24 Seven needs a refresh before sweeps week

24 Seven needs a refresh before sweeps week

24 Seven, the largely ignored inside-the-PMO video series, made headlines last week when Laureen Harper was featured in a “24 Questions With” edition under the “Exclusive” banner. The video came out just days after news broke that Ms. Harper joined Facebook and Pinterest. Pundits say the timing of these events makes them elements of the charm effort in the PMO’s election strategy.

Related analysis on my blog:  Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau on YouTube

The premise behind 24 Seven is smart. I don’t believe it’s meant to bypass mainstream media. Like any organization with a message it wants to communicate, the PMO is smart to offer its own take on events and promote activities it wants the public to know about. I believe 24 Seven is meant to augment mainstream media coverage which is constrained both in time allocation and often in finding the connecting tissue that will unite an audience with a story. 24 Seven can arguably take the necessary time to introduce the audience to the politicians.

The problem is not the premise; it’s the execution.

Essentially, 24 Seven is trying to be something it isn’t. The net result is that it lands somewhere between where it should be and where it wants to be, limiting its appeal to journalists, strategists, lobbyists, pundits (most of whom are watching for professional reasons) and probably a cohort of Conservative supporters.

Generally, the audio quality of the narrator’s sing-songy reading, the apparently scripted or rehearsed statements, and the staged interactions make the videos hard to watch when they could so easily be engaging.

That’s probably why the 127 English videos are attracting a relatively low average of 2,203 views (1,903 if we remove the five most and five least watched) — low for a YouTube channel that should at least be regularly attracting a national Conservative member audience.

Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau on YouTube

Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau on YouTube

Earlier this week, I examined the Ford Nation YouTube Channel and offered my thoughts on what Rob and Doug Ford do well, do poorly, and why politicians, political candidates and campaigns should care about the Ford brothers’ video effort.

Since then I’ve spoken with Chris Hannay of the Globe and Mail about the different video stylings and impacts of the three major federal leaders and what we can learn from their unique approaches to video. I remarked to Chris that no one leader has the monopoly on effective use of video. In fact, a combination of the three approaches (with some modifications) would make a more remarkable channel, overall.

This post highlights some of my observations and thoughts on the YouTube video activities of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. I’ve included some video examples.

You may also be interested in the following articles I wrote on the role of video in campaigns:

Prime Minister Harper and the 24seven video series

The Prime Minister has been a longtime user of video. The PMO YouTube channel hosts 702 videos dating as far back as December 2006. Another YouTube Channel, PM Stephen Harper, hosts an additional 146 videos (and at one point hosted a great video capturing the PM performing “With a Little Help From My Friends” with renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma).

It’s the former of these two accounts which has attracted the most attention over recent months. That’s the account the PMO is using for a video called “24 Seven.” It’s a brand journalism play, allowing the PMO to be its own media organization.

Some of the 24 Seven videos have fewer than 100 views. The first 24 Seven video (immediately below this paragraph) was released January 9, 2014 and remains the most popular in the series with just over 10,500 views at the time of this writing. That’s a very small, very niche audience, probably consisting of a mix of media, analysts, pundits and party faithful. A very, very small audience considering the population the PM represents.

The concept is very smart. The execution is generally off the mark, hamstrung by weak narration which is further hampered by poor audio quality. The PM generally comes off as being ill at ease flying solo addressing the camera directly. This was evident in the Instagram and YouTube videos announcing the cabinet shuffle last summer.

The most recent 24 Seven video provides another good example (see the video that follows the next paragraph, 932 views at the time of writing). It also features the clunky mention of Sarah Burke being “a real pioneer in her particular sport” rather than identifying the sport (freestyle skiing).

On the plus side, the cutaways of the Prime Minister attention-getting (in a positive way), showing the PM relaxed, moving with purpose and engaging with people in non-staged ways. These are great video moments which compete with the more prominently placed stiff moments. As such, they are likely to go unnoticed.

