COM0015 – Assignment 1 – Blog #4: Latergram might be safer than Instagram

As we’ve seen throughout this course, people continue to find novel ways to use online marketing and social media – from Facebook birthday posts as a way to promote donations to charity, to celebrities and scientists using Reddit AMAs as a way to promote their work. One unexpected, and very unfortunate application of social media that I have come across is of burglars using Facebook and Instagram as a way to find their next target.

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Photo from Pixabay

Charlotte Parnaby in Social Media: A Burglar’s Best Friend and Maggie Winterfeldt in Over 78% of Burglars Are Using Social Media to Find Their Targets have reported on studies in the United Kingdom and the United States which found that a number of ex-burglars reported having used people’s public posts on sites like Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook to “pick out potential places to rob. Three quarters of the surveyed ex-burglars also used Google Street View to get a feel for the property”. (Winterfeldt).

Perhaps the most famous recent example of this was in 2016 when Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint at her hotel in Paris, after having posted numerous photos online of herself wearing a series of massively expensive pieces of jewellery, as well as pictures of the hotel at which she was staying in the days leading up to the robbery.

Certainly this is an extreme example of a unique way to use social media tools, and it’s worth noting that the sample size of the UK and US studies were quite small (and that the studies were conducted by security firms). But it does serve as a good reminder to be careful about what we share, and when and how publicly we share it. Sometimes, it might be better to share those vacation posts sometime after the fact, or at least make sure that you are up-to-date on your chosen platform’s privacy settings.

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COM0015 – Assignment #5 – Professional development in the Government of Canada

A promising opportunity

Back in January, I participated in a webinar called “Audience Personas: A Day in the Life of your ‘Digital’ Audience”. I learned about it through a mailing list that I am on at work. It was a free, internal-to-government professional development opportunity organized by the Department of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), and hosted by a gentleman from Environics Analytics. I had watched a few of PSPC’s previous webinars on different issues related to marketing policies and practices for government, and, based on the title of this session, I thought it would be a good complement to my COM0015 readings, and good fodder for this assignment.

Proof that I was there

Here are a few screenshots from the webinar:

Echo…echo…echo…

Unfortunately, the experience proved to be very disappointing. The room was not equipped with microphones so that people asking questions in the room could be heard by the people participating online. Coupled with this, the presenter was clearly not used to presenting to an audience that is simultaneously in the room and online, so he did not think to repeat back the questions he was hearing for the benefit of the people online, nor did he or anyone else appear to be manning to online chat, where I and others were asking for help hearing the proceedings. The result: I interacted with no one. So much for the digital audience!

It was also disappointing from a content perspective, as the presentation talked about digital audience demographics only at a high level. Instead the presenter talked at length about the benefits of a new Environics Analytics tool that, if purchased, would provide departments with greater audience insights. Since my department has a contract with a different analytics platform, this presentation was not of much use to me.

What did I learn?

What I DID get out of this experience, was a reminder that online professional development experiences can be useful, but only if the people or organization behind it are fully committed to their online audience.

Take two

I had a much more positive professional development experience a few weeks later, in the form of a reunion of sorts with a small group of my current and former colleagues. My former director, a woman named Julie, inspired a great deal of loyalty among the people that she hired. About six years ago she moved on to a different department in government, and we, her team, have mostly gone our separate ways. But once or twice a year, someone in the group will propose an “Équipe à Julie” (Julie’s team) get-together over drinks.

Beerocracy

Part of Julie’s team at a pub in February, 2018 – Nicole, me, Edith, Claudine, Ian, Tina. Julie was kept late at the office, so we started without her.

I’m not normally one for small talk with colleagues, but gatherings of Julie’s team are usually pretty lively, and a great way to get the inside scoop on what is happening in other departments, so I decided to go.

What did I learn from the interaction?

