Archive for the ‘social networks’ Category
I’m writing this on the day after Canada Day, which always feels like the start of the week to me. Living in Canada’s capital city means that you’re going to get involved in some way, no matter how low-key, in our national celebration. Yesterday’s revelry took place in lots of heat and humidity, and in the afternoon, there was a tornado warning — something that isn’t exactly commonplace for Ottawa.
Today, I was surprised by news that a music festival in my home province of Nova Scotia is cancelling its 2014 edition (scheduled for July 4-6) because a very early tropical storm seems like it will hit Canso, the home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, right when they’re supposed to be making music for an adoring crowd.
Outdoor events are by definition unpredictable. I was on the board of the Ottawa Folk Festival in 2010 when torrential rains made most of the site unusable and dealt a crippling blow to our finances. And in 2011, I was in the crowd at the Ottawa Bluesfest to enjoy a Cheap Trick show when a freak storm blew in and this happened (video shot by another bystander):
Fortunately, nobody died during that stage collapse, although there were injuries. Litigation over the collapse is still going on.
My experiences with music festivals have left me with an abiding interest in crisis preparation and response. And one of the most important things you can do as an organization is to have a “dark page” ready. What’s that, you ask?
A dark page, or a dark site, is a pre-developed website that you can use in place of your organization’s normal site in the event of a crisis of some sort. Why do this?
Well, if you look at the Stan Rogers Festival site, the cancellation media release is two clicks in. The main page, merrily promoting the festival and selling tickets, is what I see when I visit. Fortunately, you can’t actually complete a ticket purchase, but a casual visitor wouldn’t know what was happening.
If the Stanfest site had pulled down its normal page and replaced it with a simple site explaining the situation and informing various groups (ticketholders, performers, etc) of what they needed to know and how to get more information, the communication would be much more clear and straightforward.
Also, if anyone tries to share the news of the cancellation on Facebook, the site feeds FB information about the 2013 and 2012 dates, a fault in the HTML coding of the site:
Fortunately for Stanfest, their fans seem understanding and conciliatory. But if those fans begin to ask for information about refunds or rescheduling without quick answers, the patience may wear thin.
I fervently hope that the storm amounts to very little and that the folks behind Stanfest are able to put something together to salvage the festival.
Whatever your business, you should put a little thought into this. Crises happen everywhere, all the time. If you want to learn more about this, feel free to contact me, or you could read my friend Ann Marie van den Hurk’s book “Social Media Crisis Communications.” She’s a superb thinker on this topic.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that — as if by magic — just a few days after writing “It’s hard to be social when you’re not social” about the Canadian federal government’s difficulty grappling with social media, Digital Canada 150, the long, longgggg-awaited digital strategy of the Government of Canada was released on Friday afternoon, April 4.
This is a digital strategy that’s been promised and not delivered by five Industry Ministers since 2006, when the current government was first elected. So if the rest of this post is critical, I have to give the current minister James Moore some kudos for at least publishing something.
The first thing that gave me the willies? A Friday afternoon release. Even though it seems everyone’s wise to the tactic, I still get worried that a Friday afternoon release of anything means there’s a desire to bury it.
The second thing that gave me the willies? The flash animation for the launch, leading to the … flipbook and downloadable PDF, which treat the reader to full-page vanity messages from Industry Minister James Moore and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
And then we get to the meat of it. There are five pillars to the strategy: Connecting Canadians, Protecting Canadians, Economic Opportunities, Digital Government, and Canadian Content.
Each section has a number of policy directions, followed by a list of things the government has done, will do, and a success story.
A year-and-a-bit ago, Maclean’s magazine writer Peter Nowak wrote this “New Year’s resolution” for a digital strategy. In it, he argued for things like:
- Create a Technology Minister.
- As Nowak put it, “Incubators, incubators, incubators.”
- And a combination of increased broadband service and subsidies and training for those who aren’t currently online.
Veteran Internet observer Michael Geist calls the document “the digital strategy without a strategy“, and points out that of the $5.72 billion the government just raised from a wireless-spectrum auction, the plan identifies far less than that in investment. And IT World Canada’s Howard Solomon quotes Geist and others with some fairly substantive criticism. Openmedia calls it a rehash of previous announcements.
