FaceTheFentanyl: Assessing the social marketing campaign


Social marketing is “communication aimed at persuading or informing an audience about a social issue goal, or organization, usually one that is non-commercial in nature.” (Humphreys, 2016).  In this case, the FacetheFentanyl social marketing campaign was launched by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) in March 2016, in partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Humber College Ad Centre, in response to skyrocketing fentanyl overdoses and deaths.  At the time of the launch, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Ontario since 2010 stood at 577.  More recent numbers indicate that more than 850 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes in 2016 alone.

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The overall FacetheFentanyl campaign is divided into two parts:  enforcement of existing laws and a social media campaign, which organizers viewed as the best way to educate at-risk Ontarians.  The latter is the focus of this paper.  The website includes black-and-white photos of attractive young adults who were victims of overdoses, none of whom looked like an apparent addict.  With the hashtag #THENEWFWORD, the website constantly updates the number of overdoses, provides facts on fentanyl, lists signs of an overdose, stresses the importance of the drug naloxone in reversing the effects of an overdose, makes posters available and provides contact information.  Two tools were developed to encourage dialogue and information exchange:  Twitter and Facebook accounts, which include similar information and various photographs and graphics.

 Failures and successes

The initial reaction to the campaign was very positive.  The Star called it an innovative and bright campaign and opined that “the chiefs of police should be applauded for the ingenuity of the campaign behind the FaceTheFentanyl campaign”   Similarly , Communicato deemed it one of the six best Canadian social media campaigns of 2016.

While it is true that the web site and Twitter and Facebook accounts were professionally prepared and include useful information, I am a little less sanguine in my assessment for three reasons.  Firstly, there are many different Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)  that can potentially  be monitored to measure the success of a market oriented campaign, including engagement rate, share of voice, goal conversion rate, return on investment (ROI) and customer service. While an adequate discussion of these would require another paper, what is important is that there is no ideal KPI and that metrics pertaining to  government or public initiatives such as this are even more difficult to formulate, implement and interpret.

As there can be no doubt that the number of fentanyl overdose cases continues to skyrocket, one might argue that the campaign has been a failure.  While I will admit that saving even one life would be positive,  there is no way to determine whether this has happened.  While the website indicated that 477 people have been educated regarding naloxone, did the individuals concerned merely click on the tab or go to their pharmacy to get a prescription or perhaps change their lifestyle choices?

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Secondly, even more traditional  metrics related to their Twitter efforts, for example, demonstrate meager results.  As of now, there have only been 203 Tweets with 682 Followers and 56 Likes, hardly impressive after two years, given the population of Ontario.  And the Tweets and Retweets have  all been by authorities, professionals and academics – none from the average, young Ontarian at-risk or drug user, the intended campaign targets.

Finally, none of my classmates or anyone to whom I have spoken have been aware of this campaign; nor could I find any other subsequent references to the success of the campaign online.


There were originally two distinct targets of the campaign:

  • “average” teen and young adult Ontarians who may unknowingly be at risk. This is because “Since fentanyl is cut into drugs you can’t see, smell or taste it”; and
  • drug users who are knowingly taking fentanyl or those who may imbibe not realizing that fentanyl is part of the cocktail they are consuming.

Unfortunately, neither of these target groups seem to have been involved in the Facebook or Twitter chatter, as indicated in Success and Failures above which suggests that it has not been that successful.   While this may be understandable among the second target category as users may well not have access to cell phones or computers since they are often on the street; but it also suggests that the first target group might be reluctant to engage due to fear of identification, embarrassment or retribution.  In my view, other appropriate communication vehicles for the second target group would include billboard advertising in areas where users congregate (such as back alleys, bars and public health centres) and word of mouth by street level professionals.   It is not clear whether these have been undertaken.

One question I have is whether there was originally or there evolved a third target, that is the professionals, academics and law authorities involved with this issue, as a means of information exchange and updates.  If so, this might have resulted in more chatter by these individuals, thus discouraging involvement by the target groups.

What could be done differently?

            The social media campaign could have been done differently, as follows:

  • it should have been more diverse to include other basic communication vehicles and perhaps newspaper and television advertisements for average, young more affluent Ontarians;
  • I suspect that OACP did not have funding to undertake some of these more expensive traditional but equally important vehicles;
  • one wonders why the primary partner was the RCMP, when reluctance to be involved with and disdain for authorities among target groups would likely be an obvious problem. Why not engage with more representative and wide-ranging groups such as the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), which at least has some online presence.  This might ensure greater buy-in by the target groups and attract more funding for a better campaign, as suggested above.


