Reaching for the positive

All I have as the springboard for this post is an image that I recently saw on LinkedIn, recommended by a friend. It’s just a few words painted on stone, in French (for which I have just rudimentary comprehension). But the soft, earthy colours and essential message attracted me.


My translator friend assures me that I caught the meaning fairly well, but she phrases it more elegantly than I had: Be like a camera – use the negative to develop the positive.

With this introductory social media course, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. It’s comforting to learn that I’m not alone in my nagging apprehensions. Lisa Larter, a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur who has had huge success in various pursuits including business consulting, predicting social media trends, blogging and more, addresses social media fear in her book Pilot to Profit (2016). She writes:  “Fear happens in business for everyone, not just you. It may be the fear of failing, the fear of not being liked, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of not being perfect, the fear of being compared, or the fear of not being good enough.”

Her advice? Be proactive by getting educated, and fuel your positivity and confidence. Don’t feed the fear! I especially like the fact that these comments appear in a chapter titled: Your Content Is Your Credibility.

Are any of you still struggling with this, as I am?

I have to admit, once I learned how to turn off the incessant email notifications about updates, the Pinterest visits have been a welcome diversion from other tasks. The vivid images are inspiring and sometimes spirit-lifting. But then I stumble on something far less upbeat — an article on social media involvement for companies and corporations, like this one in Marketing magazine by Catherine McIntyre (originally published in Canadian Business): The case for companies staying off social media. Take a look.

In addition, the blog posts of several of my coursemates have alerted me to trends, danger zones and pitfalls that I haven’t even considered before. AI? Yikes!

So there’s obviously more to think about, and much more to learn.

A quantum leap

It’s odd that I’ve never signed on with the online emporium and virtual pinboard that is Pinterest.

Apparently, I’m fairly representative of the visual search engine’s main audience. Since its launch in 2010, the platform has attracted mainly women who are stimulated by beautiful images of the things they’re interested in, such as:

  • home design and decor
  • food, cooking, recipes
  • fashion
  • photography
  • travel
  • wedding planning

And on and on it goes… For me, it’s beautiful colour, images, designs and hand-crafted things.

I’m staunchly Canadian, though, while most Pinterest participants (known as ‘pinners’, some 87 million of them and counting) are American, the majority living in the Midwest. The platform is rising in popularity, and reportedly quadrupled its ad sales in 2015. Smallbiztrends noted in its December 2016 report Social Media Marketing Statistics that Pinterest has high e-conversion rates — 73% of active pinners and 89% of daily pinners buy something they liked on Pinterest.

Reach is extending too, with a new focus on the United Kingdom this past year.

But here’s the thing. I have feared that Pinterest would spark addictive behaviours, either to compulsively buy other peoples’ creations – instead of spending that time on making my own – or pour even more hours of my life into online scanning. Sure, I’ve dipped in for an occasional look but always backed off when the sign-in wall rose.

This week, that hesitation softened and I finally DOVE IN! First I did my research, of course, to get a firm grasp on what I was signing up for. And I’m still planning to keep my privacy protected and do more looking than buying or commenting. That’s okay, some social media commentators say conversation and interaction isn’t the point on this platform. It’s not even called social media in some circles!

In an article published in Wired magazine last April, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann is quoted as saying the service is “about matching you with the right ideas.” That’s quite different from the operating model for most other mainstream social media: to connect people to people. The media watchdog says Pinterest is suitable for persons age 14 and older and offers: “Inspiration in an endless stream of ideas, some iffy stuff.”

It’s also a key part of many corporate digital marketing strategies. Pinterest is now updating, working hard at expanding its international appeal, improving the visual interface and fixing tech issues like slow loading and poor presentation on mobile.

For my part, I’m hoping to find the fun in social media by immersing myself in eclectic, stimulating eye-candy of the arts and crafts variety. I think this course has helped me get here, setting a context through the readings and discussions and helping to allay fears with solid information and a just-do-it attitude. Guess I’d better beef up my self-discipline and get a dependable timer!

Any advice or comments from other Pinterest users?


Circles within circles

(by MsMexplores)

In some ways, this whole social media familiarization course that we’re on is like what my son used to describe as a “circle story.”

