Can you influence your Facebook friends?

politcal picDuring the months leading up to the last Federal election, it was really interesting to see friend’s Facebook posts from across Canada. Depending on what someone’s profession was, what province they lived in, whether they currently reside in a town or city, and so on, posts on a multitude of political issues were widely varied. Some posts were useful and informative, some were angry, and some were strange. When one feels passionate about a particular topic, posting articles that support that passion seem like a good outlet. I have always wondered what impact these posts have on a person’s Facebook friends – can someone successfully sway opinion by being opinionated on Facebook?

People expressing their opinions by posting articles, pictures, postcards, and so on, is not a new thing. I generally find that my friends fall into two camps when it comes to opinionated posts: people post about a particular topic because it means something to them and they want to share that knowledge with others, or they post because that are upset about something. I am not an easily offended person (although that may be hard to gauge as I have probably chosen to be friends with likeminded people on Facebook) – so If a friend is taking a stand on an issue that I do not particularly agree with or find offensive, I am comfortable making the choice to either ignore that post, or deciding to read it to learn more about differing opinions.

But not everyone wants to be exposed to differing opinions. Using the recent Federal election campaign as an example again, this past Fall, I started to see a number of friends objecting to the politicalization of their Facebook feed. I also started to see some passive aggressive posts and comments similar to the postcard picture posted above; many people seemed to want to be on Facebook for fun and did not want to be dragged into a political debate or guilted into taking a public position on an emotionally charged issue. I heard all sorts of conversations in the school yard and pick up time where people were expressing their Facebook frustration – with some going as far as to unfollow or unfriend people for repeatedly posting on election issues.

Regardless of that, I still think it’s good to be exposed to a variety of opinions and I do think a healthy dose of friendly peer pressure is necessary when it comes to encouraging others to become informed (in particular, I am thinking about the Facebook campaigns encouraging people to vote). Because we have access to such a vast amount of information online, I welcome seeing articles from media sources I would not normally seek out.

There have been many articles posted about how Facebook friends impact each other – but most of the articles I have seen relate to how Facebook can make some people feed bad about their own lives when they compare themselves to how their friends choose to represent themselves online. But how can influence be measured? I found many articles online somewhat related to this question, like this one by the Huffington Post, but none that really answered my particular question. I think this would be a fascinating sociological/technology study and would love to know the outcome!


Blog post #5 – Will you have a conversation with me?

I would love some feedback from my new Algonquin community of bloggers. I started my own blog almost two years ago. This post below was one on my first. It’s too long, it’s poorly tagged, and of all the posts I have written, I don’t think it’s the most engaging or interesting. Despite this, it has been my most successful post by leaps and bounds. According to Word Press statistics, It has been viewed from dozens of countries around the world over 3,800 times. Other than being able to view those statistics (the search terms and referrer information is deleted daily and there have been few comments), I have nothing else in terms of engagement or ‘conversation’ to analyze so therefor do not know how to replicate this post’s success. I am curious about what others have to say – will you be my audience and have a conversation? 

How to decline an invitation

invitationPeggy from Petawawa writes: “Dear Kate, I have always been uncomfortable with turning down an invitation, even if it’s for something I don’t want to attend. I just don’t like the idea of hurting someone’s feelings. Sometimes, instead of saying no, I try to come up with a ‘reasonable excuse’ to decline, but then I feel bad for not being upfront and honest. Don’t get me wrong, I love being invited to parties and other events and so do my husband and kids, but we have a busy life and just don’t have the time or energy to do everything. How can I graciously decline an invitation without upsetting anyone?”

