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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Cox Beach


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


Screenshot from

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.



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. 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?

Beer Makes the World a Better Place

Everyone has their holiday. For some people, November 1st means it’s finally time to start decorating for Christmas. For others, New Year’s Eve is the highlight of the year, with its promise of a fresh start (just as soon as the hangover passes). I even know someone for whom Valentine’s Day merits a massive, sugar-fueled party with pink and red construction paper hearts as far as the eye can see. But for me, it’s all about Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest ist wunderbar!

Oktoberfest celebrations have been the highlight of my autumn for the past decade or so. I’ve shoveled down schnitzel in Kitchener, enjoyed many, many “maßes” (“masses” or litre steins) in Munich, and done a brewery crawl in Vermont. I love the relaxed camaraderie of the crowds, the music of an oom-pah band, and drinking a pint in the crisp, fall air.


This past weekend I made the trek east to the wilds of Vankleek Hill for Beau’s Oktoberfest. This was my fifth Beau’s experience, and I’m a big fan of the brand. They continue to produce excellent mainstay beers, as well as developing interesting flavours each year using novel recipes. I also really enjoy their branding from an aesthetic perspective – I’ve purchased a number of posters over the years promoting their different beers, and my boyfriend and I have them displayed on rotation in our apartment.


Drinking for charity

What also makes the Beau’s brand a stand-out is their commitment to corporate social responsibility, and involvement in the community. In addition to their ongoing support of Operation Come Home, a significant portion of the money generated by Beau’s Oktoberfest each year goes towards a charity. This year, sales of a special beer-Caesar were designated to support the development of a women-owned and operated brewery in Rwanda. If you clicked on the Beau’s link earlier in this post, you will have noticed the website’s strategic use of a pop-up that allows you to watch a video about the brewery project, and links to the Rwandan’s brewery’s Kickstarter page.

A very dark photo of the School of Bock session.

A very dark photo of the School of Bock session.

I had the opportunity to listen to Beau’s founder Steve Beauchesne and soon-to-be brewery owner Josephine “Fina” Uwineza talk about the project during a beer sampling session called “The School of Bock”. It was fascinating, and I wish it could have been longer so that we could have gone into greater  depth about the subjects that came up during the Q-and-A portion. While the primary point of the session was to sell attendees on the idea of contributing to the brewery, the conversation also covered at a glance Rwanda’s beer culture, and the place of women in post-conflict economies. When I walked out of the session, I was thirsty for more information…and for more beer.

Have any of your favourite companies incorporated social or charitable enterprises into their business model? If so, how are they using social media to promote it?



Blog #2 – This conversation isn’t about you

I, along with much of the Internet, love John Oliver. I love his acerbic approach to current affairs commentary, and I wish I could channel my own indignation and frustration as articulately as he does (see also: Samantha Bee. She is a fiery goddess, and I want to be her best friend and borrow all of her clothes.)

So I was happy last night to find that a “Last Week Tonight” clip that united my pleasure in watching him with providing fodder for another blog topic!

WATCH John Oliver: Corporations on Twitter  [WARNING: Video includes some potty language and one reference to a sex toy]

For the tl;dw (too long; didn’t watch) crowd, in the clip Oliver provides several examples of companies that have improperly latched on to internet trends or online conversations. These examples reinforce the idea that companies should not feel the need to take part in every conversation online. If something doesn’t support your brand, or deliver value to your consumer or client base, it’s okay to stay out of it. There is a good possibility that by trying to jump on a viral bandwagon that has nothing to do with you, just so that you seem “with-it”, you risk diluting your message or hurting your bottom line.

The wrong platform

The same goes for determining which platforms to use when you’re first venturing out into bringing yourself or your business online. Sure – buy or register for the naming rights on different social media platforms so that you protect your brand/your identity from being used by someone else. But, as explained in 12 Tips for Integrating Social Media into Your Marketing Strategy, if the medium doesn’t make sense for what you’re trying to do, then don’t use it. For example, yes, Snapchat is relatively new and gets a fair amount of attention, but maybe it makes more sense for you to be delivering your content via longer-form podcasts instead.

