COMM 0015 – Blog Post #5: Event Participation

I recently attended the annual Free Learning Day hosted by the Communications Community Office (CCO) of the Government of Canada.  While it was available by webcast, I chose to attend this event in person because it is considered to be a highly anticipated opportunity for Federal Government communicators to learn, network and share ideas, and I had never previously attended such an event.


#COMM2014 Twitter Stream

As it happens, this year’s theme explored different aspects of social media, and the unique challenge faced by government communicators to interact and engage with Canadians online. The conference-style event opened with a plenary panel discussion, followed by a fascinating talk by Guest-speaker Martin Waxman, an opportunity to visit various interactive learning booths, another panel discussion, and finally a presentation by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on their incredible social media campaign that followed the mission of Commander Chris Hadfield.

The CCO had equipped the plenary room with a screen displaying the #Comm2014 live feed, which attendees could use to ask questions, make comments, and share ideas. Within an hour of the start of the event, #Comm2014 was trending in Ottawa, and by mid-morning it was trending in Canada. This provided me, and others, an opportunity to engage with the panel and the rest of the audience, without singling myself out at the microphone.

I can safely say that the presentations resonated with me much better than did the panel discussions. Martin Waxman was able to touch on issues such as the difference in perspective between communicators under 35 years old and those over 35, the value of lurkers in disseminating your messaging offline, and the benefits of tailoring messaging to enhance search success.

The presentation from the CSA was out of this world – literally.  These folks were able to address their huge successes (with videos generating likes by the millions), while acknowledging the limitations of working within the context of government. They were able to speak candidly about how to ensure content is bilingual, timely, engaging, and meets all the requirements for the Government of Canada Communications Policy. Despite all their success, one issue that stood out to me was that following his mission, it would seem that Commander Hadfield has a wild number of Twitter and Facebook followers, and that folks are searching his name for videos online.  What will this mean for the Canadian Space Agency’s social media following, now that the mission is over and the astronaut is retired?  Have they created enough of an association between his brand and their own to sustain an engaging online presence, or will they be able to keep up this momentum with other subject matter?

CCO Exhibits sign

Welcome Sign to CCO Exhibits

One topic, or tagline, that kept coming up was the notion of “how can we reconcile a need for responsiveness and to adapt quickly with the sometimes dinosaur-like slowness of bureaucracy?” Ideas were shared by representatives from several departments from limiting approval requirements, to generating interaction protocols and content in advance of engagement. Some departments even offered to share with participants their existing approaches and strategies.

I would certainly attend a CCO event like this in the future. This venue provides a natural opportunity to share ideas and best practices between departments, and to find evidence of successes and failures to back up your own suggestions and ideas.

I know there are a lot of Government communicators taking this course. Did anyone else attend this event?  What stood out for you?

COMM0015 – Blog Post #4: Out of the Box

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Mark Weinstein explores the surprising relationship between the new health data website launched in the United States and social media. The author notes that according to the privacy policy of “If you have an account with a third-party website and choose to ‘like,’ ‘friend,’ follow, or comment, certain PII associated with your account may be made available to based on the privacy policy of the third-party website and your privacy settings within that website.”

Clearly, the American government intends to build a profile its citizens’ health that includes reference to their likes, friends, and online activities. Will this information be factored into the cost of healthcare, along with the patient’s weight, height and age? If this new application of social media takes off, what’s to stop life insurance companies from denying applicants based on their liking of a skydiving business page, or from denying someone car insurance because they’re following NASCAR on Twitter? This surprising relationship would be enough to discourage online participation in any forum. Would you change your online behaviour if you knew your healthcare costs could be affected by your online activities?

There are, however, some new applications of social media that are turning heads in a positive way. Take for example a new virtual eGift app from First Data, which allows users to buy virtual gifts that are delivered to friends via social media. An article at explores the use of this new application by Cold Stone Creamery, and the success of a campaign that allowed Facebook users to buy one another an ice cream, with the gift being posted to a friend’s wall for all to see. The gifts are easily redeemed at a Bricks and Mortar location with the quick swipe of a barcode directly off the client’s phone.

This super creative application of social media could work for any type of business, to not only increase awareness of the brand, but also to drive traffic to the company’s Facebook site and Web pages, but also to their offline locations.