Thank you for your question Peggy. First of all, you should never feel guilty or bad about saying you (or members of your family) can not attend an event. Saying ‘no’ does not mean you don’t care about or value the relationship with the person you are declining the invitation from. Putting your needs or the needs of your family first has to be a priority. As long as you promptly and respectfully decline an invitation, you can not really worry about someone else’s reaction. Here are a few simple suggestions that can help guide you when turning down and invitation:

Do’s of declining an invitation:

  • When someone invites you to an event of any kind, be prompt with your reply, especially if the invite comes with an RSVP deadline. The person throwing the dinner or party needs to know how many people to plan for. If you can not, or do not want to attend an event, it is ok to be honest and simply say, “I am sorry, but we are not available”. If you feel the need to give an explanation, be brief instead of excessively detailed (otherwise you may make it sound like you are coming up with excuses): “we already have plans”, “I am overwhelmed and we have too much on our plates at the moment”, “we have had a few busy weeks(ends) and we just can not make anymore commitments at the moment”, “my son/daughter has already been invited to another birthday party this weekend and I am afraid he/she can not handle the stimulation or the excessive sugar consumption.”
  • Some people worry that if they say no to the same person on a regular basis, they will stop getting invitations. If you get kicked off someone’s invite list for that reason, are they really your friend? Friendships don’t come with rules about mandatory attendance at social events. If the invite is for something more formal, and you regularly decline, let the organization know you would like to be kept on their list with the hope that you will be able to attend one day (thinking of university alumni events that always seem fun and interesting but take a back seat to the needs of my kid’s current activity schedules).
  • Do understand that not everyone is interested in the same kind of events (maybe they prefer a gallery opening to listening to live music at a pub) so they may decline an invitation for that reason.
  • This is an important one for me… do recognize that in some cases, you have a social obligation to attend certain events: a friend’s baby or wedding shower, a milestone birthday party, or any event of major significance in close friend or family member’s life. To be a member of a community, sometimes you have to put yourself out there for other people, even if you are busy or the event takes you out of your comfort zone.

Don’ts of declining an invitation:

  • Not acknowledging an invitation is not the same as declining an invitation. Surprisingly enough, this is a common strategy for getting out of having to RSVP to an event. For all those who get invited to an event via Evite, the host can see when you have read the invitation. Just saying…
  • Do not fake an illness or lie (doing that cancels out what I said above about not getting kicked off someone’s invite list for repeatedly declining) to get out of an invitation. Lying will make you feel guilty and karma has a way of making sure you get caught.
  • Do not ‘no show’ if you have said yes to attending an event. It’s better to be honest upfront, or even cancel last minute, then to not show up at all. This is especially true for an event in a private home where a host has spent time and money preparing for a certain number of guests.
  • If you are on the giving end of the invite, do not press an invitee too much to reschedule if they say they can not make it. There have been times in my life when I have just not been able to commit to making plans (young babies at home, busy work or school schedule) and I know how stressful it can be when one is continually approached to pick another date for a get together. No matter how well meaning a friend may be with their efforts to accommodate your schedule, sometimes a host needs to take a step back and accept that there is a reason why someone has declined an invitation.

Social tip: All the etiquette experts agree; honesty and promptness are key when declining an invite, especially if you want to be included in the fun in the future.

Originally posted from

How to start a blog and keep it going – Tips from my writer friends

image from

image from

I started my own blog Simply Sociable about two years ago because I was looking to make a career change. I am a trained teacher and have taught in both Nova Scotia and British Columbia. My teaching career has not gone as smoothly since moving to Ontario, losing my seniority, and having two kids, so I decided to try something new. I felt I had a lot of work/life experience to share so gravitated towards blog writing. I applied for a few blogging jobs but did not have any luck. I quickly came to the realization that other than having my own personal Facebook page, I had zero online presence as well as no experience as a blogger, so why would anyone take a chance on me? I decided to hire myself and start my own blog – but before I started that process, I realized I needed to get some help. Because I am still a bit old school when it comes to conducting research, instead of looking tips up online, I decided to turn to some of my writer friends.