What I learned was that, while the federal government is huge, Ottawa is still a small town – everyone knows everyone. I was also reminded that it’s wise to keep in touch with people you have enjoyed working with, because someone is always recruiting or looking to be recruited. Edith has now followed Julie to three different departments, and Julie had just recruited Nicole to join her communications shop; Nicole, in turn, promised to share her insights into that department with me once she gets settled. My contribution to the evening was to encourage others to tell their stories, share some of the things I have learned about social media and branding through my Algonquin studies, and provide ready laughter as the drinks increased and the stories around the table got sillier.

Notable quotable

There wasn’t particular quote from the evening that I remember, but there was one piece of information that was shared at the table that was noteworthy. Edith informed us that another person that we had all worked with when we were a team had very recently learned that he has Stage IV cancer; that he was about to undergo experimental treatment, but that his cancer was very likely terminal. It was very sobering, and, while it in no way compares to whatever he and his partner must be going through, it was a good reminder that, as satisfying as work itself can be, it’s the relationships we build that matter most. Everyone agreed that another get-together with a more expansive invitation list needed to be arranged soon.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely I would meet with this group again. This is a team that seems to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and from what I have seen, is always ready to offer support, be it through personal challenges, professional dilemmas, or talent evolution. I would be lucky to continue to be remembered as a part of Julie’s team.

COM0015 – Assignment 1 – Blog #3: Putting in face time

I have to say, I’m pretty good at coming up with strategies. I’ve been doing it professionally for the past ten years, and academically for almost two years through Algonquin. Lately I’ve even been doing it for friends without even being asked, just because I see opportunities for them to increase their business reach or personal influence. But a strategy for myself? For developing my own professional network online and in-person? There are a million other things I’d rather do than sit down with myself and come up with ways to be more visible.

That said, I’ve been increasingly dissatisfied at work for the past…oh…year or more. I’ve finally reached something of a breaking point, and am seeing how important it is for me professionally, and for my own mental wellbeing, to start to focusing on maintaining and increasing my network of connections.

My present strategy is still fairly informal, but I have made three specific commitments to myself that involve online and offline activities that should help me find my next career step.

    1. Job shadowing – in the Communications shop that I work in, the strategic side is largely separate from the digital side. This means that, as a strategist, I come up with the social media plans, but the day-to-day implementation and evaluation is handled by the digital side. As a result, I don’t get to work with the platforms that my department uses, nor do I get to play much of a role in analytics, or user experience. So, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to approach my manager to get his support for me to do some job shadowing in digital communications this fiscal year. I discussed it with him about two weeks ago, and he spoke with the manager of the digital team, and they told me to go for it.
    2. Updating my Linkedin profile – I used to only look at Linkedin every few months to make sure my résumé was still up to date, but I decided to give my profile a bit of a refresh – new photo, updated CV and job title – and change my settings so that my profile is flagged to recruiters. I also decided to try paying for the Premium service for a few months, to see if the additional insights make a difference in the number of views that my profile receives. I have noticed a few more views in the past month, and have connected with a few more of my current colleagues on the platform.
    3. “Wanna grab a coffee or a beer?” – this is the toughest one for me. I get really anxious at the prospect of hanging out one-on-one or in groups when the explicit purpose is networking. But I know that, in my line of work (as in most), the surest way to find new opportunities is through who you know. So, my goal for the next six months is to start reaching out to former colleagues and friends to meet in casual settings, and discuss their experiences in their current jobs, and seek their advice about where/for whom I might want to try working next. At least one of the former colleagues on my list is someone very much like myself – introverted, type A, prefers email to conversation – so she should be fairly easy for me to approach, and have good insights to share.

Honest networking

So, I’ve made a start. I’ve even applied for a couple of jobs in the past few weeks where I included links to my profile on Linkedin and Instagram. And I think it’s working – I had an interview this past week (keep your fingers-crossed for me!), which, whether I get the job or not, was a big confidence booster. And as I progress through the three commitments I’ve made, I’m sure they will give me the impetus to keep working on building my brand and expanding my networks.

