Comm0015: Blog Post 4: Out of the box — social media for social change

CC BY-SA 4.0 Loavesofbread

CC BY-SA 4.0 Loavesofbread

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido

It is easy to dismiss political movements conceived on social media as “slacktivism.” Likewise, it is easy to attribute the 11% decline in “Black Friday” retail purchases to shoppers moving their consumerism online, rather than to a political statement born on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

There are 43 million African-American consumers with a collective buying power of $1 trillion. #NotOneDime is Black America’s and its allies’ response to centuries of injustice. In the wake of the Ferguson Grand Jury’s devastating decision, African Americans and allies across the country decided that the best way to turn an unfair system on its head was to vote with their dollars on what has traditionally been the most profitable weekend of the year, and that the best way to popularize that message was through social networks. Over the course of Thanksgiving Weekend in the United States, the hash tags #NotOneDime and #BlackOutBlackFriday were trending on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

I hope that #BlackDecember continues to gain the momentum built by #NotOneDime. Economic boycotts have proven fruitful in past fights for social justice. If a society is not yet ready to recognize that #BlackLivesMatter, perhaps they’ll concede once they realize just how much #BlackDollarsDo.

COMM0014 Blog Post 7 – Reflections

4532_112275855140_1234669_nThe aspect of COMM0014 that I found the most interesting, from a professional perspective, was the value of demographics and psychographics. Although identifying your ideal target audience might be relatively easy, getting to know them can prove more difficult. Preconceived notions of who we want to engage with our content might prevent us from identifying all of the possible stakeholders; cognitive biases and prejudices might lead us to believe certain things about the characteristics or motivations of our audience that are completely inaccurate. I would love to further explore these concepts in my own time.

A great deal of emphasis was  placed on storytelling in this course. Although storytelling is necessary in initially engaging an audience, I see social media as more of a conversation. I found that the other side of our conversations was often missing. Whenever possible, I tried to engage with my fellow learners in our online discussion boards, but I might have extended more of an effort to do so if such interaction had been more actively encouraged.

I am grateful for the opportunity to hone my personal storytelling skills. Although I have been a professional editor for more than a decade, I have never seriously considered the possibility of becoming a writer. What feedback I have received on my efforts on this blog and in our assignments has been encouraging and welcome, and has made me less reticent about my musings outside of sharing them with my immediate circle of friends and family.

Comm0015: Blog Post 3: Professional networking

Hello. My name is Sarah Currie, and I am an introvert.how_to_live_with_introverts_guide_printable_by_sveidt-d5b09fj(image credit:

I recently attended a professional development session entitled “Getting Results without Authority,” which basically boils down to winning friends and influencing people. Of course, the key to building relationships with people you can influence is — say it with me now — networking!

One of the questions I wish I had thought to ask while the facilitator was still in the room (my esprit d’escalier) was whether he thought people such as myself could be influencers, or were we destined always to be the influenced?

Networking is something I find particularly challenging. In the real world, approaching a stranger, or even a distant acquaintance, fills me with anxiety. I have had moderately more success online; however, even with social media, digital communication can easily become a one-sided conversation rather than a dialogue. And eventually, to exert any real influence, a face-to-face meeting is going to have to happen. I’m sweating already just thinking about it.

My short-term career goal is to shore up the foundations of my relationships within my department (i.e., to establish my personal brand, so to speak). My longer-term goal is to move beyond the scope of my current role within my department to, hopefully, a member-facing or policy role within the broader organization or elsewhere. First. I need people to know who I am and to understand my value. I need to network. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Another old saying states that the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Introversion is my problem, or rather, my challenge. My first course of action in overcoming this challenge and improving myself as a networker has been to sign up as a mentee for my company’s mentorship program. Although I am well-known (and hopefully well-regarded) within my immediate team, a mentorship relationship is an opportunity to prove and develop my value with a new audience.

A second, concurrent step on this journey of self-improvement is to work on my long-neglected LinkedIn profile. It has sat half-complete in the cloud for several years. In that time, the previous organizations for which I have worked, as well as my current employer, have become more active participants on the site. Reconnecting with former colleagues and joining some professional groups with similar skills, interests and goals will help expand my virtual network, which will hopefully lead to some not-so-virtual relationships with even less-virtual influence down the road.

Comm0015: Blog Post 2: Strong and Weak Organizations

When people think about social media being done well, they usually think of big marketing campaigns for household brands like Dove, Tide or Doritos.

