Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

Doing your own advertising? Some tips

There’s a pattern that computers and technology have made apparent over and over.

  • Pre-computers: music was recorded in expensive studios, controlled and distributed by labels. Post-computers: Computers come pre-loaded with free music recording software, and some of the music has gone on to great success.
  • Pre-computers: books were bought by publishing companies, printed on giant presses, distributed to bookstores. Post-computers: anyone (like my friend Sue, for example) can write an e-book (Produce: The Art of Creating Digital Content Using Professional Production Techniques)and take charge of distribution.
  • Pre-computers: making video required hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and highly-professional staff. A few television networks distributed programs and sold advertising. If you didn’t make it on those networks, you didn’t make it on TV. Post-computers: People with consumer-grade technology make videos and upload them to Youtube and other sites, making money from advertising and sometimes getting millions of hits.

Another example of this pattern is advertising. When your media choices were (more or less) daily newspapers, radio, and television, most businesses didn’t do their own advertising. That was done by agencies, or by the media outlet. And it was expensive!

Then, pay-per-click came along. Google AdWords, Facebook, etc. etc. Suddenly anyone could advertise, even with just a few dollars a day to spend. Which is great! Except… sometimes it isn’t.

I saw a sponsored post in my Facebook feed earlier this week. Somebody did something right, because it was for a new microbrewery in my hometown. Except … the ad copy said “opening Spring 2014.”  Problem #1: the brewery  was already open. Problem #2: It was July.

I don’t want to call out the business in question — they’re a small startup, and there’s no doubt they have a million things that they’re trying to do. What happened isn’t a capital crime. But it did point out something that I think happens quite a bit with small businesses and new businesses — their online advertising just gets a little bit out of control.

So I thought I’d give you a quick checklist for your online advertising.

  1. Just because you’re not spending thousands of dollars (unless you are!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be serious about it.
  2. It’s not like traditional media — you don’t want ot run one ad or a couple into the ground. Have multiple ads running.
  3. Response on online advertising drops off like a rock off a cliff. That’s part of the reason to have multiple ads running at any one time, and also a reason to have an inventory of ads that you can swap in and out.
  4. If you use a calendar, or a whiteboard, or whatever to keep a schedule, use it to note when your ads should be staritng and stopping. Also use whatever scheduling options you have in the advertising platform to “set and forget” ads, but have a backup.
  5. Most online advertising gives you a limited amount of wording to play with, and an image. Work hard on those words and images, because they’re your only chance at getting people’s attention. Because you can create many ads, you can play with images and copy.
  6. Regularly review the performance of your ads. Be strategic — and by that I mean ensure that your ads are pushing the viewer to some ACTION.

If you’re doing online ads and want to do a little more education, I’m happy to help as much as I can — although I am not an online advertising expert. If you want to go deeper into this, there’s a ton of great resources out there. For example, e-commerce company Shopify (an Ottawa success story, yay us!) has this great guide up on line.

And Brian Carter has two great books out that can help anyone use online advertising to their advantage:

The Like Economy,

and Facebook Marketing:


If you get through all that, you’d likely know more about this stuff than I would!

(Photo credit: cc-licenced image by Flickr user Marcin Wichary)

Crisis is never far away — be ready to respond.

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:

stanfest

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.

Digital Canada 150 – ahead to the past!

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.

 

Social media mind, beginner’s mind

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of "beginner's mind" discussed in Zen Buddhism.

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of “beginner’s mind” discussed in Zen Buddhism.

Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.

Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.

Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:

These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.

While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.

 

When and how your business should take a stand

It’s easy for a business or organization to shy away from taking public stands. Don’t want to offend anyone, right? But when should you take a public stand on something? And how best to do it?

I started to think about this when I saw a stand Toronto Public Health took on July 22.

Toronto Public Health went to Twitter to call for ABC to not add celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a permanent host of their morning talk show The View. McCarthy, originally a Playboy model, has developed a career as an actress, an author, and more recently as an anti-vaccination activist. She has said her son Evan was diagnosed with autism, that the autism was caused by vaccines, and that he has recovered from autism. In a CNN op-ed, she (and then partner Jim Carrey) wrote: “We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, speech therapy and applied behavior analysis helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism. After we implemented these therapies for one year, the state re-evaluated Evan for further services. They spent five minutes with Evan and said, ‘What happened? We’ve never seen a recovery like this.’”

