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.
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?
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?