I am lucky to have a number of friends in journalism who have experience with trying to get paid to write. I decided to set up coffee meetings with them to pick their brains and get some professional advice. I thought I would share what they had to say about how to start a blog, keep it going, and maybe one day get paid to write:

  • Write about what you know (for me, it was event planning and social etiquette with a little bit of parenting advice on the side).
  • Decide who you are writing for and set up your blog accordingly. If you are just writing for yourself, you do not need to be as concerned with content that is of interest to others. I wanted to capture a wider audience so made an effort with the content as well as the design, images, page set up, adding features like my Instagram feed and Twitter to give the reader lots to look at.
  • Have a meeting with yourself and brainstorm a list of writing topics so you are not scrambling to come up with ideas at the last minute.
  • Because I wanted the content of my blog to be appealing, I often crowd sourced topic ideas from friends. I also put a page on my blog asking for reader input (in the form of ‘ask me a question and I’ll write about it’).
  • Make a writing schedule and stick to it.
  • Sit down and write a blog post all at once, then return to it hours or days later to fix/edit the content. I actually find this method of pouring everything out all at once very helpful, otherwise I find it can take days of frustration to write 500 words.
  • Treat blog writing like a job, especially if you want it to be one.
  • Check out the analytics section in whatever program you are using and look at what posts are most successful and why. This can help guide future posts.
  • If you are interested in growing your readership, join the blogging community by following other people’s blogs and commenting on them.
  • Promote your blog on other social media platforms.
  • Never write for other people or companies for free. *This would be a bit of advice that is not always easy to follow in the early days of getting one’s blogging career started. But all of the writer friends I asked say that once you start writing for free, it is hard to go back. Their advice: if you have a skill and service to offer, you should ask to be compensated for it.

I have followed most of the advice I have been given and it has really helped my blog. I was actually approached and hired to write a blog for 6 months called Wediquette for the Ottawa Wedding Show. In order to take Simply Sociable to the next level and get paid, I have been advised to check into sites that promote bloggers like SheBlogs as well as to look out for blogging conferences, like the ones hosted in Ottawa called Bconnected.

I hope passing on this information to my new community of bloggers helps someone else out there!


Taking a Social Media Vacation

keep-calm-im-taking-a-short-break-from-social-media-1I realize that this may be an odd blog topic for a class promoting Social Media, but do you ever just want to take a break from using Social Media in your personal life and fly under the radar? To be completely incommunicado for just a short time and not have everyone know your every move and be able to reach you anytime, anywhere? To quiet your mind and be under-informed rather than having access to mass amounts of information all at once, so much information that it’s impossible to process, so your brain just seizes up (case in point – as I attempt to write this post, I keep obsessively checking my phone for texts, emails, and Facebook updates which is making me lose my train of thought)? I personally get overwhelmed by all of this and think it would be nice to take a vacation from Social Media/technology every once and a while.

IMG_7174I actually tried implementing this Social Media vacation concept in my own life when my husband and I took our kids on a trip to Australia for a month last year. My big plan: each of us would be allowed to use our devices for the plane ride only and then after that, just for taking pictures. There was going be no emailing, googling, texting, Instagraming, Facebooking, and so on. I wanted us to live in the moment and not feel the need to share everything instantly. When we were not sight seeing, I wanted us to read books, play board games, and chat about life. The trip was truly an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, but my electronic ban plan was an epic fail. We stuck with it the first few days, but gradually, the kids managed to talk us into letting them watch TV at night to unwind. TV watching eventually turned into watching shows and YouTube on their iPods and then everything went downhill from there.

So maybe a month was too long to pull off this experiment, but I still do firmly believe in the concept and will try again when given the opportunity. Constant online connectivity is hard enough on adults, but I actually think it’s damaging for our kids to feel the need to be in contact with others all the time. Kids have no downtime, no quiet time, and no time to just be themselves. Everything they do is on a public stage with no chance for a ‘do over’ if they make a mistake. Being given an excuse to take a mini vacation from all of that (especially when you can blame your parents), should be a welcome idea. Because of this, I have now set my sights on smaller goals for my family: electronic free Sundays where we kick it old school and power down. While my kids are still outwardly resistant to this idea, I believe they secretly like it – I do think they recognize that Social Media adds an element of stress to their lives.

Social Media is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, I just think we need to learn use it with moderation in our personal lives because it’s everywhere we turn.  Not only has Social Media become an integral part of our culture, it is a valuable and vital tool for businesses, governments, non profit organizations, and more.