There is no question that the improper use of fentanyl and the resulting overdose deaths is an epidemic worthy of efforts by all those concerned to educate the two target groups and help eradicate the drug’s use.  The OACP has undertaken its own response to this situation in conjunction with two partners using two social media accounts and a traditional website.

Although more work is needed to elaborate, undertake and interpret social media KPIs in general, as I have stated above, the seeming failure of this specific campaign on two counts, at least, may be due to three factors:  a campaign which was not diverse enough in its elements, insufficient funding and a failure to work with appropriate allies.

At the same time, without contacting the OACP to get further information on what KPIs it has used, if any, and further details on how these are being tracked and implemented, it is difficult to know how successful this campaign has been.  It would also be useful to contact other enforcement authorities and first line professionals to determine (even anecdotally) if their efforts have led to any positive results.

Have you heard about the FaceTheFentanyl campaign?  What is your reaction?

#TRUMP TWEETS TOO MUCH!!! So say American seniors

67% of American seniors say President Trump tweets too much.  Hardly surprising, you might say.

According to a 2017 study by the highly regarded Pew Research Center, the use of technology and social media by seniors in the United States reveals some interesting trends:

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  • 4 in 10 seniors now own smartphones, more than double the share that did so in 2013
  • Internet use and broadband adoption among those 65-69 with incomes of $75k+ is 94% compared to 51% respectively for seniors generally
  • 32% own tablets, which rises to 62% of younger, better educated and higher income seniors; while
  • 34% of seniors report using social media (rising to 56% for college educated) representing a 7% increase from 2013.

Clearly, US seniors are adopting communications technologies at an impressive rate, even more so among younger, better educated and higher income seniors.

While these findings are undoubtedly interesting, they did not tell us how seniors use the internet and how they use social media.  Which is why SJ Insights launches its digital /social media panel.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Among the highlights of the early findings are:

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87% log in to Facebook twice a day or more

50% are very concerned that they are reading “fake news”; and

67% believe that President Trump should not be using Twitter to communicate as often as he does.


And why exactly are seniors using social media?  Various organizations concerned with seniors’ well being have suggested the following:

  • Seniors benefit socially, mentally and physically, including reported elevated moods, increased participation in healthier activities such as cooking healthier recipes, lower blood pressure, fewer instances of diabetes and less smoking
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  • Keeping the family together by sharing messages, photos, video chats …
  • A greater sense of community by allowing seniors to make plans with others and combat loneliness for those who are housebound
  • Giving the family peace of mind by allowing adult children to check in with their parents on a regular basis
  • The convenience and savings of shopping online; and
  • The comfort of entertainment.

But some precautions should be taken.  Adult children will want to be sure that their loved ones are not falling for phishing scams.  That they are not connecting with untrustworthy people in chat rooms.  And that they don’t spend too much.

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What observations and conclusions can be drawn from these studies?

  • The use of technology among seniors is increasing. And in ten years, today’s younger seniors will be the older ones.  And they will be social media literate
  • Most important studies on this topic are undertaken in the States. More work is needed in Canada
  • More study is needed to determine whether the initial observations and hypotheses hold true
  • There is a large market for social media applications geared to seniors which has probably not been fully exploited; and
  • The benefits of social media literacy among seniors may have implications for the amount and type of care given to some seniors. And some adult children may be more comfortable living slightly further away from their aging parents.

Let me know what you think     

Are you caring for aging parents?  How social media literate are they?  Are there applications you would like to see developed for seniors? Should we be doing anything to foster the use of social media among less educated, lower-income and older seniors? Do you think current trends are positive or do we have reason to be concerned?  Are you aware of any Canadian studies on this topic? I look forward to hearing from you.

So what exactly is social media monitoring?

Social media monitoring is listening to social network conversations to determine “who is doing the talking, what is being said, where they are saying it, when they are talking and how our brand is perceived”.

There are various free and paid methods of measuring such conversations. Although the latter tend to be more comprehensive, they are usually more expensive, precluding their use by individuals and small businesses.

