Digital public affairs podcast: MP Niki Ashton

Digital public affairs podcast: MP Niki Ashton

The current batch of federal politicians are the first to have to deal with the idea of shifting their online social media activities from being truly personal and free of public scrutiny, to being mindful of what they do and say online, and how that can be used or misused against them.

They’re also the first to truly discover how certain communities form on certain online platforms. That is, some groups naturally find their online homes on Facebook while others lean toward Twitter. In some cases, this is event specific.

On this edition of the Digital Public Affairs podcast, excerpts from a conversation with MP Niki Ashton on the role of Facebook as an early warning system and community gathering place, and refining the use of digital when different outcomes are considered.

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Digital public affairs podcast: MP Paul Dewar

Digital public affairs podcast: MP Paul Dewar

The emergence of the @canada Twitter account has stirred up some interest in how the Canadian government is using — or in some views, misusing — social media to communicate with Canada, and how Canada is engaging in digital diplomacy.

Which makes this a fitting time to share a discussion I had with NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar. We spoke six months ago (June 2014) as part of my ongoing series of interviews with MPs.

On this edition of the Digital Public Affairs podcast, MP Paul Dewar on the changing digital landscape, social media as a political candidate, federal politician and candidate for the leadership of the NDP, and opportunities for Canada to use social media for international and diplomatic relations.

By the way… For the last five years, December 1 (today) has become known as Canada’s National Day of Podcasting (CNDOP), an day for Canadian podcasters, current and dormant, to put out fresh content on their feed.

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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 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.

Conversation with Lauren Liu (podcast)

Conversation with Lauren Liu (podcast)

Just when you thought young people were becoming less interested in politics and civic participation, along came a young cohort of political candidates. In 2011, Canadians elected the youngest MP and Parliament installed the youngest House Speaker in our Parliament’s history.

They are often judged as not having the experience and knowledge of a 30 or 40 or 50 year old rookie politician. What they bring is a fresh perspective and youthful energy.

On this edition of the Digital Public Affairs podcast, NDP MP and Science and Technology Critic Laurin Liu on becoming an MP at age 20, balancing personal and political online activities, and injecting an entrepreneurial spirit to her role as a Parliamentarian.

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