If you would like to try having a Social Media vacation in your own life, there are many online resources (yes, I realize the irony in this suggestion) available for reference. For example, sites like Forbes and Buffer Social and have posts that provide useful tips.


Managing Social Media with your Kids

At any given time, any of these device and more can be found on our table.

At any given time, any of these device and more can be found on our table.

Internet safety and online bullying are frequently discussed hot topics in school these days. Like many parents, despite the fact that we believe we are quite resourceful, my husband and I often feel a bit overwhelmed and unprepared to help our kids manage their online social lives and stay safe. This would probably be in part due to the fact that we did not grow up with the types of technology used today (or any technology really…unless Pac Man and home phones with a party line count) so it’s not engrained into our brains like it is for our kids. Despite our best efforts, our kids will always be one step ahead of us, even if we use social media in our own lives.

One of the reasons why it is so hard to keep on top of social media is that it is often hard to find the time to keep up with rapidly changing apps. And even when you have the time, you need to have the ability. For example, I just mastered Instagram so I could follow my daughter and see what she and her friends were up to (although I almost lost the “privilege” of following her when I called out a boy in her school for making nasty comments to another child. But I did get a “Sorry Mrs. Charland” from him, and he removed his comments). Now she is asking me if she can download other related applications that will help her keep track of the people who have unfollowed her, among other things. I went from being confidently on top of situation, to losing it with one download.

Another significant reason why keeping up with our kid’s online social lives and use of social media is challenging is the fact that we have little to no influence over the kids they are interacting with. We don’t know if, as parents, we are all on the same page (assuming your kids are interacting with people they know. Strangers are a whole other kettle of fish). Different families have different rules; some kid’s online behaviours may be monitored, other kid’s activities may not and what one parent deems to be a harsh or inappropriate comment, another may shrug off as meaningless. Last year, my daughter ran into trouble with group Hangouts on Google+; a number of classmates got swept up in a group like mentality situation and were being very cruel to a few others. After we talked her through it, my daughter made the decision to stop participating in group chats and to text her friends individually when she wanted to talk with them. Interestingly enough, I mentioned the Google+ issue to a number of other parents. They did not think their kids were not on Google+ so were not concerned. I suggested they check anyway and as it turned out, their kids were using Hangouts too.



What is a parent to do? Aside from the obvious fact that you need to make an effort to learn and understand what your kids are doing online, you need to have house rules in place that you strictly adhere to. Then you need to seek out support or back up for those rules from the the other place where your kids spend the majority of their time – school. Even that may not help though. Our children’s school has made several attempts to educate the students and parent body on internet safety. Last year, all of the students at my children’s school attended a talk given by an expert in the field. In comparison, very few parents turned out for the nighttime version of the talk tailored to them and because of this, there was no common ground established and the message may have been lost between school and home. While my husband did attend and learned a few things he did not know before, the over all take home message he gained was “danger – be afraid and avoid”. My daughter got that same message when she listened to the talk. But being told to be afraid and avoid is not going to deter kids from going online – just like it doesn’t for teaching sex education. I wonder if teaching abstinence ever works?

This school year, we were quite pleased to discover that the Ottawa Carleton District School Board came out with guidelines for computer usage that will hopefully positively impact online behaviours both on and off the school property. These guidelines should make it easier for parents to keep up to date and on the same page with other parents and with all the students. The “Appropriate use of Technology Agreement“, tailored specifically to each age group, was sent home to be discussed and signed by both parents and their kids. For the first time since our kids were in school, I felt we were given an effective tool to manage technology usage. My husband and I had some really interesting and important conversations with our kids about the content of the agreement – conversations that I hope were happening at kitchen tables across the neighbourhood. While this one document is not going to solve all the world’s problems, at least it is a start.

The important message to take away from this is that parents need to be proactive and understand what is going on with their kid’s social lives online, before there is a problem. They need to be informed and talk to their kids about the apps they are using, even if it takes them out of their knowledge comfort zone. Most importantly, they need to teach their kids to be as kind and respectful online as they would teach them to be offline. We are all in this together.