In other words, it’s a narrative that lands you – after some asides, twists and turns – right back where you started. You may have learned something new or experienced some change in perspective, but the landscape is pretty much the same.

So it goes for me, at this point. I WANT to understand and ultimately embrace social media at whatever level seems best, most comfortable for me. I understand that I need to do this in order to remain part of the society I live in. I WANT to remain an active, contributing member of my culture. I don’t want to be the dinosaur, unable to adapt and left behind.

But another part of me remains fearful and doubtful. For all the benefits and remarkable positive results I learn about, there are at least as many horror stories that have come into sharp focus. Where is the balance: who or what is driving and/or regulating this beast that has emerged as the worldwide social media phenomenon?

One thing that gives me faint hope is the challenging public debate now emerging about the governance and oversight of social media. Various media reports of recent weeks have talked about several such events.

For example, Facebook is repeatedly being called to task by the German government for its handling of numerous examples of hate speech (see ‘Germany’s fight against Facebook hate’, in the Sun. Dec. 4/16 edition of the Toronto Star – an article that originated in The New York Times).

Google is going to the Supreme Court of Canada soon to fight a court order that directed it to remove from its search engine results a company that had been selling online the patented research technology of a competitor Canadian company, Equustek Solutions based in British Columbia. Google’s position is that it can’t be called upon to be an enforcer on the Internet: it is just a search engine in this case. This is a new area for the Supreme Court, so observers in many camps are watching closely.

There’s also the uproar about Facebook and “fake news” that was posted during the recent presidential election campaign in the United States. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to growing public outcry over “fake” news on the site with new measures to cut down on misinformation posted by dubious sources. His seven-point plan includes stronger detection measures, verification of third-party sources by fact-checking organizations, possible warning notices and flagging of suspect stories by either third parties or members of the Facebook community. Specifics have yet to be spelled out, but it’s a start.

If we can keep challenging what we know is wrong, keep forcing pushback against the digital and multimedia giants with widespread, open debate then maybe – just maybe – we can turn the worst elements of this information-sharing explosion around.

Rocking the healthcare world

You have to feel sorry for the communications staff at hospitals and other major health-care organizations. In this age of exponential social, technological, environmental and climatic change they’re struggling with huge demands to improve their interactions with patients and public.

At the same time they face:

  • shrinking budgets and resources
  • growing demands for services
  • patients who have increasingly complex conditions requiring many approaches to care
  • staff stretched to the limit, increasingly suffering personal health issues as a result
  • public and patient/family expectations that the organizations will operate in an open, inclusive way that includes making room for the patient voice

What’s a struggling communications specialist to do, especially if he or she works in a department of one or just a handful of employees? Effectively using social media is one answer.

Small changes make a difference

One woman absolutely changed hospital practice and the way health-care workers communicate with patients through her “tiny idea.”

hellomynameis_slide_screencaptureIn 2013 Dr. Kate Granger, a consultant geriatrician in the United Kingdom, launched a Twitter campaign – #hellomynameis – to challenge what she felt was a depersonalization of patient care.

By July 23, 2016, the day she died in hospice (at age 34) from a rare terminal form of cancer, her initiative had persuaded more than 400,000 doctors, nurses, hospital staff and others to pledge that they’d begin their patient encounters with a personal introduction.

Kate’s determination to make a change was sparked by her own experiences as a patient. She was upset by hospital staff who didn’t introduce themselves to establish a human connection before delivering care. The doctor who had delivered the original, terrible diagnosis to her in 2011 hadn’t even looked at her, she noted.

As she said on her blog site : “I hope it’s my legacy … to (make) a real, tangible improvement in the health care service that directly affects patient experience.”

By late November of this year, her Twitter account listed 48,000 followers and more than 12,500 tweets — and the campaign continues, far and wide. Ottawa has joined too; see the tweet below.ottawa_joining_namecampaign_screencapture

She also raised some £250,000 (about C$421,000) for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre.



On another topic, here’s how the Ottawa Public Health unit is keeping abreast of current threats to public health and inviting dialogue with its public:



cpsi_advocacy_initiativeThe Canadian Patient Safety Institute is very active on social media.

This advocacy initiative on LinkedIn – to reinforce maternity patients’ rights – is just one of the ways it’s raising patient and public awareness.



