dormant since 2011. No recent or upcoming events are listed.


Minister Rempel’s website looks good, if small, on a smartphone screen.


Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Site search.
  • Provide more descriptive information about the content you make available.
  • Optimize your site for mobile users.




Minister Rempel’s online profile has increased substantially over the last year. There are probably a number of contributing factors to that.

First, Ms. Rempel became Minister Rempel last summer.

Second, Minister Rempel has become very active on social media (more on that in the Community and Participation section, below) sharing holiday greetings, messages of sympathy and concern (Calgary shootings, floods, etc…) , photos of her and her team campaigning, speaking at schools, hosting school visits, at town halls and events, on CTV Power Play, photo ops, social activities, the Calgary Stampede and official statements (the boring stuff).





In fact, Minister Rempel is so good at showing politicians as people that this effort seems to have overtaken her publishing of partisan statements and weighing in on substantive political issues. This is part of the challenge with Twitter, her chosen platform: there isn’t much room for making a statement that doesn’t easily inflame others or properly communicate the full message.

Why her focus on Twitter? Well, besides the fact that Twitter seems to get the media attention and does a better job at driving awareness in-the-moment, it appears Facebook has frustrated the Minister on more than a few occasions. We can definitely relate to that.


Personally, I think she’s missing out on an opportunity to more effectively communication and build community. But, that’s for the next section.

Remember I spoke about content curation and giving audiences a reason to read your content, the following are other examples (this time from Ms. Rempel’s Facebook page) showing posts with nondescript titles and lacking any summary information to draw a click. By the way, they also lack attention-getting images.


For all the great humanizing images and comments she publishes to Twitter, Ms. Rempel has yet to crack the code, or try cracking the code, of video.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Give people a reason to click your content, on your site or on you Facebook Fan Page (which I think you should still be using). Answer the “why” rather than simply identify the “what” of the content you’re posting.
  • Use a variety of tools to help you more thoughtfully explain the issues you’re working on and decisions you’re making. Twitter is not an appropriate platform, and not everyone will take the time to read an expansive piece.
  • Make your video content available on YouTube so people can more easily find and share it.


Participation & Community


Minister Rempel has her share of haters. And they love to hate her. Some of the people who support her also seem to say inappropriate things in support of her, sometimes dismissing her work and work ethic. It’s enough to frustrate anyone; enough to keep anyone facing these issues from participating in online exchanges.

Ms. Rempel does not engage in closed replies. That is, she uses the more public reply syntax of placing a period in front of a tweet. This probably explains why only 4% of Minister Rempel’s 2,956 tweets over the last six months were identified by our tools as replies. She also retweets content issued by others (sometimes with her own comments pre-pended to the retweet).

Full Duplex’s 2013 Peace, Order and Googleable Government report notes that 23% of Minister Rempel’s tweets in 2013 were replies. Also, Victoria wrote about Michelle Rempel’s talk at a BPW event in December. As Victoria notes, Minister Rempel “doesn’t shy away from respectful debate, and engages with others regularly. Her feed also demonstrates that she takes others’ viewpoints and criticism into consideration.”

Minister Rempel’s Facebook posts have comment threads with unacknowledged vitriol, mysoginistic remarks and unanswered questions.


In fact, Ms. Rempel has only appeared in the comment thread of a Facebook post once in the last six months.


The fact is, if people, particularly those who hide behind anonymous identities, don’t treat others they way they themselves would like to be treated, they will only be advancing the polarization of our democracy and championing that divisiveness online.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Publish a comment and community policy which makes clear the conditions under which people can participate in chatter on your website. Make sure the policy defines the content which will be deleted and when users will be blocked.
  • Respond to legitimate questions. If you’re responding offline, make sure you give an indication that you will respond or have responded to the question where the question is posted. Otherwise, it looks like you’re not listening.
  • Sadly, accept that haters will be haters. They’re not looking for a conversation; just a fight.


Interruption (the bonus category)

This was an easy one. It’s always nice to see a little edge from our politicians.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi famously told a Tweeter challenging him on the purpose of a pedestrian bridge that he believed it was to cross the river.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told someone who declared on Twitter that the Mayor’s support of Canada’s gay athletes cost him a vote, that if that was the individual’s attitude, the mayor didn’t want the vote.

When asked how far he’d go during the October Crisis, Pierre Trudeau confidently challenged “Just watch me.”

Add Minister Rempel’s voice to the mix. Her response to a baseless mysoginistic comment from an anonymous tweeter delivered a checkmate zinger.




