Peter Milliken’s presence in politics was felt in many ways particularly in his role as Speaker of the House of Commons.
It’s fair to say Mr. Milliken was not known as a digital native or even a digital immigrant. Today, his old websites sit derelict. His successor in the constituency of Kingston and the Islands is Ted Hsu. In stark contrast to Milliken, Hsu is much more comfortable and invested in the online world. And… he was the winner of Macleans magazine’s Best Represents Constituents honour in the 2013 Parliamentarian of the Year awards.
Welcome to the first digital makeover of 2014.
For an MP, Ted Hsu has a well developed and reasonably large digital ecosystem. It’s a healthy hub-and-spoke structure, one I believe works particularly well for MPs, in which a website serves as the nucleus, like a digital constituency office. In fact, Mr. Hsu’s website represents a growing attention to design and user experience among MP websites. His site is partuclarly well laid-out, clean and easy to read. It’s very easy for visitors to navigate and find what they’re looking for.
Notable features of Mr. Hsu’s website include an about page which leads off with his story, told very much like a story, of why (not how) he entered politics. This is a great way to grab a reader’s attention and breaks the mold of listing accomplishments and accreditations. The supporting links on the right side of this page augment that story and offer more traditional and complete bios. However, there is one important flaws. Rather than embed the “Background Video” in his website (within a pop-up player or inline in the story), or launch external links to the Parliamentary website in new tabs or browser windows, all of the links take visitors away from Mr. Hsu’s website. Gone.
The links to Mr. Hsu’s digital outposts — his YouTube channel, Facebook Page, Twitter handle, Flickr Stream — appear in the footer of his site, a common location, and properly launch themselves in separate tabs.
Mr. Hsu also maintains a blog. Like a growing number of MPs, Mr. Hsu is using his blog the way it should be used… to tell people what’s going on and help them understand the workings of Parliament, national issues and party activities. However, the blog is poorly integrated into his website. The main page of his site links to what appears to be a complete archive of blog posts, the most recent of which at the time of this post is a January 28, 2014 post titled Government “responds” to my FATCA question. Meanwhile, the link that appears in the footer of his site links to an incomplete archive of blog posts is his December 18, 2013 Dropping a Russian flag on the North Pole didn’t make it Russian territory and placing a maple leaf there doesn’t make it Canadian Territory. The blog is otherwise hidden on the site, not appearing in the top navigation bar above his masthead.
His digital outposts all point back to his website, which is very important since the goal is to drive attention to the central digital constituency office where he is more in control of the organization, curation and substance of the information. And, all of his outposts are well identified as being part of his ecosystem, and make it easy to identify who he is. Except his YouTube channel. That’s the only place he is not prominently identified as a Member of Parliament. That information can be inferred.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Make your blog more prominent and the links to it consistent (to the full archive with the most recent post prominently placed at the top of the list).
- Ensure all outbound links on your site launch the external content in new windows or tabs. Embed relevant content on your site through pop-ups (to clarify, have a photo gallery or video open in a pop-up when clicked) or, preferably, in line with the content.
- Exploit the full suite of branding features on all digital properties (e.g. choose relevant cover photos for Twitter, YouTube and Flickr)
Keeping so many online properties relatively current can be a challenge. Mr. Hsu appears up to the challenge, though, regularly updating his digital outposts with fresh content in a variety of formats: text, images, audio, videos and links. Yes, audio. Mr. Hsu posted the audio of a telephone town hall meeting he did. Perhaps he’ll even be a guest of my digital public affairs podcast (shameless plug… I will be releasing some new episodes with MPs soon). He also published a transcript of the townhall which is a valuable resource for those with hearing impairments. However, at 9,232 words, I wonder if a written summary might more than anyone is willing to read. Perhaps a written summary would have greater utility and a wider audience. By the way, his most stagnant account is YouTube which was last updated on November 18, 2013.