McCarthy’s hiring has sparked a significant controversy. The blog post announcing the hiring has hundreds of comments, some supportive, more critical (in my estimation).

So why would Toronto Public Health, a Canadian city agency, go public on this?

I twice asked for an interview with Toronto Public Health, but they chose not to make someone available to me. So I’m going to speculate a little, based on the media release and material they sent me (I guess if I’m wrong enough, they’ll ask for a correction.)

First is the numbers argument, which was amply illustrated by this infographic they distributed when they went public.

ImpactOfVaccines

When you look at the reduction in incidence of some very serious, if not fatal, diseases, I would suspect that public health professionals felt the potential for misinformation by McCarthy (both explicit misinformation from her discussing her views on the show and the belief that her appearing on the show would lend her credibility) was more important than the risks of going public.

Second, I would guess that there was a discussion of whether going public with opposition would in itself lead to publicizing her views more.

Third, I would assume that  while it was more or less certain that Toronto Public Health would gain some widespread attention as a result of their stand, they were more interested in raising awareness of the importance of immunization in their local market.

A media backgrounder from the agency tells of a local outbreak of measles that had been caused by parents delaying childhood measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

It’s uncommon for a private-sector company will take a proactive stand on an issue, and it’s rare that government departments will do the same (excluding policy decisions, which are government stock in trade, and politicians taking positions, which they do all the time – it’s kind of their job). It’s much more common to see not-for-profits or associations take on the task of taking on a point of principle. But businesses taking stands is far from unheard of: in the US, the same-sex marriage debate has seen corporate interventions on both the pro side (Starbucks’s Howard Schultz telling a shareholder unhappy with the coffee giant’s support of same-sex marriage to sell his shares) and the con side (Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy tweeting that the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act was a “sad day” for the US), to point out just one example.

So when you see something happening that your company seems to have an interest in, think about whether you want to take a public stand. Here are some tips:

  • Be aware of the risks of speaking out as well as the potential benefits. Prepare yourself for backlash or criticism. Think outside your own organization and supporters. Brainstorm what the strongest opposition to your stand would or could be.
  • Decide how relevant the issue you’re looking at is to your organization’s mission. You might have a strong opinion on vaccination. But if your organization doesn’t have a lear link to some aspect of the issue, you run the risk of being accused of “newsjacking” or just making people go, “huh?”
  • Ensure you have senior-level commitment to the position. This HAS to be something the leadership of the organization must be comfortable with.
  • Base your arguments on information and fact, not on purely emotional appeals, and vet your messaging very carefully.
  • Don’t hide any interests your company or organization has in the issue. Transparency will lessen the probability that someone will come back later and attack you for a bias you didn’t disclose.
  • Have a listening post set up to monitor the progress of the conversation both before and after you intervene. (I’m going to write about this later this week).

 

Eight simple steps to powerful measurement tools

If you’re here regularly, you’ll know I love me some measurement. So when I saw a recommendation to read a paper from Katie Paine, I was pretty much immediately going to the site to download it.

“Social Media Measurement: A Step-by -Step Approach” by Angela Jeffrey, a Texas-based communications consultant with Measurement Match, is exactly what the title implies — a no-BS guide to doing solid measurement of social media initiatives for organizations, published by the excellent Institute for Public Relations. When  I saw a thanks to Kami Huyse, a communicator who I like and respect a great deal, that made me even more positively disposed to the paper.

“Measurement is hard!” is what Flickr user Tom Schenkenberg titled this photo of his daughter. But it doesn’t have to be, as Jeffrey’s paper shows. Start with… baby steps.

And the content does not disappoint.

She starts with the depressing information that measurement is NOT being embedded in organization’s social media campaigns and points to three different surveys with disturbing numbers. Perhaps the worst? An eConsultancy  survey that reported only 22% of communicators had a strategy that linked data and analysis to business objectives.

So perhaps you’re in the three-quarters of that sample. Drop the shame, and read the rest of the paper. In under 20 pages (before the appendices), she lays out an eight-step process for a solid — and achievable — social media evaluation process.

