A lot changed in the federal political scene on October 19. The once soaring NDP, which was widely believed to be on the doorstep of becoming government, was reduced to third party status. If becoming a shadow of its recent self wasn’t enough, the NDP lost significant bench strength along the way, putting added pressure on the current caucus to rebuild into a contender with fewer resources.
Carol Hughes was re-elected to serve a third term for Algoma–Manitoulin–Kapuskasing. On December 8 she was chosen to be Assistant Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, a role she promoted on social media, though not in her online bios. I’ve chosen Hughes to be the third of my digital makeovers for the 42nd Parliament.
If I had to guess, I’d say Carol Hughes’ digital goals are:
- Re-engage and reassure the NDP community that the party remains strong
- Generate interest and activity surrounding agenda issues for this session of Parliament
- Capitalize on a renewed public interest in federal politics
The goal of my digital makeover series is altruistic–to help MPs and Parliament do better online.
As I shine the light on Carol Hughes, we discover the importance of quality, relevance and keeping house.
Carol Hughes’ social media dashboard allows you to follow and filter her social streams.
Carol Hughes is a bit unusual among MPs who have a digital presence–she has very few online properties. The NDP has provided a remarkably clean and easy-for-visitors website template that embraces whitespace rather than clutter. Hughes has linked her website to her digital outposts: Twitter and Facebook identify Hughes as an MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and they both link back to her website; Flickr lacks a description/bio and a link to her site. In fact, her Flickr account has been neglected since 2011.
CarolHughes.ca is a registered domain (so is CarolHughes.com, for that matter). However, it does not point to an active website. If she owns this vanity domain, she’s not using it or redirecting it. CarolHughesMP.ca, which would represent consistent branding with her Twitter account (@CarolHughesMP) is available at the time of this writing (January 17).
In my view, having a smaller digital ecosystem makes for less effort to keep things sharp and updated with fresh and relevant content to build a healthy online community. I was surprised by what I came upon.
Low-quality imagery: For the most part, the first-impressions imagery Hughes has picked fail in their role. Profile photos lean on low quality images with digital artifacts around her face and body. Her Facebook page cover photo is low quality and lacks the visual vibrance of the waterfall it captures. Meanwhile, Hughes’ face is obscured by a microphone and sunglasses in her profile photo. Her Flickr cover photo, while sharp, seems incongruent to the photos in the account. Her Twitter account lacks a cover photo (or politically-relevant colour), and the profile photo she’s chosen is both poor quality and obsolete (it promoted her fall re-election campaign).
Broken content: As clean and user-friendly as the NDP website template is, Hughes’ website suffers from some significant user experience problems. Among them, the multimedia pages of her site lack working multimedia content — this despite appearing to have a collection of content for browsing.
Misspelling: Okay… I admit this is a bit nitpicky, particularly since I rather like how Hughes has inflected personality into the About page of her Facebook presence. Still, the spelling of Hughes’ husband’s name on the page (spelled as Kieth rather than Keith) jumped off the page at me enough that I actually went to double-check if his name was spelled in a way I had never seen.
UPDATE Jan 18, 1:50pmET: Alex Bushell (@alexjbushell) tweeted me that Carol Hughes’ husband’s name is actually spelled Kieth (Thank you, Alex!). During our exchange we discovered that even on Hughes’ website, both spellings appear: Keith on the English About page, Kieth on the French. I’ve attached an image below to reflect this discrepancy.
THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
- Use high quality imagery. The Internet has become very visual. Many rank amateurs are able to produce sharp, attention-getting content. You’re competing for eyeballs with sunsets and kittens just as much as you are with other politicians, parties and journalists. If your imagery is substandard, people might assume your content and opinions–or at least how you express them–are as well.
- Keep your imagery current. The election was nearly three months ago. Using obvious election campaign images could suggest you’re not as on top of your role as one hopes their elected representative should be.
- Focus on the user experience. If you offer information and content to your constituents and online visitors, make sure it works. Obsolete information and broken links information suggest neglect.
