Communication, politics and popular culture.

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Insidious ageism affects us all

072015_iPhone photos and videos_1054There’s no discrimination as widespread as ageism. Even sexism and racism can’t claim to affect as many people as does ageism.

We’re all subject to the unfairness of ageist stereotyping simply because as we move through the phases of our lives, we can’t escape the aging process. We are all young, and as long as tragedy does not strike us, we will all be old eventually. You’d think we’d be a little more aware of the injustice of judging others solely on their age.

What is truly astounding is how easily we slip into these assumptions about people based on their age. How much potential is wasted because we’ve “written off” ideas from those labelled as “too young” or “too old”?

It’s all about the experience

One thing that has to change is the idea that age automatically equals wisdom. I once had a boss who explained this concept to me most eloquently. While in the midst of hiring for a position, he explained that it is essential to uncover some crucial details about the job applicants during the interview. He asked me to explore the following: “Does the person have 10 years of experience? Or do they have one year of experience, 10 times?”

On the other side, it is also wise to explore the assumptions of youthfulness. Young people have been assumed to be inexperienced or lacking knowledge. But more and more scientific research suggests this is bunk. Some of the wisest people you and I know are young.

Wisdom does not correspond to age

Young people can represent the “evolution of us.” In many cases, it doesn’t take as long for young people to learn the same things their parents or older siblings did (change happens that quickly now). Concepts such as information overload are simply not as much of an issue for a generation trained to sort and filter massive amounts of facts and data from childhood. They do it better because they haven’t known the world any other way.

Contrary to what some might say, older people are able to adapt to change, modify their behaviour and match the skills of their younger cohorts. As you age, it’s your responsibility to stay “on top of your game,” look after your physical and mental health…not coast through your older years based on past achievements.

And if you keep up with the times, it is only fair that you be treated with respect and that you are valued, not dismissed based on your graying hair. Don’t make assumptions about anyone based on their age – young or old. Get to know them.

Value those who break the mould

In a perfect world, we would recognize that an “old fogey” is able to think like a young person. Or that a “young whipper-snapper”  does have the ability to understand the past like an older person. Don’t give in to lazy ageist thinking and we’ll realize more of our true human potential.






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The brilliance of Snapchat

13266097_10153585408221517_6206152910962290695_nThis Snapchat is brilliant. It’s the next big thing right here under our noses.

You may have thought it was a passing Millennial-fancy but think again. The social app is gaining popularity with 25-34 year-olds. Marketers are calling the growth to 50 million users this year “startling.” And they’re wasting no time rolling out their revenue model.

The company has announced plans to introduce advertising in between your personal stories, aggressively taking on social cohorts, Twitter and Facebook.

A wisp of an idea

I’ll admit that when I first heard about Snapchat, I thought the ghost was an apt brand choice for something that seemed a little too ethereal to catch on.

But I was wrong. This thing has a winning formula.

It’s better than texting (because photos). It doesn’t take up space on your smartphone (no time to delete, no worries). It’s simple and fun to use (even for old folks like me).

Easy peasy

Most importantly, there is nothing else quite like it. The appeal is that you can snap a quick photo to convey a lot more than a straight text. You can also shoot a short video. And it’s all so effortless.

It even takes care of deleting the media for you. So, you never have to worry about bogging down your device.

Copy that

You can also swipe the screen to read more if you so desire. There’s already been a Snapchat feature film. Now Apple is copying Snapchat with its new lookalike iMessage update.

Snapchat is the future of communication on social networks.

There’ll be no ghosting for this company — it’s here to stay and will shape the way we tell our stories online for good.





Father’s flight from the Klan: Searching out his roots

By Jody MacPherson
Published in the Fort McMurray Express, 1986

Gilbert Williams has a dream.

He wants to write a book about his father.

Longtime resident Walter HIll planted the idea in his head about 10 years ago, but Williams only really began doing research in earnest a year ago.

It was not until Williams heard a woman named Margaret Mapp speak about the history of blacks in Alberta that he began to seriously consider the idea.

“She told me about all the things she had done, and she got me going on my own search,” he says, “She was a very inspiring woman.”

Williams had listened to his father’s stories since he was a child and never thought twice about them. then, when his father came to live with him and his wife in 1975, he started to ask more questions.

As Williams began to piece the stories together, he began to realize just how much his father was involved with the early pioneers in Fort McMurray, and what a remarkable life his father had led.

“He didn’t harp on his hardships or on the discrimination,” says Williams. “He just wanted to protect his family, to get away from all that — so he kept moving north.”

Loss of a friend

Leonard Williams was born in Mississippi in 1885 and like thousands of other blacks, he left the United States to escape the lingering hatred and racial violence that followed the American Civil War.

Blacks may have been free, but times were still tough and vigilante groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan ran rampant.

The turning point came when he watched his best friend killed by the Klan. The next day he borrowed money from his sister, who was a school teacher, and headed for Oklahoma.

He took his brother with him, but when they encountered resistance at the Canadian border, his brother got scared and turned back.

Williams followed the “underground railroad” to Canada through Winnipeg, Manitoba then he gradually made his way west.

Sixty years later, his son tried to convince him to return to the U.S. to visit his birthplace but Williams refused to return.

“He didn’t believe anything had changed,” says Williams, “this was the 1960’s when there was a lot of racial reform and violence and Dad saw this on television and refused to go back.”

Much of the movement of the blacks into Canada has been chronicled and Williams says his father always seemed to be out in the forefront. He was usually there before anyone else.

“I have a feeling that he was one of the men that went ahead and scouted things out, before the other blacks moved into the area,” he says.

Williams has records of his father homesteading first in Wildwood, which is 150 kilometres west of Edmonton, near Wabumum Lake, and then in Stocks, a small community near Amber Valley, a large black settlement close to Athabasca.

The younger Williams was so affected by the history behind this community that he and his wife named their first child, a daughter, “Amber.” At nine, Amber proudly proclaims the origin of her name to all who will listen.

Williams is not sure when his father first came to Fort McMurray but Walter Hill has confirmed that he was here when he came to McMurray in 1922.

The elder Williams was with the railroad for 35 years and his son thinks he probably followed the railroad north when it reached Waterways in the early 1920’s.

Williams was a porter on the Alberta and Great Waterways Railroad, back when the passengers had to travel on flat cars.

He says his father was greatly respected and trusted. Local settlers would often give him money and ask him to pick up things for them in Edmonton. they would even entrust their children to him for trips to and from the city.

Williams was often requested to serve on the coaches carrying dignitaries and VIP’s north to Fort McMurray.

The younger Williams says his father recalled in one of his stories the journey of the buffaloes north to Wood Buffalo Park.

“Most other people didn’t realize these were not ordinary livestock,” he says, “but Dad knew these animals were special.”

The buffaloes came north to McMurray by the railroad and then went up river by barge, says Williams.

After Williams retired from the railroad, he brought his family to live in Fort McMurray. The younger Williams was 10 years old and remembers their home well.

“It was on the corner of Main and what’s now Biggs,” he says “right where the Garden Cafe sits.”

The tree which now bears colored lights and is called “the tree of hope” stood in Williams front yard.

Later his father bought four and a half acres at the bottom of Abasand Hill, where Grayling Terrace now stands.

“We lived there and farmed the land although there was no water or sewer,” he says.

He says they had a regular harvest and had to take time off from school to harvest their crops, which were sold to the only local restaurant in the Oil Sands Motor Inn.

“We used to help the Harpe’s harvest their crops, too, although theirs was not a commercial business, it was just enough to feed their family,” says Williams.

Tarsands secrets

Williams’ father was also involved in the early oil sands exploration.

“He would often refer to ‘Sid’ and ‘Ellis’ and it wasn’t until later that I realized that they were the same person, Sidney Ellis, an early explorer,” says Williams.

Williams also listened to stories of how his father hauled tar sands by horse and wagon from the sites where they were experimenting.

Williams mentioned to his son that he had seen a strange ‘agitator’ that worked like a washing machine.

Williams thinks now that it may have been an early experiment in tar sands extraction.

“He was sworn to secrecy because most other people did not really have any idea what was going on at the time,” he says.

Williams has just begun to piece together his father’s memoirs. By reading local history books and doing research in the archives in Edmonton, he is confirming most of what his father had told him, but he still has a long way to go.

