ROMA Conference – municipal networking at it’s finest!

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For this assignment I chose an event I attended previously, as my attendance there was specifically for the purposes of networking. Because a key deliverable of my role is networking with elected officials and stakeholders in the communities my team serves, every year, pre-pandemic,  I attend the annual conference for Rural Ontario Municipal Association. This conference (called ROMA conference) brings together elected municipal officials from across Ontario, particularly those serving in rural and remote communities, which are specific targets for my organization. Also, there is attendance by members of provincial parliament, including a ministers session, with ministers from the various ministries in the provincial government, and keynote speeches from ministers, from the official opposition leader and the Premier. You can see why this is a very important event for me to be at! In the picture above, if it had been one more person to the right, you would have seen me. The dark haired woman in the far right, wearing a white shirt with black circular pattern is my colleague and friend Trish, whom I was sitting next to.

            The conference is traditionally held in Toronto in January. I last attended in January 2020, along with some of my colleagues, who represent other regions of the province. Because I am there solely to connect with municipal officials in the communities within my region of Southwestern Ontario, I  choose which sessions too attend based more on who is presenting than the topic itself. I focus on those who come from the communities I need to connect with . This actually serves a dual purpose of allowing me to not just meet individuals from the communities, but also know what they are concerned about, what issues matter to them, which can then help guide my partnership development with them.

            By meeting them at the ROMA conference, I am able to set follow up meetings in the communities. I use the topics presented at ROMA to instigate a conversation and discuss how the services of my organization can help support the goals of the municipality.

I also never miss a keynote speech by a provincial parliamentarian. As another part of my role is to maintain positive relationships with MPPs, it is vitally important for me to also know the priorities and goals of various ministries within our government. Even if the particular speaker’s riding is not within my region, I find referring to their talk whilst meeting with another politician can be a great way to connect. I also can pass on info to my colleagues who do work with those particular politicians, and vice versa, supporting our goal of ensuring that we have a positive and supportive relationship with provincially elected officials.

             As someone who works for an organization that focuses on access to online education, the main thing I learned was the increased focus on bringing reliable broadband service to remote communities. While this has always been an issue over the years, it has really moved to the forefront as a key service that remote municipalities need.

The event is always full of different messages and quotable quotes. I always find it interesting to listen to the rebuttals the leader of the opposition makes. At this particular ROMA conference in 2020, in response to the Premier mentioning Parry Sound several times, Andrea Horvath, in her speech, mentioned that the NDP know that there is more Ontario north of Parry Sound! As someone who works for an organization founded in Northern Ontario, and who was born in and has family in Parry Sound, I found this to be a particularly poignant comment, as well as being funny. Many people in southern Ontario view Parry Sound as being northern, while many people in northern Ontario view Parry Sound as being southern. It can really be a cut off for services in rural and remote communities, with increasing challenges accessing services outside of urban areas, which become fewer and far between as you move north. I think it is a very good sign that the government is starting to look beyond Parry Sound in the past year, and are working to find ways to bring their services, particularly internet access, up to speed.

Will I attend ROMA again? Absolutely! I can’t wait until I can be back there in person. The virtual event is not as useful for me, because of the fact that I attend solely for networking, but as soon as it is back as a live event, I will be there as well!

More Than Games!

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I have taken the social media program to help me as a supervisor. Because my team each have a territory that is unique, I like to encourage ownership of their territory, almost like a franchise. Their role is to help clients, recruit new clients and develop referral partnerships with organizations that work with individuals who would find our services to be of value.

            Social media is obviously a very important tool for my team – they all have some level of social media experience, and they all use social media to one degree or another. They all use Facebook, and for most of them, that is all they use. they feel limited with time, and so are focusing their time on using Facebook effectively. Some of my team are venturing past Facebook into using Instagram and LinkedIn. All of this I expected, and I even predicted who would use what – I know my team and how they use their time well.

            But one of my team, a newer member, surprised me. He asked if he could use Discord. I did not expect this at all – my only real knowledge of Discord is that it is the platform my teenager plays Dungeons and Dragons on! My first instinct was to say no, ask why he couldn’t use the same tools as everyone else. I couldn’t accept the idea of stifling one of my team in something that they felt would be of value though, so instead, I asked him why Discord would be a good choice. I learned a lot!

            My team member explained how he could use Discord to invite referral sources to join him on the server, where he could provide information to them about our services and new programs and information we develop. He also would set up text based channels to post info on specific topics that would be relevant. Finally, he explained ow it would make referrals easier for our partners.

Even though the idea of using Discord was completely unexpected to me, my team member laid out his reasoning so well, that I decided to approve the request. I did have a couple of caveats, as his supervisor, of course. Number one was that he open it to clients as well as contacts – his original proposal was for contacts only. If it has as much potential as he thinks it does, it should include clients as well, as that is our end goal, to get more clients. That was my second caveat, that he set up a tracker of his choice, to be able to measure how effective using Discord is – how many new clients does it provide?