So… Who wants to buy me an ice cream?


COMM0015 – Blog Post #3: Professional Networking

As an employee of the Federal government, particularly in Communications, building a professional network is paramount. It is quite common to find yourself working with the same folks at a number of departments, and across working groups, so it becomes important to develop lasting relationships with these individuals.

Most recently, I’ve attended a number of in-person professional development events, which have enabled me to broaden my professional network. I try to take advantage of training opportunities to engage fellow government communicators and identify common strengths and issues. Online, I’ve been participating in forums on GCPedia, a federal government blog, to contribute some insights that might be useful to other communicators. I also contribute to an online collaborative environment within my department.

Outside of work, I’ve been working to develop my professional network by volunteering for a Board of Directors, participating on LinkedIn, and by joining online discussion forums on a number of related topics.

Over the next 6-12 months, I have to say my strategy may suffer somewhat. I’m moving to a new home in April, and am expecting a second child in May. I’ll be doing my best over the next four months to wrap up any long-term projects, and will make myself available as much as possible over my maternity leave to volunteer, provide guidance to my replacement and to ensure the longevity of the strategies I’ve put in place at work.

Baby and BlackBerry

Let’s hope #2 is as good with a BlackBerry!

I think over the next 6-12 months, it will become my priority to keep on top of changes in the workplace, and my focus will turn from in-person to more online activities. I’ll be communicating regularly with the office, with my Board, and with my peers, to ensure that upon my return, I won’t skip a beat.

COMM0015 – Blog Post #2: Strong & Weak Organizations

I recently had the honour of attending the annual Three Wishes Gala hosted by Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario. For this blog assignment, I was drawn by the tireless efforts of the countless volunteers who make this important mission a success. I found myself curious about what similar organizations, which depend equally on fundraising and volunteer efforts to change the lives of sick children, were doing to engage the community online. Some are leveraging social media to their great advantage, and others are missing the mark a little.

Strong Organizations: Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario & CHEO


Photo Credit: Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario

Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario is consistently applying their social media strategy to their website, Facebook page, and Twitter Page (@MakeAWishEO). While their online presence is relatively new, having joined Facebook in January 2012, they have increased their efforts in 2013 to attract and engage new audiences.

Make-A-Wish Eastern Ontario is a regular contributor to its parent organization’s YouTube channel, boasting videos of fundraisers, wish reveals, and benefit concerts. The Eastern Ontario branding is consistently applied throughout their online activities, so the online community is always aware who it is they’re engaging with. They have direct links to all their social media platforms clearly visible on their homepage, as well as a Twitter feed. They also use a consistent tone throughout their messaging, clearly demonstrating a direct application of a larger strategy.


Photo Credit: CHEO

The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is another organization that is making exceptional use of a social media strategy. Given the subject matter, CHEO is very good at making meaningful connections with their audience, highlighting the importance to the organization of helping these children get well, and providing emotional support to their families. Like Make-A-Wish, they have applied consistent branding across all platforms, have made direct links to each available on their homepage, but are even more active and engaging in their approach.CHEO posts a number of new videos each month to their YouTube channel, on a variety of topics, ranging from health talks, to parent experience interviews, to celebrity fundraisers.

On Twitter and Facebook, they are responding regularly to questions about hospital wait times and flu clinic dates, they are posting images from their family New Year’s party, responding in gratitude to parents who comment on their exceptional services, and are even able to help you find a lost cell phone on Boxing Day.

Twitter CHEO

Photo Credit: Twitter @CHEOhospital

There is no question that these two organizations are implementing what appear to be successful social media strategies. They are clearly motivated to maintain lasting relationships within the community, following up on children’s progress, and showing a genuine concern for both the business and personal side of their operations.

Weak Organization: Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada

Children's Wish

Photo Credit: Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada

At first glance, Children’s Wish appears to be fully engaged in online activities. They have a website, produce videos, and they have a Facebook page and Twitter presence, as well as a YouTube channel. However, upon closer inspection, none of these activities appear to be coordinated at all. The organization does not appear to have any formal social media strategy in place, and their online efforts are completely disjointed. It would appear that provincial, local, and national offices are operating in silos with little coordination.