Thomas Mulcair in action videos

The NDP YouTube channel has requisite QP appearances, excerpts of speeches and some official holiday announcements by party leader Thomas Mulcair. It is otherwise an uninspired channel. Individual MPs do a much better job connecting with Canadians on their personal YouTube channels. This argument is further supported by the number of views of videos on this channel, few of which break the 300 view barrier.

The most recent video features an impassioned excerpt of a speech by Thomas Mulcair who speaks on behalf of Canadians living paycheque to paycheque (546 views at the time of writing)

The Young New Democrats have scored a bigger hit with a video they released February 19, 2014 which parodies Facebook’s “Look Back” videos marking the 10 year anniversary of the social networking site, providing a critical retrospective of eight years of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (15,220 views as of this writing).

Justin Trudeau and the gamble on long-form video

“Justin Trudeau: An economy that benefits us all” was published to YouTube on February 18. At nearly seven and a half minutes in duration, it’s unusual for a purpose-built video. Since then, it has been watched 28.744 times (as of this writing), approaching three times the views  the first 24seven video which was posted January 9, about a month and a half ago.

Surprised by the daring move of posting such a long video, to not only communicate an idea but provide substance to the discussion, I contacted someone I know who works for the Liberal party. That source checked the YouTube analytics and determined nearly 70% of viewers have watched the full length of the video, noting the rate of full-length views was much higher when the video was first released and watched by some of the more party-faithful.

The most popular video on the Liberal channel is the “#RealPriorities” television spot. It’s accumulated over 1.2 million views in the three months it’s been online, partly juiced by it being an autoplay video on the party’s YouTube channel page.

Ignore the Ford Nation YouTube channel at your own peril

Ignore the Ford Nation YouTube channel at your own peril

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been his own worst enemy over the last twelve months. At least. And, a healthy case can be made that his brother Doug is as much Rob’s enabler as his greatest champion. Say what you will about the mayor, his actions, decisions, leadership and his innate talent of saying the most inappropriate things in public, the man has unflappable confidence and resilience.

That’s about as much as we need to consider in background information for the extended communication and leadership train wreck we’ve all been witness to.

Now, let’s get down to business.

Ford Nation on YouTube

140218-FordNation-YouTubeIf you haven’t yet watched the Ford Nation YouTube channel, what are you waiting for?

All judgements which can be passed about the depth and sincerity of their remarks aside, the premise behind the channel is smart. Rob and Doug have the right idea for building a community in the lead up to the fall election. They come across as unscripted, even if a bit formal, and generally accessible and relatable people. The Ford brothers are making sure their ideas and actions are part of the considered opinion. And, launching the channel scored them some more earned and social media attention.

Basically, if you can suspend your disbelief in what has shaken out over the last year, this channel should serve as a reference for any politician and political candidate who wishes to communicate with constituents and work towards a multi-term career.

Be the media

What the Ford brothers are doing is not remarkable, nor unique. Naheed Nenshi published an audio podcast series in the run up to his 2009 election victory. He talked extemporaneously about the campaign and reflected on the outcomes of debates in conversation with a member of his campaign leadership team. Audio is a powerful media and popular among a particular audience. Don’t discount it.

Let’s face it, though. Video is much more popular (and growing in popularity), easier to understand and simpler to share than audio. Particularly when it’s short (five minutes or less) and meets the audience on its terms rather than pandering to viewers while doling out talking points. Mayor Nenshi also uses video effectively to build a rapport with his city. It’s not all about politics. And, by the way, you can rip the audio stream from a video and publish it as a podcast.

Politicians should use this form to keep their constituents and issue stakeholders up to date. Some do. NDP MP Françoise Boivin publishes occasional update videos to her YouTube channel.

Basically, if you’re not taking initiative to communicate and build community online as an augment to your in-person efforts, you’re probably working against people who are. This may not matter too much right now. However, it’s not going to get any easier or any less relevant.

So, start now. Study the Ford Nation YouTube Channel for its productive and unproductive lessons. And start taking risks now. It might make a difference in your next campaign.

Summary of some of the things I believe the Ford brothers are doing well:

  • The videos are short and issue-specific
  • The channel is updated regularly (new videos added today)
  • The channel is well branded, and video intro branding is short
  • They invite and respond to [emailed] questions
  • They include discussions about their non-political interests
  • They seem unscripted and inflect their personal story
  • They speak the language their base eats up
  • They’re getting their message out to the public, unfiltered

Summary of some of the things I believe the Ford brothers are doing poorly:

  • The set and setting is too formal
  • They both face the camera and only side-glance each other
  • Some of the camera cutaways are awkward
  • They respond a bit too curtly to tough questions, “talking at” rather than “responding to”
  • Rob was sweaty in the most recent wave of videos (never let them see you sweat)
  • The description for each video is identical and doesn’t address the subject of the video
  • They’re a bit too partisan (which of course is part of their brand)
Understand the strengths and challenges of your social media toolkit

Understand the strengths and challenges of your social media toolkit

I wrote last week about the Canadian Journalism Federation’s How Social Media is Changing Politics and Reporting political panel. In an effort to keep my post brief, I shared only some high-level, pithy points made by each of the three panelists.

You may have noticed the laser focus on Twitter and Facebook as platforms of choice for each of the panelists: NDP MP Megan Leslie, Liberal MP Marc Garneau and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. And, at the same time, each lamented the challenges of the platforms. Specifically, each pointed out tweets often lack context and the character limit makes it ineffective for nuanced conversation. They noted that Facebook accomodates more substance yet is less public and demands more time doing housekeeping.

With the exception of Mayor Watson’s monthly online chat and his recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything real-time chat), the main social media of choice by the panelists are the platforms which are arguably the most popular — not the most effective.

This is an issue affecting many (most?) communicators — public relations, public affairs, marketing — not just politicians.

Just as you wouldn’t saw a two-by-four with a screw driver, you wouldn’t communicate substance over Twitter or try to spread an urgent message exclusively on Facebook. To communicate (and engage) effectively with constituents, stakeholder groups, observers, analysts and enthusiasts, you need to consider a variety of tools by their strengths and weaknesses. Don’t punish yourself and your goals by limiting the number of tools you are willing to use — and use effectively.

The following table identifies just a small number of popular tools and some key strengths and challenges of each. Feel free to offer your thoughts/suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Tool/outpost Strengths Challenges
Blog No hard restrictions on length
Searchable
Indexable
Helps SEO
Can be time consuming
Requires commitment
Demands effective writing skills
Language/tone must be relatable
Podcast Extremely portable
Adds expression to content
No defined limitations
Easier to consume than reading
Requires some technical skill
Requires commitment
Engaging content and delivery
Not as popular
Photos (Flickr) Shows rather than tells
Very “share-able”/embeddable
Allows control over licensing
Lesser-known photo service
Demands some degree of talent
Photos should be properly curated
Photos (Instagram) Extremely popular
Easy to publish/share
Picture quality
Noisy channel
Photos (Pinterest) Increasingly popular
More focused demographic
More focused demographic
Video (YouTube) Most popular video service
Easy to use
2nd largest search engine
Transcription service
Shareable/embeddable
Requires some technical skill
Quality image/sound
Engaging content and delivery
“Viral mindset”
Video (Vimeo) Higher quality video service
Easy to use
Shareable/embedable
Requires some technical skill
Quality image/sound
Engaging content and delivery
Facebook Most poplar social network
Popular for photo-sharing
Generally easy to use
Community-building
Walled-garden
Can be time consuming
Publishing regular content
Housekeeping
Participation
LinkedIn Higher quality content
More focused demographic
More focused demographic
Twitter Very easy to use
Not a walled-garden
Fastest amplifier
Extremely noisy channel
Spam and trolls
Culture rewards zingers
Reddit Increasingly popular
Very focused demographic
Highly interactive community
Very focused demographic
Crappy interface
Digital Makeover: Dan Albas

Digital Makeover: Dan Albas

DanAlbas-websiteYou may not have heard much of Dan Albas. He’s a Conservative backbencher who led the charge in Parliament to change a prohibition-era law preventing the cross-provincial carriage (and, by extension, the sale) of Canadian wine. Yes. There was a law that made it a criminal offense for consumers to carry Canadian wine across provincial borders. Us Ottawa-Gatineau folk have been breaking that law for years. Well, thanks to Mr. Albas, that law was changed last spring.

