COM0014: Blog Post#1 Can you Cheat A Swami?

Many years ago, my grandfather told me that he had been told by a swami in Pakistan that his end of life would be at 94 years of age.  He had been in Pakistan on a UN peacekeeping tour in 1967.  As he is getting on in years, and less mobile, I decided that I would surprise him with a visit on his 92nd birthday.  It would also be the first time that he would meet my wife, and although I had asked my children to join us, they claimed they were not available.  So we made plans to have a romantic getaway and visit my grandfather at the same time.

So, in September, my wife and I headed to the Ottawa airport to catch a flight to Naples, Florida.  It appeared to be the season of surprises because as we were checking in, my youngest son came up behind us and said that he had changed his mind, and was coming along for the vacation too.  Our romantic vacation turned into a family vacation in an instant…Surprise!

naples-beach-sept-2016-photo-2

My wife and I at the beach in Naples, FL

I nervously anticipated my grandfather’s reaction to my wife.  As it turned out, my nervousness was for not as the first words out of his mouth once he had met my wife for the first time were “You can leave your slippers under my bed anytime!”

For the next two days, I could only have my grandfather’s attention if we were alone. Thankfully, my son was there to keep me company.

My grandfather insisted that he introduce us to his friends at his favourite social club: The Elks.  This was the perfect time to get even with my grandfather (a.k.a. the prankster) by referring to the giant Elk head at their club as a Moose head.  The playful banter went downhill from there, although the other members of the Elk did invite us back anytime.  Not sure whether my grandfather is allowed back? lol

While we were in Naples, we also made arrangements for a birthday cookie wishing my grandfather a happy 92nd birthday.  On the actual day of his birthday, we took him out to dinner, and it was at that time that he indicated that he was only 91.  Needless to say, we tried not to act surprised.  Instead, we scrambled to fix the cake before he saw it.  In the end, the cake looked like a 5-year had decorated as we tried to change the “2” to a “1”.

granpa-bday-2016

My Grandfather on his 91st birthday

In true family humour, my grandfather laughed it off, and said that he managed to cheat the Swami out of another year.

We headed back to the airport, with son in tow, only to find out that he had mistakenly booked his return flight 24 hours after ours.  As a starving student, I could not let him sleep overnight in the airport, and ended up forking out $200 to change his flight so he could leave with us.

As I did so, I heard my grandfather whispering to me “See you next year.  You did promise me a visit on my 92nd birthday after all!”

I guess we are heading to Naples, Florida again in 2017.  This time, though, I’m asking my wife to wear a turtleneck.  LOL

COM0012 Example of Crisis Communications and the Need to Listen

Like most Sundays in Legion branches across the country, the Legion Vimy No. 27 Branch in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was holding its regularly scheduled live entertainment dance night.  At first glance, Sunday  July 10th 2016 was no different.  That evening’s singer/ performer was Bernie Doucette.  He had already played at this Legion branch a couple of times and had a good sense as to the likes and dislikes of the audience and had gauged his playlist accordingly.

Bernie Doucette and Eldon Gallant

Bernie Doucette (right) and Eldon Gallant (left)

Bernie was hanging outside the Legion branch with his partner of 20 years, Eldon Gallant, having a cigarette before the show. When he decided it was time to go inside the Legion Vimy No.27 Branch to set up, he gave his partner a kiss on the cheek.  Bernie alleges that he noticed a person wearing a blue jacket staring at them after they had kissed but thought nothing of it at the time and went about his work and setting up his instruments inside the Branch.

That evening, as Bernie played some tribute songs by Jimmy Hendricks, Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond, among others, he kept noticing this same man, wearing a blue jacket, going from table to table talking to people in the hall lsitening to the performance and pointing at him.  Eventually, into his second set, he heard someone yell out words to the effect of: “Get that faggot singer off the stage.” Bernie kept playing his repertoire until the bartender came over and told him it would be best if he cut his performance short.  He was paid for the whole night even though he was told to leave before he had finished playing.  The reason given was that he was playing “funeral” music and the patrons were not enjoying it and were leaving.