Posting content isn’t enough. MPs need to have a relatable online persona (hopefully it’s a genuine representation of who they are and present themselves as in person) and well curated content.
Mr. Hsu’s online persona is most definitely relatable and thankfully not overly partisan. Most of his content reads easily while communicating a message, and his photos present more than just an MP exploiting a photo op. There are some examples of videos and images which show Mr. Hsu caught being himself. This is good. And, those instances come across a lot more genuinely than the apparently scripted and oddly named Video_For_Tedhsu_Website (I referenced this video earlier in this post as being a prime candidate for embedding in the About section of his website). The script isn’t bad. It’s just written and delivered in a more formal manner when it would be a lot more believable (and more aligned to the images) if it was less… rigid.
While most of his content is well titled and a good chunk of it have meaningful descriptions, many of his images and videos lack metadata such as tags and hashtags. The odd piece of content is named something like “Video_For_Tedhsu_Website” which is probably more meaningful to Mr. Hsu and his team, even though the video is not part of the publicly displayed or searchable archive of videos in his YouTube channel (you need the URL to reach the video).
I also like the fact that Mr. Hsu maintains a Flickr photo stream. It’s become commonplace for people to share content posted by others regardless of any license restrictrions on the account and Flickr is a great resource. Still, it would gain some geek cred if Mr. Hsu set the license of his Flickr photos to a Creative Commons license, rather than All Rights Reserved.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Make sure your content is properly titled, described and tagged.
- Don’t let video production teams and your staff convince you that rigid is better than natural in your online videos. It’s worth the extra time for your online content to reinforce that you’re an average person rather than an orator.
- Condense long transcripts into a series of meaningful excerpts or a written summary. Oh yeah… install an audio player into your site to properly embed audio on your pages.
Participation & Community
Adding to Mr. Hsu’s online strengths is his online community, and especially the role he plays in it. Mr. Hsu doesn’t just publish content and disappear, he’s participates in exchanges and responds to questions.
Put another way, Mr. Hsu doesn’t just have 4,755 Twitter followers as of this writing. Over the last six months 1,152 people have tweeted to him or about him 3,184 times in the last six months. In turn, 27% of Mr. Hsu’s 305 tweets during the same period are replies and 29% retweets. Not bad considering not every tweet to him or about him merits a response. And, 305 tweets in six months represents an average of 1.6 tweets per day. That’s a decent level of participation.
Given the level of participation and how engaged his Twitter community is, it’s surprising he feels compelled to prompt his community to retweet his content. I find that any content requiring someone to request amplification diminishes the value of the original content. Shouldn’t people feel moved by your statement and act on their own? In fairness, other politicians do this including Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister Harper and President Obama (to name a few).
And, Mr. Hsu’s Facebook community is also more engaged than those of most MPs. Since October 21, 2013, his Facebook Page has become host to 125 wall posts, 488 comments (average 3.9 per post), 150 replies (average 1.2 per post) and 2,293 likes (average 18.3 per post). Analysis shows 312 people have discussed issues and ideas on his page in the past 103 days. Not bad! And, Mr. Hsu is part of the exchanges. You’ll see his responses to questions in the comment threads.
Three opportunities for improvement:
- Reactivate your use of the Events section on your Facebook Page. You haven’t organized and/or promoted Events since June 7, 2012. For that matter, the events section on your website was last updated on September 26, 2013.
- When answering questions, provide the full answer or a link to the answer (particularly if space is limited). Avoid responses such as “For sure, check out question period yesterday” which put the onus on the person who asked the question to find the answer on their own.
- Keep doing what you’re doing. Just, more of it (if you’re able to).
Interruption (the bonus category)
The size of his digital ecosystem, how current it is, and how much personality he has inflected into each digital outpost is somewhat unusual (though not unheard of) among MPs. Mr. Hsu seems to “get it.” As a first timer and one who had big shoes to fill (replacing Peter Milliken), it’s fair to say Mr. Hsu has not only found his inner MP, he’s found his inner digital native MP.