Archive for December, 2009


Sunday, December 27th, 2009

The Government of Canada is looking for social media help in its fight for global public opinion over the annual seal hunt.  A post ten days ago on the government’s contract tendering site MERX, said the government is looking for help countering “frequently incorrect or disingenuous” social media information relating to the seal hunt. 

In recent months, animal welfare groups such as PETA have stepped up their campaign against the hunt, using a variety of social media platforms and even targeting the Vancouver Winter Olympic games brand.  The government now seems to want to join the conversation and correct the record.

But for brands and organizations alike, social media engagement is not without risks. A poorly timed, conceived or executed campaign can blow holes in the best corporate storyline.  Which leads us to question the timing and thinking behind the Government of Canada’s strategy.

An article in this weekend’s Globe and Mail newspaper points out that  the battle for international public opinion around the seal hunt appears all but lost. Sales of seal products fell in 2009 to about $ 1 million from a 2006 high of about $ 105 million, and the decision earlier this year by the European Union to ban the import of seal products has effectively shut down Canada’s largest remaining market. 

This begs the question whether this tardy social media foray by the Canadian government has more to do with domestic optics  than changing international public opinion.  But if that is the case, government communications planners should be wary of the impact a sputtering social media effort could have on their ability to sustain a positive  storyline around the seal hunt even domestically.

By engaging in the social media sphere, the federal government hopes to set the record straight. This is a legitimate communications and issue management objective. Unfortunately, on this issue, the government starts well behind the eight ball. 

Any content that it contributes to the conversation will be viewed by many in existing communities with a degree of skepticism, and its late entry in the discussion means that  it has to contend with opinions that are well entrenched. But perhaps the most difficult task for the government will be finding its footing in a debate that has mostly been dominated by emotional appeals and inflammatory images. How do you counter the power of  a picture of a harp seal being bludgeoned to death?  Not through a rational discussion of a humane seal “harvest”.

The challenge for the government will be to mobilize and empower an independent community of interest around this issue.  It needs independent voices to echo its own. If it tries to elbow its way into the conversation, it risks further alienating  the communities that have already coalesced around this issue.  And if it  fails to enlist and engage a meaningful domestic community in support of the issue, it risks highlighting disinterest and potential domestic hostility to the hunt. 

Last week I said in my blog that the first essential step in social media engagement is listening. The federal government may want to spend a little more time listening to the conversations to determine if there are any credible ones in support of the hunt.  If there aren’t any, or there are too few to meaningfully engage, it may want to reconsider its approach or risk seeing its own storyline unravel.


Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Ask most communications professionals today and they have at least a sense of the scope and scale of social media worldwide.  But then take the next step, and try to discuss social media strategies and applications for their own organization with them. Most will throw up their hands and respond with a litany of predictable objections and roadblocks.  

Here are some of my personal favourites:

  • We don’t have the resources
  • Negative comments would reflect badly on our organization
  • There may be legal ramifications
  • Our customers (members, audience, etc.) really aren’t on social media
  • We’re not tech savvy
  • Our staff is overworked

But whatever the reasons invoked for not actively engaging in the back-and-forth of social media, there is no reason for an organization not to take the first social step and listen. 

Unlike full blown social media engagement where an organization openly and transparently shares information, responds to comments and queries, and actually becomes part of a community(ies), listening is just the first step in successful social media engagement. 

As a general principle of social engagement, listening  uncovers the nature of the conversations within a particular community. Just as you would not arrive at a cocktail party unannounced and attempt to monopolize the conversation, listening within a social media network allows you to determine your comfort zone and ease into conversations.

Whether it’s from a business perspective, or that of a not-for-profit advocacy organization,  listening allows you to determine who the thought leaders are in a given community and what it is that makes them most relevant. Listening allows you to  determine what content is most relevant. And most important, listening allows you to hear what people are saying about you, your brand or your issue.

Listening is easy and there are a number of  tools  available, from simple listening to advanced brand and reputation management platforms. 

The point is that with the ever-accelerating growth of social networking and social media, organizations cannot afford to wait on the sidelines.  Whether the problem is figuring out the return on investment of social media, or uncertainty about its relevance within your marketplace; there is only one way to answer those concerns, and that’s by listening.

Take that first step, listen to the conversations. You’ll find that soon, you’ll want to join in.