A NATIONAL Report on Social Media Use in Canada.

Much of what I've set out to discover with The Saturn Return Project, beyond a regional sense of the "state of the industry," is if and how social and digital media are being used within each country I visit. So imagine my surprise when over lunch, a friend of mine who works at NATIONAL Public Relations here in Toronto said, "well we just produced a report on social media behavior in Canada."

"May I see that?" I responded, and thankfully she happily shared the report with me and The Saturn Return Project readers.

NATIONAL interviewed 40 of the highest-ranking communications officers in organizations across Canada in April and May of this year. The participants comprised a variety of industries from financial and retail, to healthcare, transportation, education, manufacturing, technology and communications, and resources and energy. It's a social media SWOT analysis of sorts, which aimed to discover if and how these organizations are using social media, and to evaluate the challenges, opportunities and level of integration they are experiencing.

Participants began by ranking their social media adoption level on a scale from 1-10. The average response was 4.7, less than halfway to "we got it!"

Challenges seemed standard, ranging from "who manages the media?" to "what is the business case for using it?" to "how do we determine the value?" to an overarching fear of losing control of the message.

To those who still fear losing control of the message, I must ask: what makes you think you had control of the message before? Just because your organization is pushing out a message through one-way communication methods (such as print or radio) does not mean you are controlling the conversation happening about your brand.

The majority of participants in NATIONAL's survey agreed that "the future is digital," which I have heard to date in every city I have visited and I am glad to hear. However, I don't think the future is digital. Digital is here now and changing every week, so for every moment that we look to digital in the future, we fall further behind digital in the present.

Establishing and maintaining a consistent tone and style in social media that syncs with and reflects the overall brand is also a challenge, according to NATIONAL's report. The minority of participants' organizations had staff dedicated to managing social media and instead, the responsibility has been added to the to-do list of existing staff. Regardless of who is managing the medium, it was agreed across the board that senior management buy-in and understanding is imperative to integrating social media into existing communications plans.

Recognized benefits included listening potential, trend-spotting, the revelation of both issues and opportunities among consumers, and the ability to amplify a message beyond traditional channels. All true and all compelling.

It's time to integrate a two-way conversation with your consumers, Canada, and if this survey is reflective of the greater population, you recognize this and you are on your way. I would love to see a follow up report in late 2011, six months from the original and see if there has been a shift.

Download your own copy of NATIONAL's report, "Digital Pulse 2011: How Canadian Organizations Use Social Media," HERE. Enjoy. It's an interesting and quick read.

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