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Monitoring might begin by searching a company name to see what references there are in the news or Wikipedia. Most channels (i.e. WordPress) have their own basic analytic tools (# visits, click throughs and country of origin) while Google Analytics can also be used to measure success of a given channel.  Paid solutions like Radian6 allow users to create a list of keywords to monitor and offer overviews of more sophisticated analytics such as sentiment statistics and the brand’s results against its competitor.

Do different networks have more “value” than others?  Why? Will a network with more users (i.e. Facebook) mean more competition for attention?  Are your likely customers using a given network (photographers and Picasa)?  Does the network fit your demographic and is your industry present on that channel?  Is your audience more likely to use a network which emphasizes videos (You Tube) or images (Pinterest)  (Kevan Lee, How to Choose a Social Network)?

Brand managers need to be clear from the outset what the purpose of their social media efforts is.  Generally, conversion occurs “when the user takes some action that the sender of a message desires” (Ashlee Humphreys, Social Media:  Enduring Principles).  Neil Patel has enumerated various illustrative conversion goals, including making an online purchase, filling out a contact form, signing up for a newsletter or viewing a video. These are more than simple page clicks and may not always be measured with basic analytic tools.

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Pew Research has compiled social demographics for several years using indicators like gender, age, education, income and location. If you have created buyer personas, you could choose a channel (perhaps LinkedIn) most suited to your target group (business and professionals) and possibly for a cheaper price than Facebook, for example.

How do organizations transition from listening to participating?   Google Trends could  be utilized to see what topics are relevant and terms a company might use findings to increase conversation around their product.  The company could also undertake comprehensive Search Engine Optimization (SEO), utilizing various channels.

Research could determine the best times to post updates and the magic number of posts while measuring the click-through rate and comparing lead sources and conversion rates (Lior Degani, 4 Social Analytics Tips)

The ROI (Return on Investment) determines whether the efforts generating an income are  greater then the cost of the effort.  Businesses can assign a monetary value to each conversion, determine the ROI of a given channel  and measure total benefits of the campaign (Neil Patel, How to calculate the ROI), creating benchmarks against which to measure future social media efforts.

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SMS Fundraising: Is it really the answer?

Many consider SMS to have eclipsed more traditional methods of marketing such as direct mail, voicemail, social media posts, newspapers or TV.  Although SMS is primarily used to reach customers for commercial purposes, it is apparently being adopted increasingly by non-profits for fundraising purposes.

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But how does SMS really work?  And is it effective?

What’s it all about?

SMS is an acronym which stands for “short message service”.   Simply put, they are text messages sent to a phone by a phone or computer.   Generally, all that is required is a catchy keyword (like SUCCEED or BUILD) to punch on a keypad, a short code number (like 33333) and a link to a secure and mobile-friendly donation page that donors use  by using their credit or debit cards.

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Proponents trot out all sorts of arguments and statistics to back up their claims.  Service providers such as the Canadian TTAG SystemsMobile Cause and Zip Give say their platforms make it fast and easy for donors to give to non-profits of all types and sizes.   The system does not require registration.  Texting is discreet and quicker than making a phone call. Messages can be delivered even if the phone is turned off or out of range once service has been restored.

And fees to the non-profits are low.  In addition, text messages are a useful tool for reaching existing and potential donors with customized content.  Donors can be apprised, for example, of progress being made at school by their “own” foster child, thus engaging donors and ensuring lasting loyalty  and repeat donations.

And 90% of the population have mobile phones.  Americans send and receive 32 texts per day.  98% of text messages are opened.  94% of smart phone users 70 and older are sending text messages on a weekly basis. 76% of supporters appreciate text messages and reminders, which encourages donors to come back and give again.  SMS is second only to web donations in the USA, although it is worth noting that SMS is not popular among Boomers and Matures.


One use of  the SMS approach is where UNICEF is using test messaging to raise money for the children of Syria during the bloody and costly civil war (http://childrenofsyria.info/).

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So, what are the drawbacks?

I have to confess that I have never engaged in an SMS non-profit fundraising campaign, but as someone who has undertaken more traditional fundraising, particularly grants, I can offer some observations.

Before launching into these, I should say that my interest is as a non-profit fundraiser on behalf of non-profits in developing countries, where realities are quite different from what we experience in Canada.