Legion Vimy No.27 branchThe incident first appeared on CFJC Radio (Halifax) at 7:56am on 12 July 2016 (local time). Aly Thomson, a reporter with the Canadian Press, picked up the story and published it that same day around 2:56pm.  By 10:34pm that same evening, some 64 media outlets had run the story.  On the morning of July 13th the incident was in print and our national media monitoring service picked up the story as part of its daily morning routine.  Soon thereafter, the Manager of Communications at Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion strongly suggested to Executive Director of the Legion provincial command for Nova Scotia & Nunavut that she should look into this matter asap because they are responsible for the conduct of Legion branches within their respective commands and a PR crisis seemed to be unfolding.  Perhaps the most glaring reasons that they needed to get involved was that discrimination is against the law and if anybody should have been asked to leave the Legion Vimy branch, it should have been the homophobic patron not the gay musician.

We needed to get ahead of this story and the Legion provincial command Executive Director agreed and issued a statement around 1:53pm (local Halifax time) to the effect that they had launched an investigation to find out what had happened at that Legion Branch on the night in question.  The statement was distributed to provincial media outlets and we made sure Aly Thomson also received a copy since she was largely the originator of the story.

Aly Thomson

Ms. Aly Tomson, The Canadian Press

By 5:33pm that evening, there were 88 media outlets that had run the story.  The decision to issue a statement to investigate appears to have appeased the media because there were no reports of the incident on Thursday July 14th .  Everyone seemed prepared to hold-off on any commentary pending the results of the investigation.

On the afternoon of July 14th, around 2:30pm, the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia /Nunavut provincial command headquarters issued a news release essentially stating that they could not corroborate Mr. Doucette’s allegations with any witnesses and that the cctv cameras at the Legion branch did not pick up anybody whispering into people’s ears.  As with the previous statement, this news release was distributed provincially and specifically to Aly Thomson.  The next day, some 58 media outlets ran the story that the Legion could not corroborate the claim and that there was no proof of a homophobic slur and that the case was closed.

It would appear that the Legion’s ability to monitor and listen to reports throughout the country, no matter how local, allowed them some time to try and get ahead of this story and become part of the conversation.  Indeed, by remaining in the news cycle, the Legion was able to let the media know they would be investigating asap and the results were known with 24 hours.  The result was a steady decrease in media coverage within four business days. Indeed, there has not been any stories on this incident since Saturday July 16th, 2016.

Granted, the credibility of the investigation leaves much to be desired and it is remains unclear whether this story is actually closed.  For instance, investigators did not speak with Bernie and they have not returned his calls and the cctv does not record sound.  So it is unclear how the investigators were able to draw the conclusions they did or identify the man “wearing a blue jacket.”

Bernie Doucette

Bernie Doucette says he has hired a lawyer

To make matters worse, Bernie has also gone on record lamenting the poor investigation and says he has hired a lawyer and intends to pursue this matter as a Human Rights complaint.

However, notwithstanding the merits of the investigation itself and whether this issue has been resolved, from a purely traditional and social media communications perspective, this was a good example of the important role listening and being a part of the conversation online can have as well as the impact it can have on a story.

NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

COMM0012 – When Vets Lost their Poppies

The year 1995 was a pivotal one in the history of Canada’s national symbol of Remembrance – the poppy.  It was in December of that year that veterans stopped making wreaths and poppies and production shifted to civilian contractors.  This would not have been possible without the help and support of Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion.

For more almost 75 years, the federal government had hired Vetcraft Industries Ltd. to produce wreaths and poppies. This long-standing sheltered employment workshop arrangement came under review in July 1994 after Treasury Board ruled that persons employed by Vetcraft must be counted as public servants at a time when there was pressure to reduce the number of public servants throughout the federal government.  There was also concern that the employees may be determined to be eligible for Public Service benefits. So the senior civilian management at VAC opted to end its relationship with Vetcraft Industries.

To be fair, Vetcraft had gone from a peak of 346 veterans in 1924 to about 150 full and part-time employees in 1994, located in ether Montreal or Toronto, many of whom had some military experience or were a widowed spouse of a veteran and many were Legionnaires.