Carol Hughes’ website has become a dormant archive of long-ago activities. Most prominently, she hasn’t updated her news section in over two years and the her Constituency Clinics page was last updated in 2014 covering events of that autumn and the spring of 2015. Combined with the missing multimedia content (see above) and the absence of updates on constituency work she’s undertaken, the website appears to be more like a digital placeholder rather than a virtual constituency office.
Hughes tweeted regularly during and generally less-so following the election. Twitter was her go-to place when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published its final report on December 15. Hughes was very active on Twitter that day, retweeting updates by others about the report, the impact of the Commission’s work and reactions from the larger community.
While Hughes prefers to retweet others, she also shares experiences from her point of view. That is, she doesn’t appear in many of the pictures she posts to her Twitter stream. This is notable among MPs who really like others to see pictures of them.
Visually, I generally like where she was going with her Flickr photostream. However the curation was weak with poorly chosen titles, empty descriptions and no tags.
THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
- Publish more of your own content. Retweets are great for revealing your interests and opinions. Still, people like to hear and see things from the point of view of their MP, which can also be a conversation starter. You generally do that well.
- Use video. Whether you post videos to Facebook or Twitter or both, use them to add another dimension to your online activities. The October 16 snowfall would have been a great one for that. In case you weren’t aware, Canadians are the largest consumers of online video content.
- Close your Flickr account. It’s been dormant long enough.
Participation & community
When I picked Carol Hughes for this week’s makeover, I expected to see a greater degree of interaction between Hughes and her online community. Part of that may have been something that Hughes’ caucus colleague Niki Ashton said to me during an interview–northern communities have embraced Facebook as a way to stay connected.
In fact Hughes has provided a great teaching opportunity: Many people equate online relevance with the size of one’s online following. That’s a disastrous way to measure impact. Hughes has 2,748 Facebook Fans (as of this writing) though has managed an average post resonance of just 40 between August 2, 2015 and January 16, 2016 (analysis using 76insights).
Resonance is calculated as the sum of likes, shares and comments for Facebook posts, and the sum of retweets and likes in Twitter (replies are not included at this time). Like most Facebook posts, comment activity on her posts is well outpaced by likes which, involve only a click rather than the articulate an idea in typed words.
Hughes’ most-popular post is clearly an outlier. With a resonance 585, it stands well above the rest of her content. Removing the five most-popular Facebook post (of the 136 posts during that period) reduces average Facebook resonance to 28. Almost all of her Facebook posts are pronouncements rather than invitations for input or door-openers to conversations.
Hughes struggles even more on Twitter where her average post resonance is two. This is likely due in large part to the fact that she mostly retweets others. More
Hughes struggles even more on Twitter where her average post resonance is two. This is likely because she mostly retweets others. Greater than 66% of Hughes’ tweets are retweets, and 30% her own creations. Her reply rate of 3.5% is well below average among MPs.
THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
- Strike a better balance. Retweeting others is a great way to indicate your areas of interest and concern. Still, expressing them in your own words will help you reach (and maybe grow) your online community.
- Ask more, tell less. If you want to grow and strengthen your online community so that it will be available to help you AND ITSELF when the time comes, you need to find ways to inspire them to share now. A good way to do that is to ask questions.
- Be present. Like many MPs, you post content to the wild and then vanish. That’s the equivalent of being at a pancake breakfast to talk at people and walk away from them so you don’t hear their response. If there’s a vibrant threat, jump in and keep it alive, or at least ensure participants know you’ve seen and appreciate their comments.
Interruption (the bonus category)
Almost all MP biographies focus on their political and professional interests with requisite family checklist items in the final paragraph. Facebook and other social media platforms have made it more acceptable (in fact, they encourage users) to share their personal interests and thoughts. Still, few MPs take advantage of this opportunity to express themselves and, by extension, create onramps for interest, support and event participation in their political efforts. Carol Hughes’ use of her Facebook About page stands out as a great door opener.
I expect being an MP is pretty demanding at the best of times. It can only get more harried after an election for all parties, particularly (as was the case this go-’round) if every party’s role changes substantially. These are the times to be particularly attentive to the details including the quality of imagery, the relevance (and relatability) of content and keeping your digital house in order. For senior members of caucus, that also means both setting the example and following the cultural lead of those in the digital-know.