Communication
November 25, 2014

Engaging Canadians and veterans with social media

As the social media field changes and expands, Veterans Affairs Canada embraces and employs popular new channels that continue to allow it to engage Canadians as it works to inform, serve and honour veterans and their families.

The idea that Canadians aren’t interested in talking with government simply isn’t true. From coast to coast to coast, public servants at all levels are talking to and hearing from Canadians. However, the way government communicates with Canadians has changed. To remain relevant, all levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal – must make a committed effort to engage using channels their audiences want to use.

The government of Canada is hard at work exploring new ways to have conversations with Canadians. Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) took on this challenge early and the results have been very positive.

Through one of the most popular communications channels in the world, the department has been successfully engaging Canadians, including veterans of all ages, their families and youth. Launched in 2009, the Canada Remembers Facebook page is one of the most active social media communities in Canada, with more than 800,000 followers. The community shares personal stories and photos of family, friends and neighbours to honour and remember their service.

In many ways, the page has taken on a life of its own, giving more Canadians the opportunity to remember and share. During the 2013 Remembrance campaign the page reached an estimated audience of 19 million people through a combination of likes, shares and comments. The shared sense of purpose – remembering our veterans – reflects positively on both the followers and on the department. In the truest sense of the word, it has become a “social” media.

Sharing information about VAC’s programs and services, however, requires a more intense effort. To start the conversation, we are now making extensive use of the latest tools to help simplify information. With a small, but dedicated design team, VAC is producing infographics, infobytes and now videobytes which communicate information on our programs and services through easy-to-understand visuals, particularly for those viewing the information on a mobile device. These “bytes” are specifically designed for social media to inform and educate our very interested followers. In these instances, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

In addition, VAC recently launched a second Veterans Affairs Canada Facebook page focused on the department’s programs and services. This page allows the department to share information about financial support, rehabilitation services, transition to civilian life, mental health and other related programs and services to help veterans and their families. This Facebook community is growing and quickly becoming engaged as its followers are people who want to do more than just read; they want to share their feelings and opinions about VAC’s services. Positive or negative, their feedback provides the department with an important insight into how well programs are working and if Canadians are sufficiently informed about the department’s services.

VAC’s Twitter channels have also proved successful in communicating with Canadians. In addition to providing information about programs and services, VAC has also been cross-promoting closely with other government partners to connect with their audiences.

One strong indicator of success on social media is engagement. A “like” on Facebook or a retweet on Twitter is good, but when someone takes the time to add a comment, a new level of engagement is being reached. When faced with traditional channels of communication, many Canadians will not take the time to ask questions or engage in dialogue. However, when social media tools are included in the mix of a well-crafted strategic communications approach, organizations can provide a useful outlet for those members of the audience who have a much higher interest in the topic and want their opinion heard.

Today, when engaged Canadians say something and it can be heard by hundreds of thousands of other Canadians from the instant they hit “send,” it’s phenomenal. When Canadians take the time to post a comment, whether positive or negative, they are engaged and so are their friends. That is the power and influence of social media.

For VAC, the lesson is clear. Keep doing what we’re doing.

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