He would welcome any local historical material that might further confirm his father’s stories.

He remembers something Margaret Mapp told him and tries to live by that creed.

“She said it is important to not live in the past, but to learn from it, in order to prepare for the future.”

Leonard Williams died here in in 1977 at the age of 92.

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Thoughts of a Part Time Taxi Driver

By Paul MacPherson
October 18, 1972

Going through Mom’s old trunk full of memorabilia about my dad. Found this essay he wrote for an English assignment on stream of conscience narrative. Dad never finished high school but went back to school after he was married and had a young family at home. This was written while we were living in Moncton and he was going to college.

Hot, must be ninety. Broke, same as always, that’s why I’m pushing this old hack, trying to make enough for cigarettes.

Everybody else is vacationing, not me, never could afford it, haven’t been out of this stinking city since 1966.

031916_iPhone_5093Working every day at two jobs, oh, what the hell it’s pretty near midnight and the bar closes at one o’clock so I’ll make one more trip around the square, check in at the Belmont, and if I don’t catch a fare I’ll cash in and see if I can still get in the club for a beer.

City’s dead tonight, must be the middle of the month, nobody’s got a damn cent. Real dark out, cloudy, getting ready to rain. Hope if there is a fare at the Belmont it’s a good looking chick going north. Wife sure would be ugly* if she knew what I was thinking.

Well, there isn’t a damn soul on the square, my only hope now is the Belmont, seems to be a crowd around there, maybe my lucks changing.

Oh, oh, look what I stumbled into, the Uptown gang and they’re all stoned, looks like they want a taxi, my taxi, I’ll be lucky to get out of this alive.

Five of them, two in the front, three in the back, got open bottles on them. Hope the costs stop us, might be my only salvation. Come to think of it, the cops are afraid of them too. Having my usual run of luck tonight, all bad.

They want to go to the south end, of all places, guys wind up dead down there. Got to stop thinking like that, got to be cool. Hands shaking, steady, got to get it together, stay cool.

Wish that guy would stop flashing that knife, wonder if they will pay me, couldn’t care less, if they don’t and the boss gets tough, I’ll pay the damn fare myself, just as long as they get out and leave me in one piece.

Well, this is the address they gave me, what a neighbourhood, they’re starting to get out now, soon as the last guy is clear of the door I’m going to move this old tank out of here so fast I might leave the rear end here till daylight to-morrow.

Here it comes, the leader is making his way to my door, got his hand in his pocket, wonder if I can buy him off if I give him all the money I got, hell no, my $12.75 would just insult him, besides that would spoil his fun.

What has he got in that pocket, I see it now, a five-dollar bill, keep the change, he said.

All cashed in now, never driving a cab again, no that’s not true. I’m too stupid, I’ll just blow all my money again next payday and have to drive again. Wonder how long my luck will hold out. Think I’ll go to the club for that beer, or about six double rums.

*in Maritime slang, “ugly” can also mean “angry.”

Jody’s Note: I’d love to know what the “Uptown” gang might be in reference to — I’m sure it has meaning New Brunswickers of that era (60’s-70’s) would understand. And yes, Dad did drive a taxi so I’m sure this story is at least partly based in his own experiences.

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My home office – or what’s left of it

There are some things in life that are just not worth it. The trouble, I mean.

Take my former home office, for example. No – I really am serious. Take it.  In fact, someone already did and I’m so relieved.

Back when I was married (seems so long ago!) my ex-husband and I lived well…beyond our means. We had a large home and both had our own office space. I can’t speak for him, but I know mine was a sanctuary and at one point the hub of a thriving consulting practice.

Intersecting spheres

Every day, we each retired to our own offices and our unique spheres of interest. I found I could connect with a whole world out there via my computer screen. It was a poor substitute for connecting with my husband, but we do what we can to find some semblance of happiness.

In summary, the Venn diagram of our relationship was a big fail. Our two spheres simply did not intersect.

Cramming things in

Fast forward past a lot of heartache and pain to post-divorce. I’ve moved into own place (much smaller but still a full house) and my old office is transposed on a new life and location. Or more accurately, it’s crammed into a smaller space.


Last photo before I let it go…the Canadarm thing about to be dismantled.