I’ve chosen, instead, to look at how three local businesses use social media. Two of which do so effectively, and one of which has lots of opportunity for growth.

Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co.

Twitter: @beausallnatural,  19 000 followers

Facebook: BeausAllNaturalBrewingCo, 15 000 likes

Instagram: beausallntural, 4 219 followers

Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. is a small, but growing, family-run brewery based in Van Kleek Hill, Ontario (population 1 196). Since the company first launched in 2006, they have expanded rapidly; initially only available in eastern Ontario, Beau’s is now shipped across the province and exported to New York state.

The company prides itself on being a family business, and treating its customers like guests — regular visitors to the brewery are known on a first-name basis, as are the employees featured in the company’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. Beau’s is also incredibly community-oriented. The company partners with other local business for its special events, such as its annual Oktoberfest, and works with the youth of Operation Come Home to provide work experience through its bottle return and “Buy Your Beau’s Online” programs. Recently, the company partnered with the marketing agency Public to encourage young Torontonians to vote. All of this equates to a relatable brand image with which fans, followers and consumers are eager to interact.


Facebook: terra20, 4500 likes

Twitter: @exploreterra20, 2100 followers

Terra2 is an Ottawa-based “eco” department store. The company’s motto encourages its customers to “explore a better way.” Blog posts on the company’s website elucidate just how that can be done, offering consumers tips on everything from organic diapering to litterless lunches. For potential consumers unable or unwilling to travel to the company’s two physical Ottawa locations, ecommerce is available.

The company is the brainchild of two friends, and their story and philosophy are clearly articulated on the company’s website.

The company uses Facebook and Twitter to showcase products, as well as to celebrate the achievements of the individual vendors from whom they source their wares.

Alice’s Village Café

Twitter: @alicescafe,  900 followers

Facebook: alicesvillagecafe, 1300 likes

Alice’s Village Café is a family café and restaurant in Carp, Ontario (population 2 000). The food is made entirely in-house from locally sourced ingredients (whenever possible). The restaurant is perhaps most famous for its “Big Nasty”: a caramel-enrobed and pecan-encrusted cinnamon bun.

Unlike Beau’s, Alice’s is not effectively using its digital presence to tell its story or create a relatable brand. The restaurant’s “bio” on its website’s About page is limited to its location and opening hours. Photos of staff uploaded to Facebook and Twitter may help to put a face to the brand, but the people pictured remain nameless. This may not be problematic for longtime, regular customers who are already on a first-name basis with the girls serving them their morning coffee, but it isn’t helping expand the restaurant’s customer base. Up to now, much of that expansion seems to have been based solely on word of mouth.

Alice’s next step should take some pointers from Beau’s and Terra20’s social pages. The company should do a better job of telling its story and engaging different elements of the community. Its website should be kept more current, and its staff and products should be featured more prominently. Alice’s should embrace its small town location and friendly neighbourhood atmosphere in establishing and promoting its brand.

COMM0014 Blog Post 6 – I fought the law, and I won (eventually)

What is my greatest achievement?

I grew up an army brat. My husband and I are parents through adoption. I am resilient. You know all of this already if you’ve been following my posts. But how is it all connected? It’s a bit of a long story, so get comfortable.

I was born in Germany. My dad was a Canadian soldier stationed in Baden-Soellingen from 1976 to 1979. I was born in September 1978. Both of my parents were Canadian, which meant, at the time, that I was too.


About 60 km away, two Canadian school teachers were preparing for the birth of their first son, Michael. Because they, too, were Canadian, their son (my future husband), would automatically be a Canadian, too.

My husband and I were born in the same hospital in Lahr, Germany. Our German birth registrations were signed by the same bureaucrat. Michael grew up to join the army and serve in the same regiment as my father. When we eventually met and got married, our first home was across the street from the Pembroke, Ontario, apartment my parents lived in when they got married 40 years earlier.

I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)

e.e. cummings

Shortly after Mike and I were married, the Canadian government quietly changed the Citizenship Act. They were trying to crack down on people they deemed to be “Canadians of convenience.” They decided that if you had acquired your citizenship by birth, as I had, and as Michael had, you were no longer allowed to pass that citizenship on to a child born outside of Canada. It didn’t matter why you had been born outside of Canada. It didn’t matter if you had built your home and life here. Despite a card stating that you were entitled to all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities of being a Canadian, you would not be treated the same way as someone who was born here. Citizenship would be limited to one generation.