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In no particular order:

  • the non-profits utilizing the service providers mentioned above are usually required to have their own subscriber lists from which solicitation can be undertaken.
  • Asking a developing country non-profit to develop a subscriber list of  Canadian phone numbers would be challenging but I could investigate having a Canadian partner act on their behalf to undertake this.
  • While American service provides argue that non-profits have  the authority to send text messages without receiving permission, I would need to investigate this in the Canadian context.
  • traditional means of promotion (such as media advertising, e-mails or direct mail) are  still required to reach potential donors in Canada not already on subscriber lists.  Or a Jumbotron will have to be used at a concert of sports venue to promote the campaign.  All of this will cost money up front, which developing country non-profits often do not have.
  • the non-profits may not have the expertise or budget (likely upward of $5,000 per annum) to maintain the fundraising campaign once it has been set up.
  • non-profit fundraising for a non-Canadian organization would not entitle donors to any tax benefits, which may be a significant deterrent; andperson holding black pen
  • the size of donations from the SMS approach is often relatively small ($5-$50) compared to funding potentially available through traditional granting sources, although admittedly the latter are difficult to obtain.  This would suggest the need for a comprehensive approach to fundraising utilizing various platforms.

From a technical perspective, Tiesha Whatley has identified various problems, not the least of which is that SMS technology can be easily attacked.  In addition, too many messages at once can overpower control panels and hinder users from receiving phone calls.  There is often a cost-per-call to users.  And there is frequently a long hold time before receiving messages. 

The above observations are drawn after a quick analysis and some very basic research.  But even some techies seem to recognize that the platform is not unanimously supported within the fundraising industry or might even be outdated. A Tech Soup Canada guru recently wrote in a somewhat apologetic and qualified tone, “Although there are many misconceptions around SMS marketing it is still (sic) an effective and affordable tool to reach donors.”

What do you think?  

Over to you now.  Have you ever used SMS as a donor or fundraiser?  If so, what was your experience like? Do you think SMS is an effective fundraising tool?  Could it be used by a developing world non-profit for fundraising among Canadian  donors?  Let me know what you think.

The Importance of Personal Branding

It is important for participants in the modern economy to develop their personal brands.  As Tom Peters has written “our most important job is to be head marketer of the brand called you”.

With this quote in mind, my objectives for this paper are twofold:

  • to delineate and elucidate my own personal brand, thus better positioning myself to obtain volunteer assignments with Canadian Executive Services Organization  (CESO) in the field of grants (and fundraising generally); and
  • to enumerate some strategies for fundraising with potential clients while working as a CESO volunteer which will arise from and help consolidate this brand.

My specialization

My area of specialization is as an international development grant and fundraising consultant (IDGFC:  my acronym) in such areas as health, education, economic livelihoods, water/sanitation and protection.  Admittedly, this is a somewhat unwieldy designation and one which may require some refinement in terms of appearing in a catchy profile.

I have come to this specialization for various reasons, including my personal skills and attributes.  These include an interest in life-long learning, adaptability, cross-cultural understanding, writing, communications, advocacy, interpersonal relationships and a knowledge of English and French.

The following experiences distinguish me in this field:

  • Fourteen years administration of Government of Canada grants and contributions;
  • Crafting various applications on behalf of community organization for funding from different sources for Ottawa’s One World Film Festival;
  • Serving as a Canadian diplomat, including postings in Thailand and Ethiopia;
  • Two assignments with Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO) (Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Emmanuel Development Association) in Ethiopia relating to grants;
  • Current enrollment in Algonquin College course Introduction to Social Media;
  • Extensive cross-cultural work, including as Director of Government of Canada Multiculturalism Program and Mentor Coordinator for Tibetan Resettlement Project Ottawa;
  • Serving as Executive Director of a non-profit (Canadian Parents for French [BC/Yukon]); and
  • Exceeding the fundraising goal by 45% (to date) related to Lisgar Collegiate’s 175th Anniversary celebrations.

I  can provide courses on how to research, apply for and manage international development assistance grants and fundraising and undertake these activities directly.  This is a very important skill as most non-profit organizations in the developing work struggle for funding.

Building a brand: platforms to use and communities to join

To further the first objective stated above, that of better positioning myself to secure further CESO assignments, I will update my current CESO resumé and covering letter to include successful completion of this course and an enhanced ability to converse in social media and undertake crowdfunding activities. While traditional written grant applications are important, increasing emphasis is being placed upon crowdfunding and SMS texting, as I shall reference later.