Here’s my paraphrase of her steps. And if any of this is shocking, you need to really brush up.

  1. Identify goals 
  2. Research and prioritize your stakeholders for each goal
  3. Set objectives
  4. Set key performance indicators
  5. Choose your tools and benchmark
  6. Analyze your results and compare them to your costs
  7. Present to your management
  8. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you’re holding back, or you haven’t done a measurement component to your social media activities, read this paper and then tell me why you can’t.

Hell, you don’t even have to pay for her paper. So .. get to it. And if you want some more support, feel free to contact me for a consultation, or to take the next social media measurement course I’m teaching later this month.

Anatomy of a pitch

Even a little PR / social media blog like this one gets pitched. A lot. The vast majority of the pitches I get are absolutely awful. So I’m going to profile one that made me WANT to write about it and explain why. 

This is the email I got:

daspitch

So why am I writing about this, and not the roughly 20 other pitches I got this week?

First, it’s an unusual concept. A legal insurance firm like DAS Canada doing a contest is unexpected (at least to me.)

Second, it points out a serious, real problem — being able to afford legal representation.

Third, it’s in the range of things that I might write about anyway — social media related, has a business application. You’d be surprised how many pitches I get for stuff that I would never in a million years write about on this blog (would you believe beach umbrella anchors?!). And you’d also be surprised by the people who pitch to me even after I’ve explicitly written to them and asked to be removed from their lists. (I’m looking at you, Imal Wagner, who pitches books to me that I would never cover, and has been told so).

Fourth, the release is reasonably well written. I could get the concept. And they quote the president of the Canadian Bar Association, which gives it some relevant credibility.

What didn’t I like about the pitch? The subject line’s kinda clunky. And I would love to have seen some personalization. A multimedia component would also have been nice — links to imagery or audio or video.

For all I know, the people at Pointman PR did absolutely no research, and me getting this was just a lucky chance for them. Or perhaps they thought about it a little. Either way, it worked. So what can you learn if you’re doing pitching to blogs or to mainstream media?

  • Just look at the blog a little. I’m a PR blog. It’s not that I don’t care about children getting impaled by rogue beach umbrellas. It’s just that it doesn’t fit my slant. So don’t WASTE MY TIME PLEASE!
  • Think rich content. If there had been a picture, I probably would have used it.
  • Personalize. Yes, it’s a pain. But do it anyway.
  • And if you’re told to stop pitching to someone, FLIPPING WELL STOP PITCHING!

 

Why scaling up is as scary as falling apart

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.

Concert fans at Amnesia Rockfest

It’s easy to go from this…

… to this, when you’re a business trying to scale

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.

“Why You Are Stupid” – my Social Capital presentation

In a fit of perversity, I decided to submit a proposal to the 2013 Social Capital Conference with the title “Why you are Stupid.” I wanted to talk about some of the things that we social media people do that are… stupid. Generally speaking, I was thinking of:

  1. Stupid offensive
  2. Stupid boring
  3. Stupid and poor (budgetwise)

I decided that I thought I’d see if I could turn the crowd (assuming there WAS one) away and then try to pull them back in.

Here’s how I promoted the session:

I THINK I did okay at living up to the billing. But I’ll leave that for the audience to decide, and perhaps share. You can chime in based on the slides here:

More importantly than my own presentation is the success of the conference. Lara Wellman and Karen Wilson of the eponymous Wellman Wilson Communications led the organization with many other volunteers, and they pulled off a great conference. Why did I enjoy it so much? Here are a few reasons:

