CDPR108, Week 12: And in the end, what is there?

Most non-profit organizations do phenomenal work, depending on donations and volunteers to help the downtrodden and the oppressed. That being said, many non-profits fail when it comes to their social media policies, especially the smaller organizations that cannot afford to create and maintain a proper social media plan. In this day and age, however, can they really afford not to?

 Social media should not just inform. It should engage the audience to take action, whether the action is buying something, voting for someone, donating money, or volunteering time. How much more important could this be than for a non-profit organization? A good social media plan, instituted properly, can inspire people and motivate them to get involved. An excellent social media plan will enable the audience to get involved immediately. This is more than just having the option to donate online.

 Here are just three ways for non-profits to increase engagement on the social web: 

  1. Pictures. Everyone loves pictures. They’re so relatable. And people want to get involved in charities with which they can relate. An organization can start a Pinterest board, get active on Instagram or even start a photo contest. It depends on the charity. The United Nations Development Program ran a photo contest to raise awareness of World Humanitarian Day. They asked people to share photos of their community heroes, someone who inspired them. It was a great way to recognize the great work of all those unnoticed heroes, to engage the audience in the program and to bring awareness to the cause. Brilliant. For more information, click here.
  2. Videos. Videos used to be expensive; producing one used to require a big budget and fancy equipment. That isn’t the case anymore, and non-profits must take advantage of the lower costs and higher yield of videos. It is the fastest way to tell a story creatively. Non-profit organizations should make their own videos, but if they can’t, or can’t make enough, they should definitely curate videos of related material. This article explains exactly how non-profits should go about using video to create awareness and engage audiences.

  3. Guests.Nothing builds credibility like someone else saying how great you are. Just remember that subtlety is a virtue. The Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, brings awareness to many different human rights issues both in person and online. Its blog is a great place to go into detail about the great work being done and the events hosted, but it is also a place for other people to get a voice. The CMHR invites activists, authors, and others to write articles about human rights issues. It is one more way they give a voice to the voiceless. That being said, the CMHR came under attack a little while ago for taking down a blog post they found too political. If a non-profit, or any organization for that matter, is going to have guests post, there needs to be a clear set of guidelines.

 Social media is inexpensive and largely user friendly. There is no excuse for non-profit organizations not using it optimally. Regardless of the social media plan, there must be a clear social media policy and constant oversight. This video, though about corporate, not non-profit, organizations, shows how important it is to keep an eye on an organization’s social media.

 Keep your goals in mind and you’ll be set. The world is at your fingertips!


CDPR108, Week 11: Ice Storms Freezes Hydro One’s Image

Shortly before Christmas 2013, an ice storm hit Canada, affecting the most densely populated part of the country the hardest. People were without power for days. They were moving into friends’ homes or crowding into community centres for hot meals and hot showers. They were craving some information about what was going on and how long it would last. At best it was an inconvenience and at worst the situation was dire. Elderly and young children were in particular danger of harm from the cold, but everyone was put into a dangerous situation. They turned to the people they knew would have the answers, Hydro One, and got nothing. The updates that were posted were sparse and often inaccurate. The messages were unclear. The time frames were hazy. Many people commented that what was worse than slow service (which was understandable under the circumstances) was the lack of information. Even bad news was better than no news.


ImageCarmine Marcello, the CEO of Hydro One, said that what struck him most throughout the ice storm was what people wanted most when they got to a place with electricity. Yes, food and showers were high up on the list, but most people made a beeline to the electrical outlets first. They wanted to charge their phones or tablets. We are at a point in our society where connection to the internet is a base need. The social commentary on that phenomenon is for another blog post. The point for this blog is that the CEO of Hydro One noticed that people were doing everything they could to be connected but completely missed the opportunity to connect. Hydro One did tweet and post updates but so sporadically that they are criticized about it to this day. They missed a prime PR opportunity, and there really is no excuse.


First of all, there should have been constant updates on Twitter. If there were a team of communicators getting information from the crews and management and posting them throughout the storm and the cleanup, people would have been far less frustrated than they were. To do it properly, though, the communicators would have to respond to the concerns and questions of the audience. For example, if someone tweeted, “I have no power and nowhere to take my baby. #icestorm #hydroone,” Hydro One could have responded with a tweet that provided a quick apology and a link to a list of all the open community centres. That response could garner enough goodwill to battle any storm.


Secondly, there should have been a Facebook campaign with more in-depth information, links to articles, posts of pictures and videos and constant two-way communication. This could have spilled over into Instagram, with pictures and videos. They could have asked community members what they wanted to see, like workers in their area or helpers at a shelter or even electricity coming back up. Once they had that (since electricity would eventually come back up) they could have posted a reply with images of the fulfilled request. How’s that for a response? Anything would have been better than nothing. There is no such thing as radio silence on the internet. If you don’t make noise, your unhappy customers will.


