COM0014: Pith and Pathos

I think the biggest learning for me in this course on writing for social media has been brevity: Say it short, then say it shorter still.

When I first started using Twitter, I found it completely frustrating. How could I possibly sum up complex ideas in such a brief way? But then I realized that 140 characters are actually much longer than most book or article titles. (“War and Peace.” “Black Beauty.”) I also remembered from my public speaking training that every speech should be summed up in a point of five words or less. (“Eat your veggies.” “Buckle up.”)

The same thing is true of writing as of de-cluttering your home. Take everything you have, then get rid of half of it. Then take that half and cut it in half again. It’s actually much harder to go from 1,000 words to 100 than to go from 100 to 1,000. If you start out thinking short, it’s easier to keep your mind on the core messages you want to convey.

Equally important is knowing that people remember personal stories much longer than they remember facts and figures. A colleague summed it up this way: “Sell the issue with feelings, back it up with facts.” Put another way: “Data is your seatbelt, but stories put you in the driver’s seat.”

Keep your digital content SHORT and SWEET: How’s that for brevity?

COM0014: Do not go gentle into that good night

The social policy organization I work for is facing the universal fear: Fear of death. Due to be absorbed in some form by its principal funder in November 2017, I want its ideas and ideals to be kept alive.

The Caledon Institute has been a think tank fixture since 1992. Using solid statistics, clear writing and humour, its three principals have stood for a compassionate Canada. They have influenced Ministers and Prime Ministers, Cabinets and Budget-crafters. They have worked on behalf of people with disabilities, our Indigenous peoples, those living in poverty, seniors and children. Arguing for policies that re-distribute income and create services that allow those in need a fighting chance of making their lives better, they have watched politics re-shape good policy into bad and vice versa. Over the last 25 years, they have stood as a determined bulwark against greed and special interest groups.

I came to Caledon as a storyteller, and I leave as a storyteller. No policy wonk, I read Ken, Sherri and Michael’s annual Budget response papers and felt wiser. I heard Sherri speak with passion and conviction of the serious work we all need to do to make our country better, and I was inspired. I watched as Ken and Sherri figured out a way to supplement our Office Manager’s earnings as she suffered through a serious – and ultimately, terminal – fight with cancer, and I was moved by their kindness.

Endings are hard. I will miss Caledon, but I take comfort in knowing that the Caledon ideal of caring for and about one another is also universal.

COM0014: Brand Anne

I’m not a person who likes to put myself forward. I was raised to believe that “the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing.” In other words, the good action is its own reward. That said:

My unique work contributions

In this era where facts and data get bigger and stronger every day, I’ve learned that storytelling is the heart that drives the data brain. Since 2000, I’ve honed a collaborative process for writing stories about people doing innovative work in communities. I’m happiest when my stories act as inspiration for others involved in similar efforts.

Since 2015, I’ve worked with colleagues to create and expand a really cool social sector website, the Canada Social Report. Though its future is in doubt (our organization is undergoing a transformation), it has offered lots of opportunities to be creative and build partnerships. On the lighter side, I love baking and staff get-togethers; my baklawa is hard to beat.

My best attributes

I’m a person who has my feet on the ground and a smile on my face. I cherish honesty, integrity and compassion. I have learned the hard lessons of taking responsibility for every aspect of my life. I think I am most proud of my ability to see a mistake, problem or roadblock as an opportunity to problem solve and keep moving toward a goal. I don’t get stuck worrying about the spilled milk on the floor; I clean it up and figure out a better way to keep the liquid in the container.

giphy spilled milk

Where I’m going

Phyllis Diller said that she wanted most to be remembered for her kindness. Me too.

COM0014 Blog 4: Think of the starving children in Africa

The originator of TOMS Shoes took that picky eater admonition in a whole new direction. Learning that children in Argentina could be barred from school if they didn’t have shoes, Texan Blake Mycoskie set up a company that would donate one pair of shoes for every pair purchased. Since 2007, his company has donated 70 million shoes to children in more than 70 countries. TOMS’ “One for One”® model (every time a TOMS product is purchased, a person in need is helped) now extends to eyewear, bags and roasting coffee.

TOMS represents the shift toward conscience-driven consumerism. The company builds what it terms “thoughtful partnerships” – nonprofit humanitarian organizations that can help fulfill the company’s One for One® promise. For example, TOMS Facebook page (followed and liked by 3.8 million people) includes a recent Mother’s Day campaign operated by TOMS partner “Every Mother Counts.”  (“With every TOMS + Every Mother Counts product you purchase, TOMS will donate $5 to Every Mother Counts in support of programs that address the barriers to maternal health around the world and at home.”)

The company has a presence on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. TOMS’ Twitter accounts has sent 28,800 tweets since 2008, follows 217,000 others and has 2.14 million followers. Sadly, its content is mainly limited to photos and videos of new shoes. The company website uses a blog area, but its content has not been updated since 2014. TOMS #iamtoms Twitter campaign has also been inactive since 2014.