Byron Holland, the president of CIRA, Canada’s .ca registry, wrote in a blog post “The digital economy, and Canada’s digital future, is too important to be left to a series of activities that may or may not relate to one another. We have seen time and time again what happens when leaders get too focussed on day-to-day activities instead of focussing on a strategic direction.”
CIRA’s 2010 submission to one of the consultations that led to this strategy suggested, among other things, that “it is useful for the Government of Canada to benchmark Canada’s performance in the digital economy against other countries and in particular against major trading partners. With this in mind, it might be useful to create an ongoing compendium of publicly available data with an annual assessment of where Canada stands, available on-line.” Sadly, there’s nothing in the strategy about that, and if there were, we might well be quite disappointed with the results.
My particular hobbyhorse last week, and on an ongoing basis, is the federal government’s use of social media in its operations. The Digital Government section offers not the slightest hint that government departments or agencies will see their ability to actually DO social media increase between now and 2017 (the 150th anniversary of Confederation, our country’s founding). The section focuses almost entirely on open data — a useful tool, and not one I’d argue against. But if you were hoping that this document might encourage departmental blogs, or Youtube videos with comments enabled, or Twitter feeds that actually conducted conversations with followers, you are wearing a black armband today.
Our federal government has at its fingertips great levers of power and money. So far, it has not chosen to use those levers to re-engineer government to catch up with what we’re doing in our daily lives, right now. Rather, it’s simply going to pick around the edges of things, drop a little money from time to time, and unfortunately, let its citizens — and its international counterparts — leave it in the dust.
A bit of a media — well, not a storm — drizzle began in my city last week. My local newspaper ran the story “Four staff work on widely-unwatched PMO promo videos.”
The nub of the story: in January of this year, our country’s Prime Minister (already the subject of some severe criticism for his inaccessibility to media) launched a YouTube feature called “24-Seven” (“24-sept” en français). The videos, at least one each week, are published to the PMO’s YouTube channel. And viewership has been less than revolutionary. The March 20-26 edition has 30 views in English as I write this, and 12 in French. Four public servants produce those sparsely-viewed videos “as part of their regular web publishing duties.” Those public servants include a director (annual salary at least $105K), a “multimedia specialist” (starting salary $56K), a “project coordinator” (starting salary $72K), and an “analyst” (starting salary $52K). The story notes that information wasn’t available about the people who actually shot and edited the video.
It’s easy to scoff at videos that have two-digit view counts, and equally easy to be sniffy about the expenditures. But this initiative is far from the only federal one that has failed on YouTube. Canada’s National Research Council has a four-year-old channel with 29 videos. Two of them have more than 2,000 views. Industry Canada’s channel has 15 videos, of which one has more than 1,000 views. Health Canada has posted 97 videos over the last four years, and has relative success, with some videos approaching 70,000 views. Environment Canada’s most popular video of its 30 has 9,300 views.
This week, the opposition parties to our federal government are continuing to ask questions about the videos, according to a post by intrepid CBC blogger Kady O’Malley. The opposition parties are assuming, I guess, that there may be tidbits they can use to hold the government up to ridicule or attack.
It’s surprisingly hard to get high-level numbers about YT views. A 2009 study by Tubemogul showed that less than five per cent of Youtube videos got more than 5,000 views. If those numbers are still even close to accurate, even 1000 views is not a definite failure.
Why don’t videos produced by our government do that well? Because Canada’s federal government does not do a good job with social media. It’s that simple. It consciously turns its back on the things that differentiate social media from traditional government communications methods. What do I mean by that?
In no particular order:
- Closed comments and strangled sharing options
- Lack of promotion
- Lack of interaction with potential viewers
- Focus on the channel and not the strategy or the content
Comments and sharing. If you put your videos up and disable comments and prevent people from embedding them in other pages, you tell the viewer that you’re not interested in the conversation.
Lack of promotion. Videos rarely just magically find viewerships. You need to get them out there, with concerted effort at sharing. When even the most innocuous tweet is subject to a truly onerous process, it’s impractical to promote your video assets. Imagine if someone were to tweet “Would love to do my taxes, but I don’t think I know how”, and someone from CRA replied with a pointer to a video tutorial! But if that tweet has to be seen and approved by dozens of people, it’s never going to make a difference. That’s just one example of how social media could be used to promote video assets but isn’t. Another example: the Public Health Agency of Canada has a channel with 29 videos. It also has a FB page with 7,854 likes. I went through the FB page for 2014 and 2013, and there were no posts pointing people to the Youtube channel or to a specific Youtube video. Those types of cross-promotion have no “hard costs” attached; it’s not like you’re buying Google Adwords or FB “boosts” and spending real money. It’s someone’s time.