Mr. Albas’ name crossed my screen recently as I prepared a list of the top 10 most-actively tweeting MPs of 2012. Dan, if I can call him that, secured fifth place with his 2,558 tweets from the year. He was the second most-active Conservative MP on Twitter in 2012. However, people trying to figure out which party he’s aligned with would be met with a bit of a challenge. None of his biographical information reveals he’s a Conservative. With the exception of the tell-tale blue and a few search results on his website, Mr. Albas otherwise “hides” his party from all of his descriptive and biographical info.

That inspired me to dust off my digital makeover series.

Digital Ecosystem

Dan Albas’ digital ecosystem boasts a websiteblogTwitter account, Facebook Fan Page, Flickr photo stream and YouTube channel. It’s a loosely-connected ecosystem with some properties linking to others, and some not. It seems his intent is to make his blog the epicentre of his digital presence since it’s linked-to from his main website, Twitter profile and Facebook Fan Page. His Flickr profile links back to his main website. Mr. Albas’ YouTube channel is an island, lacking a photo, description or link to any of his other sites. It’s worth noting YouTube allows you to link to a variety of digital properties and identify each link.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Indicate you are a member of the Conservative caucus.
  • Overhaul your YouTube profile, adding a photo, description and a variety of links to other digital outposts.
  • Update your Flickr profile description. It says you’re a martial arts instructor. That’s only partly true.

GRADE: C

Content

Let me start by saying it comes across that Mr. Albas is the real-deal online. The frequency, tone and variety of content are human-identifiable patterns. His tweets are a mix of political, personal, quotes and thoughts on leadership, and raising awareness of Canada’s great wine industry.

His blog posts may be infrequent, though they’re worth the wait. They’re personable and easy to read. A model for would-be blogging MPs, many of whom think a blog is for posting transcripts of their QP statements and questions, official statements and media articles about themselves. His ‘good’ posts allow me to forgive his occassional post featuring an official statement.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment. You can’t have everything, though. How many outposts can one person maintain? Mr. Albas runs his Facebook Fan Page as a broadcast channel, linking to each new update to his official website (which is odd since he links the Fan Page to his blog).

Of all of his digital properties, Mr. Albas’ YouTube channel is the most disappointing. There’s so much that can be done with video by a person who comes across as so dynamic and with such specific interests; appealing interests like Canada’s wine industry and leadership. Instead, his channel is infrequently updated with QP appearances. But there is one nice surprise (see the bottom of this post).

Mr. Albas’ Flickr page has been stagnant since July 11, 2011.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Exploit your YouTube channel. Maybe convene some panels of wine tasting or something related to your other interests.
  • Start posting conversation-starting content and sharing in a way along the same lines as your Twitter account.
  • Dust off your Flickr page and get some photos up there.

GRADE: B

Participation & Community

Mr. Albas has an achilles heel in his digital presence… participation and community. Which is shocking because he has an easy hook with audience and community building through his promotion of Canada’s wine industry. In fact, a large population of his twitter followers identify themselves as being wine-lovers, and many in his constituency (probably unusual for many MPs). Students also represent a group of his followers.

While he may be reasonably aware and active in Twitter — in the last 30 days he used 12% of his tweets to reply to other and only 10% to generate new content; the remaining 78% were retweets — he’s missing out on exploiting Facebook as a way to build those relationships with constituent groups and stakeholders.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Start using Facebook to build a community.
  • Capitalize on on ‘low hanging fruit’ by organizing tweetups to taste Canadian wine and build in-person relationships.
  • Continue to build the strength and size of your community so you can activate it when you need it.

GRADE: C-

Interruption (the bonus category)

I’m going to give Mr. Albas a bit of a boost for his blog. Not too much of a boost because of the infrequency of his posts, but enough to acknowledge the tone and the fact that it at least appears he’s doing all of the writing.

GRADE: B

OVERALL GRADE: B-

Analysis performed using Marketwire/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

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