            He has recently set it up, and has begun using it. I am very eager to see what the results are, and very happy that even though there was something out there I didn’t expect, my team is always eager to find new ideas and solutions!

Virtually Real – taking strategies from face to face to online

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Networking has always been a vital part of the work I do. In particular, networking with elected officials or key community stakeholders to help garner knowledge and support for my organization. I have always been quite good at this, but the shift to virtual has been challenging for me. However, I am learning how to adapt 3 key skills that helped me be successful in the face to face world, so that I can continue to be successful in the virtual world.

            Skill #1 is asking for the meeting – In face to face interactions at an event I have always made sure the door was open for a more in depth conversation later. Making sure I have the individual’s contact information and letting them know I will schedule a meeting, and then promptly doing so has been a successful strategy for me. Obviously, I can’t just hand someone my card and ask for theirs in the virtual world, but it is also easier to find contact info for people these days. By researching websites and social media profiles, I can find contact info, and then make an introduction and ask for a meeting.

            Skill #2 is listening more than you talk. In a face to face meeting, whether at a networking event or not, it is very important to listen to the other person, so that you can start to understand their needs and motivations, and you can explain how partnering with you can help them with that. If you don’t know what they care about, how can you show a partnership is of value? This translates well to virtual evets and meetings – just ask them to explain what they do first, and don’t be afraid to take notes. When it is your turn to explain what you do, make sure to highlight the key words you picked up from them, to show that you respect their goals and think you can help them achieve them.

            Skill #3 is do your research. This is actually easier to do in the virtual world! Whenever I meet someone at a networking event, I make sure to fully research them and/or their organization online, before going into a face to face meeting with them. It’s all a part of trying to understand their goals, and why they do what they do. Virtually, it is the same, except that you can do it before your initial meeting. It is important to not just research websites, but also look closely at social media, as it often has the most current thoughts and concerns of the individual or their organization.

            Moving forward, it looks like my networking will have to continue to be virtual for the next year or so. Therefore, by focusing on the fundamentals, and skills I know I am good at, I think I can build success into my work.

            What networking strategies have you adapted from the real world to online?

Tools Beyond the Hardware Store

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This blog assignment asks us to looks at how certain organizations use social media as a tool – and that got me thinking, where do you generally get tools? At a hardware store, of course! So how are some of Canada’s hardware stores using their social media tools? For this blog I looked at Twitter use for three different hardware chains, highlighting two who do well, and one who could improve. All post regularly, every two to three days, but they do not all use the tool of Twitter with equal skill.

First, as an example of a hardware store using Twitter well, we’ll look at Home Depot. They post on a wide variety of subjects, and seem very seasonally driven. Right now they are focusing on spring projects and gardening – patio spaces, outdoor furniture, things like that. They often post photos of a finished space or layout, and have a ‘shop the look’ link, shortened with bitly, which takes you to their website with all the pieces from the photo so you can get what you need to emulate the picture for yourself. They also post about things that are not directly sales based. They have posts celebrating their employees volunteer work, seasonal related posts inviting people to comment, and job postings. They use great images, and do a good job of encouraging people to ‘do it themselves.’

Lowe’s takes a different approach, but is also very active and using Twitter well. They don’t focus very much at all on products or sales. Instead they focus on people and community. They get a lot of mentions in other people’s posts, because they open their stores to  community partners to use, for things such as fire safety or fundraising event, even their parking lots for socially distant events. Fundraising and hiring seem to be the primary focus, and they really feature a lot of charities in the communities their stores are located in. They also are proactive about talking about safety during the pandemic, posting pictures of their curbside pickup set up. They use a lot of videos, in addition to pictures. The whole trend of their Twitter is that they are embedded in and care about their communities.

In comparison to these two different, but effective approaches, I feel Home Hardware could update their social media/Twitter strategy significantly. They focus almost exclusively on sale products, linking to their flyer or specific products in store. The only non-product based posts are holiday posts, i.e. Happy Easter, Happy St Patrick’s Day, most recently. There is no mention of their employees or their communities. Finally, while they do have some posts that link to a video, such as how to build a shed, they do not post any video on their page, pictures only. 

Unfortunately, as a result of this, their Twitter seems uninviting. There are no hiring posts, so I don’t feel like they want their team to grow, and there is no sense of the communities they are in. I think Home Hardware, which is a Canadian chain that has been around for a very long time, could revamp and be so much more effective if they shifted their Twitter to showcase communities they are in. They are unmatched for being in small towns in Canada, and could really set themselves apart as ‘local’ experts, by talking about staff and communities much more.