Lack of interaction with potential viewers. Canada’s federal government doesn’t allow its public servants to take individual voices online. There’s a long tradition in Canada where the Prime Minister speaks for Canada, his or her cabinet ministers speak for their departments, and the public service works impartially and anonymously, away from the public sphere. There are rare exceptions: Environment Canada meteorologist David Phillips is a bona fide star, doing countless interviews about weather. But Phillips has no online brand — no Twitter account, FB profile (that I can find), no blog. So his public persona is based on doing interviews with journalists, not with interacting with “normal people.” Other jurisdictions allow their public servants more latitude. For example, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has nearly 200 of its employees on a blogroll. These posts are often engaging and VERY personal. They even allow UK citizens to guest blog, like this expat who now lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. Another example: the US FDA has a Twitter account, and while I don’t know who is behind its Tweets, they do engage with their readers from time to time, like this:
When everything is collective, impersonal, and when there’s no conversation at all, there’s no opportunity to build relationships with the people who might be interested in your content.
No focus on the strategy, content or presentation. Many federal government videos lack creativity and end up looking and feeling like really second-rate corporate products. I frequently point to this video, produced by the National Research Council as an example of what government gets wrong with YouTube:
Sadly, this is not a particularly isolated example. Slick? Yes. Professionally shot and edited, from the look of it. But the supers (the text that flies by) have no relationship to the images. The images themselves are simply an amalgam of people doing things that are more or less understandable. There’s no human voice to it. There’s no call to action; there’s no strategy or plan underlying the shooting.
Even when the NRC has cool content — NRC scientists spent two nights in the Louvre doing amazingly detailed scans of the Mona Lisa — the presentation of this content has a pedantic, “this is good for you but you won’t like it” feel. Why not speak with one of the scientists doing the work? Why not have him or her walk you through the painting? Why not explain why of all the countries of the world, the NRC’s equipment was the best to do this job?
I teach a lot of public servants about social media. And often, the classes are punctuated with “we can’t do that”s, with rueful head-shaking, with eye-rolling. I understand that there’s a value to government proceeding slowly in terms of its adoption of technology. But there is — or at least there should be — a premium placed on innovation. The US Centers for Disease Control must believe that; they published an emergency preparedness guide to a zombie apocalypse, and garnered huge acclaim and attention.
The only thing surprising to me about the Prime Minister’s video channel is that it exists at all. That it’s poorly watched and takes four people to make the videos? No surprise. That its content is uninspiring and its presentation is not innovative at all? No surprise.
There’s one more thing that is disturbing about how our federal government uses social media, and it was stated perfectly by Ken Mueller in his recent post “Social media: where marketing goes to die.” I can’t say it any better than he did, so here’s his key paragraph:
When it comes to social media, I think most failed efforts are pretty much the same. It’s not that social media doesn’t work, it’s just that those in charge are generally guilty of some form of neglect. We spend a lot of time and effort on all sorts of marketing and communications campaigns, but somehow, social media comes last. Social media suffers from neglect. And then I hear “I guess it doesn’t work.”
No, you just let it die.
I worry that public servants will look at moribund Youtube channels, not understand the context of social media, and decide that even 70,000 views is a failure. And with no commenting or embedding, there’s no way to show other things that might indicate a video is catching people’s attention.
I don’t expect government videos to be as creative as those done by two creative individuals like Pomplamoose (keep in mind, these folks compose, perform, and record the music AND shoot and edit their videos themselves). Trust me. In an enterprise as large as the federal government, there are people who have the technical and creative skills needed to make truly good videos. But they’re hamstrung. Same thing with every social media channel. The potential for excellence is there. But surely there’s an inch of play that the government’s communications policies could allow the talented communicators who work there to exercise.
Because a lot of my brain and my non-working life is focused on music, I see a lot of crowdfunding pitches. I mean, A LOT. When you become friends with a lot of musicians, sometimes it seems as if every week I get multiple requests to help make a CD, fund a tour, a theatre project, or some other worthwhile venture.
Crowdfunding is a crowded marketplace. A new infographic from CraigConnects and Rad Campaign tells us that more than FIVE BILLION DOLLARS was raised this way in 2013. But while the crowdfunding field is complicated and numbers vary widely (see this article from the Canadian Media Fund for an example of just how many ways you can define ‘success’), it’s fair to say that a large number of projects, if not a majority, do not end up meeting their financial goals.
So when I contributed to two recent campaigns that were very successful, I started to think about why they made it when so many others don’t. The first was “The Kneeraiser.” In a nutshell, some civic-minded folks decided to buy someone a knee. The someone in question was singer-songwriter Christa Couture. While I had met her several times, I was shocked to read on the Kneeraiser site that Christa was an amputee. Turns out that after a diagnosis of cancer at 11, she became an amputee at 13 and has been a monopod for the last 22 years. While Canada’s public health-care system covers basic prostheses, there are remarkable high-tech prosthetics out there which cost extra. While many employees would have part of those costs covered by benefit plans, a full-time musician doesn’t have benefits. And so, the knee-raiser was born, with a goal of $15,000 to get a basic microprocessor knee. That goal was reached in 3 days, and the campaign is now closing in on a $25,000 goal.
The second was a campaign launched by my friend Jill Zmud to help produce her second album, “Small matters of life and death.” The Ottawa singer-songwriter’s record was inspired by a family member she will only ever know second-hand. Jill’s uncle had been a touring musician, but was killed in a car crash before she was born. Decades later, Jill found a box of reel-to-reel tapes that became half of her uncle’s musical bequests to her. The other was his Fender Telecaster guitar, which is her main instrument. Jill’s fundraising goal was met, and then some, and she got media coverage including The Globe and Mail, a major coup for any indie artist.
So why did these two campaigns succeed, and why do so many other campaigns struggle? I think there are two things that set Jill and Christa’s campaigns apart: the story, and the perks.
Both Jill and Christa had something beyond a “help me make a record” pitch. In one case, it was to support a musician to attain a necessary medical device that she simply would not afford otherwise. In the other, the story of Jill’s uncle’s untimely death and her discovery of his music made for compelling reading and captivated the listener / reader. That Jill was completing the CD and doing the crowdfunding and perparing for a CD-release show while also getting ready to give birth in April made her story even more interesting. Christa’s love for Fluevog shoes, and a well-placed picture, ended up in the company sharing her story with its 93,000 Facebook fans.
And both campaigns offered creative and quirky perks for contributions that were fun and engaging all on their own. Because Christa is a well-loved member of a supportive artistic community, she was able to offer donors music perks from seven different performers, as well as art, signed poetry chapbooks, tote bags, and all sorts of other things. Jill offered everything from a credit line in the CD to writing a song for the donor’s wedding to a painting by her artist brother to a one-act play written by her husband to a evening of game-playing with she and her husband. Both Jill and Christa’s campaigns also did many of the basics right: they maintained momentum, they regularly posted updates via various social media channels, they included video as a part of the campaign, and they gave themselves enough time to meet their goal.
So if you’re thinking about trying crowdfunding as a way of completing a project, don’t go in blind. Do the background research necessary to do your project right, and spend time planning it so that you do what Jill and Christa have done:
- tell a compelling story in multiple ways to engage your audience
- establish and maintain momentum
- offer perks that maximize creativity and attract attention on their own
- use your networks and social media channels to keep the flame burning
And if you’ve read this far, please consider helping to get Christa’s Kneeraiser to its stretch goal of $25,000 and make her the first Canadian bionic folk singer.
Earlier this month I wrote about taking public stands as a business. One of the elements of that post was that you want to be listening to the conversations taking place around the issue, and around your business. Ideally, you should be doing that on an ongoing basis.
I also wrote about developing a “listening strategy.” Maybe you took those posts to heart. But, you say, you don’t regularly monitor social media? Too difficult? Too expensive? Pshaw.
Yes, you can spend money on a commercial social media monitoring service. There are lots out there. But maybe you don’t have the budget for that. Well, In a few steps, you can have a listening post set up that might not be as exhaustive as some giant corporate operation, but is certainly going to be better than ignoring conversations.