The national website is divided into provincial chapters, and upon exploration of the Ontario site, there is no evidence of a social media presence at all. The three videos embedded on their homepage (some over three years old) do not link to the organization’s single national YouTube channel. Furthermore, the organization has only produced 17 videos in the last six years, and has a poor showing of only 70 subscribers; which isn’t surprising since the only way to find the channel is to manually search for it. The organization would benefit from posting not just scripted videos, but also candid videos of wish reveals.

The organization has a Facebook page governed by the National Capital chapter, which is again counterintuitive given that the website is divided into provincial chapters. Although there are others, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, that also host their own pages. While the national Children’s Wish has a strong Twitter following of over 7,500 followers, there are other Twitter presences for some, but not all, provinces.  It is unclear which accounts interested parties should follow, and where to direct attention.

This organization, like the others, depends on fundraising and donations to proceed. Their subject matter is gripping and lends itself to engagement with the community. An organization such as Children’s Wish could build long-term, lasting relationships through social media engagement. First and foremost, the organization would benefit from a national strategic social media strategy, with clear direction on implementation at the provincial, and if needed, at the local levels. Measures need to be put in place to ensure consistent messaging for the organization across platforms and throughout the country.

COMM0014 – Blog Post #7: Reflections

In an age where connectedness is key, storytelling is the most powerful skill today’s blogger can have. A story is gripping, provocative, and easy to connect with. Like the spellbinding pages of a good book, an online story can draw readers into the world and mind of the author. Come in, sit with me, I have a story to tell you.

Once a casual Facebook observer, Tweeting my every thought for the world to see; this communications professional will henceforth consider every word a deliberate contribution to my personal brand, designed to draw a reader in, and keep them on the edge of their seats. Social media is not just Twitter, or Facebook, a blog or comment. It is the aggregation of each of these platforms to empower individuals to speak as groups, and to bring the like-minded together. Your self-projection should be consistent from one platform to the next and should project an honest representation of your qualities, above all.

This course has taught me that no display of facts will compare with a compelling story. When engaging audiences online, where there are so many pages and platforms to filter through, it is important to really capture attention with images, videos, and targeted language. Going forward, I want to tell stories that are relevant, engaging, and helpful. I want to leave the reader with a taste for more. Is it better to ask what stories I want to tell, or rather, what stories interest you?

COMM0015 – Blog Post #1: Tools and Sources

In the first course of the program, I was introduced to many social media monitoring tools.  Now, at the onset of the fifth and final course, I have certainly had many opportunities to practice using each of them in different contexts – for school, personal use, and professionally.  Two social media trend listening tools that I find myself using over and over across each of these domains are HootSuite and NetVibes.

HootSuite dashboard

Photo Courtesy of

HootSuite: At work, we use this platform to send and schedule Tweets, track streams based on lists and keywords, and monitor messages, re-tweets, and favourite Tweets. We use this tool to post and track our Facebook activities, as well as those of our stakeholders.  Personally, I also use it to manage several WordPress blogs, including this one.  It’s a favourite because it easily combines listening and engagement with one simple, easy to coordinate tool.

NetVibes: I started using NetVibes for a volunteer project I was working on. It soon became a staple.  This tool allows you to engage via Twitter, Facebook, and more, as well as monitor news and blogs.  The user can customize multiple dashboards with innumerable widgets, which can be tailored to the exact needs of each individual.

These tools are preferred over others because they are free (the right price for work), easy to teach to a number of people with varying levels of skill (in a large team), and intuitive.  I’ve tried using Yahoo Pipes, and more expensive Sysomos software, and haven’t gotten nearly as much out of them as I can with the free, simple tools I’ve mentioned.

The following video is a tutorial by Tim Sparke, courtesy of YouTube, which can help you to get started on NetVibes.

The two best sources of news of personal interest are CBC and Twitter.  CBC is a trusted source for national news coverage, the site is updated regularly, and they tend to engage with readers. Twitter is a recent addition to my repertoire.  While I still don’t actively post on Twitter, I do tend to follow certain reporters and news outlets, for work as well as personal interest. This is by far the best tool for real-time updates of news anywhere in the World.  As a former media monitoring communications advisor, I can say that having trusted sources for news updates is crucial.