How do you prefer to build your networks? When it comes to your career, do you think it’s better to focus your energy on your online or offline relationships?

COM0015 – Blog #2:  Social media masters and disasters

We are in a golden age of social media campaigns. There are so many organizations and personalities demonstrating a strong grasp of the principles of social media that are taking it into new and interesting territory. That said, there are still some out there that haven’t quite gotten it right.

Selecting two to highlight and one to poo-poo was a challenge, but these ones really stand out for me. All three happen to have the benefit of having a lot of money behind their communications.

The Masters

20th Century Fox for “Deadpool” – The character Deadpool is so free and foul-mouthed that the marketers are able to get really creative and silly with social media. For example, they have created a series of fake movie posters that they put up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which make a wide spectrum of pop culture references (e.g. the painter Bob Ross, movies like Flashdance and Goonies). The posts also appear fairly regularly (every few days), and make use of timely hashtags. A great example of the campaign’s understanding of the importance of timing and relevant content was during the Superbowl, which saw “Deadpool” tweeting about the state of play in the game (“I loved Tom Brady in La La Land”) using both Superbowl hashtags (#SB52) and Deadpool hashtags (#DPtheSB). This increased the reach of the Deadpool tweets (putting the movie on the radar of anyone watching the game) and also enabled people following the @deadpoolmovie acccount on Twitter to read just his commentary.

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Photo: @VancityReynolds

In addition, actor Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool, regularly posts from his personal Twitter and Instagram accounts using Deadpool’s “voice”. Reynolds already had a solid social media presence and approach before getting the role (try Googling “Ryan Reynolds good at social media” and you’ll see tons of examples of his strength as digital storyteller), which makes him a great amplifier of Fox’s Deadpool promotional efforts.

Disney for Star Wars – Yep, another movie example. I’m a big Star Wars fan (I’m still crying about the end of The Last Jedi), which is why I chose to highlight their social media strategy. The Star Wars social media campaigns appear on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, where are their posts appear with regularity (for example, about three posts every day on Twitter, one or two per day on Instagram, with more frequent posts in the run up to the release of new trailers or movie openings). In addition to using these platforms to show traditional promotional shots and trailers, they also show behind-the-scenes material, interviews with the cast and crew, fan art, and Snapchat filters. In particular, I find that the behind-the-scenes offerings are a great way to make the movie and its stars feel more accessible to followers, and the fan art is a great way to engage; it’s an easy way to generate content for the feed without the company having to create something new.

The Disasters

The tough part about spotlighting the disasters is that there are so many kinds of bad ones that you are more likely to tune them out/stop following them. There are the ones that post too often (I find that some journalists are really bad for posting too often), or whose posts are irrelevant or unfocused (I would argue that the Facebook group “Ontario Proud” is a good example of this, but as Jesse Brown noted in a November episode of the podcast Canadaland, called Inside a Right-Wing Meme Machine, while their approach breaks so many rules of good social media, it is proving successful, and has more followers than some mainstream newspapers).

And then there are the ones that are bad because they make a massive mistake on social media; these are the ones that are more memorable. For me, in recent memory, I would say that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) would benefit from a refresher course in social media.

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Photo: Sky News

As you may recall, back in January a tweet went out from the HEMA account saying that a missile strike was imminent, creating panic among Hawaiians. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it HEMA couldn’t figure out how to reassure followers that it was a false alarm for a full 17 minutes. The moral of this story is that if you don’t have staff or senior management that understand how to use the tool (or who can’t remember their passwords when it counts), no social media plan that you develop is going to succeed. This case also highlights the importance of building websites or selecting social media tools that are well designed, with the user in mind. In an interview for CBC Spark, Genco Cebecioglu, director of user experience at Junction Design noted that the HEMA incident “could have been avoided by employing good design principles… there are certain assumptions one can make when designing for usability. For example, when people look at a page, they see colours and shapes first instead of text. To improve upon the current design [of HEMA’s missile warning system], the options could be grouped more appropriately, with important and severe options color-coded or given an icon.”