 

Veterans Making Poppies

Veterans assembling wreaths and poppies in Montreal’s St-Anne-de-Bellevue Hospital.  Photo courtesy: Canadian War Museum – 19720228-001

In order to forestall any potential public backlash against the federal government being seen as firing veterans, VAC asked the Legion for help. The Legion, after all, was the largest purchaser of poppies and wreaths.

The Legion Dominion Command conducted its own analysis of the VAC report in September 1994.  It’s analysis preferred the status quo but recognized that this option was unrealistic.  The second most preferred option was to find an outside supplier since this would offer the “least risk” to the Legion.  Under this option, the Legion recognized that veterans would most likely never be employed by the outside supplier.  According to the VAC Shop Managers, it was difficult to find any veterans that wanted to work at Vetcraft anyway and that the veteran shop workers that have continued to work with Vetcraft do so more for the feeling of self-worth than for financial need.  Taking comfort in this assertion, the Legion requested that the veterans let go would still be treated fairly and with respect.  Besides, the Legion felt that production could triple by employing people without disabilities and that consolidating production in one location would lead to direct cost savings.

Based on internal correspondence, the Legion’s biggest preoccupation with closing down Vetcraft was not about the Veterans but whether it would still enjoy the GST exemption (valued at approx. $100K in 1994 dollars).  While it may not be exempt from the GST, VAC was prepared to “sell” all of the assets, valued at $1M, to the Legion for a nominal fee of $1.  This would provide the Legion with a huge profit margin for the 1995 national poppy Campaign since there would be a much reduced production cost.  On January 13th, 1995, Treasury Board officially approved the closure of Vetcraft Industries Ltd. by December 31st, 1995.

The media released the story in April 1995.  Needless to say, letting Veterans go was not a unanimous policy among Legion members or the employees at Vetcraft.  The Legion received several letters of protests and/or expressions of serious disappointment with the decision – particularly by Legion members at how Dominion Command of the Legion was treating veterans and fellow Legionnaires.  Legion Dominion Secretary, Fred Harrington responded to the criticism stating to the Montreal Gazette and the Canadian Press that, in 1992, the Legion’s National Poppy Campaign raised $8.5M but the campaign cost $8.8M.  In other words, the Legion was losing money, therefore privatization was necessary.  Apparently veterans could not work as effectively as civilians! Ironically, Vetcraft employees pointed out that between 1979 and 1994 VAC reduced the number of employees at the Vetcraft Montreal location by half without any impact on production! Moreover, records showed that VAC budgeted $1.4M every year to operate Vetcraft so it is unclear how it cost the Legion $8.8M when VAC costs amounted to $1.4M.

 

Civilians making poppies. Allison Sandor 24 Feb 2016

Civilian workers at TRICO Group supervising the production of poppies.  Photo courtesy: Allison Sandor, February 2016.

The Legion awarded the outside supplier contract to Toronto -based Dominion Regalia beginning in 1996.  It was replaced by an Ottawa-based company called TRICO Group in 2014.  Today, there are some 14 full-time employees at TRICO producing poppies and wreaths  while the assembly of Poppies is contracted out to a third party who has hired an undertermined number of people with developmental delays (through the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities – OCAPDD) and prison inmates (through Correctional Services Canada or Corcan). – a far cry from the espoused reasons given when the Legion agreed to have VAC let go its Veterans responsible for assembling poppies. In hindsight, it remains a controversial part of the Legion’s legacy when it opted to forsake its pledge to veterans and fellow Legionnaires at the behest of the government of the day in 1995.

 

 

 

 

 

COM0011 (Blog#6) How Social Media Helped a Military Veteran

Dan Boudreault is a retired Corporal from the Canadian Armed Forces.  He joined the military in 2002 and was deployed to Afghanistan where he was caught in an ambush in 2006 and was injured – both physically and mentally.  He still suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  He was subsequently medically released from the military and moved to Carleton Place, Ontario.