Step one: Get your Google on.
There’s more to Google than just searching for that store that sells those gadgets you need. You can use tools like Google News, Google Blogsearch, in tandem with RSS feeds and/or Google alerts to know exactly what is happening in your industry, when someone writes about your competition, or when a blog covers a topic of interest to you or your business. Don’t forget about Youtube searches as well.
Step two: Say yes to RSS.
The geekosphere mourned the loss of Google Reader when it was shut down on July 1, 2013. But there are alternatives, like Feedly. What are these things? Here’s my simple description. Websites, Google searches, and all sorts of web-based tools all generate something called an RSS feed. That feed gets updated every time the site is updated. Feedly, and other RSS readers, grabs all the feeds you want and creates a newsstand on your screen. You can skim through hundreds of websites in a couple of minutes, keep the articles you think are worth keeping and forget about the rest. To try to visit an equivalent number of sites would take HOURS. This is a huge timesaver.
Step three: Make it a nest-y habit.
Make checking this part of your daily routine. My recommendation: First thing in the morning, when you turn on your computer or tablet, you check your e-mail, right? Then you do the same thing with your RSS Reader. You then flag anything that’s of importance and act on it — give it to an employee, respond, make phone calls, put it in your follow-up file — whatever works.
If you do this? You’ll be further ahead than the majority of businesses, as you’ll see by this late-2012 study that found that TWO THIRDS of companies aren’t monitoring social media for business purposes.
Got a question about setting up your listening post? Leave a comment. Like this kind of post? Click on the “SMB101″ or “Tips” tags just below! Need a little help or support setting things up? No problem – contact me.
(photo: Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Elliott Phillips.)
Interesting example of one of the pitfalls of online advertising passed by on my newsfeed. Ottawa realtor Tracy Arnett had used Facebook’s new promoted posts feature on Facebook. Available since May, this new feature allows a specific post to be pushed into people’s newsfeeds (this is different from Facebook ads, which appear in the sidebar of a Facebook profile). The one I saw advertised a condominium apartment.
But what really caught my eye was the first comment on the post. Take a look:
To the credit of the realtor, she responded exceptionally well. Apologize for the offense, explain calmly and carefully why it happened, offer a solution.
When I went to the realtor’s Facebook page, I noted the following messages as well:
But it points out to businesses using new social media options for advertising such as sponsored posts on social networks that they may well tick off people who see them. Be prepared to receive angry — even intemperate — feedback, and to respond in a measured and factual manner. Imagine if the realtor had responded by saying “Look, if you don’t like it just hit ignore, okay? It’s not my problem”!
And in fact, depending on the type of advertising you’re planning on doing and the nature of your business or organization, the potential for negative responses might well dissuade you from doing such advertising. Proceed carefully!
I do a lot of teaching. Either formally in a classroom (like at Eliquo Training and Development), or over a coffee, or as part of a consulting job for a client. And one of the things that always gets covered first, or nearby, in building social media strategies is… LISTENING.
Why? The answer relates to one of the fundamental differences between businesses working in the social media universe and the pre-social media universe.
Here’s my rant about listening:
Back in the day, “listening” was more or less equivalent to the research that your organization could afford to do. It was made up of activities like focus groups, market research, surveys, and the like. You did it when you chose to. And then you chose to either act on what you learned or ignore it, and enjoy or suffer the consequences. Occasionally, people would self-organize to boycott a brand or give it some sort of cohesive message. But that was far from common.
When the use of social media tools went mainstream, all of a sudden people discovered they could talk with each other online. And even if they weren’t directly interacting, there were sites that aggregated people’s feedback and opinions. Didn’t like a movie? You could complain about it on an IMDB forum. Love your local coffee shop? You could share the love with the world!
Those conversations and aggregations are happening now, and will continue to happen. If your business has a public face, chances are that some of those conversations are about you.
If you start using social media like the old school, push-out-the-messages marketing tools, you run the risk of annoying or alienating people already talking about you. If you attempt to shut down those conversations as “threats” to your brand, you risk the “Streisand effect.” And if you ignore the conversations, you come across as uncaring.