What about the little guys?

As I mentioned off the top, the social media masters and disasters that stood out for me were backed by a great deal of money. But of course, the great thing about social media is that a strong strategy can be put together on a shoestring. So, who are some smaller organizations with tighter budgets that have caught your attention?

COM0015 – Blog #1: The best stuff, and how I find it

As we’ve seen in our reading, there a ton of great ways to monitor what’s happening among online communities, and to track new content as it is shared with the world. For me, though, nothing holds a candle to the late, lamented Google Reader. It was easy to use, it was free, and it had a clean, simple interface that I found led to a great user experience.

Until I come across a monitoring tool that captures my heart and bandwidth the way that Google Reader did, my preferred approach is an ad-hoc one, using Instagram and Facebook searches.

Solid listening skills

I’m in control

There are two reasons that I prefer to do manual searches of mainstream sites like Instagram and Facebook for the purpose of social media monitoring. The first is that it gives me the illusion of control; I type in the keywords or hashtags I want to search, and I determine for myself if what comes up is relevant or not. Of course, I know that I’m still at the mercy of the platforms’ algorithms, and that I’m not seeing everything. Nonetheless, a part of me still feels that what I find through manual searches and analytics tracked on a spreadsheet will be more accurate.

The second reason is that, because these Instagram and Facebook are now so ubiquitous, they are considered “safe” by the IT group at my work. I am trying to explore tools like delicious.com and diigo.com, because they are new(er), they are still blocked by the firewalls that IT has set up; this means that if I come across something interesting while surfing at my desk, in order to save it to most social bookmarking sites, I would need to go to the “trouble” of finding that same content using the browser on my cell phone (thereby eating into my own data plan) and bookmarking it there.

Where’s the good stuff?

My two go-to sources of news and updates are Jezebel and CBC.

Jezebel is a prime spot for feminist commentary on cultural trends, from the trivial, like the latest Snapchat filter, to the revolutionary, like the #metoo movement. Jezebel is owned by the same company as Gizmodo (Gawker Media), and the two sites cross-publish from time to time. So when I make my regular visits to Jezebel for its take on news and culture, I am also often presented with tech articles from Gizmodo, where I can get more technical information about the tools supporting or driving the trends.

CBC is more closely tied to my organizational interests. Working for a government department, much of my time is spent preparing for and responding to news coverage. CBC, being a national news site, covers federal policies and spending very frequently, and I need to know what they’re saying about my department and Minister so that I can anticipate their reaction to upcoming issues, as well as the questions they are likely to have for us. CBC also has really interesting radio programs that talk about the place of tech in our culture, and about apps in development (e.g. Spark, Quirks and Quarks, Day 6), and through that I often learn about broader industry issues that will help my professional development.

Photo credit: paulsgraham.ca

A new listening tool? That sounds scary to me…

As I said, Facebook and Instagram, being such mainstream tools, are the ones which I am most comfortable. But I know that, in order to advance in the communications field, I need to change my social media habits. The New York Times published an interesting article related to this recently, Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do. The crux of the article is:

“Habits are powerful. We persist with many of them because we tend to give undue emphasis to the present. Trying something new can be painful: I might not like what I get and must forgo something I already enjoy. That cost is immediate, while any benefits — even if they are large — will be enjoyed in a future that feels abstract and distant”.

There might be better monitoring tools out there, but after a work day spent at the computer, when I get home, I’m often ready to unplug, rather than hopping back online and exploring new tools. So, my question for you, dear reader: how do you push yourself to try new tools? How many monitoring platforms did you experiment with before deciding on your favourites?

COM0014 – Blog #7: The end of this chapter

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As we have read over the course of our lessons, storytelling is important to creating great digital content, because it is so intrinsically a part of human nature. For as long as people have gathered, they have been telling each other about their thoughts and experiences. And they have sought to do that in a way that will be influential  and engaging, so that their stories will be shared and will last.