Like most other Canadians at the time, neither Mike nor I took much notice of the change or though about how it might impact our lives.

In 2011, we went through the lengthy and invasive process of being approved to adopt a child. After a lot of research and personal reflection, we decided that the path we would pursue would be international adoption from Haiti. We completed reams of paperwork, including part 1 of the citizenship application that would eventually allow our future child to enter the country. As I was going through the online information package that accompanied the application, I noticed a poorly worded subclause referring to people born outside of Canada, followed by another poorly worded sub-subclause referring to people born to service personnel posted outside of Canada. One seemed to contradict the other, and I started to panic. Legalese not being one of my spoken languages, I contacted an immigration lawyer to help me interpet the Act and determine whether our future son or daughter would be entitled to Canadian citizenship, or whether I would need to sponsor him or her as an immigrant. His interpretation, and the interpretation of the 3 Citizenship and Immigration Call Centre employees I also consulted, was that people like me — people born outside of Canada to soldiers serving overseas on the government’s orders — were exempt from the “one-generation” rule.

I completed the application and sent it off to Nova Scotia. Then, I waited. I waited, and I waited. I received a letter indicating that the application would be processed within 8 weeks. I waited 8 weeks. I phoned the call centre. I was told there was a backlog, and that it would take another 8 weeks. I waited again. Eight weeks later, when I was told that a decision still couldn’t be made because no one had encountered a situation like mine before, and no one knew exactly how to interpret that poorly worded sub-subclause, I started to get a little bit anxious. By this point, we had been matched with a little boy, and our adoption was moving through the Haitian legal system. I was facing the reality of being the legal parent of a child who couldn’t come home. I asked if I should change my application to sponsorship instead. I was told to wait and see. I waited. I waited a total of 11 months. Citizenship and Immigration stopped returning my phone calls. The media, however, were more than happy to listen to me. I contacted the Ottawa Citizen and told one of their reporters my story.  That story was seen by an old friend of mine from elementary school, who showed it to a friend of his who worked for CTV Ottawa. I was on the 11’o’clock news. Two days later, I was interviewed by Bev Thompson on Canada AM. Citizenship and Immigration started returning my calls.

I did end up having to sponsor our son as a permanent resident, but realizing their initial error in advising me to submit a citizenship application, CIC expedited that process. We were home in time to celebrate our first Christmas together in December 2013. Then, in February 2014, the new immigration minister, Chris Alexander, announced a change to the Citizenship Act to ensure that the children born to Canadian service personnel overseas would not be subject to the one-generation rule. The new Act is still imperfect, but it’s a start. At the very least, it recognizes that I and other “brats” like me should not be penalized for our parents’ service to their country. Our rights are not a matter of convenience.


COMM0014 Blog Post 5 – Personal brand

Sarah Currie is many things to many people: mom, wife, employee, friend, sister, daughter. I wear a lot of different hats, and I tend to compartmentalize my life and my personality. The one quality that seems to shine through regardless of the situation I am in, however, is resilience.


I grew up an army brat. My early life was a series of transitions: some fluid, some less so. They left an indelible imprint on my psyche. A popular internet myth suggests that the cells in our body are completely renewed on a 7-year cycle. My personal homeostasis seems to need regeneration on a tighter schedule than that. As an adult, I now get restless without a steady stream of change: a change of environment, a change of pace, a change in the faces around me.

That I am resilient does not mean that I am completely unfazed in the face of change. I am anxious; planning helps mitigate that. I make a lot of lists. I write letters to myself and tear them up. And then, inevitably, the change must be met head on, if not embraced.

The one role in which I feel my resilience flounder is as a new mom. I plunged head-first into toddlerhood. My son and I didn’t get a chance to know each other slowly over the course of his gestation and infancy. Our worlds were completely foreign to each other, yet we were instantly expected to be a family, to adapt to our new titles of mother and son overnight. I found myself second-guessing my every thought, feeling and action. I began to wonder if my previous adaptability was just an illusion conjured by my ego for self-preservation. I have since learned that my resiliency is still there; I just need help tapping into it sometimes. I need to stop seeing myself as a lone wolf, and remember that I am part of a pack. I have a team. I have a whole village. Learning when and how to ask for help doesn’t make me less resilient; it gives me strength.

I hope that this quality continues to serve me well, and that learning to cope with change is a skill I can teach to my son. His childhood will be a lot like mine. He’s an army brat, too (with less emphasis on the “brat” aspect). Perhaps change management can become the new family business.