I had to let go of a lot of things, but I simply could not let go of my sleek, smooth Ikea desk. It was lovely, large and took up almost the whole room. Its matching credenza, cabinet, drawers and computer stand were simply so…so…matching. My printer (as heavy as a small jumbo jet) anchored down the room quite nicely.

Last office standing

My office felt secure and safe. The one thing left standing after a marital earthquake. Sigh.

Then, reality hit. As we say in corporate Calgary, my life was not “sustainable.” Time for a more affordable place.

Fast forward again to my new condo in downtown Calgary. Half the space at half the cost. This is more like it.

So, why is it that I’ve been in my new place for almost two weeks and my “office” is still not up and running? I’ve been like a zombie the last few days wondering why I feel “at odds.” Could it be that I’m feeling a bit lost because:

  1. I gave my sleek desk and all the furniture away to a lovely person. I am using a TV stand as a desk.
  2. I could not lift that behemoth of a printer myself so I had a junk removal company take it away in a moment of fury. I have no printer at all.
  3. I kept only a tiny bit of my mountain of office supplies and gave the rest away to another lovely person.
  4. The two computer monitors I have were fastened to my desk with a mechanism that looks as complex as the Canadarm (thanks to my handyman ex again for being so ingenious). I cannot figure out how to put it back together.
  5. I have absolutely NO space for an office.

Carry on

This is an absolute shit show. I have dismantled my last remaining safety net and jumped both feet into another dimension. It’s smaller, more real and everything here has to be less heavy because I’m carrying this act by myself.

I have not felt this way since I was in late stage labour with my first child. You know that “turned down the drugs and regretting it” feeling when you look around at the doctor, the nurses, your spouse and realize none of them can really make this any easier for you. You’re on your own.

Go figure out that drill

Speaking of useful, five years ago, my ex gave me his electric drill because he thought I might need it to do — home repairs?  I don’t really know how to use it although I am perfectly capable of reading the instructions and could probably figure it out and maybe wield it somewhat effectively.

I still have it and I pulled it out last night in my quest to reassemble the Canadarm. That drill was dead. Or at least the battery was.

I realized at that moment that the tectonic plates of my life have once again shifted and I just did not recognize it. I needed a simpler way of setting up my monitor. I could try and put it back together the way my ex had done it. But that would involve drilling a large hole in my table (who knows how well that would turn out) and would require getting extra help just lifting the contraption into place. Is there a mini-crane rental for small space hoisting?

Do I really need this? The truth is, I need a lot less. And it needs to not be so damn heavy. There has to be a better way.

My office is really just a small corner of my bedroom, actually. Truth be told.

I’m seriously letting go of some stuff over here. And it feels good.

Does anyone want a Canadarm monitor stand?




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How to vote: You’ve been told

You embrace change. You are optimistic about the future. You value diversity, creativity and are not afraid to challenge authority. You want to be fiscally responsible for the sake of future generations.

Yet, you do not worship at the altar of the almighty dollar nor define yourself by how much you consume or acquire.

The world around you is constantly evolving and adapting. What worked in the past will not always work in the future.

If you agree with all of the above statements, you are probably a small “L” liberal. Forget parties and logos. Set aside party leaders and policies of the past. Consider your principles.

Next, take a long, hard look at your local candidate. What values do they believe in and do they align with yours? Consider their ability to persuade and demonstrate leadership with others. Are they leaders or followers?

None of the party leaders are on the ballot unless you live in Calgary Heritage, Papineau, Outremont or Saanich-Gulf Islands. Your vote will be cast for a person who can best understand you, your concerns and be available and accountable to you first rather than to a party or ideology.

In some cases, the person has already made their position clear in that regard. In other cases, you can only ask the question and hold them to account if they do not live up to their commitment.

Do not allow special interests or frivolous arguments to derail your desire to stay true to your principles. I assure you, there are many people out there who will try to confuse you, dissuade you or outright mislead you.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to sort this one out. Who is not afraid to speak up and ask questions? Which person best represents your principles? And who has the run the best campaign, and at the end of the day, who has worked hardest to earn your trust and respect? Realistically, do they have ANY chance of winning?