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Secondly, I need to practise my newly acquired social media skills. Amongst other things, I intend to use my existing WordPress account and upgrade it to obtain more features such as a custom domain name, more storage space, removal of WordPress ads and simply payments.  This will provide me with a platform to blog about various issues relating to international development assistance grants and fundraising.

Thirdly, I will become more fluent in Twitter and LinkedIn, both of which I already subscribe to, and use more of their features such as posting, linking and tweeting.  By undertaking such activity, I will enhance my own reputation, determine who is talking about me and learn more about the topics I am interested in.

While there is a limit on the amount of text that one can post, Twitter (www.Twitter.com) is one of the most widely used microblogs (Class Materials, Lesson #3) and, therefore, potentially useful for wide dissemination of a fundraising cause, for example.  It is excellent for providing direct and real-time access to individuals or controlled groups for knowledge and link sharing as well as problem solving.  It has become “de rigueur” due to its frequent use by US President Trump.  Indeed, some observers have speculated that it might, in conjunction with other social media, replace traditional e-mail (https://www.inc.com/john-brandon/why-email-will-be-obsolete-by-2020.html).

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Considered “the professional social network”, LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com) allows users to create profiles and connect to other users, share insights and create group communities. As Sherman and Smith state, LinkedIn does not “try to be everything to everyone … Sticking to its guns has make LinkedIn the most powerful business-oriented social network around.”  (Sherman and Smith, Social Media Engagement for Dummies, p. 241).  As I already have 1,450 LinkedIn contacts with whom I can interact, it is logical to continue with this platform.  It is worth pointing out that during a recent CESO assignment, I used the personal contact info on LinkedIn to contact 10 key potential donors.

As I undertake the above digital media activities and build my brand, there are a few practices I should bear in mind.  One is that I should not try and be “all things to all people”.  In this case, I have deliberately targeted my areas of expertise, that of international development assistance granting.  Secondly, my profile across channels and platforms should be consistent in terms of name, profile, picture, image and look.  This I will undertake.  (Kevan Lee, The Five Keys…, Buffer, January 15, 2015).  Finally, I need to “be aware of my audience, who they are, how they like to communicate and what is important to them (Course materials Lesson #4 and Robert Montenegro, How to manage personal and professional personas while on-line, Big Think-Smarter Faster)

Another activity in which I should participate to attain my objectives is to join actual communities.  The Canadian Association of International Development Professionals (CAID) has as its purpose to” give voice to the concerns and interests of Canadian international development professionals.  The Association’s objectives are to:

  • Foster excellence in international development consulting
  • Promote the collective interests of international development professionals
  • Provide a forum for members to exchange professional information and engage in professional development. (caidp-rpcdi.ca/about-caidp)

It might be appropriate to seek a volunteer role with this organization or speak at one of their events. While this organization will be useful in terms of knowledge sharing and contacts, however, its members have only limited interest and expertise regarding international development assistance grants and fundraising.  They do not have social media presence apart from their web site.

Another group in which I already participate is the informal group of retired Canadian International Development Agency officers who get together several times a year in Ottawa/Gatineau, primarily on a social basis. Important contacts can be made in terms of idea sharing and potential CESO assignments.  Indeed, one of my former CIDA colleagues did recommend to CESO that I be engaged for a specific assignment, to which I was appointed.  This group has no formal social media presence,

I did visit and ask questions of many of the tools referenced in the course material for Lesson #2, (including Twitter, Pinterest and Quora).  Unfortunately, I was unable to access much information or material related to the international development assistance grant and fundraising community.

From my previous experience, however, I am aware of various traditional on-line websites which relate to granting (e.g. www.GrantSpace.Org, www.grants.gov/web/grants/home www.imaginecanada.ca/grant-connect and www.tgci.com/funding).  While these sites are often good for learning of domestic and international grant opportunities, they normally do not provide a forum for exchange of information among professionals on individual or donor practices, for example, which I seek.   One possible exception is the European Foundation Centre’s (www.efc.be) Peer Learning and Exchange program.  At this point, however, the forum is open only to CEOs of select agencies for discussing issues of strategic rather than practical interest.

