An effective communication campaign: #PicturesTalk

This detailing of a case study began life as an intended comment on Kristen’s Sukalac’s recent blog, Pink Gloves, Hashtags and Lost Opportunities, but it became so involved and long (and the subject so inspiring) that I decided to turn it into a post proper.

Toni Muzi Falconi commented that an effective communication (campaign)—presumably whether causal or the arts or another consumer product or service marketing effort—requires:

1. Source credibility
2. Content credibility; and
3. Content familiarity

If these are indeed the three principal indicators, I’d like to detail a (Canadian) case study re: successful causal marketing—through social media and the use of hashtags—of which I became aware of (and have now played a part in) through Twitter: the Canadian Red Cross’ Talking Pictures initiative.


I can’t pinpoint when exactly (or how) Karen Snider and I first started following one another on Twitter, but I do recall that it was Karen who tweeted a suggestion that Tanya Elliott and I should follow one another. Tanya is the director of communications for the Canadian Red Cross (at that time CRC was a client of Karen’s…now she has transitioned to a part-time employee). Tanya inaugurated her Twitter account specifically in conjunction with “Pictures Talk,” a program of the Canadian Red Cross, related to its tsunami-relief efforts dating back to 2004.

Over the last few months, the bulk of Tanya’s tweets have kept her followers updated about the travelling exhibition, as it wound its way across Canada (more information follows). A bit later, a mutual follow also started with Jen Mayville, communication coordinator with Canadian Red Cross Ontario.

With the Canadian Red Cross and its tsunami relief efforts (and Talking Pictures initiative), I believe Toni’s 1. Source credibility; and 2. Content credibility principal requirements are covered off.

Pictures Talk

Pictures Talk is an exhibition comprising 26 photos taken—using disposable cameras—by child survivors of the Boxing Day tsunami. (The accompanying, inspiring captions to the photos were written by the same amateur photographers.) The regions that the Canadian Red Cross efforts focused on included Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.

It was obvious that all three Canadian Red Cross staff members (in fact, anyone involved with this endeavour) are passionate about the Pictures Talk initiative. Considering that it was a project of which I’d been unaware of up until a few months ago (“content familiarity”), it impresses me that my awareness was raised via Karen, Tanya and Jen’s Twitter accounts and the determined hashtag: #PicturesTalk.

Toronto Pictures Talk Tweetup

Toronto marked the final stop for the exhibit…and the only location that relied primarily on Twitter for promotion (the Canadian Red Cross’ inaugural “Pictures Talk Tweetup”). I received a direct invitation (a “tweet”) to register. Which I did. And I tweeted about it, using the #PicturesTalk hashtag.

The reception (featuring culturally relevant Indonesian appetizers) and exhibit was held last night (December 7th) at an intimate, local gallery, which donated the space. It was well attended and proved to be an inspiring exhibit and a very warm and friendly networking event for “twits” (and non-twits) alike. At the event I met Karen, Tanya and Jen in person for the first time, which was in itself, quite moving.

Several of us at the Tweetup (we were all so inspired by the children’s photos and words) suggested to Tanya and her staff that they auction off the photos/captions, particularly to the corporate sector. We think these photos, hung in public places, would prove a visual “content familiarity” and incredibly effective storytelling about how Canadian donations to the Canadian Red Cross tsunami relief efforts have manifested themselves and played a role in enriching lives and documenting outcomes. That way the “impact” (Kristen Sukalac’s word) of the cause-donation outcomes would continue to find new audiences, raise awareness and (possibly) increase donations.

Successful Case Study

Back in 2004, I did donate to the tsunami relief efforts, but not to the Canadian Red Cross (I opted to send money to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders – Canada). But I can say that I wouldn’t hesitate to contribute to future Canadian Red Cross fundraising effort for relief work, particularly now that my awareness has been raised through the organization’s Pictures Talk social media efforts and Tweetup exhibit.

That’s why I say this is a successful case study, at least on a personal basis.

More information

For the locals who would like to see the full exhibit, details are as follows:

RedEye Studio Gallery (see Galleries and then scroll)
Distillery District
Running until December 13, 2009
Hours: 12 noon until 5 p.m.

Alternatively, anyone can visit CTV Television’s Online Photo Gallery (a few select Talking Pictures photos) or see Canada AM & Jeff’s videos for, “Tsunami kids document lives in new project” video on CTV’s Canada AM web pages.

Update 12/10/09: Additional information from Dan Bedell, Director of Public Affairs, Canadian Red Cross, Atlantic Canada (as per his comment)

“You might also be interested in viewing the short (5-minutes), but compelling, International Red Cross (IFRC) video available via the mainpage. [Or go directly to YouTube.] It details the progress the Red Cross has made in the five years since the tsunami.

Bear in mind if viewing it, that the $383 million donated by Canadians accounted for almost a fifth of the $2B raised globally for the Red Cross tsunami relief effort–the largest contribution of any country in the world.”

* * *

Below is information I culled from the flyer that was available at the reception. It also served to enhance my appreciation of “source credibility, content credibility and content familiarity.”

Five years later—commemorating the South Asia Tsunami

Boxing Day (December 26th) marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean coastline in 2004. To date, the Red Cross movement has helped 5 million survivors rebuild their lives. Over the past five years, the Canadian Red Cross has built more than 6,000 earthquake-resistant homes, repaired hospitals and community centres, restored lost livelihoods and helped train thousands of disaster response volunteers across Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India.