Overall, though I’m very taken with the company’s mission and track record, I feel its social media feeds need curating and possible paring down. As well, there are no mentions of the current consumer trends towards transparency, sustainability and encouraging local materials and labour markets.

I would love to know how TOMS’ impacts stack up against projects operated by UNICEF and other world-stage helping organizations. Unlike UNICEF, TOMS has to manage the balance between profits and philanthropy. Every day, the company walks a fine line between encouraging consumerism and serving a greater good.

Imelda's shoes

Imagine if Imelda Marcos had been a TOMS shopper! (a portion of Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection, rumoured to have been in excess of 1,000 pairs)


COM0014, Blog 3: Are hiring managers disabilaphobic?*

Canadians consider themselves caring people who believe in helping others. Why, then, do Statistics Canada figures show the employment rate for Canadians with a disability is 49%, compared to 79% for the general population? In the US, a 2014 study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) found that 85% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) do not have paid work.

Profiled in the Daily Beast, Best Buddies International – a US job placement firm for people with IDD –  launched the “I’m In To Hire” media campaign in 2014. The goal was to convince employers that it was in their best interests to hire from this group.

The campaign made good use of Best Buddies founder Anthony Shriver’s bigwig contact Carlos Slim – the second richest man in the world. Slim was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on the challenge of changing hiring perceptions. Shriver and Slim co-wrote a Forbes editorial on the subject.

That kind of star power drew financial pledges from stars in Hollywood, but the game-changing outcomes were found in a post-I’m In To Hire i4pc study. It showed that 80% of employers reported a positive experience with their employees with IDD, and a third reported the experience exceeded their expectations.

In Canada, the big buns, err, guns come in the form of media attention paid to Tim Hortons franchise owner Mark Wafer. For more than 20 years, he has made a practice of hiring people with disabilities of all kinds and backs up the claim that they are reliable, loyal and highly productive employees.

colourful donuts

hiring for inclusion and disability increases employer engagement and customer loyalty

We have a way to go before people with disabilities’ employment figures approach an acceptable level. Hiring managers in their 40s and 50s were not educated alongside peers with disabilities. Today’s children see accommodations every day in their classrooms. That kind of familiarity will speed acceptance of individuals for their unique characters and abilities. About time, too.

Got a good example of how you or your organization benefited from diversifying its workforce? Share your experience in the feedback box.

Want help getting started on your own hiring campaign? Learn more at Employment and Social Development Canada.

*A term coined by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley, it means holding negative attitudes towards people with disability that are rooted in falsehoods, misperceptions and uninformed bias.

COM0014 Blog 2: Good (social media) Gardens Need Time

“What’s good for us, being fed the truth through mass media or the masses of opinions from all over the place or a hybrid of both?” – Mitch Joel, September 2010

The weather this week has been glorious. My garden pulled me outside to dig up the dead stuff, plant the new, annihilate some dandelions and set out the bird bath. I start every growing season with great ambitions for all of my green ‘children.’ Those who didn’t survive winter are mourned, but new additions quickly fill in.

garden view enemy

weeding out the bad

garden view new friend

nurturing the new

What’s good for a garden – the proper growing conditions, a careful gardener and time – are also what make it possible to navigate social media.

The biggest challenge to me – no matter how Joel defines “us,” “good” or “truth” – is how to focus my time and stay on top of the issues that matter the most.

All while not losing sight of the bigger picture.

garden view long

keeping the end in mind

Plants know which nutrients they need to thrive. In my social media ‘garden,’ I too make choices about which channels I use, which groups I join, which people I want to follow.

A good tip from Sevaun Palvetzian, taken from her May 16, 2017 webinar, Five Good Ideas about impactful communication on a shoestring budget, is to make sure you source diversity. Get out of your personal vacuum of comfortable ideas and maintain your curiosity. If you like CBC, source FOX.

But time, more than ever, is the essence of social media. When time moved slowly, we could consider our responses:

1992 headline: “More than 350 years after the Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo, Pope John Paul II is poised to rectify one of the Church’s most infamous wrongs – the persecution of the Italian astronomer and physicist for proving the Earth moves around the Sun.” – Alan Cowell, New York Times.

Today, not so much:

2017, May Facebook statistic: Every 60 seconds on Facebook: 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. – The Social Skinny.

So far, my answer has been to limit the amount of time I’m willing to give my social media channels. The downside – with the number and rate of posts – is my sense that I can never know enough, soon enough.

How about you? Would you describe your social media consumption pattern as drought, flood or fine and dandy? How much time do you give each day to your social media channels?

COM0014 Blog 1: My Maritime Vacation

Photographs and Memories

Where some people shun family vacations, I adore them. My grandparents lived in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and my family lived in Montreal. As a child, I remember long car rides and a warm welcome at “The Bield.” Gaelic for “shelter,” it was the home of Gruzzie and Hum, my dad’s parents. Gruzzie’s name was a mashup of granny and muzzie (mother?) and Hum was Gaelic for “him,” my Scottish grandfather.