Links to MP social media properties and digital makeovers completed to-date can be found on The Digital HouseSketch by Andrea Ross. Analysis performed using Marketwired/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

Digital Makeover: Yvonne Jones

Digital Makeover: Yvonne Jones

Many social media enthusiasts and newcomers get excited by the tools. They feel having a Twitter account, a Facebook Fan Page and a YouTube channel is enough to attract eyeballs, build a community and increase size of their audience.

If only it were that simple.

Just as in physical space, online relationships are built on personalities, attention and interactions. You has to be willing to be yourself and communicate in a people-friendly way in order to gain the attention and interest of people. The more you research this dynamic, the more evidence you gather which shows it’s not about the technology, it’s about you and how you place yourself in that technological space.

In today’s digital makeover, MP Yvonne Jones provides examples of both effective and ineffective uses of digital outposts.

Digital Ecosystem


YvonneJones-websiteYvonne Jones’ digital ecosystem includes a central website, with linked digital outposts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. She also has an orphaned Flickr profile with a single photo. Twitter and Facebook crosslink with her website. Her YouTube channel lacks complete branding, a description and a link to her website.

After a string of MP makeovers for which each ecosystem boasted reasonably consistent branding, Ms. Jones offers a collection of properties which were either created and pulled together without planning, or represent the reality of slim pickings as a late adopter of various platforms. The result is a mishmash of YvonneJones, YvonneJJones and YvonneJonesLiberal (not to mention the properties which lack vanity URLs). Regardless of how this came to be, a little creative and planning can lead to something more cohesive and consistent.

An unusual mishmash of facts appears in Ms. Jones’ Facebook profile. Her about page suggest she is a Member of Parliament for Labrador, a member of the Labrador Legislature and running as the Liberal Party of Canada candidate for Labrador. The body of her Facebook bio describes all of her work as an MHA and then stops before explaining her role as a member of the federal Liberal caucus including her role as the Liberal critic for Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Northern Development, Arctic Council, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Search and Rescue.

On her website, Ms. Jones offers a slightly revised version of her bio which opens and closes with brief information relevant to her role as an MP.


Ms. Jones’ website suffers from a slew of other problems — the more significant imposed upon her by her party. You might recall I first reported on bugs in the Liberal website theme back in March. I reported that the menu system leaves behind artifacts as users move their mouse over the various options. Yeah, Ms. Jones has that, t00. This causes usage problems for site visitors.


Another problem is the Liberal website theme is decidedly incompatible with mobile devices. The template does not allow visitors to shrink the view to see more of the site on their iPhone screen. Then, if the user drags the site display to the left to see what’s off-screen, the masthead fails to render. The template suffers from the same problem on iPads, although the size of the screen offers a larger field of view.

My last concern (for now) about the Liberal template is the implementation of the search feature. Some sites, as with Ms. Jones’, implement search as a linked feature. This means visitors have to go through a two step process to search the website. Google has conditioned us that search should be easy to find, easy to use, and available and ready to use wherever you are.

Other problems with Ms. Jones include pages which have incomplete information, no information or messages that suggest neglected or disabled functionality. These include:

  • Constituency Reports: Document link is undated.
  • News & Events: “No posts found.”
  • Town Hall Meetings: “Our next meeting will be:” then nothing listed
  • Photos: “Flickr is currently unavailable.” This same problem exists in the right sidebar.
  • Speeches & Statements: “No posts found.”
  • Downloads & Documents: nothing listed

This means some menu options such as Yvonne in Ottawa have only one of four submenus which offer something in exchange for the click. In this particular case, it’s Voting Record which takes visitors away from Ms. Jones’ site to the Parliamentary web site page with Ms. Jones’ voting history in the House of Commons.


And, since I’m already coming across as a bit nit-picky, let me also throw in that Ms. Jones’ blog is actually a newswire — the content is strictly official media releases — a no-no among us blogging purists (insert smiley face here).

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Keep all of your implemented components up to date. When no content or updates are available, offer visitors the ability to sign up to be notified when updates are available.
  • Rename your blog to something like Newswire to more accurately reflect the nature of the content being published.
  • Make sure external links and PDFs open in a new tab rather than sending visitors away from your site.



Ms. Jones’ use of Twitter offsets many of the shortcomings of her website. She’s active on the platform, has a very relatable tone and shares a mix of political issues and personal activities/musings. She uses pictures effectively, and her text-only tweets are generally easy to read and engaging. And, she shares more just as many photos from her point of view as photos which feature her with others.

