Backbenchers are the “almost famous” members of Parliament. They’re the politicians we rarely hear of or from until they do something “bad.” That may be part of the reason I find them to be great subjects of digital makeovers. It’s often more likely they do their own tweeting since they don’t have time-demanding portfolios to champion. At the very least, they tend to use the digital tools at their disposal in a unique way.

There isn’t a specific pattern to how I pick the targets of my digital makeovers except that I’m interested in what people do, how and why. In the case of this week’s selection, I was intrigued by the limited and apparently specific selection of digital tools being used.

And that’s my way of saying, Alex Atamanenko… come on down!

Digital Ecosystem


Makeover-AlexAtamanenko-websiteNDP MP Alex Atamanenko has a very small digital ecosystem. Aside from his website, Mr. Atamanenko maintains a Facebook Fan Page, a YouTube channel and may not be aware he has a Google+ page (something Google has sprung on people who opened YouTube channels since the social service was launched).

I don’t find Mr. Atamanenko’s website particularly compelling. It serves the purpose of communicating with constituents. However, it has a very dated look and clunky interface. There is little consistency in fonts and font weights, image size and placement. It’s also confusing that some of the links in the main header menu of his site punt visitors to the NDP site without notice (uncommon for a header menu), and some top-level menu options appear or appear/disappear depending on which page the visitor happens to be viewing.

His Issues Blog is actually being used as a channel over which to publish official statements — a media centre if you will.

One more point on his website… Mr. Atamanenko apparently owns and .ca. The .com domain points to his page on the Parliamentary website. The .ca domain points nowhere.

As the central node of his digital ecosystem, Mr. Atamanenko’s website only links to his Facebook Page. There is no link to his YouTube channel. His YouTube channel returns the favour by not linking back to his site. Of course, aside from the videos within the channel, there is no description or photo in the the channel’s profile info to indicate it belongs to an NDP MP from British Columbia. His Google+ account only shows his name and gender. His YouTube and Google+ accounts are cross linked.

Mr. Atamanenko’s Facebook Fan Page is in much better shape. It has a complete description and links back to his website. His profile photo shows his wife and him in the dome car of VIA’s legendary “Canadian.”

I have no objections on the size of his ecosystem or its absence of other popular channels (read: Twitter). In many way, these decisions make an ecosystem more relevant. However, he hasn’t exploited the controlled size of his ecosystem as much as he appears to have neglected important pieces of it.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Change “Issues Blog” to “Media Centre.” It better represents what it is which will make it more useful to the media, public and by extension, to you.
  • Complete the profile on your YouTube account. It needs a photo, description and a link to your website. I’d suggest your website should link back, but I expand on that in the next point.
  • Update your website to make it more relevant and appealing to use. Link to relevant NDP pages, but not in your main menu. Help visitors find what they want to know. And… point all of your “vanity” domains to your main website.



Since Mr. Atamanenko’s Issues Blog is really a media centre, I won’t include it in the evaluation of his content production efforts. Instead, I’ll focus on his use of Facebook and YouTube.

Mr. Atamanenko routinely posts updates to his Facebook Fan Page. His updates are a mix of political and personal comprising photographs from events, links to articles and calls to action. Of particular note is that on a few photos he offers more than just the names and context. He often offers insight. A recent photo with Ernst Maas of Transwest Helicopters of Oliver presented an opportunity for Mr. Atamanenko to explain the importance of Mr. Maas’ operation (they repair helicopters used in fighting forest fires).

In terms of language, I find he uses “I would like to thank…” far too often. This probably isn’t an issue for many people, I suppose. As a communication professional, I find it sounds indecisive, as though he can’t bring himself to thank someone — or that he lacks the confidence to do so. To paraphrase Yoda, thank or do not thank; there is no want to thank. As an aside, the same goes for apologies.

The events section of his Facebook Page hasn’t been updated in a year.

Mr. Atamanenko’s caucus-mate Charlie Angus believes MPs should be putting all of their QP appearances on their YouTube channel. In an extended conversation I had with Mr. Angus (you can listen to an abridged version I released as a podcast), he notes that within minutes of his QP appearances, they are posted to his YouTube channel. It’s an approach which has value.

Mr. Atamanenko appears to follow this advice. Of the seven videos posted to his YouTube channel since its launched in June of last year, six are QP appearances. The flaw with his execution is he’s posted the questions and clipped off the answers. I see no value in that.

Finally, I believe MPs need to do more with video to communicate and connect with constituents and issue stakeholders. Mr. Atamanenko has only one video which shows him doing his work as an MP outside of the House of Commons.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Be more direct in your language (e.g. drop “want” when thanking people and in the event you ever need to issue an apology).
  • Post the answers with the questions when you upload video of your QP appearances. Half of the exchange is missing, denying your constituents and issue stakeholders the opportunity to hear and judge the government’s response.
  • Just as you are effective sharing photos of events you attend over your Facebook Fan Page, share video footage on your YouTube page, particularly when you can give your audience an opportunity to see something they usually can’t (e.g. a helicopter repair facility).


Participation & Community

Few posts to Mr. Atamanenko’s Facebook Fan Page go without some form of community involvement. It’s not uncommon for posts to be “Liked” or “Shared.” A small group of people who occasionally leave comments ranging from acknowledgements of events including those which recognize the achievements of others, tours and work-related travel, and social events. There is even the odd comment which includes some form of feedback or recommendations. With the exception of commenting on his own post about weather conditions, Mr. Atamanenko is absent from the ensuing comment threads.

Three opportunities for improvement:

  • Acknowledge meaningful input and continue the dialog. That doesn’t mean thanking everyone for each comment they leave. Though it does mean making some public acknowledgement even if your substantial response is done offline. People need to know you are responding to the public dialog.
  • Post content that inspires/invites people to engage in a dialog.
  • Post the occasional question or poll to elicit constituent and issue-stakeholder input.


Interruption (the bonus category)

Mr. Atamanenko has sporadically posted the equivalent of a blog post to the News section of his Facebook Fan Page. The tone and substance of these longer-form thoughts is well-suited to social media and should play a larger role in his digital ecosystem. His style in these posts is very fluid and easy to follow. As it stands, though, they’re tucked away. And, by being in his Facebook Page, they can’t be searched. If he redesigns his website, these should replace his blog.



Links to MP social media properties and digital makeovers completed to-date can be found on The Digital House.

Sketch by Andrea Ross. Analysis performed using Marketwired/Sysomos Heartbeat and MAP.

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