Your vote can make history. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t let anyone decide the outcome of this election FOR YOU. Have the courage to make an imperfect choice if the perfect choice is not available to you. Because it is an imperfect world. We do not have the luxury of only perfect choices.

October 19. Go YOU.


Remembering Al Sacuta – crusader, satirist and hero

“Right now we have two crackhead drivers in Rocky View (Calgary and the MD): both hopped up on growth and both fighting to take control of the bus. For now, we’re just along for the terrifying ride.” (Al Sacuta)

I tracked down this gem in one of my first email exchanges with Al Sacuta and it made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Al (far left) showed up with signs for the protest. That's me looking a little nervous!

Al (far left) showed up with signs for the protest. That’s me looking a little nervous!

It was 2009 and I was living in Okotoks, caught up with a group called Citizens for a Sustainable Okotoks. A small group of people originally formed to promote sustainability, we soon found ourselves in a battle to keep the town’s environmental credibility intact. It was a battle that we ultimately lost, but that is a story for another time.

Al’s white paper on reckless growth came to the attention of another activist in the community, Nancy Ginzer and she shared his paper with me. A retired engineer and resident of Rocky View County, Al was a blogger and a well-known critic of Rocky View County council. He was a crusader for good government and a community activist.

He soon forged an alliance with our little group and began supporting our efforts to reject the Calgary Regional Partnership’s (CRP) plans for aggressive growth. Our argument was that the water supply for additional residents needed to be secured first, before the population was allowed to increase dramatically (as proposed by the CRP).

Al quickly made himself indispensible, poring over engineer’s reports on the South Saskatchewan River water supply and we realized his concerns in Rocky View matched our protest petition in Okotoks and the MD of Foothills.

Tempers flared throughout the rural areas during the plan’s public consultation phase. Water was a major concern and finally, an “open house” turned into a “tailgate protest” prior to the event at an Okotoks community hall.

Al was there for us, printing posters ahead of time on his oversized home printer (who has a printer like that at home? Al did!), agreeing to media interviews and generally lending his professional expertise.

Taking the microphone at the tailgate protest.

Taking the microphone at the tailgate protest.

I will never forget how he agreed at the last minute to speak in an impromptu manner outside the hall during the protest to explain why the CRP plan had to be rejected. With a karaoke-style microphone and guitar amplifier I had brought from home (my teenagers never knew it was missing), he spoke calmly and eloquently about the need to stand up for our community.

Not long after that, Albertans for Responsible Land Use was born. A coalition of citizen groups in rural communities around Calgary we found ourselves gaining steam and speaking out against the Calgary Metropolitan Plan.

Al later found himself a target of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit when he created a spoof of the county logo. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association spoke in his defense and the Calgary media gave his case some much-deserved attention. It was a trying time for Al and his wife, Lindy, I’m sure.

What happened next is the best part.

Instead of backing down when he became a target, Al stood up and said, “enough.” He then picked himself up from the depths of a legal nightmare and ran for County Councillor in 2010. To no one’s surprise, he won the election.

Al spoke the truth, plain and simple.

Al spoke the truth, plain and simple.

Overnight, he went from guerrilla activist to elected official. In fact, Al was one of several members of Albertans for Responsible Land Use elected municipally that year. The community had also said, “enough.”

There was never a more dedicated public servant than Al. He was the epitomy of good government, never falling under the spell of developers, always forthright and honest about his activities and truly representing his constituents’ best interests.

Read his blog here.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have known and worked with Al. He did a damn fine job at every turn and under trying circumstances. I wish he did not have to die so young. I am trying hard not to be sad, but it is tough.

I’m comforted by the fact that his war on stupidity, on dishonesty and on corruption will live on because he inspired many others to get involved and fight as well.

Well done, Al. Well done.

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Harper slams a culture that is “anti-women;” no problem though, let’s do business

"Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha" by Walter Callens ( Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

“Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha” by Walter Callens (Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the practice of covering one’s face with a niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.” Harper and his caucus have been caught spanking entire cultures and attacking various religions for their practices with regards to women.

Well, if anyone knows about cultures that are anti-women, it’s Harper. In fact, he’s an expert on the subject based on his actions here in Canada and abroad. Perhaps a little self-flagellation may be needed on Harper’s part since our prime minister is more than a little naughty on women’s issues.