My key take away from this review is that, no matter what tools are on sale, it is just as important, maybe even more important, to highlight the people using the tools and the communities they are building with them.

Blog #1, COM0015, The tools and trends to help save time!

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In my case, I need to understand social media as a supervisor, or more precisely, I have to know how to assess my team’s efforts in social media, to make sure they are using it effectively. They all use it slightly differently, and have different goals which depend on the communities within their territories. Some use Facebook exclusively, while others use Facebook and Instagram – one of my team uses Facebook, Instagram and Discord, he’s the youngest on my team, and definitely the most comfortable using social media. All told, at the time I am writing this, I need to supervise, review and provide guidance on 8 separate pages, all with different strategies.

Because I have so many different pages to monitor my favourite tools are those which save me time! My two most used are Sprout Social and Google Alerts. They let me both monitor my team’s activities, and also see how they are being talked about by partners and clients within their communities. I found it took a fair bit of trial and error, particularly with Google Alerts, to find the right keywords to ensure the results I get are relevant, but once set up, it is worth it.

Because the two main sources I am reviewing are Facebook and Instagram pages for my team, I find that a huge benefit is not having to review every single post on every single page. I can see overviews, which saves me time, but also allows me to dig deeper if there is a flag, such as when recently a team member used an image not up to our corporate standards.

Finally, by taking a more ‘bird’s eye’ approach to this, I can also see who is really active, and analyze to see who is doing well. I can then work with those who aren’t as effective to help them learn from the ones who are. I am always telling my team to stop reinventing the wheel, and start monitoring and ‘stealing’ ideas from their colleagues, so everyone can be more successful!

What’s The Story?

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All through this course I have found my reflecting on what a previous colleague always use to say, “Facts tell, stories sell.”

While she wasn’t referring to social media specifically, I have seen that simple statement supported through each section of this course. As reflected in my final assignment, I now feel that one of the very best social media posts you can do is a personal story. Whether it is a customer, a client, or a team member, whether it is a quote, a written story, or a video, it is very powerful, across platforms.

However, while telling a story is a great idea, it is also very important to tell a great story. I found the application of photography terms to be very impactful, specifically related to depth of field. I have never really thought about the depth of field of stories before, and I have found myself reflecting on it quite a bit. Just as in photography, in storytelling, I don’t  think that one is inherently better than another, but I do think that slowing down to consider what is the right depth for each story can elevate a story from good to great.

As an example, perhaps a shallow depth of field will help encourage immediate action – a focus on ‘this service or product helped with this immediate issue.’ It shows that this particular item is something that has worked for others.  I would say this is probably best for product sales.

However, if you are looking for longer term clients, or repeat business, then a deeper depth of field for your stories might be better. This is the case in my work, where I am developing partnerships. I don’t want them to think I can just solve their immediate needs, but I want them to hear stories that show them that my organization is an experienced and trustworthy partner to have.

While I have long believed in the power of stories, I now have a broader perspective – a deeper depth of field of my own, if you will!

What’s waking me up each day?

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It’s sometimes a challenge to get up and get motivated, especially working from a home office, which has been my working situation for almost 7 years. Covid-19  has also added an extra wrinkle for me that I didn’t expect – before the pandemic, sure, I worked in a home office, but I also travelled all over the province, to work with partners and community stakeholders, and most importantly, my team in their centres in Southwestern Ontario.

And that right there is what motivates me to get out of bed and get to work each day – my team. They have all been through a lot this year – I have one who has returned from a maternity leave to find everything has changed while she was away, others who are dealing with young children and trying to work from home, to ones who have had significant health challenges over the past year.  I am not generally a ‘mushy’ person – I don’t discuss my personal life with too many people at work and I don’t encourage my team to do so, but it is impossible not to absorb some of their challenges, recognizing the ones I share, and the ones that I am grateful I don’t.

As a proud ‘non-mushy’ individual however, imagine my surprise when, during a management round table at the end of 2020 at which we were asked to talk about our achievements of the year, I got teary when I discussed my team. It surprised my colleagues and me equally! But what really did it for me was the thought of how honoured I am that this amazing group of people call themselves ‘Team Carrie’ proudly.

Because of that, I can get up every morning and be excited to know that whether in person or at a distance I can help them succeed. I can ensure they get the resources they need to do their jobs, I can cheer their wins, and help them learn from their losses. I can help them build partnerships and grow as professionals. I don’t think it gets much better than that!

Who is Brand Carrie?

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In writing this blog, I tried to really focus on the portion of the assignment that highlighted what my colleagues would say is my best trait. The colleagues that I considered are the management team I am a part of, and the team which I supervise. Because I find it a bit uncomfortable to view myself directly, I found it much easier to approach this assignment by focusing on things they have said about me, as indeed, I am most proud of being able to contribute to both teams in a unique way.