Did you know that it can take 17 years for an important discovery in medical research to result in improved care in the clinic or at the bedside? A wildly successful advocacy initiative launched in Halifax by the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research aims to narrow that gap by bringing vital information to parents of sick children sooner.

The opening sentence on the home screen of declares: “Over social media we can all understand pain management for children.”

After she created a video to help parents struggling when their children needed to have shots, child psychologist Dr. Christine Chambers knew she needed to reach beyond her personal networks to have an impact. She contacted the founder of the huge online community known as the YummyMummyClub via Twitter, and a comprehensive social media campaign was the result. It was bolstered by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A Storify summary spells out the campaign’s incredible reach over the past 17 months — including a public launch in September 2015 at the Halifax Central Library that generated strong traditional media coverage and wide interest at home and abroad.

The Twitter account #itdoesnthavetohurt currently shows more than 5,000 followers and some 23,300 tweets.


One video has won gold-level recognition in a contest hosted by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. 

[See the video, Three ways to instantly relieve your baby’s pain]


So I know how powerful social media can be – in a good way – when it is used intelligently. Integrity of message has to be at the core, and being careful to go where your prime audience is seems to be the way to go.

For others interested in learning more, one good overview I found was a blog article published in the Huffington Post last January: How social media is shaking up public health and healthcare.

I don’t feel prepared to tackle creating a personal brand yet, especially when my career is in transition, but I know the principles mentioned above will be my starting points.


Finding social media’s brighter side

In 2011, I barely knew about social media and certainly wasn’t doing it. So while I heard bits about the young Ottawa woman who desperately needed a lung transplant and was tweeting about it, I didn’t really follow her story.

A media sensationhelene_on_twitter_screencapture

Still, it was hard to miss. Hélène Campbell, then 20, became a media sensation across traditional and social media channels with her runaway Twitter campaign to raise awareness about organ donation. She blogged, she was on Facebook, she posted photos on Flickr — she was everywhere. But remarkably, the messages she circulated weren’t all about her (though the blog site welcomed donations to offset living expenses during her lengthy care and treatment away from home).

Hélène had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that impacted breathing, stamina and more, and it was getting worse. When she had to relocate to Toronto with her mom and wait for the transplant that could change everything, she delighted followers around the globe with her effervescent personality and endless optimism. Her online postings were a way to keep family and friends back home updated and close, but she went beyond that. Hélène used her energy and communication skills to underline the huge need for more organ donors, and to encourage others she had met who were also facing enormous health challenges. She made her journey personal, talking breezily about what it was like to wait for an organ donation. She described vividly the precarious limbo that was her day-to-day world, where she had to keep spirits high and stay as well and fit as possible, no matter how she felt physically.

Friends in high places

Hélène and her cause captivated people, including celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres.

After the Biebster tweeted his support, online registrations for organ donation increased 600% almost immediately. Ellen became another champion, staying in contact and then having Hélène on her television show to talk about the campaign and her condition — just months before the 2012 double lung transplant that would save her life.

Hélène’s blog details the phenomenal growth in followers, supporters and other acts of kindness that ensued. Another website,, noted that in three weeks Hélène boosted that tool’s average registration rate for organ donation by 500%. About her efforts to get Justin Bieber’s endorsement, Hélène triumphantly blogged in early 2012: “Guys, we did it. As a team, we used social media, put it into use and for a good cause.”

I guess it’s a bit weird to be just catching up on all of this in 2016, long after most of the action took place. The thing is, I initially looked up to get some background and refresh my memory. Then I got hooked, and couldn’t stop reading. Even when I knew how it turned out!

Still giving…

Hélène had touched my heart. I couldn’t get enough of her we-can-do-it outlook on life. When I learned that she’s still working to help others, long after her health has improved and she’s getting on with life, my admiration grew. In 2015 she became a spokesperson for the Toronto-based Give2Live campaign, an effort to raise funds for those who


must live away from home while having extended medical treatment. The website states that expenses are estimated at $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses while waiting for an organ transplant.

I can’t help wondering what Hélène thinks of the social media maelstrom that ensued during the recent presidential campaign in the United States. What would she have to say about the hatred and venom spewing – particularly on social channels – from the Republican party campaign and its legions of supporters?