Let’s look at Harper’s bad boy behaviour:

  1. In his first year as prime minister he abruptly cancelled the national childcare program the previous government had been negotiating with the provinces. It was replaced with a taxable $100/month bonus. The amount was a throwback to the 1950’s and families across the country said, “you’ve got to be kidding.”
  2. Also in those early days after he was elected, the Harper government shut down 12 out of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada offices. Not satisfied with that, he then cut funding to research and advocacy work and effectively silenced a number of women’s rights groups. A chill remains even today due to threats of “advocacy audits” hanging over these and other social justice groups by Revenue Canada.
  3. Even when he promises to advance women’s issues, Harper can’t be trusted. He rejected recommendations from a federal task force to move forward with pay equity, breaking his promise made during the 2006 election. Pay equity calls for equal pay for work of equal value, a concept that many women believe is essential for full gender equality. The idea has gone almost nowhere in the past 10 years.
  4. Going even further in 2009, Harper buried critical changes to the legal definition of pay equity in the omnibus budget bill. The result is that changes in terminology mean higher pay is protected for men even if the work is of equal value. It’s a man’s world and Harper wants to make sure it stays that way.
  5. When the mandatory long-form census became optional, the Harper government cut questions on unpaid household chores and caregiving. This is a dismissal of the substantial contribution of women to our society and our economy. If there’s no data, it doesn’t exist. Stay-at-home moms don’t even register in the Harper ledger.
  6. After initially trying to exclude birth control from his government’s billion dollar investment in maternal and child health in developing countries, Harper had to back down. But the final aid package absolutely excluded funding for access to abortions, something wealthy countries recognize as essential. Apparently, women living in poverty do not deserve equal health treatment in Harper’s world view.
  7. The Conservative Party of Canada and before that, the Progressive Conservative Party, has consistently ranked below the main opposition parties in putting forward women as candidates in every election since 1997. The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks Canada 48th in the world on their “List of Women in National Parliaments.” Canada ranks lower than countries such as Cuba, Uganda, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Algeria.
  8. The Harper government seems bent on rewarding a system where couples have one person earning a much higher income than the other. The new income-splitting program uses $2 billion of taxpayer dollars (that’s just one year’s loss of revenue) to reward the wealthiest 15 per cent of couples whose incomes are radically disproportionate. Don’t even dream of seeing much of any benefit from that — unless you’re making the big bucks.
  9. After the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s prostitution law because it violated the rights of sex workers, the government promptly reintroduced a nearly identical law, confounding the courts and women’s advocates. Legal experts believe both the old and the newly introduced law will put sex workers (mostly women) at increased risk of harm.
  10. Also “not high on the government’s radar,” according to Harper, are calls from women’s groups and Amnesty International for an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. All evidence points to a systemic problem with crimes against this most vulnerable group. A compassionate prime minister would undertake an investigation into the issue. Oh, right.

One final smackdown of Harper as “defender of women.” While Sweden, Germany and other countries are turning their backs on Saudi Arabia because their record on human rights is simply untenable, Canada is going forward with a plan to sell the Saudis $10 billion worth of Canadian-made armoured cars.

It’s a country where women are seen as “lacking capacity” to think for themselves so men must look after them. So Harper thinks it’s a good idea to give them more weapons to oppress their citizens?

And it gets worse. Governed by a strict moral code, women must cover themselves head-to-toe when in public. Adultery is punishable by death. One woman was recently tried, convicted and beheaded in a public street by a sword-wielding official. The entire horrific incident was filmed and posted on YouTube to send a message…ISIS-style.

No problem, says Harper, “let’s do business.”

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This changes everything: Social media during a crisis

This post appeared originally on the IABC Calgary website.


Remember when the biggest question for organizations was how and when to release information about an unfolding crisis? That was back when consultants preached orderly protocols and the public mostly received their information on the evening news or the next day’s newspaper.

And now? Now, every crisis explodes onto our radar in a flurry of tweets, texts and visuals. By the time the evening news is broadcast, the public already knows what is going on via social media.

It’s an all-out, cross-channel, adrenaline-pumping free-for-all.

