As many of you know, I’ve worked at Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Public Affairs (PA) over the last couple years managing the RCN’s social media accounts. When I came onboard (pardon the pun) in late 2015, the RCN had one social media account: a bilingual Twitter account. Since then, I’ve grown their Twitter following from roughly 8,000 followers to over 26,000. In 2017, I created our Facebook and Instagram accounts and upon my departure in August 2018, they respectively sat at 10,000+ page likes, and 6,000+ followers.
So, how did I manage to more than triple our Twitter following, and grow a community of thousands from scratch?
For starters, let’s provide a little context. In comparison to the other Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) elements, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Canadian Army (CA), we were falling drastically behind, digitally speaking. Although the RCN is technically the smallest element of the three, I felt that there was no reason that should be reflected online, and thus made it my mission to fix that. When I started in 2015, the RCN had never had a sole person dedicated to social media. It was always a secondary duty to an already extremely busy Public Affairs Officer (PAO). I was the first employee per se whose role was solely dedicated to social media, and with the help of some amazing PAOs (here’s looking at you Linda, Diane!) managed to grow our numbers significantly.
Here are just a couple of the key factors that I attribute to our online growth:
I knew immediately that a key component of our content needed to be about educating our audience. The RCN is probably the least understood element by the Canadian public; sure people understood that the RCAF flies, the Army handles land things…but what does the Navy do in Canada, really? A heck of a lot actually, and I wanted to make sure people knew that.
One of the first steps I took was to actually take a few steps back, to bring RCN content down a few notches from high level strategic tweets to infographics that simply explain how we operate and what it is that we do.
A few examples of this included creating infographics of all our classes of ships to let Canadians know what kind of ships their RCN has, and what kind of work they do. I also created a series of simple “Did you know” (#DYK) posts that filled people in on the RCN’s role in protecting Canada.
An example of one of the first infographics I made in 2016 about our frigates. Remember, I was a team of one and we didn’t have any graphic design resources, so I used a PowerPoint template. Was it pretty? No. Was it better than nothing? Yes.
Thankfully we have a graphic designer now, so she provided the infographic with a badly needed update.
Speaking about education…notice our hashtag on the bottom? I threw that bad boy on literally everything.
Something I noticed right away was that there was a lot of confusion with our hashtag. Many people, understandably so, assumed our hashtag was #RCN and would proceed to use it in their content, thinking they were tagging us. Our official hashtag was actually #RCNavy, for many reasons, one being that #RCN was just too generic and widely used. It was used for a large variety of topics and was simply too difficult to measure. If you used #RCN in an effort to tag RCN content, there is no way I would’ve seen it. I made it my life’s mission for everyone and their dog to use #RCNavy. Did you know that #RCNavy was the RCN’s official hashtag? If you did, that makes me a very happy camper.
I also wanted people to know what hashtags to use to connect with us, so in 2016 I also created another series of graphics to share on our Twitter account. I used Canva for this, simply using our signature blue as a background and creating shareable content to educate our audiences on how best to engage with us. Again, was it perfect? No, but it was better than nothing.
More recent examples of this include a “Sailor Speak” campaign where we give our audience some insight into RCN slang. The CAF is notorious for their use of lingo, and the RCN particularly so. You can check this out every Sunday on RCN social media accounts. We also created a “Trades Tuesday” series of videos to give the public a taste of what life in each trade is like.
One of my personal mantras when it comes to social media is to put the social aspect back into social media. Too often do I see professionals focusing on automation and tools, and although those things can be helpful and certainly make life in the social media world more efficient, everything should be in moderation. Use automation and tools to your advantage for content that you know is coming up; this will allow you to dedicate your free time to organic content.
When it comes to engagement, my point of view was to do it often and to do it liberally. Someone posts that they just joined the RCN? Take the time to welcome them to the #RCNavy family! A civilian tweets at us how much they love the RCN? Take the time to tell her how much we appreciate her support. One of our sailors shares a sick photo from their current deployment? Retweet that bad boy, and thank them for the shot!