  • Keynotes. I got the opportunity to see friend Danny Brown do a keynote for the first time. And I got a totally different sense of why he’s so smart from seeing him in that context. Made me proud to be friends with him. The other keynote was delivered by Gini Dietrich, who for me existed in that odd world of having been friends for literally YEARS online without ever having met. I told someone yesterday that before Gini and her colleague Lindsay Bell-Wheeler arrived at a Friday night reception, I was literally a bundle of nerves inside, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t be too much of a dork in their presence. That jury may still be out, but there’s no doubt that Gini is a charming and polished and top-notch speaker, and that Lindsay just might prove the sayings about the relative depth of the Atlantic Canadian gene pool. She feels like a sister after just one meeting. Which is likely bad news for her, since that just means more insults.   
  • Collaboration. When Danny was confirmed as keynote, I really wanted to do something to celebrate the launch of Influence Marketing, the book he just published with Sam Fiorella. So I got in touch with Caitlin Kealey at MediaStyle, another Ottawa communications consultancy, and they jumped in with both feet, putting together (with some help from me) a super fun event called Gin and Talkin‘. MediaStyle President Ian Capstick interviewed Danny, there was great food and better drink, and several dozen people ended up with complementary copies of the book, courtesy of Translucid and of MediaStyle. It was a great kickoff to a hectic weekend. And I never could have put together an event that good on my own.
  • Connection. While it’s rewarding to go to events like #socapott and reconnect with the people you already know, it’s just as exciting to meet new people and learn from them and discover what makes them cool. While I was a bit limited in doing that due to a family wedding in the middle of all this, I got to know a number of people at the conference that I hope to know better in the future.

Oh, and one bonus:

  • Karaoke. A group of us decided on post-conference festivities at Ottawa’s legendary Shanghai Restaurant, home to Saturday night Karaoke with the one and only China Doll. We got there to discover two bachelorette parties already heating up the mics, and then China Doll made a late appearance to show off Ottawa’s best to some locals and out of towners.

If I can leave you with one takeaway from my presentation, it’s this:

Raise your own expectations is a double-edged sword. If you expect your own work to be better, to be smarter, you will spread that expectation to others. Your boss, your clients, your friends will expect you to be that good NORMALLY. That’s intimidating, but it’s also necessary. Push beyond the stupid and the easy. 

That’s one of the things that I’m going to try to do. Might not be a bad idea to take my own advice.

How to capitalize on #Hadfield

There’s a certain irony apparent (at least to me) in Chris Hadfield returning to earth after what is undeniably one of the great examples of communication in action and the government for whom he works being roundly pasted for its “rebranding” of the National Research Council of Canada. And there are lessons to be learned here. And I have to tip the hat to friend and colleague Susan Murphy, whose post this morning “Chris Hadfield: Social Media Un-guru” got me thinking about all this.

First, let’s précis Chris Hadfield. In his five months on the International Space Station, he has, in the words of tech blog Gizmodo, “made us care about space again.”

How? They say “Hadfield straddled the lines between teacher and performer, educated expert and screwball with a camcorder, just about perfectly.” His Larrivee parlour guitar wasn’t just a recreational toy. He used it to record an earth-space collaboration with a choir and with Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson that became a national singalong on “Music Monday.” His camera became a tool for a unique set of eyes on our planet and a record of all sorts of land, sea and skyscapes. Look at Cape Bretoner Parker Donham, who posted twice when Hadfield “took pictures of my primary residence.” And then, as he prepared to return to earth, he released a moving cover version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

Meantime, the Canadian government refocused and rebranded the venerable National Research Council last week. The refocusing moved the historic institution “away from basic science” and towards a focus on applying science and collaborating with business.

The move has been criticized by many people, including Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells and US-based science blogger and author Phil Plait, who called it “monumentally backward thinking.” Some point to the current government’s uneasy-to-hostile role of muzzler / gatekeeper between scientists and researchers. It also was a matter of some concern inside the agency too, according to this CBC blog post.

Chris Hadfield was able to do what he’s done because of a few things:

  • He’s a charismatic person, and we’ve been able to see that because we see him.
  • He had five months to tell a compelling story and to build an audience for that story.
  • He was willing to tell human stories in a human way.
  • He was willing and eager to engage with people.

What’s the latest video on the NRC’s Youtube channel?

Is it fair to compare these two videos? Probably not. Is it fair to compare the two channels? Maybe.

  • NRC: 102 subscribers, 11,786 views, comments disabled on most videos
  • CSA: 153,623 subscribers, 22,970,172 views, dozens and hundreds of comments per video

Twitter?

  • NRC: 2,194 followers, 229 tweets
  • Hadfield: 879,225 followers, 4,919 tweets
  • CSA: 45,510 followers, 13,821 tweets

What we’ve seen in the last five months has been a demonstration of the power of social media. That demonstration will only be truly useful if other parts of the government which funds agencies like the Canadian Space Agency and the National Research Council see that potential and make use of it.