PTSD can cause stress even when facing, what some people may consider and relatively minor issues.  In this case, in the Fall of 2014, Dan had purchased a shed kit but could not seem to get around to building it or finding help to get it built.  Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months until finally his best friend Mark Allen had had enough with the Dan’s procrastination and sent an email to veterans asking for help which eventually ended up with Ron Goebel, a member of the Carleton Place Legion Branch.

Ron already had a rather exhaustive list of friends and acquaintances on his email distribution list, so he forwarded the request with his own personal plea for support for Dan – whom he had never met before.  The only fly in the ointment was that Mark had promised Dan that he could get people to come by his house to help him build the shed the next day and it was already 6pm by the time Ron had secured Dan’s address!

Bruce & Dan & Ron cropped 12 April 2016

Bruce, Dan and Ron at the Carleton Place Town Hall 12 April 2016

The next day, even though people did not know Dan personally and in spite of the short notice, they knew he was an injured Veteran and showed up at his house at 10 am.  People from the fire department, members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment in Carleton Place, Legion members and even a local resident who had recently been laid off work showed up to help build Dan’s shed.

The shed was up in 1.5 hours and Dan’s realization that he belonged in the community and that he was appreciated by dozens of people left its mark.  In addition, the Legion arranged financial and other critical assistance for Dan and his family.  The day Dan’s shed was built was a turning point towards his recovery.  All of this was made possible through social media – specifically through email.  Today, there is a Youtube video about Dan’s story and it is hoped that his story will inspire other Veterans in need to seek help from the Legion.

In hindsight, the demographic analysis of the target audience proved to be well suited for email (average age of Legion members is 67 and tend to favour email as a communication channel).  The turnaround time for other more traditional communication channels (e.g. newspaper, telephone, etc…) would not have worked given the time constraints.  It was also clear from the large turnout to help build the shed on such short notice that the message was getting through and that people were listening and cared about Canada’s veterans.  All that was needed was a communication channel to focus the Carleton Place community spirit.

What do you think? Was this a successful case for social media?  Could the same success have been achieved through other means?

NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

COM0011 (Blog#5) How Social Media Increased the Sale of Lapel Pins

Every year, The Royal Canadian Legion adopts a theme in order to recognize a significant event in Canadian military history.  The theme for 2013 was Aboriginal veterans and to mark this occasion, several items were produced for the Legion poppy store.  One of these items was a lapel pin called the Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Pin.

Aboriginal Veteran Pin Card

This lapel pin was available for purchase starting in January 2013 and it was featured in the Legion supply catalogue and posted on the Legion poppy store webpage that same month.  It was posted on social media, specifically on the Legion Dominion Command Facebook page as part of an Aboriginal Awareness Week being held in Ottawa on May 21st, 2013.  Sales picked up slightly as a result.  The total sales for the 2013 calendar year was 16,700 units.

In 2014, sales were expected to drop after the novelty of this new lapel pin had worn off and a new Legion theme and lapel pin were introduced for that year.  The lapel pin was not posted at the Legion Dominion Command Facebook page that year and the total number of sales amounted to 10,400 units for the 2014 calendar year. In other words, demand had decreased and it was expected to continue to decrease over the next few years.

At the same time, the Legion entered into negotiations with the Canadian military stores located on military bases – called CANEX.  The latter agreed to sell Legion products including the Aboriginal Veteran Commemorative Pin beginning in the fall of 2014.

In 2015, as the traditional business model predicted, sales for the Aboriginal Veteran Commemorative Pin decreased on a monthly basis since it was assumed that anybody who had wanted a lapel pin had already had an opportunity to purchase one in the past two years.  Sales of the lapel pin for the first ten months of 2015 averaged 450 lapel pins per month for a total of 4,500 units.

In late October and early November 2015, as Canadians engaged in the Legion’s annual Poppy Campaign, reports began to surface on Facebook that the Aboriginal Veteran Commemorative Pin had sold out at various CANEX stores and people were asking if anybody knew where they could buy one.  Interest in the pin grew as people online became more aware of this item until it drew the attention of the Legion’s director of supply.  The latter weighed in on the social conversation and informed people on social media that the Legion’s Aboriginal Veteran Pinpoppy store still had some in stock and were available for purchase.