The third aspect of the response could have taken place during the cleanup. A YouTube video showing Hydro One workers and community members working together to get Toronto back on its feet, done properly, could have gone viral. (I know that it is impossible to predict what will go viral, but it would have been a solid effort.) Keep in mind, this was around Christmas time, a time rife with touchy-feely opportunities. There could have been a series of videos: messages from the CEO, Hydro One staff giving out gifts, Hydro One workers helping the elderly…anything, really. It would just take a little creativity and sensitivity to the raw feelings of the audience.


Hydro One blew it, and I don’t mean the fuse. They had such a great chance to help the community and create a positive image for themselves. Their opportunity flew away when the airports opened up again, and now they are seen as a soulless company that just wants to charge more. Who know…maybe that’s all they are.



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CDPR108, Week 9: Open up and say AAAh

ImageCreating social media plans are pretty straightforward. Figure out what you want to say, to whom you’re saying it, how you will say it, and so on. This is all fine and good. But there is a point to a plan, though it may be difficult to understand. Social media managers are there to help cultivate the image of an organization and further organizational goals. They, like every other person, need to show how their work is benefiting the company. Otherwise, how can they prove that they and their initiatives are worth it?

Social media managers are therefore faced with an incredibly difficult job. They need to find a way to measure their successes in order to keep their jobs. This is not so easy to do. There are analytics offered by different social media platforms that can measure how many unique visitors visited a site, or even the general tone of comments. This is not necessarily useful information though. Before completely freaking out about this impossible job, a manager should consider the three A’s: Action, Attention and Attitude


This “A” refers to the business results of the online outreach effort.

So, what have you gotten people to do? Did they join a group? Attend an event? Buy a product?

Did they donate to a cause or get involved in your organization?

Something as simple as a response to one of your posts could be considered a success. It all depends on how it relates to your original goal. (For more information on creating a social media plan, please see my earlier posts.) One can’t measure success without knowing what one was trying to achieve in the first place.


Attention measures the volume of interest. This is the simplest to measure. How many likes are you getting? What about clicks, shares, views, or follows? Every social media platform has a different measurement and each one offers users a way of analyzing the results. What it means is a different issue.


Attitude refers to the overall sentiment and relationship to your brand. This is the hardest ‘A’ to measure because it is highly subjective. To measure this, one has to look at the tone of people’s posts. Analyze the opinions expressed in the posts. What are they saying? Is it complimentary? Is it a complaint?

[Note: To affect attitude, make sure to respond to almost all comments, whatever form they may take, and be polite. There really is no such thing as anonymity on the web.]

Keep in mind that communications goals must align with business goals.

It is obvious that a plan was successful if the goal was to increase the number of active customers and the number of active customers grows. It is a bit more complicated to link the growth in numbers to a response posted on your Facebook wall. How do you quantify the ROI of human interaction? There can be arguments made on both sides, and in the end it will be difficult to prove that a Tweet helped sell your brand of shoes, but over time the number of likes, comments, and posts will be causally linked to the business’s overall success. In the meantime, stick with what you know is working and discard what isn’t. Eventually you’ll be able to show top management that you are doing them a great service, and you’ll make all the associated costs a lot easier to swallow.

Cartoon courtesy of:


You are what they see…

The movement toward visual social media did not happen overnight. At the dawn of the popularity of social media, people were writing 1,000-word posts. Then Facebook came around and people got used to sharing their thoughts in a couple of sentences. Then Twitter came out, and ideas were presented in 140 characters. So it isn’t surprising that companies are moving towards using visuals to help present their brands, products, campaigns, and so on. Instead of the 1,000-word posts, organizations are using pictures. (I have to say it…a picture really is worth a thousand words. Ha.)

This leads to a whole new set of challenges for public relations. Sites like Instagram and Pinterest are being flooded with pictures and (now) videos from all sorts of organizations and individuals. Companies are no longer competing with others in their industries; suddenly they are competing with Bobby from down the street who posted a really cool video of his cousin Marcus doing a backflip on a skateboard. And the cats! Don’t get me started on cats.


People relate to visuals quickly. This is a key fact in public relations given that there is a scarcity of both time and attention in today’s society. Understanding what to do with this fact is another matter. Visuals can be powerful, but they can also be wasteful. They can make a lot of money for an organization, but they can also cost a lot of money. The problem is that many communicators are jumping on the bandwagon without first getting to understand the media in which they are choosing to operate. Instagram is gaining in popularity? Fantastic! Here is an Instagram campaign. Facebook is declining in popularity? Oh, well then let’s abandon all the work we’ve done there.