COMM0014 Blog Post 4 – B2C Case Study — Unilever

Unilever markets more than 400 consumer brands. It is one of the largest and oldest multinational companies in the world. Some of its well-known brands include Dove, Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Marmite.

Unilever has thoroughly embraced social marketing. One of its most notable campaigns is likely Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. This campaign began in 2004 with an interactive billboard in Times Square. Passersby were encouraged to vote via text message on the images displayed: portraits of regular women taken by renowned photographer Annie Liebowitz. Votes were tallied in real time, and the billboard displayed the running totals. The campaign then evolved to appear on smaller screens near you with a series of viral videos. You’ve probably seen some of these in your Facebook news feed, or promoted on (since they specifically target you “right in the feels”).

However, the Dove campaign is largely one-sided. Although the videos start conversations among consumers, there is little interaction between the consumer and the brand or parent company.

The company took a slightly more tongue-in-cheek approach in its marketing of Marmite. Marmite, for the uninitiated, is a very salty brown paste made from yeast extract, a by-product of brewing beer. It is usually eaten spread on toast and is, as they say, an acquired taste. Marmite has been a Unilever property since 2000. In 2010, Unilever staged a multiplatform social media campaign to win new taste buds to the marmite camp, inviting consumers to become members of the elite “Marmarati.” (Would membership in a elite secret society entice your taste buds to try a yeast-based spread?) Social media agency We Are Social was enlisted to recruit members to the ranks of the Marmarati from devoted fans and food bloggers who had proven their love for the product by uploading content (videos, text or photographs) to the Marmarati website. Members of the Marmarati were then invited to test a new Marmite formulation, filming their reactions to the new flavour and uploading it to the web. In return, tasters received a special commemorative jar. The producers of the best videos, as voted by fans, won a lifetime supply of Marmite. (In my house, one jar would have likely sufficed.) It was, perhaps, the first instance of a product launch happening entirely over social networks.

Unfortunately, Marmite’s foray into viral video campaigns in 2013 was much less successful. Not surprisingly, the campaign to “end Marmite neglect,” which featured a faux documentary parodying animal welfare advertisements, left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths.

The outrage from animal welfare advocates, much of it delivered via Facebook and Twitter, caused the ad to be banned from British airwaves. You win some, you lose some.

For a company the size of Unilever, with its wide array of trusted household brands, to embrace social marketing and the storytelling such campaigns necessitate speaks volumes about the future of advertising and the direction in which they think it is headed. Although they have had some missteps with various brands, Unilever seems determined to make their social strategy a success, going so far as to enlist Accenture to build and implement an enterprise digital social platform that will allow the company’s marketers, brand managers and partners to collaborate internationally.

COMM0014 Blog Post 3 – Know your audience — the changing demography and psychography of membership

“Membership has its privileges.”™

I work for an organization that represents Canadian physicians. We have been in existence since 1867. Unlike membership in a professional college, which is required for licensing purposes, physicians do not need to belong to our organization to practise medicine in Canada. In the past few years, we have found that when it is not mandatory, proving that membership has value can be difficult.

More and more organizations are finding that memberships are lapsing among young people, particularly millennials. Also known as “Generation Y” or “Echo Boomers”, millennials are the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Unlike their boomer parents, they are not joiners and have been raised in a society in which the interests and needs of the individual are often put before those of the group. Attracting and maintaining members in this demographic is proving difficult, and many organizations are failing in their attempts to do so. Thus, understanding how to attract and keep millennials is the best way for organizations that rely on membership to remain viable.

Simple brand recognition and the idea of being a trusted name with a proud history are no longer enough to attract new members. According to Steven Worth, president of Plexus Consulting Group (Washington, DC), millennials have grown up with the world literally (digitally) at their fingertips; they’re accustomed to finding and getting exactly what they want. “The days of members sticking with a fat and happy organization are long gone and not coming back.” Where previous generations may have seen belonging to a professional organization, network or association as a privilege in and of itself, millennials seem to be more inclined to want to know how membership specifically benefits them. What tangible value does membership bring to their lives? Could the money spent on membership be spent elsewhere to greater personal benefit? In addition, whereas choices for previous generations were somewhat geographically limited, in a connected global economy, millennials have the option of joining organizations anywhere in the world and can even create their own virtual networks.