Their spirit infuses every trip I take to the Maritimes, and none more than last summer. My husband and I went east for 10 days, but it was our second day, spent in Alma, New Brunswick, that will stand in my memory forever.

We sea kayaked that afternoon with a young crew of adventure tourguides. They shepherded 12 boats of middle-aged and teen-aged thrill-seekers past rocks and rip tides. We battled the wind and waves as we headed west for about 4 kilometers, then pulled into a bay for a rest and a beach picnic.

The ride home was magical. I kept trying to find a comparison that fit the sensation of rolling along with the waves. “It’s like riding on the back of a sea serpent,” “it’s like being on a rollercoaster.”  Up and over each swell, with a slight thrill of danger that we would come crashing down on the kayak in front of us. “No,” said my husband, “it’s like riding on the sea.”

If the wind had been even a little stronger, the waves would have been beastlike and our ride would have been canceled. But that day the elements aligned and we enjoyed the gift of a perfect afternoon. I felt protected by our guides and connected to everything and everyone. As I always felt at the Bield.

JAH,Gruz and Marco PoloHum, Gruzzie, Marco Polo and the Bield, 1966

Lest We Be Forgotten: Ideas that aren’t shared aren’t heard

My January 16 post was short on detail, as it was put up 24 hours before the Caledon Institute’s principal funder, the Maytree Foundation, released an email blast (and associated Tweets) that described the “next phase” of its relationship with Caledon.

In the weeks that have passed since January 17, it is clear that many of Caledon’s followers interpreted “next phase” as “done.”  One of my responsibilities is to tweet for the organization (@CaledonINST), so I continue to answer the “sorry to see you go” messages with one that says “stay tuned – more to come.”


Instead of agreeing that we’re wrappings things up, I’m considering how we could use social media to further disseminate Caledon’s key lessons in social policy.

Albert Einstein said that, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  His ideas are still prompting discussion and research.  Caledon’s should be too.


Lest we forget: Advancing social policy ideas and ideals through social media

Since 2000, I’ve worked for the Caledon Institute of Social Policy. I’m guessing some of you may not have heard of the organization, but any one of you might have benefited from the contributions it has made to building a more robust social safety net in Canada.

In the early 1990s when Paul Martin was Minister of Finance, he came to my boss, Ken Battle, to discuss ideas for tackling child poverty – a blight the Government of Canada had pledged to eradicate.

Ken and his colleague Sherri Torjman got busy helping government policy experts design the National Child Benefit, a supplement for low-income families. Justin Trudeau’s government recently replaced several children’s tax benefits and credits with the Canada Child Benefit (though it has so far failed to index the measure to the rate of inflation).

Since its founding 25 years ago, Caledon has continued to influence all levels of government about many social issues. Income security, disabilities, caregiving, Aboriginal education, poverty reduction and community development top the list.

In 2017, our Ottawa-based, five-person organization will be reconfigured to be more closely aligned with the work of our principal funder, located in Toronto. As we begin this year of change, Ken and Sherri are working to summarize the social policy legacy they have built up in order that it effectively informs the next generation of Canadian social policy makers. This blog series will offer me a space for exploring how social media is being used to advance ideas and ideals espoused by organizations like Caledon.

“Social programs have helped define this country.  It is social programs that embody the values of a civil society – one in which people care for and about each other.  It is social programs that civilize capitalism.”

Lest We Forget: Why Canada Needs Strong Social Programs, Ken Battle and Sherri Torjman, November 1995.

My expanding vocabulary

Thpartridgeis week, I tripped over several social media concepts that were new to me, starting with “dark social.”  The term was coined in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic.   It refers to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics programs.   (See more on The Simply Measured Blog.)


turtle-dovesFortunately, I found a little more of an explanation about dark social, in that it shows up on Google Analytics as “Direct traffic” and, as such, it “originated from the share of a URL, but is marked as direct traffic in analytics tool… Direct is actually just a label for traffic that arrives at a site without a referrer.”

[I must admit that at this point I started getting the feeling I get at the Toronto airport when I step off the linoleum onto the moving sidewalk – too much, too fast!]

french-henMessaging apps – “With the rise of messaging apps and bots, the way many of us use social media to share and interact is fundamentally changing.”

[Is it just me or are “fundamental change” and “social media” not synonymous?]


calling-birdMulti-networking behaviours.  Says Jason Mander in a blog on globalwebindex, “Internet users have an average of seven social accounts.”  Further, “GlobalWebIndex’s survey tracks membership of around 50 named social networks/platforms/apps, ranging from global names like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and WhatsApp to country- or region-specific services such as Tuenti in Spain and VK in Russia.”

golden-ringsAn easier one: “reciprocity.”  As in, the percentage of users of each social media site who use another social media site.



I started off this blog thinking I had 12 new terms to write about (as in, The 12 Days of Christmas).  Plus, I wanted to have at least one blog that I could turn into a list!  I was pleasantly surprised that I found I had to stop at five new ideas, but was still a little disappointed about the list.

Can you help me get to 12?  What was the weirdest/coolest/most interesting social media idea or concept you came across this week?