The federal Liberal Party woke up to a few new realities last May. Besides being shuffled off to third-party status, they had to vacate prized office space in Centre Block for the new official opposition, the NDP. Ralph Goodale became the poster child of this change as the media covered what many established politicians felt was an injustice that seasoned MPs would have to give up their nice digs for political newcomers, some less than a third his age.

My interest is in how politicians are using new digital tools to create prime online real estate. So, as Ralph Goodale heads back to Regina for a constituency week, I’m going to reactivate my digital makeover series to find out if an old established politician can teach young ones a few tricks.

Easy to find online

Mr. Goodale’s website is easy to find. Just Google Ralph Goodale. Factors such as location, surfing and search patterns may mean your results are different than mine. Nevertheless, there’s a pretty solid chance his website will show up first in Canadian search results.

For me, his site and pages within it represented the first three search results. Number four was a Wikipedia article about Ralph Goodale and number five was the Parliamentary page for the MP. That means for the most part, Mr. Goodale has control over your first impressions of him. Contrast that with Liberal colleague Marc Garneau, for example, whose own website appears sixth in search results for him, behind five other sites (all positive or neutral) and photos from his days as an active astronaut.

Template in need of revisions

While it may be easy to find, Mr. Goodale’s website can use some changes. In fact, since it’s based on the Liberal’s MP web page template, the template could use some updates. The template isn’t bad on the whole. Unlike other party templates it’s actually rather clean and easy to follow. I often say that a good template knows where your eyes want to go, great templates know how to direct your eyes where the creator wants them to go.

Links to social media outposts are somewhat hidden within the Liberal template. So, visitors to Mr. Goodale’s website might not readily understand that he is fairly active in social media. And, where he’s not actually active, he has a healthy number of outposts. To learn that bit of information, visitors to Mr. Goodale’s website have to scroll to the very bottom of the page and actually read rather than have their eyes scan for the familiar images which represent the services we’ve come to know.

As I’ve noted in many other digital makeovers, connecting the dots is extremely important. You have to complete the loop and do it in an obvious way. Doing it in a subtle or hidden way doesn’t serve constituents or stakeholders. It’s going through the motions.

Showcase strengths

It seems to me Mr. Goodale comes from a generation which is much more patient when it comes to writing. That’s to his benefit. He’s an effective blogger, using the news section of his website to publish regular articles. His articles are informative, easy to read and not too long. Intermixed with the occasional official communication/release, Mr. Goodale’s blog is an attractive outpost. He’s capitalizing on that from one angle and missing a great opportunity on another.

Mr. Goodale offers an easy email sign-up for what must be copies of his releases and blog posts. However, he doesn’t prominently promote the fact that he blogs nor does he indicate RSS capability on his site. He does promote new blog posts on his Twitter stream and on his Facebook page.

It’s also worth noting that some of the navigation features of the news section of his site appear to be broken.

Be complete

I’ve already noted that Mr. Goodale’s social media outposts can be reached from his website, even if the links are subtle. For the most part, you can find the breadcrumbs back to his site (hub) from his outposts (spokes). His Facebook page, Twitter profile and YouTube channel all boast respectable descriptions and links back to his site. His Flickr account, on the other hand, doesn’t link back. Picky, I know. It’s important to connect the dots.

There are many opportunities for Mr. Goodale to increase his online impact through more regular and original content production. He has a good rhythm on Facebook and Twitter. However his YouTube channel boasts many extended dry spells broken by video highlights of Question Period or official communications and his Flickr stream has been silent since April 18, 2011.

Integrated broadcasting

Where Mr. Goodale is weak on creation of original digital content, he’s effective in exploiting one of a politician’s innate strengths — engaging the public. This MP, is becoming increasingly capable at translating “real world” social and engagement skills to the digital culture. This mostly means he’s found a way to initiate conversation. His Facebook page in particular has become a place where he aggregates content from YouTube and his blog recognizing that his community is interested in commenting even if he isn’t responding (one hopes he’s at least reading). I’m surprised that someone with his obvious human tone is largely absent from conversation (with few exceptions mostly relating to those in the media on Twitter).

The following graph shows Facebook page posting and comment activity over the last six months. The prolonged dry spell ended with a post on November 16. He’s enjoyed respectable activity since. I believe a bit more involvement on Mr. Goodale’s part could increase overall interest and participation.

According to 2006 census data available from Stats can, the largest voting populations in Mr. Goodale’s riding are 20-29 year olds (12,305) followed by 40-59 year olds (11,965). His is a riding of families that’s not particularly old and that participate online in a variety of ways.

Mr. Goodale should be doing more to build existing relationships online. I believe some quick wins can be achieved by getting involved in the conversation about his blog posts (perhaps engage readers with questions), let photographs show activities and think beyond QP when it comes to publishing videos. Reaching the younger voters will probably mean having to do more with video content with a positive and creative spin.

RALPH GOODALE’S DIGITAL GRADE: C

Some analysis performed using Sysomos MAP.