A Message from the Government of Canada: “Hey, kids! We’re hip!”

As a public servant working in communications, it has been interesting to see how the acceptance and use of social media in government has progressed in the last ten years or so. At the start of my career, social media was viewed by many officials as an unwelcome challenge to a department’s narrative, and resources weren’t allocated to having staff who could respond quickly to feedback coming in.

Over time, I found that there came a greater willingness to engage in social media, but the understanding of the different platforms still wasn’t really there – it was “hey, people are talking about Youtube thing, so we should be on there. Make something Youtube.” A step forward, but still lacking in strategic thinking. There wasn’t always a clear answer to the question of what officials hoped to accomplish by getting on a platform that had some buzz.

Now, strategy and willingness are more closely linked, though I would argue that the frequency of posting is still a challenge for some departments.

Now I’m curious…

I’m curious – have any of you encountered any tone-deaf posts from any people or companies that you follow that have led to you dropping them? Also, do any of you currently follow a government department online? If so, what made you decide they were worth following? Have you tried to engage with them directly, and what has the response time been like?

Sources: The 7 Risks of Social Media

COM0011 – Blog #1 – Playing it Safe Online

After reading several articles about the risks of social media, and in particular, about the risks of allowing too much personal or controversial material to infiltrate your social media presence, I’m feeling somewhat devil’s advocate about the whole idea of keeping your online brand perfectly sanitary. For example, in the article “7 Risks of Social Media”, the author advises that social media users “keep controversial content away from your personal profiles” in order to avoid the possibility that you will offend someone in your network.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that this advice is perfectly logical, and I am generally fairly cautious about what I post online. My online presence tends to focus on certain topics that I am passionate about, like feminism, health, and literature. I know that nothing is truly private and that a misstep online can hurt your bottom line whether you’re self-employed, or work for a large corporation. I am in no way advocating that people should freely post graphic material or hate speech.


If apparent authenticity is one of the aims of personal online branding, then can there not be room once in a while for something that seems a little off-brand? In a world where the term “curation” has become ubiquitous, must we always self-censor online? Having recently read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the lesson in a (certain) number of cases seems to be that problems arise when people try to hide the aspects of their lives that are deemed controversial. If you’re open and unashamed (and are wealthy enough to ride out the storm), then it can be harder for people to fault you for your convictions.

As I said in my introduction on the class discussion board, my social media use is fairly limited – Facebook, Instagram, following people on Twitter, etc. I have a number of coworkers and former coworkers on Facebook, as well as extended family. I don’t allow everyone in my network to access to everything I’ve posted or been tagged in, but I block fairly little. If someone in my network cares to scroll through all of the photos I’ve been tagged in over the years, they will see a good number where I have a drink in hand and a bit of a sloppy look on my face. They might also see some decidedly partisan posts. And I’m (mostly) okay with that. I am a human being with a life outside of work. If employers and consumers really do value “authenticity”, then surely they realize that a squeaky-clean social media presence might just mean that you’re very good at covering your tracks? A photo catalogue of a few drunken parties does not mean you’re a less than ideal job candidate.

Then again, maybe I’m just not a very controversial person, and posts that I might consider borderline acceptable to my nascent brand really aren’t that bad compared to what others have done (e.g. the members of the Dalhousie dentistry Facebook group who participated in truly offensive discussions about their female peers). Also, there’s probably an argument to be made for the fact that I’m pretty settled in my career now, and that – while I’m a millennial- I’m old enough that I didn’t live my life through social media when I was starting out in the professional world, so my employers were able to judge me more-or-less only on my CV and the word of my references.

I’d be curious to know what some of the younger members of this course have to say about this last point. At what age now would you say the idea of online personal curation becomes ingrained? How does your presence evolve when you grow up on social media and then enter the professional world? When the personal is tied to the professional, how can we enjoy the possibilities afforded by social media?