In the team of six directors, I am known for my analytical skills. I love researching and analyzing reports, and presenting on the key facts. If there is a process or template to be developed, I am the one who does it. Need a schedule made, a communication drafted or a project timeline reviewed, I’m your girl. I am also known for always finding a way to make people smile. Whether it’s a joke before signing off on a meeting, a quick funny email sent, or a good news story, I try very hard to ensure that people come away from interactions with me glad they happened.

For my team, one of the best compliments I ever received was form one of my team, introducing me to a new potential partner he had asked me in to help him solidify. He introduced me as ‘This is my Director, Carrie, and she gets things done.’

I take huge pride in the fact that I do get things done. I don’t give up on problems, I find solutions, and the fact that my team knows that I have their back, and trust me to always be trying to find new ways to support them is a key part of my personal brand. My team refer to themselves as Team Carrie, and the fact they choose to also identify with a portion of my brand is both humbling and inspiring to me.

But to me the key part of my personal brand is my willingness to say the hard things. For both my director colleagues and my team, if there is a difficult conversation to have with our CEO, I am the one who will have that conversation most often. I try very hard to calmly, clearly and concisely, sometimes even bluntly, confront potential issues, but in a way that build to a solution. I don’t blame or catastrophize, but I will not shy away from potential confrontation in a professional way, if it can lead to a solution.

 In short, I strive for my personal brand to be an honest, trustworthy, calm, analytical and professional problem solver. One whom even if I may be blunt in identifying problems will work right beside you to solve them, and make sure before we’re done, you’ve had a reason to smile once or twice.  

B2C – Doing it right, ‘driving’ results!

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A company that I feel does excellent business to consumer marketing is Mr. Lube. I chose this company because they have impressed me with the way in which they pair their direct social media marketing with email marketing for a comprehensive B2C approach.

First, their social media, particularly Twitter, is very engaging. They use videos and images to help sell their services, but additionally, they provide interesting information. For example, instead of just stating they have a new sanitization service, they provide info on what the most frequently touched surfaces in cars are. They provide helpful tips for monitoring your car’s performance, highlight the convenience of their service where you can stay in the car and they will give you a coffee while they work, and use hashtags well. They also make sure to comment on things that are not car related, but make them appear more community minded, such as sports, by commenting on the Super Bowl and on hockey, or neighbourly comments on the weather and season. This strategy makes them seems knowledgeable, approachable and friendly.

I think their strongest work in reaching consumers is by the way they carry this through into their email marketing. They obviously have a good database that reminds them of follow ups, and they do so by emailing consumers when it is time for them to have routine service done. They usually include a QR code coupon in the email, so that you get a discount for the recommended service and they are fine, in fact, they encourage forwarding that email to someone else to use the coupon as well – showing that they understand that a key part of business to consumer marketing is encouraging the type of word of mouth that becomes consumer to consumer marketing on their behalf!

Know Your Audience

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I recently had the opportunity to help support my team in finding ways to reach out to persons on social assistance services, such as Ontario Works, to help them explore ways to access distance education. I did a lot of research on this demographic, using the same strategies outlined in our lesson, and learned some things that surprised me.

While my workplace is a not for profit, and do not count our performance metrics in dollars, we do have targets for helping people register in distance education. Therefore, using B2C methods is the best way to approach this campaign. The methods however can vary. As we learned in our lesson, keeping consistent across platforms is vital. One of the things I discovered in researching individuals who are currently using social assistance is that they have varying levels of access to technology. Some may have full access; having a smartphone, social media, computer and reliable internet service. Others may have none of those, and require a hard copy print ad with phone numbers. Either way, things must be kept consistent, so no matter how they hear about us, the message and support will be the same, right from the start.

I also did a lot of investigation into how the best way to reach out to this target group would be. The demographic info and research I did, which included talking to local agencies, indicated that at least 70% of food bank clients are on some sort of social assistance. Therefore, by working with food banks, we can directly reach out to individuals in this target group. By using social media particularly Facebook in partnership with the food bank Facebook pages, printed inserts inside reusable grocery totes and, when Covid-19 protocols allow, hosting open houses within the food banks, we can add value and find people where they are. That’s very important, as our message to them is that education is also available to them, right now, right where they are!

Finally, I discovered that one of the key needs of this group is representation. While there is no sweeping generalization or stereotype of people who need to use social assistance, one commonality is that almost all of them hope for a more secure future. By making sure we are not just talking about our services, but are also showcasing local success stories, our target group sees people just like them, who accessed education, now work in a chosen field, and who have improved their circumstances for themselves and their families. In any campaign, especially those which include social media (which should be every campaign!) it is vitally important to always give your target market a sense of “if they did it, I can too!”