Since storming on to Twitter one week ago, today, the @Canada account has attracted ridicule, criticism and confusion. The account is a lot of things at the same time… playing in to stereotypes, promoting selected Canadian businesses, geolocating Canadian cuisine, and making inflated claims about Canadian innovation.

The account is owned by the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, one of a collection of regional and purpose-specific social media properties maintained by the department.

Things looked promising when the account was in its infancy. The second and third tweets suggested the account would focus on digital diplomacy (using the hashtag #digitaldiplomacy) — building up Canada’s international reputation and relations online. That quickly fell apart and, 27 tweets later, it’s clear that @Canada is a solution looking for a problem. Or, in digital communications parlance, it’s a shiny object with no clear purpose (see the tip sheet, below).

So, is @Canada really for digital diplomacy? Or, is it a stew of marketing messages ostensibly for an international audience?

Indeed, it’s the account manager’s/managers’ fractured and manic approach to tweeting that makes it just too damned easy to question the purpose of the account — even ridicule it.

One tweet which suggests Canadians invented the light bulb (we actually contributed technology that, when combined with other innovations, led to the invention of the light bulb) drew a response “can ‘we’ tone down the hubris here? Wouldn’t want to go wrecking ‘our’ reputation…”


In defense of the account and the person/people managing it, there is clearly an effort to use a conversational tone and be part of the Twitter-culture. And, there are some very relevant tweets including those which promote studying chef education in Canada (again, very industry specific), a trial of a made-in-Canada Ebola vaccine, and a Canadian research partnership with the Gates Foundation to find an HIV vaccine,

I was interviewed about @Canada by CBC’s John Bowman for his weekly column this past Monday. You can read his piece and listen to excerpts of our conversation here.

Five things you should do before launching your online effort

Here’s a list of five things to consider for those in digital public affairs, or digital diplomacy, who are thinking about or have been tasked with establishing an online presence:

  1. Understand the problem you are trying to solve.
  2. Create a job description that identifies the problem and target audience, and establishes the criteria for selecting the best technological platform and meaningful measures of success (the number of followers WAS a meaningful measure of account success until maybe 2008).
  3. Be consistent in your use of the technology/platform to work towards your goals.
  4. Consider very carefully not just the content you put out, but the sequence and flow from one tweet to the next.
  5. Be very careful if you are an “official” communications channel and you start promoting specific companies. Know that you could be opening yourself up to a very big problem with other companies.

Quick stats using Sysomos MAP (Nov 26 through Dec 2)

  • @Canada issued 27 tweets
  • @Canada has been mentioned in 37,455 tweets by 31,875 Twitter accounts (not including @Canada)
  • @Canada’s biggest day was November 26 when it was mentioned in 22,154 tweets
  • 72% of @Canada twitter mentions are retweets, 15% replies and 13% “original” mentions
  • 90% of @Canada mentions are one-time mentions (the participant only mentioned the account once)
  • 69% of participants in @Canada Twitter-related chatter are men, 31% are women
  • 58% of participants in @Canada Twitter-related chatter are from Canada, 28% from the U.S. and 3% from the U.K.
  • 61% of Canadian participants in @Canada Twitter-related chatter are from Ontario, 13% from B.C., and 10% from Alberta
  • @Canada’s most popular tweet, so far (“.@Canada does not apologize for this new Twitter account. #sorrynotsorry”) was issued on November 26 and has attracted 6,908 retweets and 5,721 favourites