So the best choice is participate. But to do that, FIRST YOU MUST LISTEN. It isn’t that hard. There are lots of tools out there that you can use to create effective listening posts. RSS readers (I like Feedly, now that Google Reader’s gone); Google Alerts; Twitter clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck… The tools are there, and you can set things up fairly quickly. Once you take the time to set things up, it’s not that difficult to consume a great deal of information about your organization and respond to whatever you need to in a short amount of time.
If you’re a larger business, you likely have resources set aside to do this. If you’re smaller, you may not. Whatever your situation… don’t you want to be on top of this? If you want some help with that, let me know.
Lots of talk recently in my neck of hte woods about the Amnesia Rock Festival. It happened June 14-15, with 90 acts from Anthrax to Alice Cooper to Fucked Up to the Dropkick Murphys filling a field in the small West Quebec town of Montebello.
By all accounts, the music was great. But some are calling the festival an “organizational shitshow“, some bands weren’t happy that they had to pay to play, and a village councillor and others are pointing at an “ocean of pee”, giant unwieldy lineups to get in and out, shuttle buses that stopped running with thousands of people waiting to get back to campsites… And a few days afterward, the site is still quite a mess.
Organizer Alex Martel spent several days incognito, then began to speak with reporters yesterday, explaining that people were congratulating him onsite on pulling the festival off.
I know the territory that Martel is on a little bit. Music festivals are giant endeavors. There’s the money side — you contract to spend money that you hop you’ll earn back; there’s the logistics side — thousands of people showing up at an outdoor site expecting to be fed, watered, and go to the bathroom in relative comfort while the sound and lights are tip-top. In this case, there’s the complication of remote campign sites and shuttle buses. So much can go wrong, so quickly.
Since I wasn’t at the festival, I can’t say with any certainty just how gigantic a failure or success it was. But it’s a great demonstration of the difficulties all businesses can experience in scaling up.
When you start a project, it can be easy — you do EVERYTHING, and everything comes back to you. When it grows, you have to start growing with it. Maybe that means staff, or volunteers, or renting an office, or hiring subcontractors… and it gets complex. Sometimes you discover that you’ve gone from someone doing what you’re best at and passionate about to someone doing things that you really don’t enjoy.
There was a time when I was doing media relations, and then I became a manager of media relations. It was only after I left the job that I realized just how little I had enjoyed managing people who reported to me.
I’ve seen lots of friends join startup companies that are hiring like crazy, growing like mad. And many times, those companies have crashed and burned. If you’re on the upswing as an organization, hooray! But don’t get so enthralled with the venture-capital money, the kudos, the excitement that you forget that you’re always just a few missteps away from total calamity.
And when you are blowing up the world with your products or services, remember that you’re most vulnerable to customer service prolems, communication breakdowns, and the things that can start out small but end up as fully-fledged crises. The solution?
Stay open. Use all the communication channels you’ve established. Meet your audiences where they are — at the checkout, on Twitter, Facebook or whatever other social media tools they use. Acknowledge problems, work to solve them, explain why they’re happening, and try not to make the same mistakes twice. Shutting down the lines of communication, hiding away, and moaning that people “just don’t understand how hard it is.”
If you talk to them about what you’re doing, they WILL understand. If you get defensive, they’ll stop caring and stop listening.
I saw a very disappointing infographic this morning, via Dave Forde’s PR in Canada site. Produced by the Max Borges Agency, it chronicles the history of public relations. I was interested to scan it. And so I did. I invite you to do the same:
Okay. Notice something?
- Ben Franklin.
- Tom Paine.
- Ivy Lee advising John D. Rockefeller.
- Edward Bernays advising Coolidge on foreign affairs.
And what do we have representing the last 13 years, the 2000s?
- Taco Bell and the crash of Mir.
- A PR stunt for The Dictator, a movie that hasn’t even made its budget back yet.
- And Oreo tweeting about a power failure.
As entertaining as these entries are, are they telling us something? I think they are. PR practitioners should look at this and ask themselves on what side they fall. Are they contributing substance, or are they simply carrying out stunts? Are they using the tools of communication at their disposal (obviously including the suite of tools that make up “social media”) to make change, to influence people on important issues, or is it about a cookie or a taco?