A few quick samples of tweets with photos… In February Ms. Jones was part of a tour of the Suncor oil sands mine…


…and in April Ms. Jones shared photos all Canadians can relate to during the spring thaw.


Ms. Jones is not nearly as effective on Facebook. Her updates are spotty and not particularly interesting or engaging. In fact, with few exceptions, her Facebook updates appear to be almost exclusively official communications. If you scroll back to the updates in November 2013, you’ll see a smattering of updates that are more personable and engaging. That’s a small oasis, though. If you keep scrolling back you’ll quickly find yourself back in official announcements.

Her YouTube channel has only a few videos, all of them either appearances in QP or on public affairs programs. Her first two videos boast titles First Question in Question Period: Search and Rescue and First Question Period: Supplementary Question on Search and Rescue. While those were posted long ago, I don’t know I’d title the videos with “First…” Rather, I would have included mention of “first” in the tweet or Facebook status update that linked to the video.

There’s only one photo in Ms. Jones’ Flickr account. It was uploaded in July 2013 and shows Ms. Jones sitting next to Justin Trudeau while she’s sworn in as an MP. However, you’d never know that from the title of the photo… 8951864800_179e4eed55_b.


Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Change your Facebook approach to be more like your use of Twitter though with only one or two updates a day. That is, you want your Facebook posts to be relatable, easily read and attention-getting.
  • Your Twitter style should be easily portable to YouTube, which would keep your YouTube channel fresh more routinely and with content other than QP and news appearances.
  • Properly curate any content you put online. Use titles and descriptions which will help people find your content and understand both the content and context.


Participation & Community

Ms. Jones boasts a great mix of styles in her Twitter stream. Over the last six months, her content has been a mix of regular tweets featuring “original” content (36%), retweets of content issued by others (42%) and replies (22%). In fact, her reply rate is above average for MPs. If you do the math, you’ll find out that Ms. Jones has issues 1,297 tweets.


She’s also attracted a fair bit of participation among her community. Over the last six months, 956 Twitter users have issued 2,662 tweets mentioning Ms. Jones — a combination of tweets, retweets and replies.

While her Facebook Fan Page may boast 5,679 likes, Ms. Jones is rarely able to eek out more than a few likes, shares and comments on any of her posts. This speaks to the language, tone and style of her updates (stiff, official communications), evidenced by the types of posts which result in higher levels of engagement. In fact, some Facebook updates are cross-posted tweets (the clunky tweets rather than the engaging ones). You won’t see Mr. Jones’ name in the ensuing conversations. If she’s responding to comments and questions, she’s doing it in a way that hides her participation.

Thinking back to the 956 Twitter users who engaged in 2,662 interactions (of some degree or another) with Ms. Jones in the last six months, her Facebook presence has barely a fraction-of-a-fraction of that degree of engagement during the same period.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Keep doing what you’re doing on Twitter. And figure out how you can make that same style of engagement and participation translate to other platforms.
  • Soften your Facebook posting style. I’d recommend 4-7 posts per week of meaningful information and connecting ideas.
  • Build a community on Facebook. You arguably already have over 5,000 eyeballs. Though, you’ve waited until the point at which Facebook changed how Fan Page content is presented in news feeds. You now face a bit of an uphill battle. This will require more energy on your part to build an energized community.


Interruption (the bonus category)

I remember hearing an episode of This American Life in the last two year which featured the story of a newspaper print publisher in the southern United States who is thriving at a time when print newspapers are collapsing. His secret? People. People. People. His philosophy is as long as people see their own faces and names, and the faces and names of their friends and acquaintances, they will continue to buy his paper. It works.

Ms. Jones has a similar successful formula on Twitter. Not only does she talk about the political issues and personal activities/musings that resonate others, she features photos of people — particularly from her point of view — which allows her to tell the story in her own views and words. This is a great approach, and one which should be playing out on her Facebook, Flickr and YouTube outposts.


And, on a parting note, my condolences to Ms. Jones on the recent loss of her friend, Tim.




Links to MP social media properties and digital makeovers completed to-date can be found on The Digital HouseSketch by Andrea Ross. Analysis performed using Marketwired/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

Digital Makeover: Nathan Cullen

Digital Makeover: Nathan Cullen

Being online takes a fair degree of effort. Great ideas can be easy to find and prepare. However, they need follow-through. They need energy and resources to maintain. Great ideas can quickly become weak once the cobwebs collect. Left long enough, they can become liabilities. Even other ongoing efforts, as current and strong as they may be, can eventually become overshadowed by digital artifacts.