So, how do you deal with the fact that most of the information about the crisis is going to be reported by a random and potentially anonymous group of citizen journalists who have little or no training, context or accountability?

Anticipate and prepare

Although it seems like once a crisis hits, you can only react, there is actually quite a bit of work you can do in advance to prepare.

The most important thing is to arm your communications team with the technology they need to get the job done. Have dedicated laptops, smartphones and workstations fully set up and ready to go when there is a crisis. Ensure they have photo and video editing software and are capable of accessing internal shared drives and the cloud. They’ll need digital cameras (both still and video) with all the associated gear, including tripods and microphones.

A crisis is visually dramatic and social media audiences love visuals. Whoever has the best photos and YouTube videos will win the day. It only takes one citizen journalist with a decent camera to draw the audience away from your official channel. If you are prepared and react quickly with your own visuals, the audience will give you the benefit of the doubt and trust you more.

People believe what they can see with their own eyes over what you tell them.

It’s also essential to do your research beforehand to determine who the informal influential leaders are on the various social media channels. Build lists on Twitter (either private or public), research and understand hashtags, create interest lists on Facebook, link pages through reciprocal liking and at a minimum, at least have accounts on Instagram and Vine in case you need to use them in a crisis. It’s a given that you will need a YouTube channel and a Flickr photo sharing site. Ensure your Flickr licensing allows for sharing widely so that your photos can be freely circulated on social media.

Monitor and respond

Once a crisis is in full swing, it is not possible to ignore social media. You must dedicate resources to monitor the channels and respond quickly to correct inaccuracies that will inevitably circulate.

Send facts and information out frequently and across multiple channels. Have your crisis communications team access a shared online workspace like Basecamp where facts and messaging can be added centrally, then just copied and pasted into any medium.

All facts and messaging should be written in plain language. If each piece of information is written in 120 characters or less, it can easily be lifted directly and pasted into Twitter. Short facts and messages can be strung together where there is more space (like Facebook).

Ensure all photos are stored centrally (either in the shared workspace or in the cloud, for example via Flickr) with a short caption written as soon as they are uploaded. This can be done in batches to make it easier.

Whenever possible, you should respond on social media with a photo or graphic.

It’s essential that the approval process for information dissemination is discussed and outlined in advance of a crisis. There should be a clear chain of command for approvals that is documented, shared and understood. Without this, there will almost certainly be mayhem in the communications team and the audience is at high risk of receiving incorrect information.

Share and share alike

The biggest adjustment for most organizations in a crisis is recognizing that social media not only presents significant challenges, it also offers many new opportunities.

A crisis is a chance to build and leverage relationships with trusted partners. Recognize that you can’t do it alone and accept help when others outside your organization bring certain skills, knowledge and resources to the table that you don’t have or need help with.

Reach out to others and build that social network in a crisis.

Bring people together who may be working at cross-purposes but do not know it. Often, those on the crisis communications team have a birds-eye view of what’s happening and can connect people for even better results. Don’t get so caught up in your official role that you reject or ignore the unofficial efforts of others. Encourage and support them. Don’t shut them out.

Deliver the best content

Finally, a crisis is no excuse for bad content. Ensure everything you distribute via social media is well written. On the visual side, design for clarity, demand that your photos are shot to a high standard and make absolutely sure your videos are of good quality (audio too!).

For most organizations, this means setting quality standards year-round and making a concerted effort to hold everyone to those standards. A style guide that is never followed, the acceptance and distribution of sub-standard photos or poorly produced videos will be carried over in a crisis.

People don’t suddenly become competent at delivering good content during a crisis. If you don’t do it the rest of the time, you certainly won’t deliver good content when all hell breaks loose.

Pick a crisis communications team that is versatile and visual.

There are many free design tools on the web that can enable the quick production of graphics by those with basic understanding of design. Social media audiences will be all over it.

And don’t forget to capture and record everything you do for analysis and debriefing when the crisis is over. A daily (or even more frequently if necessary) Storify story is one way to sum everything up and capture your social media to refer back to later. It also provides a convenient way to track down metrics later.

Every crisis communication response needs to be measured and evaluated for improvement.

The access to stats is one of the greatest gifts of social media – but that’s a story for another day.