Wanting more

When I looked for a more current example of social media doing good in the health-care world, here’s what I found.

finding_surgeon_through_social_mediaOn her Facebook page, a young Brandon, Man., woman issued a plea in October seeking help for her mother, who had been hospitalized due to severe abdominal pain that left her unable to eat. The woman suffers from celiac artery compression syndrome, a rare medical condition, and her daughter’s post quickly brought an offer for a needed surgical consult that wasn’t available locally.

Now this is a social media story I can support, I thought! Sadly, the consultation with the specialist has not brought answers or relief, to date, but the fact that the daughter’s post was widely shared surely opened the case to a wider audience and expanded the medical possibilities.

These stories have encouraged me that social media does have a brighter side, so now I’m on the lookout for more examples where it has made a difference — especially in health care. Stay tuned!

Privacy on social media: advance with caution


What’s so scary about social media?

Disclaimer: I’m from the predigital age, so a willing spirit and general acceptance of many aspects of our wired world don’t come easily. I don’t trust the technology, don’t always believe what online tools and content are telling me and remain convinced that it will fail me when I need it most.

My greatest concerns centre around privacy and personal security — not just for myself but for the younger generations of social media users who don’t have my wary skepticism.

Consider this sobering statement published by the Houston Chronicle, from a blog post about privacy issues  that targets small business operators: “The information you put online stays online — often, even after you have removed it.” No room for human error there!!

But this is the world we live in, and I know I need to come to terms with it. Diving in and getting educated seems the best way to proceed.

Privacy concerns and expectations

Social media use opens the door to potential abuse of privacy (and sometimes personal security) in three main areas: identity, reputation, health and well-being.


Examples of identity theft abound, with the ways it can happen growing exponentially every day. The RCMP has noted that much of the information needed to electronically steal personal identity is posted by the individual who is being robbed. Beware the “fun” quiz! It means you’re providing on insecure social networking pages details about your full name, date of birth, address, even the location of childhood homes and your pets’ names.


As Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy warns: “Once information or a status is posted, it is no longer in our control… Information can be transmitted on the Internet in a variety of forms, potentially for a very long time.” The website content explains how deleting a personal post on Facebook or taking down an album of digital images doesn’t mean that content is gone from public view. Many websites keep a record of what has been posted on their sites, and outdated content may reappear through web searches and other means well after the user has attempted to delete it. This is especially true if others who saw the posting copied and stored it, and then decide to recirculate it later.

Imagine the impact this has when a rant you wrote in your younger years – or worse, a drunken party photo – emerges later, when the potential employer who you’d really like to impress does an online search before inviting you for a job interview!

Health and well-being

If your home is your castle, then home security surely contributes to your mental health and overall sense of well-being. How sad is it that a website sprang up a few years ago to educate people about how vulnerable their homes are to theft when they post their location on social media? Fittingly, the website is called Pretty much everything you do on social media leaves a trail of some sort, and can inform criminal types about the many ways they can take advantage.

On a more serious note, there’s cyberbullying. The tragic stories of vulnerable teens who took their own lives after experiencing relentless cyberbullying point to the potential negative consequences of unregulated social media use. The deaths of Amanda Todd (2012), of Port Coquitlam, BC, Rehtaeh Parsons (2013) of Dartmouth, NS, and in 2016 the suicide deaths of five Woodstock, Ont., young people were widely reported on all media platforms. Some people blame social media for this alarming trend.

Of course, adults can be bulschwartz-monica-lewinsky-and-shame1-1200lied or shamed too, with similar blows to their mental health as a result. See Monica Lewinsky’s famous TED talk about her experiences with former US President Bill Clinton for more on that…
Photo: From TED Talk visual, reprinted in The New Yorker

Protect yourself

So as I see it, there’s plenty to be worried about when you venture into online social networking and social media use. The bottom line seems to be ‘protect yourself.’ Get informed about the tools, the ways they can be used and misused, take the time to ensure you’ve done everything you can to protect your own privacy and limit the amount of information you’re sharing.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has some tips and resources, as do provincial counterparts. Be prepared to follow up and report any activity you think is inappropriate or suspicious.

And wide public discussion, information-sharing and advocacy seem to be part of the solution — ironically, especially effective when done via social media!

Thoughts, anyone?