I’m not suggesting the subject of today’s makeover is doing it all wrong. I’m saying, even some of the most active and engaged online MPs have room for improvement. And the rest, well, they can learn a lot from them.

Today, we learn from MP Nathan Cullen.

Digital Ecosystem


NathanCullen-websiteNathan Cullen has a fairly healthy digital ecosystem. His website is truly at the centre, with linked digital outposts on Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Like many of his colleagues of all political stripes, Mr. Cullen has a few aces up his sleeve, and a few cobwebs and holes in his digital footprint.

The information most noticeably missing is any indication of Mr. Cullen’s role as Finance Critic (on his website). It’s not in the masthead of his site. Nor does any mention appear on his About page.

The Issues page identifies five issues of significance. It appears the last time this page (and any of the issues listed on it) was updated was May 3, 2012. The next most-recent update on this page goes back to December 9, 2011.

Mr. Cullen does a few things differently from other MPs. A few that jump out include some non-standard implementations. For example, he has an unusual icon at the top of his website. It looks like a magnifying glass with a plus sign in it. This has become a common visual representation for zooming in. The suggestion here is clearly for searching the site since clicking on the icon takes visitors to a search page. It’s an odd implementation and unnecessarily adds an additional step to the search process.

The search function is powered through an integrated Google search through which the results are provided on perceived relevance. There is no way to sequence the results by date. So, a search for “pipeline” for example, puts some 2011 hits at the top of the results, links from 2009 through 2012 in positions two through nine and provides a link from last month in the 10th position.

Another unusual implementation appears in the social media links section. Rather than use the familiar Flickr icon, Mr. Cullen uses the Facebook icon twice: once for Flickr (far left in the image below), once for Facebook (far right).


Perhaps more confusing is the fact that Mr. Cullen has literally buried one of the most creative and interesting parts of his site… The Help Desk, a collection of relevant and helpful links with site visitors in mind (more no this in the Interruption section towards the end of this post). The link to the Help Desk appears in the footer of the site. Elements of the Help Desk appear in a bullet list on the Contact page as well.


A summary of Mr. Cullen’s QP appearances on the In The House page is another interesting idea buried in the footer. That may not be a bad thing, though, since the last update to that page was made December 3, 2012. Also neglected, and buried, is his Good News from the Northwest page on which Mr. Cullen highlights good goings-on in his constituency (last updated June 14, 2012).

Then there’s double-buried “gems” such as his Take Action and Contests, Events and other info pages. They are great ideas, dormant since 2011.

Another link double-buried in his Help Desk section, Public Disclosure, should have greater prominence (in a manner of speaking, it does have some more prominence under the intriguing title Disclosing MP expenses link on the site). Public disclosure is a bit of a cryptic name. Since it’s largely expense reports, statements and reports related to ethics and campaign activities, perhaps something like Expense, ethics and campaign reports would offer greater clarity.

Then there’s the Revenue Canada section of his Help Desk which offers a PDF of tax tips for 2010 tax returns. Links to government sites from Mr. Cullen’s Federal Funding Programs and Employment and HRSDC pages are broken.

I noted above that Mr. Cullen hasn’t provided any indication of his role as Finance critic on his website. His Twitter and Facebook profiles do offer this information.

Mr. Cullen’s YouTube channel doesn’t readily identify him as an MP in the masthead where visitor eyes are naturally drawn. However, the video channel URL includes NathanCullenMP and almost all video titles include the text NDP MP Nathan Cullen. His Flickr account still suggests he’s the NDP critic for energy and natural resources.


A Facebook ticker appears in the right sidebar of his site. It feels cluttered given Mr. Cullen’s posting style, particularly when his updates include photos or links to news stories and other websites. Of greater concern, his Facebook ticker doesn’t render properly on some of his pages.


While Mr. Cullen’s website is not optimized for mobile devices, the mobile experience is not terrible.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Update and recommit yourself to the dormant/abandoned sections of your website. Or, remove them.
  • Make the parts of your website of greatest interest to the public easier to get to, and easier to find.
  • Use more familiar interface (replace the “search icon” with a search field in your main menu) and branding elements (use the Flickr icon for Flickr) and name your sections more meaningfully for your website users.