What are your favourites?

COMM 0014 – Blog Post #6: This is our story.

I was a young professional, a full-time student working three jobs, and had just moved out on my own when Ellis walked into one of my stores. We had a deal on video rentals, three 7-day rentals for $10, and this elderly man would come in every week to make his new selections. With each visit I discovered a little more about him. His wife was battling cancer, so he always chose a comedy to lift her spirits. He had vision trouble and required regular injections, so he always chose full-screen videos.

I looked forward to his regular visits, and was always eager to hear about him and his family. He brought a calm presence to my otherwise hectic lifestyle, and had a wise appreciation for the little things I took for granted in my regular bustle. Once he came in carrying large, hand-painted comic strips telling his stories from the Second World War.  When I asked why he was carrying these around, he told me he was working to have them scanned and sent to his granddaughter in LA who had contacts in publishing. Once he came in with a fancy watch, which likely weighed more than his entire arm.  It had been a gift from his granddaughter from LA.  When his wife passed away, he told me that his granddaughter had come from LA to visit him.  He took her to Rockin’ Johnny’s Diner for her favourite milkshake, and was upset that some fans of this local talent didn’t have the respect to leave them be as they mourned their mutual loss.  He had never mentioned she was a celebrity – to him she was just his granddaughter.

Years later, I had graduated university, and was no longer working at the video store. I met this celebrity’s parents at a function I’d organized, and had to ask them how her grandfather was doing. I told them how much I’d appreciated his brief but regular visits, and our chats, and wondered if he’d ever gotten his paintings published.  They knew exactly who I was – our conversations had meant something to him as well, and had told them about how much he enjoyed coming to the store and talking with me.

This is my favourite customer story. People always remark when I tell it that this significant a relationship usually doesn’t take place between a store clerk and a customer, over periods of minutes spanning several weeks.  They think it’s rare.  I, however, intend to carry this as the model for client relationships in all the future work that I do.  It only takes minutes to ask about someone’s day, to learn new things about them.  From a business perspective, it helps to identify their needs, and creates a familiarity with my personal brand.  From a personal perspective, this client in particular has taught me to take my time.

COMM0014 – Blog Post #5: Personal Brand

I will perform at the level I dream to be.

You can too! The first things to do when you get a new job are review the job description, and then add ten objectives to it. Think: there is no task or responsibility “above my pay grade.”  I would contend that the tasks that are beyond the scope of your current position are the ones to most eagerly pursue. My opinion is that the best way to compete with others at your level for a new opportunity is to have already mastered as many of the new or more difficult tasks as possible before the competition begins. I personally strive to be an employee who is willing to learn, adapt, take on new challenges, identify problems and find solutions.

I am driven, intelligent, responsible, predictable, consistent, and reliable. I deliver high quality results with minimal lead time, and I try to make these facts known. I also make it a priority to do the jobs no one in a Communications environment wants to do, but that need doing – such as human resources management and contracting and expenditures tracking. Once I’m a manager I’ll be responsible for staff and budgets, and the more exposure I can get ahead of my cohort, the better off I’ll be. What’s more, I always offer to prepare the agendas and briefing materials for senior management meetings. While I often don’t attend the meetings, offering to compile this information and disseminate it affords me the opportunity to engage with senior management personnel and allows me to familiarize myself with the most pressing issues facing the organization.

I work hard to gain and maintain the respect of my peers, direct reports and superiors. Knowing that my employees would often be required to work overtime and irregular hours, I volunteered to also work an irregular shift to show my support to the team. I align my goals with those of my superiors, and work to anticipate their needs and resolve them before a problem arises.

Finally, I dress the part, looking every day as if I’m going to a job interview. One day, I could be called on to deliver an important document to a senior manager, or replace someone in a meeting, and I’ll be ready when my time comes.  I had a manager once tell me that he judges an employee by the functionality of the shoes they wear. I wear shoes that allow me to run down the hall, because you never know when you’ll be called on to take care of something urgent and important. Always be ready!

