The Water We Drink, Lead and Social Media
Timing is a funny thing. As leaders from Canada's water and wastewater industries gathered at the start of this week in Banff, concerning stories in the media about dangerous levels of lead in our drinking water grabbed headlines.
I spoke at that conference, but certainly not about the lead issue. I left that and other technical issues to the experts.
In preparing for my presentation, I concluded that if you need to get messages to the public, social media, and not the news media, is now the best way to go.
Why Worry About Water?
On Monday morning, I was the keynote speaker at the National Water and Wastewater Conference. The client was the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) and its conference was at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
CWWA is a national organization representing the common interests of Canada’s public sector water and wastewater services and private sector companies that supply them. It’s the voice of the public utilities and municipalities that supply drinking water, and are responsible for wastewater and storm management.
CWWA has a problem. Like every other organization of its kind, it needs more money to build and upgrade infrastructure. The lead issue that made headlines this week is a symptom of that.
There’s another problem, perhaps even a larger one. Supplying drinking water and handling people’s wastes aren’t sexy things. The organization’s members are competing for infrastructure dollars with new projects like roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and rapid transit systems.
“Hey we already have good water and when we flush the toilet everything disappears so why do we need to spend more money on those things?” is the refrain they often hear. Let’s face it, for as many provincial elections as I can remember, two of the biggest issues have been health care and education. You can easily see why people want their money spent in those areas, and besides, our water is fine isn’t it?
Getting Your Message Out
I was asked to speak about ways the organization should communicate its messages for Canadians to gain a better understanding of issues related to water and wastewater delivery.
I spoke about the need for public utilities to get better at speaking in the media about their issues, how they can get their message across in social media and also speaking in public about the many issues they face as an industry.
It’s clear to me that getting these messages across will be a huge challenge – one that needs to be done at every level across Canada. It’s also just as clear to me the importance of using social media to have that story told is more critical than ever.
Certainly organizations need to consider using every form of communication possible, but if you’re asking me where they need to spend their time and money today, I would say social media.
Many years ago, communication campaigns started with the news media. News releases, media conferences, talk shows were staples of media campaigns. However today the problem is, many of those media possibilities no longer exist. The number of news reporters has been cut drastically and with few exceptions, the media only has time and the manpower to cover the basics. There’s very little news and talk left on FM radio and the amalgamation of Postmedia and the Sun newspaper chain has resulted in even fewer opportunities to get your story told.
Social media is the place to be.
Social Media Has Taken Over
Just last week there was a survey in the US that revealed teenagers are now spending seven hours a DAY looking at screens – phones, laptops, desktops and tablets. That’s 42 minutes a day more than when the last time a survey was taken in 2015.
If you have to communicate a message or try to sell something to teenagers, why would you go anywhere else other than social media?
Over 30 million Canadians have a phone and the average person looks at it 80 times a day. We spend an average of three hours a day on our phones. If I’m selling a product, or have a message, I would be sending it to people on their phones. Keep in mind, a generation or two ago, radio and TV were getting numbers like this. Not anymore. The number of people watching TV, listening to radio and reading newspapers has dropped considerably. Most have gone to the internet and social media.
As a former journalist, I wish it wasn’t this way. I still read a newspaper every day, watch the local TV news and listen to news on the radio. I know however I’m in the minority now.
My advice in Banff was, choose a social media platform or platforms that work for you, develop and implement strategies to build your followings and then use both your followers and paid digital advertising to get your messages across.
Celebrities, athletes, big name politicians and others have found that social media allows them to communicate directly with the people they need to engage with and influence. More organizations should understand there are reasons why this is happening and need to jump aboard.
There’s no going back now.
Need My Blog Sent to You?
Make your life easier - get my weekly blog delivered to your inbox every Wednesday. Just sign up for the bog here and get a great free gift for doing so.