After he made that post, in early November 2015, the Legion poppy store was inundated with orders for the Aboriginal Veteran Commemorative Pin for the next three weeks.  The total number of sales for this period was 15,000 units.  The total number of sales for the lapel pin for 2015 was 19,500 units – an amount that exceeded the first year the lapel pin was available for purchase in 2013!  In short, the buzz created on social media outperformed traditional catalogue sales.

Current predictions, based on Q1 reports for 2016, are that the Legion will likely match last year’s total sales – all because of the interest that continues to be generated through social media. Needless to say, the Legion learned its lesson and has posted the Aboriginal Veteran Commemorative Pin again on the Legion Dominion Command Facebook page  on February 12th 2016 – after more than a two-year hiatus.

In this case study, the traditional sales pattern for the annual theme lapel pin was completely skewed because of the interest generated by social media.  As a result, the Legion supply and marketing departments now post items for sale on social media on a regular basis and carefully monitor social media to see what Legion items that are available for sale are generating interest with potential consumers.

What do you think? Was this a successful case for social media?  In this case, the perceived shortage reported on social media helped boost the sale of lapel pins.

NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

 

 

 

COM0011 (Blog#4) Is Anybody Listening?

It is one thing for someone or some organization to join the virtual world of social media, but it is quite a different matter should they wish to derive some benefit from this effort and engage their respective audiences.  From the corporate perspective, because individuals rarely have these options, the virtual world of social media may take on two different streams of monitoring/listening that I would like to cover here: free listening and paid listening software.

Basic-Social-Media-Monitoring-WorkflowBefore we do a comparison between free and paid listening software however let us be clear as to what we are trying to capture in terms of media channels. (See Basic Social Media Monitoring Workflow diagram)

Clearly, trying to monitor and listen to both traditional and social media can be a daunting task for any person or corporation. So there are essentially two types of software available to help:  Free and paid social media listening software.

Free Social Media Listening Software Characteristics:

This is largely a consumer tool that relies on the openness of traditional media to offer their information for free.

Free Social Media Monitoring Products

As you will appreciate, the number of traditional media outlets that offer their product to social media listening companies for free is rather limited.  Partnerships between media outlets and free social media listening software companies are rare so any analysis based on this partial information will be circumspect at best.  Free listening software also means that your search begins from the day you entered the search parameters and you cannot go backwards for research purposes.

Once you have decided to use the free software and define your search parameters, you will receive all the data as one big package.  So you will need to devote a lot of time and effort to conduct a triage between the useful and the not-so-useful information you have collected and determine the themes and trends.   Moreover, if you use a Google search program, for example, you do not have access to Facebook or Twitter.  So you will need to search for content on each of these mediums independently.  Finally, the results you get from your free social media listening software cannot be shared, it only works on an individual basis so you need to send every article or post individually to other people or organizations.

Paid Social Media Listening Software Characteristics:

So what is the value associated with paid social media listening software compared to free software? and how are you able to justify this kind of expense? First of all, paid social media monitoring products are a business tool vice a consumer one.  To that end, these software companies have partnerships with both traditional and social media outlets ( e.g. Postmedia, Facebook and Twitter).  The result is a tenfold increase in access and a commensurate level of confidence that you truly have your finger on the traditional and social media’s pulse throughout the province, throughout the country or anywhere in the world.

Meltwater Social Media Monitoring
With this huge increase in raw data there is an increased need to determine what it all means – hence the need for an analytical software capability.  Data can be categorized by themes, by specific times (as far back as 2010 in the case of Meltwater), articles and posts are listed in chronological order, by province and by language.  You also have a contact person that is either a phone call or email away from helping you with your monitoring/listening effort.  Finally, paid social media listening software can be shared with others (albeit the number of users that can share depends on the package you have purchased).

To conclude, I suppose the old cliche applies here: “You get what you pay for,” and businesses that wish to engage their customers on social media would do well to consider the benefits of social media listening software “because its always easier to join a conversation than to create and nurture one.”

What do you think? Is social media listening necessary ? and do the benefits of paid social media listening software justify the costs?

NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

 

COM0011 – Blog#3 Developping your Brand

Branding

The Royal Canadian Legion has faced continued declining membership since 1986, this suggests that Legion marketing  practices have not been connecting effectively with either core members or attracting new members.  If the Legion wants to retain and/or expand their membership reach, it must, as a first step, begin by developing a unique brand that understands the demographic characteristics from which it wishes to participate.

The first important step is to define the respective age groups.  In this case, we have listed the current ratios of Legion members to Canadian age groups – effective 2015.

  • Greatest Generation: 1920-1946            10.69 percent
  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964                         1.16 percent
  • Generation X: 1965-1982                            0.39 percent
  • Millennials: 1982-2000                                0.08 percent

There is such a difference in demographics and their corresponding characteristics, a  successful branding strategy must be subdivided into two campaigns: (1) recruitment and (2) retention.

Recruitment:

The expressed recruiting objective for the Legion is to grow members (civilians and military) by 20% to a total of 28K new members for the 2016 calendar year.

Join_Legion

If the Legion is serious about growing its membership by 20 percent, then efforts need to be made in those two categories with the greatest potential: Generation X and the Millennials.  The latter group is particularly important because in June 2015, the age group outnumbered Baby Boomers in the workforce!

Seen from this perspective, it is important to study the unique communication and media preferences of these two age groups.  For instance, according to a Longbeard  Creative study conducted on February 2015, 71 percent of Millennials and Generation X get their information about an organization and cause from a website and 80 percent report preferring when organizations have mobile friendly websites (e.g. smart phone friendly). According to an Abacus Data survey done in 2011, 9 in 10 Millennials have a Facebook account, 8 in 10 Gen X have an account with a growing propensity to watch online videos.  Some four years later, it is safe to assume that this ratio is even higher.  It is also noteworthy that these generations are more tolerant of races and groups than older generations (47% vs. 19%), with 45% agreeing with preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities.  These demographic characteristics must play an important role in the production of online videos.

To summarize, these two age groups are used to instant access to information. The good news is that, according to Longbeard  Creative,  some 55 percent of Millennials and 44 percent of Generation X have said that seeing clearly how donations impact those in need directly impacts their decision to either donate money or their time with an organization.

Therefore, a successful Legion recruitment campaign must target the largest age group offering a unique brand that has a mobile app friendly website that should include: online videos of upcoming events, success stories, background research, statistics, and news items related to the cause.  Perhaps more importantly, the website needs to explain how supporting the cause will make a difference with opportunities to volunteer or join.

Retention:

The expressed retention objective for the Legion is to grow the retention rate by 2 percent (from 90 percent to 92 percent) for the 2016 calendar year.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a considerable difference between the generations concerning their respective communication and media preferences.  Given that the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers form the two largest combined group of Legion members, retention efforts should be concentrated on them if we are to increase the yearly retention rate by 2 percent.

Legion Badges

While surveys suggest that direct mail is acceptable to all age groups, the difference in response rates between the age groups is dramatic.  According to Longbeard  Creative, a majority (58 percent) of the Greatest Generation say they respond to a call to action via direct mail, while only 11 percent of Millennials report the same (Gen X reported 23 percent and Baby Boomers report 36 percent).  They are also the largest age groups to respond to emails (23 percent).  Therefore, direct mail and emails may have the greatest impact on the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers and should be tailored accordingly.  They are also the largest age group to get their information from TV, the radio and print newspapers and magazines.

Therefore, a successful Legion retention campaign must target the largest age groups that are already members of the Legion by offering a unique brand that relies on more traditional broadcast and print mediums – including mail, emails and phone calls.  Since these generations are also less diverse, any images targeting this group should reflect the demographic nature of these two generations.

By developing a unique brand that understands the demographic characteristics from which it wishes to participate, the Legion will have a chance to increase its retention percentage and/or expand its membership reach.  By the same token it will be able to curb its continued declining membership since 1986.  Again, the emphasis is to develop a unique brand that takes into account the unique communication and media preferences of the four major age groups.

What do you think? Does a demographic analysis make a difference in developing a unique brand? And can a unique brand be further subdivided into a recruitment and retention component?