And if we’re seeking to summarize our contributions to society, are those the best examples we can find? What about the role of Twitter in the Iranian demonstrations? What about the ability of people to organize using social media to create events like Twestival? What about the Tylenol crisis? I could go on.
If public relations is to be considered a serious discipline, doesn’t it makes sense that we take on serious work, and talk about serious issues? And talk about them in public? Sometimes I think I oughtta find a new career.
One of the things that social media offers EVERYONE is the chance to present important work to the world in engaging ways. Proof? Just look at a map from the James McGregor Stewart society in Nova Scotia. I think if you read this post, you’ll see that even the most underresourced organization can use online tools to do good work and spread it.
The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.
It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.
So, the back story:
The James McGregor Stewart Society’s prime mover, a guy named Gus Reed, got a question from his intern. She wanted to find out how easy is it for people with disabilities to meet with their elected representatives? So, simplicity itself. She phoned each of the 52 MLAs’ constitutency offices and asked them some very simple questions about accessibility. Here’s what they asked:
- Does your office have parking? If so, is it paved? Does it have designated accessible spots?
- Is there a power door button?
- Is your entrance accessible (level, ramped, and / or elevator?)? Does it have a portable or other questionable ramp? Does it have a step or stairs?
- Is the washroom large enough for a wheelchair? Are there grab bars and/or a wheel-under sink?
- Is your office on an accessible transit route?
With this, they assigned points so that MLAs could score between -1 and 6.
Here are the results:
The mean score was 3. Keep in mind, you could get a 3 by having a disabled parking space at your office and having a door at street level. If you had an accessible washroom you’d get a 5. So a mean score of 3 is not exactly inspiring.
I spent a little time trying to get a handle on the Nova Scotia government’s accessibility policy. As best as I can understand it, buildings constructed since the 1990s, or buildings that have changed their purpose (from a house to a retail store, for example) are required to conform to the provincial building code, which mandates a number of measures to ensure disabled people can get access. (The building code regulations are here, and the province’s 1986 Building Access act is here.) Unfortunately, calls and emails to the province’s Human Rights Commission and Disabled Persons Commission resulted in little useful information. However, a cheerful fellow at the provincial department of Labour and Advanced Education (which is responsible for the building code) walked me through the regulations so that I got a cursory understanding of them.
The shameful level of accessibility is one thing. But I’m not an accessibility blogger – I’m a PR and social media blogger. So I’m gonna take on that aspect of this.
What really caught my eye in Parker Donham’s post was that nobody else had done this sort of survey before. Certainly, it’s not a technical challenge; simply pick up the phone 52 times and you’re done.
But what social media now offers is the opportunity to disseminate these findings in a graphically-rich way quickly, easily, and widely. No wire service needed, no fancy-dan graphic designers. Just Google Maps, Blogger, and email.
I spoke with Gus Reed on Skype on June 6, and he told me they weren’t sure what would happen with this survey. With no staff, the James McGregor Stewart Society has no “machine” to churn out a mass of followup documents. And this story may not make a dent in the media or in Nova Scotia government policy.
I want to draw out some public relations and social media lessons for both activist groups and for those who are their likely targets — large corporations, organizations, or government.
- Do solid work — like calling all 52 constituency offices, and tell your story well. Don’t focus only on media attention. A well-told story, like “people in wheelchairs can’t participate in basic democracy” is going to make people stop and read. If your work is shoddy or bloggers or media get burned, though, good luck getting someone to listen a second time.
- Use the resources you have at your disposal. In this case, the society has a blog on Blogger. Sure, they could get more fancy. But they haven’t. They used Google Maps to visualize and annotate their data. Gus Reed used Skype to give me more information.
- Have a plan. Even if you’re not going to push hard on the media front, doing the work requires followup. What will your next steps be? Once you do them, what’s next? Even for voluntary organizations with no staff, this stuff isn’t a closed circle, it’s lather, rinse, repeat. (Hint: there are lots of municipalities in Nova Scotia to look at, Mr Reed. Hint 2: There are 12 other legislatures that groups could survey in exactly the same way.)
- Do not look at this as a threat. Look at it as an opportunity. Even if it’s critical. And especially if, deep down, you know the criticism is well-founded.
- Do not ignore small organizations as powerless. The “amplification effect” may leave you chasing down a forest fire.
- Respond. Promptly and substantively.