COMM0014 – Blog Post #4: B2C Case Study

In my previous post, I examined how Rogers Communications was applying strategic communications principles in reaching their various target audiences. Today, I’d like to focus on their strategic implementation of social media tools to engage with their clients on a daily basis. I had previously mentioned Rogers Redboard, the company’s blog, which boasts contributions from professionals in the areas of travel, sports, and telecommunications. While Rogers is very active on the blog with daily postings, many of them receive no reaction whatsoever, no comments, and very few Tweets and likes. I was struck that a post from early 2012 regarding a Toronto Raptors promotion resulted in 35 Tweets, 9 likes, and 74 comments, and was one of their best received posts that generated significant activity. Unfortunately, this was one of the only posts at the time not entirely about Rogers’ services or products. Among the 74 comments, at quick glance, only one was from Rogers, and was more to encourage more comments than to engage the public.

In addition to being active on Redboard, Rogers also maintains a number of targeted Twitter accounts, including ‏@RogersHelps, @RogersBuzz, and @RogersJobs. The organization maintains a positive tone online, however the nature of mentions and stakeholder posts are primarily negative, as they relate to technical problems. Without proper response these could be potentially harmful to the brand. It would be in Rogers’ interest to feature their responses, and how timely and helpful they are, to counterbalance the negativity of the requests. Followers may not follow the respective technical support agents who respond to these requests, and would thus not see the positive feedback received at those accounts once the issue is resolved, but Rogers seems to be moving toward responding directly through the ‏@RogersHelps account.  The tone of mentions of @RogersBuzz is mixed. Stakeholders are often grateful and excited about new promotions, but frequently use the @RogersBuzz tag to issue complaints about Rogers Services.

The company also hosts a YouTube channel, and online community forums.  While the most recent video posted two months ago has had 362,890 views as of October 21, the channel itself only has 1,067 subscribers, which would suggest they need to post more content more often, and do some research to identify which markets they hope to reach through this vehicle.

While Rogers Canada maintains a persistent presence online, the organization has previously focused on information dissemination rather than strategic two-way dialogue to respond to stakeholder feedback. The organization could certainly benefit from increased engagement with their audience. Have you ever interacted with Rogers online? How did you feel about the experience?

COMM0014 – Blog Post #3: Target Audiences

One organization I’ve always found to be particularly good at market segmentation and reaching target audiences is Rogers Communications. Having worked for Rogers for several years, I was always enamoured with their varied approaches to engaging different audiences. Considering they are one of the sole providers nationwide of wireless, cable and internet services, they have been able to tailor their offering to varying demographic and psychographic groups, from high school students, to new Canadian families, to four-member families, and so many more.

In addition to their website, main stream media, and traditional social media, Rogers Redboard is a blog wisely used by Rogers to communicate new products and promotions to customers. Let’s say my target audience is unmarried, middle-class women, aged 19-35, and living in major Canadian urban centres, interested in travel. They’ve recently hired a travel blogger to connect the benefits of the Android camera phone for travel enthusiasts.

They’ve hired professional bloggers to relate Rogers products and contests to various special interests such as travel, sports, cyber security, and so much more.  There are posts about teaching your children about mobile device safety aimed at highly educated, middle-to-upper class concerned parents, whose children would have access to a mobile device.  They were equally able to announce their new LTE network availability in Alberta in tandem with the recent sponsorship of the Edmonton Oilers NHL team, concentrating on the male 19-35 year old sports fanatic.  Each post is written by one of many bloggers, speaking in different voices to connect with the specific audience they’re trying to reach.

According to their 2012 annual report, Rogers’ primary objective is to deliver differentiated end-to-end customer experiences. Many organizations of this size and with such a wide offering make the mistake of indicating their target market is “everyone.” Rogers deals with an innumerable number of communities, of varying sizes, located across Canada (rural and urban centres), individuals and organizations, each with varying needs and priorities.  Rogers is particularly good at identifying each and every audience they reach, designing products and services to meet their needs, and finding innovative channels and topics through which to reach them.  They’ve managed to keep my business and meet my personal telecommunications needs since I’ve been a twelve year old student, using a cell phone on a pay-as-you-go plan for personal safety.  Today, I’m a married, middle-class, undergraduate degree holder, with a toddler, and our relationship is still going strong.  Have you ever been loyal to a brand that long?  Maybe they know you better than you think.