Finding millennials is relatively easy. They are generally early adopters of technology, and have embraced the philosophy of self-branding and self-promotion over social media. Persuading large, traditional and somewhat conservative organizations to meet them there, however, can be a challenge. It took my organization until 2012 to see the value in developing a Facebook page or a mobile app for iOS devices. (We’re still working on breaking into the Android market.)

Once you have found a way to reach out to millennials, one way of attracting them to membership is by offering a customizable, personalized membership experience that addresses the individual member’s specific needs. My organization is attempting to do this by showcasing the individual products and services we offer to members rather than focusing on nonspecific mission statements or nebulous value propositions such as advocacy or professional integrity. In addition, we’ve embraced the personalizable aspects of Web 2.0 in redeveloping our online member portal and increased our communication efforts on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Reddit.

How has your organization rose to the challenge of attracting millennial loyalty to its brand?

Resources for more information on the millennial generation

Twenge JM. 2007. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before.

Membership and the Millennial Generation: A Whole New World. Available:

Sarringhaus MM. 2011. The Great Divide: Social Media’s Role in Bridging Healthcare’s Generational Shift. Available:

Sterling G. 2014. Survey: Best Way To Reach Millennials Is On Social Media. Available:

COMM0014 Blog Post 2 – Know your audience — the reality of code-switching

Code-switching in its broadest definition is the practice of shifting the language you use or the way you express yourself depending on your audience or environment. This shift may be conscious (e.g., how we speak during a formal business presentation) or unconscious (e.g., the language we lapse into around our old childhood friends).

Code-switching happens all the time and is practised by virtually everyone, but what is particularly interesting to me is the way that race, ethnicity and culture influence how we speak in different situations. A wonderful example of almost seamless and adept use of the practice is the well-documented (and well-parodied by comic team Key and Peele) code-switching of US President Barack Obama. In the case of President Obama and many other African Americans, the ability to code-switch is a matter of necessity, the reason for which is best articulated by Dr. Oscar J. Harp III

Ebonics (a blend of ebony and phonics), a term coined by black psychologist, Dr. Robert Williams, was theoretically developed out of a need for African captives during the transatlantic slave trade to communicate among themselves. Although it’s successfully used in American advertisement, it is repeatedly disdained by educators who admonish black students for its use in the school setting.

There is a misconception throughout the United States and Canada that there is one acceptable form of the English language, and any deviation away from this accepted standard is viewed with disdain, if not outright distrust. Even though we all engage in code-switching to varying degrees, a fairly homogenous majority has taken it upon themselves to decide that their code wins in arenas such as politics, business and education. Perhaps it can be argued that a standardized language assists effective communication between groups. However, similar to the apocryphal Anglophone tourist abroad who insists everyone speak English, little effort is made for the winning code to more faithfully reflect all of the parties using it.

Thus, I would argue that story-telling alone is not what defines the human experience.
A willingness to listen to the stories of others shows a willingness to learn from lived experiences outside of our own, and insisting on a shift to a standard language leaves so very much lost in translation.

Comm0015: Blog Post 1: Tools and sources

Mark Zuckerberg must have seen me coming. I don’t know exactly when his plan to become the internet was hatched, but he has definitely succeeded in my household. Facebook is the most accessed site on my computer, with Google a not-so-close second. Facebook is an excellent aggregator of information, whether it be public or personal.Certainly, I use it to lurk former classmates’ pages and boast about my son’s most recent accomplishments, but I also use my news feed to follow actual news. You know, major-world-event, earth-shattering, is-it-ISIS-or-ISIL, real actual news. I like pages from alternative and mainstream media outlets, personal blogs, local organizations and other aggregators. Rather than trek from one website to the next, I can simply scroll through my news feed for a (truly) fair and balanced look at what’s going on in the world beyond George Takei’s latest amazon review.
I use Google in a similar way. When something is happening that I have a particular interest in, such as the current Ebola outbreak or reviews of new TV shows I might want to binge watch, I set up a Google Alert to automatically push the information I want to my inbox.
In terms of listening or trend-watching, I will admit I don’t do much of that on my own time. However, because I am involved in my organization’s social media strategy, I do engage in monitoring on a professional level. I use Facebook Insights to identify different demographics in our target audience and what content most interests each of them. In addition, I follow our competitors and stakeholders on Twitter to see what conversations we should become involved in and to identify potential gaps in our offerings. Finally, I host a biweekly Web quiz on our corporate homepage and provide an analysis of the results to our third-party content providers. This helps them identify whether their messaging is being heard and, more importantly, being understood.