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Sites such as www.kickstarter.com  and www.razoo.com provide grass-roots NGOs access to (often) free communications vehicles and networks to mobilize existing communities to provide small individual donations from people supporting their causes and spread their message (Course materials, Lesson #4).  The simplicity of the approach largely obviates the need for dedicated grant managers to laboriously apply for and administer grants.  On the downside, few of these crowdfunding sites specialize in international development assistance, focussing instead on market development of trendy new products, for example.   And the amount raised is often less than international non-profits require to sustain their operations and programs.  But they are worth pursuing.

Also, of interest is the ability of organizations to raise large amounts of money from individual in response to disasters through one click SMS micro-donations as opposed to using the web or e-mail channels.  The ease of the donations process is key.  As proponents indicate, “Two clicks are one click too much” (www.mobilemarketer.com/ex/mobilemarketer/cms/opinion/columns/5135.html).

The technology in this area is constantly evolving, due largely to the efforts of the non-profit and wireless communities.  In this regard, the mission of the agnostic public charity The mGive Foundation (TMF) is to foster “social advancement by enabling an environment for mobile technology to create efficiencies, accountability and communications.” (https://mgive.org/About-Us.aspx)

SMS micro-donations are very appealing, and I will explore these more in my own activities.   The free promotion of these campaigns by athletes of other celebrities make this approach attractive.  Two downsides include the relatively small size of donation and the fact that they are more likely attractive in the event of a short-term and evocative humanitarian crisis rather than a longer-term development effort.

Rewards and Risks

The potential rewards of the proposed efforts described above will be many, and not limited to:

  1. A steady stream of ideal clients
  2. Rewarding partnerships
  3. Leadership opportunities
  4. Greater mindshare
  5. Association with a market niche
  6. Greater credibility
  7. Recognition and prestige; (and)
  8. Higher perceived value (from Lee as per above).

In my case, I can see such rewards being readily achievable, particularly if I employ an effective personal branding strategy as outlined.

There are, however, risks to the use of social media and the personal brand which may have taken a long time to nurture.  These are well-discussed in the course and I will cover only a few, as elucidated by Miriam Slozberg in The 7 Risks of Social Media (https://blog.dashburst.com/social-media-risks/) and in George Day, The Benefit and Risks of Social Media Marketing (http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/georgeday/2018/01/08/the-benefits-and-risks-of-social-media-marketing).

These risks include the possibility of posting something inappropriate on your various platforms, particularly the ones sometimes considered more personal such as Facebook.  There is no such thing as real privacy anymore.  This point relates to the need to maintain consistency across all channels and platforms, as indicated on page 2 above.  Secondly, one should avoid over-promoting.  Focus first on “developing a good online presence and good relationships, then your business” (Slozberg, para 4).

Thirdly, I would do well to post and tweet on a regular and appropriate basis (and respond in a timely fashion) to maintain my profile and monitor who is accessing my activities. I should not over post and clog up recipients’ feeds (Slozberg, para 5).  Finally, I should not pick a fight with anyone on social networks!  There is a difference between respectful disagreement and those who are maliciously choosing a fight (Slozberg, para 8).  These cautions speak to the need for effective “reputation management” (Course Notes, Lesson #4).


I will pursue my stated objectives as I develop my personal brand as an IDGFC, a field  for which I am well suited.  I will need to hone my newly acquired social media skills and engage with appropriate platforms and vehicles such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Kickstarter and SMS micro-donations.   These actions will not preclude my participation in more traditional groups such as CAID.  I believe that the rewards of my actions will outweigh the risks if I adopt an effective personal branding strategy and manage my reputation appropriately.

Analyzing the Risks of Social Media

While numerous observers have outlined the benefits of social media to businesses and the public, there are many risks and downsides to its use.  The purpose of this paper is to examine risks not examined in course material, suggest remedial action to mitigate such risks and offer ways for social media experts to separate their personal and professional personas.

The cons and what to do

Firstly, as George Day has summarized in The Benefits and Risks of Social Media Marketing , negative news can spread very quickly.  For example, when Netflix said it was going to change its pricing structure several years ago, customers quickly expressed their displeasure, commenting negatively across many social media platforms and resulting in a huge loss of customers and market value (Benioff 2012 in Day).   This problem might have been avoided or lessened had Netflix better assessed their consumers and the market, their messages been better crafted, and crisis communications better handled.