Here are a couple examples of fun opportunities I had to engage that I jumped on:
On the note of engagement, don’t forget that you have an entire government organization to back you up. I wasn’t shy to reach out to the CAF social media team when we had something of interest coming up, or gave them a heads up we were releasing something on x day that we would appreciate them sharing. Our numbers always shot up whenever CAF accounts shared our content, so don’t be shy to leverage the resources available to you. Although our Facebook page was relatively new, we had formations (Maritime Forces Pacific and Atlantic, otherwise known as East Coast Navy and West Coast Navy) who had established pages. Asking them to share relevant content benefitted us all. We are One Navy, after all. You scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours!
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The RCN had a very rare problem that I was ecstatic about. Content. SO MUCH CONTENT! Most clients I have worked with had the very opposite problem, zero content and it was like pulling teeth trying to make something out of nothing. It was like Christmas morning for a social media marketer when I went on the RCN website and discovered not only loads of interesting articles, but photos galore, bios on naval heroes, heck there are even paper ship models! They had all of this content, and not anyone to manage it, and it was a wonderful problem to have when it came to social media. As a team of one, I needed all the help I could get.
The lesson here is to work with what you already have, repurpose what you can, and don’t be afraid to reuse it. That article isn’t timely anymore? Hello #ThrowbackThursday! That sailor profile is 2 years old? It’s never too late to highlight our amazing members!
I constantly see this with clients as well, everyone is so obsessed with creating new content that they often times forget what they already have. The great thing about social media, Twitter in particular, is that it moves fast. Every post won’t reach every follower, so there’s no harm in reposting content you want to be seen. Due to the algorithms and nature of the platforms, my general rule of thumb is that you can reuse appropriate content after 3 weeks on Twitter, and 3 months on Facebook or Instagram.
Now, this is a topic I could go on forever about. Those who know me know that I’m passionate about the CAF, and even more passionate about digital marketing, so this really was a beautiful collision of my two worlds. For brevity’s sake, I’ll leave it at those 3 main key components, but I’ll also leave you with a few lessons learned.
- Be realistic. With everything. Your goals, your time, what one person physically can do. The curse of both entrepreneurship and social media is that you’re used to being on 24/7, which isn’t realistic for anyone, nor healthy. Because I was so passionate about what I was doing, I had a tendency to burn the candle at both ends in an effort to get on par with the other elements and do the best job I could do. A lot of it was my own doing, but I needed to be realistic on what one person can do without a heck of a lot of resources. It definitely caused burnout, and set an extremely unrealistic precedent.
- Don’t be shy to try new things! Now this one I definitely had fun with. When our accounts were brand spanking new, we barely had an audience. This is the time to try new things, experiment a little. One year we did live sailor profiles here in Ottawa during the Remembrance Day parade. We experimented with Facebook live for a series of different events. Social media is all about experimentation and there is no one size fits all recipe for success. Sure, there are best practises, but success looks different for everyone and depends on your audience. Take the time to figure out what your audience wants.
- Planning goes a long way.Due to our lack of resources, we rarely had the opportunity to plan in advance and were required to be much more tactical than strategic. Whenever I could, I wrote a social media plan. For anything and everything. When you’re a national level organization, and have formations looking to you for direction, you need to have your sh*t together in one way, shape or form.
- Measure. Anything you can. Again, anything is better than nothing. Aim for gathering numbers on at the very least, a monthly basis. Keeping track of top performing (and least performing posts) as well as trends and patterns, will provide valuable insight as to what your audience wants and how to best plan content for the future. If you don’t have capacity for detailed measurement, I recommend looking at a minimum of the following on a monthly basis:
- Top 3 performing posts on each platform
- Least performing post
- New followers/page likes
- Any noticed trends/patterns
- Any outside influencers (i.e: our numbers always spike in November due to Veterans Week and Remembrance Day)
There are many other factors that contributed to our growth, one of those being consistency. Consistency = credibility, a brand that is consistent with their efforts is automatically more credible. I also had the added benefit of support from supervisors. With their green light and trust, I was able to accomplish much more than I could’ve without it.
If I leave you with one final thought about social media is that when it is done well, it looks easy. It actually requires much more time than you will ever anticipate, is extremely detail oriented, some form of strategy is necessary for success, and that it really is all about people.
As we say in the #RCNavy, “People first, mission always.”
Have you grown a national organization’s online community significantly? What did you learn along the way?