Mr. Cullen routinely posts content to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. His style is generally well-suited to all platforms, and it’s clear he does do his best to distinguish his use of each. Mr. Cullen’s YouTube channel, for example, is very much focused on his appearances in QP. There are a few videos of Mr. Cullen speaking extemporaneously at events. There should be more of that. Particularly when you see some of his tweets. You get the sense that he’s good at capturing the moment with a photograph from his point of view, and accompanying it with a message that tells the rest of the story.


A short video of the event with a voice over, posted to YouTube, would add to the content mix and engage his followers and the public in a variety of media. This can help get his voice to a wider audience rather than speaking specifically to his most attentive followers.

Here’s an example which demonstrates his understanding that Twitter and Facebook demand platform-specific content even when covering the exact same moment. You can see how lazy and awkward it can become if Tweets are cross-posted to Facebook (which some MPs do).


Even when Mr. Cullen posts apparently official moments, he manages to inflect a relatable human voice to the image.


Mr. Cullen’s Flickr stream has many great photographs of him in action on the campaign trail, in his riding, with Jack Layton, and more. There’s even a photo (but only the one photo) of him growing a moustache during Movember (2009) with a caption about being in a contest with Glenn Thibeault. Otherwise, his Flickr account has been dormant since April 2011.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Open up your YouTube channel to more than just QP appearances.
  • Reactivate your Flickr account. Post a few pictures a month.
  • Inject more personal content into the mix. Not too much. But relevant and fun stuff. Like the moustache competition. Whatever happened to it? There’s only the one photo.


Participation & Community

Mr. Cullen is engaged on both Twitter and Facebook. And, he enjoys a fairly active and engaged community. His personality, affinity for online networking and his profile as senior member of his caucus and former leadership candidate have helped substantially. Still, his online success is due in a large part because of his committed participation.

It’s interactions like the one depicted in this screen shot that demonstrate why Mr. Cullen has an engaged following.


Most of Mr. Cullen’s 629 tweets over the last six months were regular tweets (47%) with a healthy number of retweets (35%) and what I would consider to be about average reply activity among MPs (18%).


During the same period, 4,788 Twitter users issues 13,201 tweets mentioning Mr. Cullen. Most of those participants issued only a single tweet (60%) followed by replies to any other Twitter user (21%) and regular tweets (14%).

His Facebook community is also very active. Over the last month, Mr. Cullen’s 127 Facebook updates have attracted 14,352 likes, 1,896 comments and 228 replies to comments. This averages to 112 likes, 15 comments and 2 replies per post. That’s a heckofalot of activity.


However, Mr. Cullen himself is rarely part of the threaded conversations that result from his updates. This is terribly unfortunate. Sometimes even committed fans and strong supporters can be as much a problem as commited critics.

Mr. Cullen’s April 10 post expressing his shock over the death of Jim Flaherty attracted some horrific vitriol which has gone unchecked. Even one of his community members called out Mr. Cullen for his inconsistent message in light of the toxic comments. The problem is amplified by the fact that he has no community or commenting policy on his Facebook page. This means that even though the comments in question are repulsive to most people, deleting them could draw additional criticism since there is no indication under what conditions comments will be removed and/or people blocked from his page.


UPDATE May 5, 2014: I just discovered that, sometime in the past week, the aforementioned post and comment thread have been removed from Mr. Cullen’s Facebook page. It’s unfortunate this was necessary. However, it was probably the most effective way of dealing with this particular situation. A commenting/community participation policy has not been posted to the page.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Publish a simple and clear community participation and comment policy on your Facebook About page. Make clear what is acceptable and under what conditions content will be deleted and (if necessary) users blocked.
  • Get into the conversation. Remind people to keep it above the belt and call out the people who are testing the limits of your policy. Coach participants into being positive, or at least respectful. Be a mentor first; then an enforcer.
  • Answer legitimate questions and offer additional insight/context to conversations that are taking place. This applies to both Facebook and Twitter.


Interruption (the bonus category)

There are many cool features/concepts incorporated into Mr. Cullen’s site. I assume that at one point they were tended to and may have been valuable resources to site visitors. I’m talking about features buried in his footer; features like Good News on NW and especially his Help Desk (now both apparently neglected).

The Help Desk concept is perfect for an MP site all under the name which may resonate with the public. Help Desk. I like this idea a lot. It would be great to see it more prominently placed on the site and perhaps renamed a bit to help people understand its purpose. For example, Your government services help desk.

It could use a refresh (see above) and the Take Action section should pulled out and given its own rightful prominence on the site.



Links to MP social media properties and digital makeovers completed to-date can be found on The Digital HouseSketch by Andrea Ross. Analysis performed using Marketwired/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

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