Since visuals are jumping in popularity and quickly declining in cost, practitioners are running to make them, but they aren’t taking the time to understand what they are doing or why they are doing it. Audiences are not as malleable as organizations want them to be, and they are even less so now that they have access to all kinds of information on the internet. To be truly successful, not just viral for a minute, a visual social media campaign must be well-researched and well-executed. That doesn’t mean it should cost a lot of money, but it should be produced with thought and care. And never forget, content is always key.

A really good Facebook campaign is worth more than mediocre campaigns on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook combined. In the end, it’s about getting the right message out the right way. The job of the PR practitioner is to figure out not only what to say, but how. And she can’t figure out how to say it without first understanding the platforms. In the words of Cole Porter, “Experiment: Make it your motto day and night. Experiment: And it will lead you to the light.”

So, what’s next for visual social media? I guess we’ll see.


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CDPR108, Week 4: The way we see it

Ever have one of those thoughts? I mean, have you ever had one of those brilliant, deep, cataclysmic thoughts that you know is so profound that if the world knew what you were thinking it would weep from the glory of your wisdom? But you can never express that thought because thinking it is natural, but expressing it feels impossible.

Maybe it isn’t common to have profound thoughts, but trouble expressing ideas is pretty much universal. People have ideas and information they want to share, but they have no idea how to go about it. This is no different in organizations. This is why PR practitioners create content strategies to help express these important ideas and information. This blog will look at three different images/diagrams that showcase the best, and worst, of content strategies.


Photo courtesy of:

This infographic is great. Mark Smiciklas, who created this image, found an innovative way to both teach a new concept and attach the concept to an easily understandable image. The wording is clear, there isn’t too much of it, and the graphic is memorable. The only weakness in this infographic is the colouring. It isn’t captivating, so people must purposely seek out the image instead of being drawn to it. Still, this infographic is one of the best summaries of a content strategy that I have ever come across.

The next image has potential, but it has some weaknesses too.


Photo courtesy of: Social Media Tools and Tactics Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg (Adapted from Mark Smiciklas)

This picture outlines some great ideas for creating a content strategy as well as elements that must be included. It cleverly depicts the process of developing the strategy and related tactics as a mountain that must be climbed. This is especially true due to the new nature of the social media. However, the picture is messy and offers no explanation to the words provided. In order for this visual to be truly effective it must include a paragraph of explanation, which in essence conflicts with the whole point of using visuals in the first place.

The last image that I am going to share is nearly good. I guess that means it isn’t good yet… It’s pretty bad.


Photo courtesy of:

This image isn’t wrong, per se. It uses clear diagramming to lead the viewer along the process of creating a content strategy. It uses cute pictures and good colours. However, this image defeats its own purpose by using too many words in too small a space. An image that is difficult to read is practically useless, as it requires more research and explanation in order to make sense at all. Also, who would bother? Any normal person would look at this and say, “Forget it. I’ll figure it out for myself.”

Human beings are visual beings. We like to see things before we buy them. We base decisions on how things look. This may be unfair, but at least it is honest. The book sometimes is defined by its cover. If it didn’t matter, why would people spend so much time and money making book covers look nice? In order to have a successful content strategy, an organization must include appropriate and truly useful images and diagrams. Otherwise, the content will never be absorbed, and the work will be for naught.

CDPR108, Week 3: I Know Where You Were Last Summer

ImageSocial media is great. It truly is. But really? Are we done yet? Some of the media that come out are ridiculous in their conception. To be fair, some of them are simply misunderstood. Twitter was one that was widely undervalued by the general public when it first came out. People would use it as another way to tell people what they ate for breakfast, when in actuality Twitter can be very useful for business. (See my previous post for more information.)

New media comes out constantly, as well as new uses for and functions of older media. Some of it needs to be tested in the markets, whilst some are clearly flawed. This week I signed up for Foursquare and downloaded a QR code reader on my phone. I then set out to explore my city of Toronto in a new, digitally sophisticated way.

I started off on the subway, and was thrilled to be met with a QR code on an ad right in front of me! It was clearly a sign that the world of public relations was not only in favour of QR codes, but already knee-deep in their functionality. Apparently I was wrong. By the time I whipped out my phone, I was at a new subway station. While I was staying on the train, I realised that if I had to get off there, my window of opportunity to learn about my future possibilities in Greece would be closed. I was still on the train, though, and happily scanned the code and waited to be transported. And waited. And waited. Obviously, this wasn’t going to work. I was in the subway. I had no reception, like everyone else around me. The QR code held the information for a better life and I had no way to access it. Bummer.

