By using existing technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, and even by creating a few new technologies of our own – a mobile smart phone app, for example, one of the first developed by a government of Canada department – Veterans Affairs Canada is working to bring remembrance to Canadians in their own communities.
During Veterans’ Week, Canadians turn their thoughts to the brave men and women who fought, and continue to fight for the freedom and peace we enjoy today. We at Veterans Affairs Canada are doing all we can to help honour our veterans by using new technology and social media tools to give Canadians the information they need, when they need it.
As in years past, there will be literally hundreds of commemorative ceremonies and events held in communities across the country during the week leading up to Remembrance Day.
The number of ways Canadians take part in remembrance activities has increased over the last few years, and much of this increase can be directly linked to the department’s social media campaign. Veterans Affairs Canada has one of the largest Facebook communities in the country with 632,000 “likes.” These “likes,” combined with the people who shared our content with their own followers, translated to a Facebook reach of 7.87 million Canadians. In 2011, we also had 1,500 new Twitter followers, 56,000 YouTube views and 1,300 downloads of our mobile app.
Analyzing these numbers, it’s difficult to fully grasp how much things have changed in just a few short years. When VAC’s advertising campaign for Remembrance Day first launched in 2007, television was the sole medium used. In 2009, the campaign was expanded to social media, including a Facebook page and YouTube channel. The 2010 and 2011 campaigns added a Remembrance Vignette and the “I am a Veteran” video as the campaign foundation. Thanks in part to the fact that all of these campaign elements link back to the departmental website, there were a total of 2.2 million unique visitors to www.veterans.gc.ca in 2011.
Social media as a means of engaging Canadians just works. And VAC has been at the forefront of a number of advancements in recent years. But, because technology moves so quickly, there is absolutely no time to rest on our laurels.
This year, VAC is introducing an interactive Facebook app through which Canadians will be able to interact in various ways and express their personal acts of remembrance. Twitter will be used to remind Canadians about the importance of remembering and providing specific examples and suggestions how to do so. We are also launching an updated mobile app that will give Canadians access in the palm of their hands to a list of remembrance activities in their own communities, as well as information about services and benefits, a geo-mapping tool and the department’s new Benefits Browser.
We are also trying to further increase the number of visits to our website through this year’s remembrance campaign. Every marketing element of the campaign – print, online, television, our mobile app, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – will be linked back to veterans.gc.ca to drive visitors there. And, when they arrive, veterans will find even newer ways to get information about the services and benefits they may be entitled to, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, through our new My VAC Book.
Improvements such as these are where the rubber meets the road, because they allow VAC to provide better service, faster and easier, to Canada’s veterans. It makes little sense to direct people to a website if the services they find once they arrive don’t suit their needs.
The challenge for VAC and other government departments is to continue the momentum and build upon this type of success – and not just during Veterans’ Week. These tools have worked for commemoration outreach, but will they work as effectively for other initiatives? These kinds of discussions will become more important as they are tied to government-related services and benefits or performance.
Veterans Affairs Canada tries to communicate and share current information in effective, innovative and engaging ways. Canadians are connected to the Internet; they want to share content online and they are quick to embrace new ways of doing so. It is up to us to continue to change and adapt so that this information sharing can continue as new technologies become available.
Mary Chaput is the deputy minister of Veterans Affairs Canada.</i