One of the keys to effectively telling a story is giving your listeners a sense that there is a real person telling it to them. As I noted in my last blog post, there is still a hesitation within government to use language like ordinary people on social media, and to humanize the public service. But that hesitation is slowly…slowly…giving way. It’s indicative of a culture change within government – a change that means understanding and embracing our human need to tell and be told stories that appeal to us emotionally and intellectually.

I think that the movement towards storytelling in government, and letting the people within government tell their own stories as part of that overarching narrative, will continue. I don’t think it will ever get to the point where the telling of those stories aren’t centrally controlled; where, for example, multiple individuals are allowed to issue their own posts on government social media accounts under their own names (and certainly not individuals who aren’t at the most senior levels of the department). However, even with this centralized structure, I think there is room for telling the kind of stories I would want to tell: clear, plain language stories about how government policies and programs work, and what people need to know to use and enjoy them. Stories of the people who actually have used these policies and program, and what they can tell others about it. Also, I want to push my clients and senior management to tell stories that thoughtfully and transparently acknowledge the mistakes that government has made, and help them fight their instinct to hide their flaws.

Keep it real!

COM0014 Blog #5: Wait, how do you say that name again?

Growing up with an unusual name is tough. When I was a kid, I could see nothing good about my unique name (I’m Bronwyn, by the way. Nice to meet you!) No one could pronounce it properly upon first introduction (okay, most people still can’t), and it’s not the kind of name that immediately tells you if the person is male or female (I get emails to “Mr. Bronwyn” all the time). “Why couldn’t you have called me Sarah or Megan, or something normal?” I’d lament to my mother. Being just like everyone else was the thing to strive for, not standing out.

As I got older, though, I learned to appreciate the things about myself that made me unlike other people, including my name. And professionally, I have found that I have certain qualities that are of distinctive value.

Where I Stand Out

I am one of thousands of communications strategists in the federal government. So, what makes me a stand-out? Three things:

  1. Advice that meets and anticipates future client needs. I have a history of giving my clients sound communications advice, and developing strategies based on thorough assessments of the public environment, policy issues and risk management. My advice is also supported by my willingness to reach out to other government departments to learn from them and share best practices.
  2. Quality. I have to say, I’m pretty good at this writing thing. Over the course of my ten-year public service career, I have written in many formats – media lines, news releases, Tweets, web content, and speaking points – to meet the needs of diverse audiences. I pay a great deal of attention to detail in my writing, and I understand the importance of a unified approach to messaging.
  3. Responsive. I have a solid reputation for providing fast and high-quality client service. Not every request can be fulfilled right away, but I strongly believe that acknowledging requests quickly and providing dependable service is important for maintaining a strong client relationship.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done throughout my career. Very proud. But what might be the most personally satisfying is the work I do outside the office.  Things like:

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How about you? What do you do that makes you feel the most fulfilled?

Social scoby: a study of Culture Kombucha’s digital media approach

Culture Kombucha is an Ottawa company that brews small batches of raw and organic probiotic tea. The company uses Instagram (2,666 followers), Facebook (867 likes, 872 followers), and Twitter (175 likes, 487 followers).

Quality of interaction

The company uses social media to promote its kombucha line, as well as to promote workshops that it offers on kombucha brewing, and locations where followers can find Culture Kombucha for sale.

The company’s posts rarely speak directly to the benefits of using its products, or about what makes its kombucha great; rather, it relies on a liberal use of hashtags and appropriate emojis to suggest these things to its followers. For example, one photo on Facebook of someone from the company selling bottles of kombucha at a pop-up shop was accompanied by #wellness #relaxation #kombucha #kombuchaontap (among several other hashtags). In a way, this approach relies on the company’s followers to interpret and write the company’s story themselves.

Pictures of the product, often solo (i.e a picture of a hand holding a bottle of kombucha) feature heavily in Culture Kombucha’s posts, and the tone of the posts seems very human and authentic.

