MPs make easy targets. That’s probably explains why often the first question I’m asked about my digital makeover series has to do with failure rather than success.
While there are many digital failings on the part of our elected officials, it’s fair to say they’re doing a much better job than we’re generally willing to give credit for. More importantly, we can all learn from they’re weaknesses as much as we can learn from their strengths. And there are many. Of both. That’s why I take the time to offer constructive feedback and close each section with my three recommended priority actions.
So, Mr. Andrews, and any other MP or MP staffer who may be reading this, be sure you read the full makeover before you decide whether or not it’s a balanced assessment.
First impressions are important when it comes to a web experience. Sites need to be easy to use and understand. Scott Andrews’ website has many good things going for it. In fact, many of its qualities should serve as a model for other MPs.
However, his splash page is a huge liability. It boasts a video which plays automatically and boasts audio incongruent with the quality of the video production. Then, visitors have to make a choice: do they want to visit the Candidate Site or the MP Site. As an active MP, Mr. Andrews is sending a very confusing message about his political status even if the video explains the nuances of each site.
Both of his sites are smartly presented and easy to navigate. There’s no clutter. These are hug wins and very much unique among MP websites I’ve evaluated to date. His MP Site has a clear link to his Facebook Fan Page, though makes no mention of his Twitter stream or YouTube channel. His Gallery is local to his website. That is to say he has no presence on Flickr.
The About section of Mr. Andrews’ Facebook Fan Page has his boilerplate bio, contact information and a link to his website. His Twitter profile is complete with his title and link to his website. Both properties feature a solid photo.
Things fall apart on his YouTube channel which lacks a photo, description or link. While this property is consistently branded with ScottAndrewsMP as his account name, he hasn’t set his proper name in the settings.
Parts of his website work well on my iPhone. The video on the splash screen does not appear (I suspect because it’s a local Flash file which are incompatible with iOS devices) and the In Parliament page requires Microsoft Silverlight. Otherwise, the site is amazingly clean and navigable on the small screen.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Get rid of your splash page and generally don’t have any autoplay videos.
- Rebrand your “Candidate Site” as a “Constituency Site” or some other name which doesn’t imply you’re currently running for office.
- Have your MP site be the primary site for “scottandrews.ca” while you’re in office, with a link to the Constituency site (and a return link). During the next election, swap which section is the primary. Oh… and don’t identify your MP Site as “Personal Site” in the cross link appearing on your Constituency Site.
GRADE: C+ (The autoplay video and its audio quality cost you a B)
Let me start with the “Candidate Site.” It features a written message from Mr. Andrews. The letter opens with “I want to express my sincere appreciation…” This may be language splitting, however, to paraphrase a wise Jedi Master, “Thank, or do not thank. There is no want to thank.” A mentor of mine once waged war on a speech he was editing for me. He explained to me that, like apologies, people who are issuing thank you messages need to be direct and committed to their message, particularly if they’re trying to convey sincerity. On another note, the election was nearly two years ago. A fresh message would be appropriate if for no other reason than to look like the site isn’t collecting dust.
There are a few more noticeable problems which suggest neglect. The photo gallery sections of his Candidate and MP sites have broken image links, his Contact page has a placeholder for a Google Map which features the text “You can create your custimized google map and insert it (generated HTML code) it into your website. Everything is for free.” and his Financial disclosures haven’t been updated since 2010. Also, the Jubilee Medal page is now out of date since (I believe) the deadline for nominations is now passed.
Mr. Andrews’ use of YouTube is substandard at best. His channel is home to four videos, all of which are nearly a year old. More noticeably, one of the videos fills only one-eighth of the frame and another about one-quarter. Neither of these videos is reasonably watchable and suggest there is a technological shortcoming in his office. It’s worth noting this is the first discovery of its kind in my makeover series.
Now to the good stuff.
Mr. Andrews has an energetic if infrequent Twitter voice (71 tweets in the last six months). His Twitter stream boasts a decent mix of political shots including calling out Conservative Gail Shea for leaving the House prior to the vote on the EI motion, and personal musings about a life dependent on air travel and his caucus-mate Denis Coderre’s hockey frustrations.
With a few exceptions, he also has a decent handle on Facebook tone. Sure, there are some requisite posts in official-speak. There are other posts which come across as human and spontaneous.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Pull down the smaller-than-frame videos from YouTube. Exploit the power and compatibility of YouTube for video posting and sharing.
- Pull down the Diamond Jubilee section of your website (or at least change the content). Unless I’m mistaken, I believe the dealine for nominations has passed.
- Post more photos to Facebook.
Participation & Community
Mr. Andrews his Twitter stream for more than just a broadcast mechanism. He retweets and replies to others. He’s also mentioned in tweets by others. In all, 389 tweets have been issued mentioning Mr. Andrews, or retweeting content he already published over the last six months. Twenty-four per cent of his tweets are responses to others; a respectable ratios among Canadian MPs.
While his Facebook Page enjoys a reasonably healthy number of Likes, Shares and Comments on many of his posts, Mr. Andrews himself is largely missing from the chatter. Aside from posting the kick-off content, of course. I certainly don’t expect him to be immersed in the chatter. However, some engagement is a good idea, particularly where a discussion is in play.
One possible explanation may be that his posts may not always be made by him, a fact revealed in a comment Mr. Andrews made nearly a year ago.
His 23 wall posts over the last six months is a little on the light side. On the other hand, Mr. Andrews’ communityt participation ratios are respectable with an average 13.5 likes and two comments per wall past. In the long run, the comments are more meaningful than Likes; though Likes are a good entry point.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Become a participant in the comments of your posts.
- You have an attentive Facebook audience. Use polls and probing questions to keep up the level of activity.
- The events function of your Facebook Page has been stale since November. If you’re planning on using it for your next election campaign, start getting into the habit now — for yourself and your constituents.
Interruption (the bonus category)
Once you’re actually in Mr. Andrews’ website, you’ll discover it’s unique among MPs. Unique in a great way. It’s not overwhelming. It’s clean. Eyes naturally know where to go. There’s appropriate white space. The images and working graphical elements add to the site; they don’t compete with it. Information is easy to find including a form to volunteer and another to request birthday and anniversary certificates from Mr. Andrews and others including interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General David Johnston and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. There’s also a handy FAQ.
While these components are handy, I see them as being valuable add-ons to the more important — a great website architecture, look and feel.