 NB: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Canadian Legion.

COM0011 Blog#2: Poppies on Target !

In the Fall of 2013, the Legion was preparing for its annual national poppy campaign when a misunderstanding arose and drew the attention of traditional media.  We knew that it would not be long before social media networks would take up the cause.  So we needed to act – fast.  This story is an example of the kind of impact social media can have on the news.

Background

On 30 August 2013, a newsletter was sent out to all Legion branches about the upcoming national poppy campaign and who the corporate sponsors were.  Included on that list was Target Canada.  The newsletter specifically stated:

“Target Canada has indicated that it will partner with The Royal Canadian Legion in the 2013 Poppy Campaign at its stores across Canada.  Rather than placing Poppy boxes within the stores, representatives of the Legion are invited to canvas outside the entrance of Target locations from October 25th to November 11th.  During inclement weather, representatives are welcome to make poppies available between the store entrance doors.”

Target Canada did not want to be held liable for unsupervised boxes of donations for poppies should these boxes go missing (e.g. stolen).  The Legion, for its part, agreed to have Legionnaires come with the boxes and assumed that they would be allowed between the store entrances whenever a Legion member wanted to.  This seemed to be everyone’s understanding except in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  On September 23rd  2013 a Legion member from the Halifax area told a local CTV News reporter that he would not be allowed inside the local Target Canada store and that he will likely freeze outside the store while distributing poppies when the campaign started at the end of October when the weather was decidedly colder.

The CTV News Halifax reporter tried to contact the local Legion Branch and asked them if someone would be willing to go on camera to either clarify or comment to no avail.  The reporter then sought a comment from the Legion provincial command headquarters located in Halifax.   They also refused to answer the reporter.  Instead, they sent his request to the Manager of Communications at Legion national headquarters in Ottawa.

If someone from the national headquarters made a comment, then it will be seen to be of a national interest and just make the situation worse because it would garner national2000px-Target_logo.svg media interest.  The Manager Communications called the CTV reporter to explain the misunderstanding off-camera.  The reporter appreciated the phone call and explained that he did not want a comment from the national headquarters, it was supposed to be a local story and he wanted a local member of the Legion to comment.  Regrettably, this did not happen.

Without any comment from members of the local Legion, CTV News Halifax aired the story about Target Canada would not be letting veterans distribute poppies indoors in the freezing cold during the upcoming national poppy campaign.

The next day, September 24th 2013, when the Manager Communications arrived for work, there were already four media interview requests on his voicemail because no Legion member from the Halifax area was prepared to go on camera today to clear up the misunderstanding. They included CTV News Halifax, CTV News Toronto, the Chronicle Herald Halifax and Radio Hamilton.  The Globe and Mail had also run a story on the incident.  To compound an already tricky situation, the Social Network coordinator also reported that there were a couple of comments about this issue on Facebook and that the number of comments would likely grow and spread rapidly if nothing was done soon.  By all accounts, if we did not act soon, this issue would spin out of control and become a national issue – all because of a misunderstanding.

Impact of Social media

T&F 2003

After the early morning media briefing with the senior executives at national hedquarters, it was agreed that the Manager Communications would contact the TV reporters and set up an interview; likewise, with the print and radio reporters. These interviews left the reporters somewhat disappointed because there was no real story – only a misunderstanding.  So traditional media reported that it was a misunderstanding but concluded in the same report that a lot of veterans did not believe the explanation.  Based on these media reports we knew that the story was no longer a factual account.   Rather, it was delving into people’s perceptions which is much better suited for social media.  All we could hope for was that the traditional media would move to another news cycle – which they did the next day.

Meanwhile, our staff at national headquarters contacted the spokesperson at Target to develop some key talking points and explain our desired course of action.  Notwithstanding the potential risks associated with using social media, the Social Network coordinator at national headquarters posted a comment on Facebook to try and capture all of the buzz going around about this incident and explain the situation.  The first post that morning garnered 22 comments, 303 shares and 60 likes.

