By now you’ve probably heard that the Government of Canada is slowly rolling out a new brand strategy — reportedly an effort to harmonize 1,500 websites under a single banner. The move involves shifting the Government brand from being department-centric to being theme-centric.
The first department to draw fire from the public and media is Environment Canada (I’m quoted today in Andrew Seymour’s piece in the Ottawa Citizen). That department changed its Facebook page name from the clear and concise “Environment Canada” to the aspirational and clunky “Conserve, Restore, and Connect with Nature.” This online property will apparently be shared with a soup other departments including Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada.
You can see how this will get very messy and confusing for all involved, very quickly. The changes mean Government departments which straddle several themes will now have to manage and contribute to multiple theme-based consortium properties, while members of the public who followed departments because of focused personal and/or professional interest will now be flooded with unrelated noise. Everyone will now be confused by a likely shift in the substance and tone of the messaging.
And, the intended Canadian audience may now become cluttered by an international audience, which will likely further skew the type of content being shared.
There are many reasons why this is a bad branding move. More importantly, there are many indicators that point to a poorly considered execution. For example, some of the new themes are based on descriptions such as “Canada and the World” (the new brand for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which has included posts on Bastille Day and updates on the Pan Am games over the last week) while others are based on uniting actions such as “Building Communities” (the new brand for Transport Canada which has posted updates on airspace agreements and provincial traffic laws). I wonder which group CRA will fall under.
Social media communities thrive because of niche interests. People follow other people and organizations, subscribe to their content and give indications that they appreciate the content because there is alignment. When it comes to government, people follow to stay informed and contribute to a policy and issues-based conversation, not become buddies with the bureaucrats.
Which means someone with the wrong ideas about government, brand and social media sold an ourageous idea to a decision maker. Or, as many are suggesting in online comment threads, this is a strategic political decision ahead of a general election.