It’s been a year since the Liberal government was sworn in. Through it all, I’ve continued to research the role of digital in Canadian politics and democratic engagement. Here is a summary of digital outposts claimed by our current MPs, some notes on how they use them and tips on how they can do better.
Eight key findings
- Most MP websites serve more as online brochures and repositories of official statements. Few of the sites offer concise, current information on what the MP is doing for his or her constituency.
- 79.7%% of MPs have a “vanity URL” (e.g. catherinemckennamp.ca, tonyclementcpc.ca, nathancullen.ca). Many of these point to shuttered or neglected websites. Some of the domains have been allowed to expire.
- Five MPs are cutting edge, using new top level domains as their primary URL: michelboudrias.quebec, navdeepbains.mp, andyfillmore.mp, johnoliver.mp and anita.mp (though the link was broken at the time of writing)
- Almost every MP has a Facebook page (99.7%) and Twitter account (99.1%). A surprising number still need to post good quality cover images and profile photos, and provide descriptive bios and links to their website. Usage styles vary. There is lots of room for improvement.
- Just over half (56.4%) of MPs have Instagram accounts. Not all MPs are actively using their accounts. Those who do tend to favour posting photos in which they appear rather than photos from their point of view.
- Nearly all MPs (88.4%) have YouTube channels. Many have multiple channels. The channels that aren’t dormant are typically repositories for Parliamentary appearances. Only a few MPs use video effectively for communication and making connections with constituents and stakeholders.
- Flickr is overlooked as a great place to post high-quality images and making them available for use through Creative Commons licenses. 30.4% of MPs have accounts, most of which have been neglected since the 2011 or 2015 elections.
- A good number of MPs have a LinkedIn presence (62.4%). While there’s no harm in having one, there is little political value in having a Linked profile.
Eight tips for success
- Less is more. Establish and maintain as many online properties as you (and your staff) can reasonably manage on a day-to-day basis.
- Use “vanity domains” effectively. Any URLs you aren’t using for your primary web site should forward to your primary website. Don’t let your domains expire.
- Your website should always be the epicentre of your digital ecosystem. Unlike social media, you can control every aspect of your website.
- Identify yourself. All of your online properties have good quality banner and cover images, a good quality profile photo that is unmistakably you, a clear and concise bio/description and a link to your primary website.
- Be relevant. What information is your website visitor seeking? Is it there? Is it easily found? Is it in plain language? Is it current? See with the eyes of your audience. You are not your audience.
- Connect with your audience. Remember that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are SOCIAL media. Being social involves responding to questions and comments. If your constituents and stakeholders can’t see or imagine themselves in your efforts, they won’t be part of your audience for long.
- Curate your content. Videos should have titles and descriptions. As much as possible, photos should be tagged to indicate who is in them and descriptions of what is taking place.
- Play to strengths — yours and the platforms you’re using. Harness your in-person personality online. Understand that each of your platforms and the audiences they reach are different. Don’t cross post the same content and message the same way across all of your platforms.
25 neglected MP vanity URLs
While many MPs have smartly kept paying for their domains and forwarding them to their current (and maintained) website, 25 (10% of those with vanity URLs) have let their domains expire (leaving them open to be poached and used against them), have let those vanity websites shutdown or stagnate, or have forwarded the domains to a website they don’t control. This is like sending your client to meet you at an office you no longer use.
Here’s a list of the 25 MPs who have abandoned or are misusing their vanity domains with links to their entry in my MP database.
- Will Amos (no longer available)
- René Arseneault (forwards to Parliamentary web page)
- Larry Bagnell (forwards to candidate page)
- Steven Blaney (goes to a blank page)
- Stephane Dion (forwards to candidate page)
- Doug Eyolfson (forwards to now-missing candidate page)
- Greg Fergus (forwards to candidate page)
- Pat Finnigan (forwards to candidate page)
- Colin Fraser (site not found)
- Anthony Housefather (forwards to Liberal 404 error page)
- Mélanie Joly (web server default page)
- Diane Lebouthillier (domain name service can’t be found)
- Denis Lemieux (GoDaddy parked domain page)
- Joël Lightbound (forwards to now-missing candidate page)
- Lawrence MacAulay (forwards to candidate page)
- Alexandra Mendès (forwards to now-missing candidate page)
- Bob Nault (forwards to now-missing candidate page)
- Denis Paradis (domain name service can’t be found)
- Michel Picard (domain name service can’t be found)
- Terry Sheehan (403 access forbidden error)
- Sven Spengemann (forwards to candidate page)
- Hunter Tootoo (GoDaddy parked domain page)
- Anita Vandenbeld (403 access forbidden error)
- Nick Whalen (forwards to now-missing candidate page)
- Borys Wrzesnewskyj (forwards to Liberal 404 error page)
Tips for use of vanity domains
- Use them!
- Register as many combinations that make sense for your political career using the major domain extensions (.ca, .com, .net, .org, .tv and the new .mp, etc…).
- Forward whichever domains you are not using to your current active website. If you have multiple websites, forward them to the most appropriate website.
- Don’t let your domains expire.
- If you change your website ecosystem, update your domain forwarding.
Bonus tip: redirect rules make it easy for the public
If you want to make it easy for the public to find you on various social media properties, set up forwarding rules that take them there. For example: