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!

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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?

COM0014: Blog 2 – The stories we tell are all about the sell

This week’s readings really reinforced the fact that style, format, and attention to detail are key to effective digital communications. Without these, your time and efforts to reach your audience are wasted, because their limited attention will wander elsewhere, and you may have lost an important engagement opportunity.

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What struck me the most, though, was that what you’ve ultimately lost is a sales opportunity. To me, when we write for an audience, no matter the audience, what we are really doing is trying to sell something. Storytelling and selling are, I think, inextricably linked.

 

Let me walk you through it

The way companies describe their products rarely involves simple statement of fact. No matter how natural it may sound, the language and tone describing the product are deliberately chosen to support the company’s overarching brand narrative. And that narrative aims to impress upon consumers what the company stands for, and to sell the consumer on a vision of who he or she is – or could be – by purchasing that product. If the company tells their story well, their customers will engage and continue to tell it for them on social media, by retweeting company content or creating their own content (e.g. Instagram posts featuring the product) that allows the customer to participate in the company’s storyline. If, for example, I buy an environmentally friendly baby wash and share that fact on social media, I am selling people on not only the product, but on the idea of me as a responsible consumer and earth-friendly person.

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I buy natural, therefore, I am

Over to you

What do you think of the link between storytelling and sales? If your digital content is personal, or inwardly focused, what are you selling?

COM0014: Blog #1 – West Coasting

I am, by nature, a homebody. I fought against my nature through most of my twenties; “Yeah, I’ll go to the bar with you on a Tuesday night!”… “Ultimate Frisbee three times a week? Why not!”… “I’ll sleep when I’m dead! Carpe Diem, amirite?” But now that I’m in my thirties I have embraced my spirit animal – the hermit crab. I’m really, really good at not leaving the house; as comedian John Mulaney said, “in terms of, like, instant relief, cancelling plans is like heroin”. It’s true, non?

That said, from time to time I do still get antsy to get out and see the world. So, back in April I flew out to British Columbia to see my brother for his birthday, and join him and a couple of his friends on what would be his farewell tour of the province, as he had decided to move back to Ontario.

Over the course of that five day trip, we covered quite a bit of ground: Vancouver, Protection Island, and Tofino. This was my third time in Vancouver, so I had a few favourite things I wanted to do while I was there: a walk along the seawall, sushi at The Eatery with its glow-in-the-dark décor, and karaoke night at Darby’s Pub. After ticking all three of these off my list in the first day, five of us and one big dog packed up in a Mercedes cargo van (a van that was outfitted with a bed and tiny, tiny kitchen, and was actually home to one of the friends and the dog), and headed off to Protection Island.

In the van

On the road in our tricked-out van.

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Waiting for the ferry to Nanaimo

Protection Island is a VERY small island located about a kilometre off of Nanaimo. To get there, we had to drive, ferry, leave the van in Nanaimo, and then ferry again.

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Welcome to Protection Island

And it was so worth it. The place looks like it was built by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys; most of the houses seemed to have incorporated salvaged material into their build, the streets all had names like “Treasure Trail” and “Captain Morgan Lane”, and it was populated by aging hippies driving around in golf carts (no cars allowed on the island). In other words, it was the best. That night we partook of a pint at the island’s one pub, and then stayed the in one of these magical houses.

The following day we continued our trek to Tofino for two days of camping and surfing. Or, rather, a futile attempt at surfing on my part. It turns out that when it’s cold…and pouring rain…and you’ve never had lessons…and you have zero core strength…staying on the surf board isn’t going to happen. But when you follow that humiliation with a stop at the Tofino Brewing Company, all is right with the world again. Oh yeah, and the scenery isn’t half bad, if snow-capped mountains and ancient, quiet, pine groves are your thing (they’re my thing).

Cathedral Grove

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Cox Beach

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Flights at the Tofino Brewing Company

It was an exhausting and exhilarating few days, and I’m so glad that I went and got to experience it all with my brother, whom I’d been missing so very much. And I was definitely happy to return to my little cocoon when I got back to Ottawa.

What do you think? If you had five days in BC, what would be on your must-do list?

A Trip to the Brainery

A few weeks ago, two friends and I made the trek to Westboro to take a course at the Westboro Brainery. The Westboro Brainery is run out of the Dovercourt Recreation Centre, and offers inexpensive courses on a wide variety of topics, from baking to B-horror movie appreciation. As the Brainery’s website explains, it “is a citizen-led affair…classes are determined by YOU, the public. You come to us with your idea, and provided it meets the basic criteria, you have yourself a class.” The variety of courses on offer also underscores the value of having niche skills and expertise – as Roxanne Hori says in “The Importance of Managing Your Personal Brand”, “just because your attributes don’t seem special to you, doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable to others”.

The course that we registered for was “Introduction to Crocheting”, led by the Unplugged Crocheter. The instructor explained in her introduction to the class that she works in social media, and that she took up crocheting one Christmas when she was broke and needed cheap gifts. She taught herself entirely from watching Youtube videos, and became so adept at it that she ended up creating a side business out of crafting. She also explained that (as others in COM0011 have explored in discussions about digital detox) being constantly connected to social media personally and professionally was wearing her out. Crocheting offered her a way to disconnect and find balance. Having tried to find out more about the instructor beyond the Unplugged Crocheter Facebook page linked above, it seems to me that she really takes this disconnection seriously – she doesn’t appear to do any promotion of her crocheting business outside of a Facebook page, and the page doesn’t link to her on any other platforms personally or professionally.

My fellow Brainers

My fellow Brainers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the Unplugged Crocheter was indeed unplugged, the lesson itself was very much plugged-in. A staffer from the Brainery was on hand to help participants as we inevitably struggled with our yarn and hooks, and also live-tweeted the event through the Brainery’s Twitter account. I thought this was an interesting idea, but the photos that accompanied the tweets were less than dynamic – this might be something they can improve upon.

Westboro Brainery Twitter feed

Westboro Brainery Twitter feed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the lesson itself, as a knitter, I expected to pick up crocheting easily. Not so much. My square washcloth somehow turned back on itself and ended up looking like a deformed bean. But, in the spirit of 10,000 hours, I thought I’d try again.

So, how did I do? Check out the video below to find out!

…I call it a qualified success.

What do you do offline to balance your online lifestyle? Have you tried taking up any new skills to bolster your offline existence? Also, are there any video editing apps for Android that you recommend? This was my first time making a video on my phone, and I used the built-in Video Editor app. It’s not bad, but I found it a bit hard to make minute-to-minute edits.

Tonight’s debate has been brought to you by Twitter

On Monday night, my boyfriend and I girded our loins and watched the first U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It was as simultaneously hilarious, terrifying and infuriating as anticipated, and much ink has been spilled in going over the nuances of each candidate’s performance. A couple of my favourites are John Doyle’s piece for The Globe and Mailand the following image/comments on an article on Jezebel.com:

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Screenshot from Jezebel.com

As much as I already knew that social media now play a big role in the U.S. election cycle, it was while watching the debate that it REALLY hit me just how many resources both traditional and online news sources now devote to engaging readers/viewers over the various social media platforms.

Driving voters and viewers to social media

In the weeks and days leading up to the debate, many of the news sites and blogs that I follow were heavily promoting the fact that they would be live tweeting, fact checking, and otherwise providing commentary via social media during the event. I hadn’t consciously planned to watch the debate with any online accompaniment, but sure enough, over the course of the evening my boyfriend and I created something of a command centre in our living room. The TV was tuned in to NBC, I was reading comments on my Twitter mobile app, and my boyfriend was reading a live transcript of the debate while also flipping between fact-checking sites.

And it wasn’t just the media that had driven us online – Hillary herself encouraged viewers several times during the debate to visit her website to find real-time fact checking. We certainly did as we were told!

More engaged, or more distracted?

I’m still not sure of how to weigh the value of all the online interaction around this election. Does the high level of online engagement during the debate just emphasize that our culture has a limited attention span, and that our brains are now wired to seek constant novelty? Or is social media’s embracing of the presidential debate (and vice versa) a sign that American democracy is getting stronger, and the voters more engaged? The candidates and the networks seemed to suggest that listening to 90 minutes of political debate on its own is no longer possible, and yet I often (and happily) will sit and listen to a podcast for that length of time. Regardless, I certainly felt more engaged with this debate than I have in years previous – which I suppose says a lot, considering I’m not even an American voter.

What do you think? Should political debate stand on its own merits, or is it better that it have social media accompaniment? Is the marriage of political debate and social media a sign of distraction, or a sign of engagement?

10 Tips for Surviving Oktoberfest in Munich

As I mentioned in my previous post, celebrating Oktoberfest is one of the highlights of my year. I’ve partaken in this over 200-year-old tradition in several cities, but the absolute best was the year that I traveled with a group of friends to Munich for three days of beer, sun, and lederhosen.

If this is on your bucket list, then may I present to you my ten tips for surviving and thriving at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

1. Book accommodations early: And by early, I mean right now. Oktoberfest traditionally starts in the third week of September and ends the first Sunday in October, and accommodations in the city centre book up early in the year. Ideally, you should look to book your hostel, hotel, or B&B for the coming year‘s festival soon after New Year’s.

View from my B&B in Munich - directly across from the festival grounds

View from my B&B in Munich – directly across from the festival grounds

2. Don’t neglect your training: You’ve got a big job ahead of you – drink all the beer. The six traditional breweries of Oktoberfest (Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, ) all make stronger, preservative-free versions of their beer for the occasion, so you won’t feel quite so terrible if you do overdo it on the first day. Still, it’s important to gather with friends in the months leading up to your trip to build up your tolerance. Remember, practice makes perfect!

3. Fly into a major centre, then take the train: Flying directly into Munich tends to be more expensive, and there are fewer flights to choose from. A better option is to fly into more major centre, such as Frankfurt or Berlin, and then take the train south to Munich. For me, the chance to take in the beautiful German countryside and the extra money in my pocket more than made up for the extra travel time.

One of the sights you'll miss if you fly directly into Munich

One of the sights you’ll miss if you fly directly into Munich

4. Build a good base: Wilkommen Oktoberfest! Before you head out for your first day on the Theresienwiese – the open space that serves as the Munich festival grounds – it’s important to eat a good meal. You might be tempted to neglect breakfast in favour of having more room in your stomach for beer, but you’ll feel much better at the end of the day if you eat a proper meal first!

5. Get there early: You need a seat to get a beer – the servers will only bring you food and drinks if you’re seated. Tables fill up fast in the various beer halls (each of which is dedicated to a particular brewery), so get in line at least half an hour before the opening

6. Order is important: You’ve had a solid breakfast; you’ve taken your seat – well done! But the order of what follows is crucial. Start with a beer. Then enjoy the radishes that will be on offer. Only then should you order another beer. After that, get yourself a succulent Hendl (roast chicken). Then another beer, and repeat. This will ensure you keep up your stamina.

Delicious Hendl *drool*

Delicious Hendl *drool*

7. See the sights: Munich is an absolutely beautiful city. Make sure to take some time away from the beer halls and take advantage of one of the pay-what-you-can city tours. I’ve gone with Sandeman’s New Europe tours several times, and have found the guides to be really well-versed in the history of their city, as well as friendly and accommodating. On average, I think I’ve paid about 5€ for the “free” two-to-three hour tours, and usually I like the guides so much that I end up paying another 10€ to go on their more formal tours.

Rathaus-Glockenspiel

Rathaus-Glockenspiel

8. Eat your vegetables: This will be a challenge. You’ll be surrounded by meat, meat, and more meat. And the odd dumpling. In a pinch, there is a McDonald’s not far from the festival grounds; go get yourself a salad. Your body will thank you. My friends and I also had some of the best Thai food ever while in Munich, including a venison dish that the waiter promised would “make you a man”.

9. Personal safety is important: As anywhere, keep an eye on your drink. For additional peace of mind, there are also a number of free and low-cost mobile apps available that will alert your emergency contacts or social network if you find yourself in a situation that feels unsafe. Elle.com has published a guide to several of these apps that is worth checking out.

…that said…

10. Talk to strangers: Make a point to talk to the people around you in the beer halls, and build your network of fun locals and friendly foreigners.

What are some of the best travel tips you’ve received? And what are your go-to apps when you’re on the road?