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Secondly, as a significant number of employees may be creating content or interacting with customers, these employees must be “trustworthy”: poorly crafted responses can cause viral outrage and the loss of customers.  (Culan et al. 2010 in Day).  Companies would do well to designate employees to handle this task rather than allowing anyone to respond to input.  They should also be well trained and enjoy social media.

Thirdly, according to Ashlee Humphreys, not everyone is as digitally literate (seniors) while others may not have the same access (social inequality) or respond differently to social media depending on their gender.  As a result, these groups may respond differently to social media or not all.

This is a societal problem, necessitating that governments, companies and individuals work to together to ensure that seniors are educated in social media and that those with less income have access to computers or mobile phones and be trained in their use. Concerning gender, companies need to be mindful of this factor in their messaging and outreach.

A third drawback is that many users affiliate themselves with websites and feeds which share the same opinion or views (know as “homophily”).  In my case, I might subscribe to CNN rather than Fox to get news on President Trump due to my own biases.  So users such as myself should make efforts to ensure that they get a balance of views in their inputs.

Taking the high road

In closing, in determining how to separate personal and professional personas, the expert user must decide whether that is what they want to do.  Does appearing more human actually appeal to users (Robert Montenegro, How to Manage Personal and Professional Personas, Big Think)? If affirmative, you need to know your audience and determine the delineation point between the two.

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If you want to keep your personas separate, avoid posting anything on your personal site which would haunt you on your professional site, including compromising photos at you cousin’s wedding.  And consider avoiding putting personal contact information on your professional site.

Do social media enable political movements or hinder their formation?

This is an important question given the increased and evolving uses of social media in political developments around the world. These include the fomenting and reporting on unrest during the Arab Spring, continuing demands by bloggers for human rights in China and the ongoing demonization of minorities in Myanmar by the Buddhist majority.

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Egypt 2011 (UIUC Library Guides)

We might also ask whether social media are inherently democratizing or whether they serve the interests of state organizations, dictatorships and intelligence agencies?  Or do they boost politicians in liberal democracies who feed off conspiracy and nativism?

A simple answer or sitting on the fence

Image result for photo of trumpPresidential Assent  (The Blaze)


These questions have sparked considerable debate and almost everyone has an opinion.  Image result for photo of debateThe truth is probably that there is credible evidence on both sides of the debate on the effect of social media on political movements and the answer will only be determined by assessing different cases and examining the circumstances. We might conclude that while social media can enable alternative ways of doing things, they may also reinforce pre-existing norms, values and institutions.

Why should we care?

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These issues are of immediate interest to many of us.

Firstly, as citizens of Canada, what impact might social media have on the 2019 general election?  Should we be devising  and enforcing various regulations related to the use of bots, for example, as they might be used to automatically post inflammatory or nonsensical posts, disrupting political discourse while promoting populist views?

As global citizens, examination of these issues provides a very helpful window through which to interpret developments and reach conclusions.  How much was Donald Trump able to influence the outcome of the last federal election by constantly framing the debate, then reinforcing opinions by his constant references to “crooked Hillary” and “fake news” in the social media?

As travellers to out-of-the-way destinations, referral to social media posts would help to determine whether to visit or depart from a country undergoing social/political unrest.  This is potentially a very useful application as Global Affairs Canada Travel Advisories are often so alarmist that travellers would be reluctant to leave home at all!

Kidnapping, extortion, home invasion, robbery, sexual assault and other forms of aggravated assault are carried out by criminals acting individually or as a group. Assault, armed robbery and carjacking are serious problems … A large percentage of the population … is armed…  Guns and other weapons, such as machetes and knives, are frequently used. If you are threatened by robbers, do not resist; injuries and deaths have occurred when victims have resisted. (2017)

Finally, those of us who work as volunteers in developing countries, assisting non-profit organizations seeking funding, a balanced assessment of differing perspectives on the security and political realities would help us (and, ultimately, potential donors) determine whether conditions in a specified country are conductive to delivering aid at all.

Image result for development assistance photoCanada’s New Feminist Development Assistance Policy in Action (Macleans)







A call to action!

What do you think?  Should we be concerned about the role of social media in influencing international developments?  Are they forces for good or bad?  Do social media cause division or amplify it?  Depending on your answer to these questions, give some thought as to what each of us can do to help remedy some of the misuses of social media. Get in touch!