The QR code reader was a disappointment. It is too unwieldy. By the time I get my phone out and get the code in focus, most of my QR code reading opportunities are lost. Also, I feel really silly standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk, pointing my phone at a billboard. One of my friends summed it up beautifully: “Isn’t it just easier to Google it?”

Though QR code reading is not the way of the future for advertising, there may be other uses. For example, newspapers can use them to link their print readers with the online world. If someone has a comment to make about an article, one can simply scan the adjacent code and comment online. It is immediate and effective.

Retail businesses can put QR codes in their stores. They could connect customers with the online store to immediately order something that is out of stock or find it at another location. Or the code could link to another site that helps girls create outfits with clothes readily available in the store. This could take personal shoppers to a whole new level. QR code readers are not completely useless, but PR practitioners need to really consider how they plan on using them. If the function is useless, it not only does not have the desired effect, but it could also have a negative impact on the organizational image.

Foursquare is one of those media that seems superfluous. My first thought was, “Oh no! Yet another way for people to share the inane details of their lives! Didn’t Twitter cover this?” Once I learned more about it, though, I was impressed with the site. Foursquare lets people share their location. This is a brilliant tool for businesses. It was relatively user-friendly, and it allowed me to recommend this incredible restaurant that I tried.

As I was trying to figure out how businesses can further capitalize on this site, I thought of a really fun idea for my friends. Then I did what any student on a deadline does – I turned it into an idea for my blog. Businesses in the same area can create a scavenger hunt on Foursquare. People start off at one location with a clue about the next location. When they figure out where to go next, they run there and check in. Once they do, they get the next clue, and so on. The first team to the finishing location wins. If the end location is a pub or restaurant, they will probably stay there for a drink or meal. This would increase foot traffic in the area and benefit all businesses. It would also be a lot of fun.

There are many social media sites out there that seem silly. Still, even the silliest one can offer wonderful opportunities. You just have to consider them.

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CDPR108, Week 2: Why are PR Practitioners all a-Twitter?

ImageBefore this week, I hadn’t really heard of promoted tweets, trends and accounts. It did not surprise me that they existed, though. I took a course in e-commerce a few years ago, and I remember learning how Google ads worked, and how a business can measure the effectiveness of online advertising campaigns. Then it was about getting people to visit a site once. Now it is about getting them to stay.

A promoted tweet is a regular tweet that is sent out to all the followers of a business and is then displayed to Twitter users who are not followers of the business, but who may be interested in the product. In order to have a tweet be promoted, businesses bid on a price, and the winning bid price is paid by the winning business every time someone clicks on, re-tweets, replies to, or favourites the tweet. This is a Cost-per-Engagement (CPE) model.

There are both pros and cons for promoted tweets. First of all, there will be greater exposure of the company, because the tweet shows up in the feed of any person who types in designated search words. However, the tweet appearing does not mean it will be clicked on, so the exposure rate is unpredictable. It could be argued that the organization only pays if the tweet is clicked on, re-tweeted and so on, but just because something is clicked on, doesn’t mean that it is looked at. Personally, I often click on the first link by accident, and quickly backtrack to find what I was really looking for.

In order for a promoted tweet to add any value to a PR programme, it needs to be drafted in a way that will engage users, especially those who would not normally click on the company’s tweets. Keeping that in mind, it probably makes more sense to use promoted tweets rarely, and only for special events or information. If it is used too often, people will stop paying attention. In fact, it is not really possible to use the option too often, because Twitter likes to “keep things fresh” and will take down tweets that reach a certain level of engagement. Promoted tweets, therefore, are a risky bet at best.

A better idea is to use the Cost-per-Follow (CPF) model of promoted accounts. These accounts show up in users’ “who to follow” section of their Twitter accounts. Companies bid on a price, and that is the price they pay every time someone new follows their accounts. This is a great way to build up the follower base and have continued access to those consumers whether you are a new business to Twitter or have been around for years. In order to make it work, though, the PR department would have to make the account look inviting, engaging and interesting. Otherwise, people might visit, but they will not stay.

Promoted trends cost tens of thousands of dollars for one day’s promotion. This is only useful for companies that have the budgets for it, and those are the companies already in the public eye. They may add value for very special promotional events, but overall, they are not very accessible to users.

Businesses need to use social media regularly and an in-depth environmental scan of a company will tell the PR practitioners exactly which promotional tool would work best for their objectives. Each goal is different, and each company is too. Twitter’s tools are great, and they undeniably reach a lot of people, but one needs to consider what the budget is and what is the true value of a new follower? Most importantly, practitioners must not get swept away with the tide. There are other tools that may be less popular, but could be way more valuable. That is for another day’s discussion though.

Please comment! Do you think Twitter’s promotional tools are ‘worth it’?



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