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Is it paying off?

I think that there is room for improvement with Culture Kombucha’s approach to social media. While the company is consistent in the frequency and tone of its posts, and the posts receive a fair number of likes, the content doesn’t really lead to conversations. By crafting posts that ask questions or invite followers to share information about their use and enjoyment of the product, Culture Kombucha would improve the quality of their online interaction. Reducing its reliance on using hashtags to describe its products on social media would also give the company more control of its story and branding.

In addition, by reducing the number of solo product shots it uses on social media, the company’s feeds would be more visually engaging for its followers, potentially leading to more and better conversations about the products.

 

 

Finally, while the company does a good job of promoting where its product can be found for sale (and by extension, showing itself to be a strong partner to the restaurants and stores that stock its product), it rarely links back to the “shop” section of its own website. In fact, its tweets drive traffic almost exclusively to posts in its Instagram feed where, again, there are rarely links to its web shop. Having more of its posts link to the company website would likely increase Culture Kombucha’s direct-to-consumer sales.

COM0014 Blog #3: A network of knitwits

I grew up in a family of crafty women – crafty, as in proficient at handicrafts, not crafty as in sneaky and sly (okay, maybe a bit sly). My mother, grandmother, a great-grandmother, and an aunt were/are all knitters, and when I was a child they tried their best to instill a love of knitting in me. But it wasn’t until many years later, when learning to knit was part of my summer job, that I caught the knitting bug. My first few projects were wonky, but the feeling of accomplishment from creating something tangible was addictive.

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Based on research from Google Trends, the Craft Yarn Council, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, a communications approach to reaching an audience of knitters should take the following things into consideration:

Profile of knitters

According to Google Trends, the top regions interested in knitting in the past year were New Zealand, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia; all liberal democratic countries with largely Caucasian populations.

The knitting community skews to middle-aged. A 2014 study commissioned by the Craft Yarn Council in the U.S., found that, of 3,178 knitters and crocheters surveyed:

  • 15% were 18–34 years old
  • 13% were 35–44
  • 23% were 45–54
  • 32% were 55–64
  • 17% were 65+

The study goes on to note differences by age in the reasons why participants knit. “For instance, 45–54 year olds (70%) and 35–44 year olds (69%) are more likely than younger respondents to say they knit and crochet because it provides them with a creative outlet. For 18–24 year olds, creative outlet ranked first at 57%, followed closely by helping them cope with stress (54%) and making them feel productive (47%).” (Ibid)

Tools and strategies for communicating to knitters

Ravelry.com is one of the most popular knitting networks, functioning as a kind of Facebook for knitters. In 2014, the site celebrated its 4 millionth person to sign-up. It’s a place to share and sell patterns, as well as featuring forums, blogging, and allowing users to search for knitting groups in their area. Depending on the communicator’s aim (to sell a product vs. to gain authority in a community), Ravelry could supplant Facebook outreach in a communications approach, as many of the larger Facebook knitting groups have rules against commercial postings in their forums.

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My grandmother was a big-time sock knitter

With knitting being such a visual craft, Instagram is also an effective tool to reach knitters. The hashtags #knitting (7,786, 383 posts), #yarn (3,316,236) and #knittersofinstagram (2,734,835 posts) are some of the most popular. These hashtags are also very active on Twitter.

Based on the member motivations outlined in the Craft Yarn Council study, any messaging for a knitting audience on social media should focus on the creative possibilities of knitting, as well as the way that knitting can play a part in an overall wellness strategy.

A successful strategy?

I recently started following a new knitting account on Instagram after they liked a photo I had taken. Within a few hours of following the account, I received a direct message from them thanking me for following, and inviting me to take a look at their upcoming offerings. This is the first time I have been directly contacted by a business that I follow, and while it was successful approach (in that I checked the website), it felt a little aggressive to be marketed to so soon. Has anyone else encountered this kind of situation with someone they follow?