Notwithstanding the success of this initial post, there were still some questions and negative comments circulating on Facebook so more clarification was needed.  So a second post on Facebook was made that same afternoon.  It garnered another 57 likes, 173 shares and some 25 comments.  Based on our calculations our social media intervention reached some 90,000 Facebook followers on that single day.

In hindsight, stopping the traditional media from engaging in a follow-up story was an important first step.  Like most stories that appear first in traditional media, the social media networks were not far behind and more difficult to manage after it reaches a critical mass.  Indeed, it had the potential of growing exponentially within a couple of days but our social media intervention put an end to the negative comments.  As a result, by September 25th 2013 the Poppy issue at the local Target store in Halifax had been resolved.

What do you think? Are the risks associated with social media worth the effort? Is social media an effective tool to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle after it had been released by traditional media?

NB: The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of The Royal Canadian Legion.

COM0011 – ABCs and Social Media (Blog#1)

The large, almost 300,000-member not-for-profit (NFP) organization I work for is facing a daunting challenge trying to communicate to everybody today.  The communication paths between the headquarters’ staff (actor A), its members (actor B) and the public (actor C) are in need of a comprehensive review of its distribution of information mechanism if it wishes to address its declining membership.

Background

Picture2 031In 2015, actor A conducted more than 175 media interviews (broadcast and print), and distributed more than 60 News Releases and Letters to the Editor to both B and C through email, traditional and social media networks. According to Meltwater (a media monitoring service), approximately 11,500 articles about this NFP organization were discussed through various media outlets during the calendar year in 2015.

Notwtihstanding this media coverage, internal monitoring of B suggests that only 35% of them either received or read anything coming from A.  Likewise, according to the most recent Environics Survey conducted in June 2011, only 61% of Canadians have heard or are aware of this NFP organization.  In the latter case, awareness has actually declined by 11% since 2008.

This contrast between A and both B and C is also reflected in the organization’s membership statistics: The organization’s ability to recruit new members from the public is declining as is its ability to retain its members in any given year.

Laurie Sullivan, in her blog article entitled: failing distribution strategies smother great content referred to a Forrester Research analyst, Ryan Skinner who suggested that: “…brands need to step down content production and step up distribution.” . This example may very well be another case in point to substantiate his claim – especially as it relates to membership.  And, although it may sound like a truism to some, this distribution strategy must also include social media because traditional media methods and communication tools are simply no longer working.

I say this because social media is still in its infancy with this NFP organization even though, according to the 2011 Environics survey, the most common source of information about this NPF organisation is word of mouth at 45% while traditional broadcast and print media account for less than 26%.

This NFP organisation is too dependent on email and a website. It has only begun dedicating resources to a Twitter account and a Facebook page since 2012  and, after three years, it has registered 8,500 likes. In 2015, this organization only registered approximately 11,000 social media posts according to its media monitoring company Meltwater.

The Way Ahead

What is needed is for this NFP organization to embrace the next step in social media and empower its members (actor B) and the public (actor C) by letting them participate. In this case, two things need to happen if anything is going to change with respect to membership in the organization: First the HQ staff (e.g. actor A) must develop a content distribution strategy that encompasses both traditional and social media; Second, these same people must conceptionally accept to invert the proverbial communication pyramid in favor of coming trends and dedicate its finite resources accordingly.

As a starting point A should familiarize itself with the cluetrain manifesto .This will help them understand that the center of gravity no longer resides with them but rather with actors B and C.

DSCN2954It also means less emphasis on emails and a corporate website and greater emphasis on, among other things, a dedicated blog, more video and less text, in fact, encourage more native videos that tell a great story while emphasizing digital media and associated mobile apps to better communicate with all audiences are but some of the examples that come readily to mind.

It should also be looking at trends and incorporating them in its content distribution strategy. Like the archer that must aim above the target in order to hit it, this NFP organization needs to analyze trends in social media if it is to achieve any measure of success given the implementation delays associated with such a  large volunteer-based organization.

Building a content distribution strategy that includes both traditional and social media will enable the ABCs to communicate better and trust each other more and have a positive impact on the organization’s overall membership statistics.

What do you think? Can the social power within this collectivity be harmonized by an investment of trust in it by its participants in the form of greater access and use of social media?