Steps Toward Recovery

Following immediate emergency relief efforts, which included transporting over 100 metric tones of supplies for survivors in the region, the Canadian Red Cross focused on four core regions: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives. Over 100 Canadian delegates left their homes and families to work in the field, and relief efforts have been ongoing in the region for the past five years, often in collaboration with other Red Cross Societies.

$360 Million – A Record Fundraising Tally

Canadians responded to the disaster in record-breaking numbers, and through the generosity of individuals, corporations, provincial governments and a matching program from the Canadian International Development Agency, the Canadian Red Cross received more than $360 million for tsunami relief and recovery efforts.

To date, 97 per cent of funds raised have been invested in tsunami response and recovery operations, with the remaining three per cent invested in future preparedness initiatives in tsunami-affected countries, which are being implemented over the next five years.

Addendum: I compared notes last night with Tanya Elliott, regarding our favourite Talking Picture. The (hit thumbnail of corner/lower-right-hand side photo) one by 13-year-old Eka Sriwahyuni is the number one pic (sic) for both of us. As Tanya said to me, “I can’t believe these children can stand in front of that ocean, let alone have such huge smiles, doing it.”

The Global National December 24th segment, Canadians still helping tsunami victims, 5 years later, can be viewed online.

Other blog posts about the #PicturesTalk Tweetup

– TweetUp for a good cause, (Karim Kanji, TechVibes Global)
Pictures Talk (May Li, May’s Blog)

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12 Replies to “An effective communication campaign: #PicturesTalk

  1. Judy, I never meant to imply that the only legitimate objective of such an event could be generating funding. But not knowing what the objectives were, I put it forward as a likely and easily measurable one.

    Karen, thank you for sharing your insights on what the objectives were. From a practitioner’s perspective, it would be interesting to know how effective the campaign was in affecting awareness (and attitudes like Judy’s that on hopes will spur people to support future CRC campaigns).

  2. Hi Judy, I’ve been working part-time with Red Cross, so I can’t speak officially on its behalf, but yes, the whole point of the Tweet-up was to generate awareness about the photos. The photo exhibit was a tool to show appreciation to Canadians who donated to the Boxing Day fund. I remember my own family sitting around the dinner table deciding to make a substantial donation to the Red Cross (before I even dreamed of the opportunity to work with them).

    One correction – the Global story was done and in the can before Mark even knew of the Tweet-up, but we are flattered he took the time to see the exhibit and tweet about it.

    The photos are incredible. I was able to tour the exhibit across Ontario over the last year – and every time I see them, they make me smile.

    The Global piece will run tonight and will show footage of some of the child photographers whose work we have been showcasing.

    On that note – City TV’s, Gord Martineau, recently travelled to Indonesia to see Red Cross programming. His special will run on Boxing Day. City will also run a 5-part series, starting Nov. 28.

    Judy, thank you for writing about Pictures Talk and the tweet up. The Tweet-up was a fun, informal way to reach out to new people and engange them with the Red Cross. We are working on a final report, and I will try to share some of those results with you in the new year.

    Best wishes – Karen

  3. Kristen, my understanding is that the Pictures Talk exhibit was not designed to be a fundraising initiative (i.e., consciousness raising or marketing). Rather, it had more of a public relations focus: Canadians donated generously during the tsunami, and this was a chance for the Canadian Red Cross to say “thank you” and show how the donations (in part) were contributing to enrich the lives of people (specifically, these tsunami-survivor children in Indonesia). In essence, the Canadian Red Cross feels it has a responsibility to report back to Canadians on how their money was used. One channel was this visual exhibit. Something else that was unique about this exhibit is the fact that it’s not very often that a non-profit has an opportunity to share something without asking for money.

    The (online) Tweetup invitation/sign-up page did indicate that donations could be made at the #PicturesTalk event, but I don’t remember seeing a box or hearing any of the organizers ask for donations. That was not the focus of the evening.

    I’m sure the Canadian Red Cross is measuring and evaluating the success of the touring exhibit, including the attention it received in various mediums, including the one (of two) Toronto locations that involved social media. (As I mentioned in the post, the Tweetup concept/hashtag was only used for the final stop of the tour.) Maybe CRC will develop a formal case study for external presentations at industry conferences, etc., and share the results with a wider audience. (Or submit it for a Canadian Public Relations Society award.) That isn’t an obligation, though.

    Regarding the overall impact the initiative had on donations/volunteers, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who attended the exhibit–specifically the Toronto Tweetup reception and exhibit–got to “know” the Red Cross and its staff better, and would feel comfortable in both the credibility of this non-profit organization and the causes it puts its support and resources behind.

    On a side note, I strongly suspect that the #PicturesTalk exhibit is going to receive coverage on a second major Canadian network, Global National, tonight (December 24th, 5:30 p.m. news), because one of its news reporters, Mark McAllister, found out about it via Twitter. (He went down to the exhibit on the weekend. We know because he tweeted about it…using the #PicturesTalk hashtag.)

  4. Judy — thanks for this useful case study.

    I assume that people can make donations to CRC directly at the exhibitions, which would further strengthen the argument that the campaign is effective in linking awareness and action.

    You talk about other channels being used to publicize the initiative, and I would be curious to know whether CRC is conducting/plans to conduct measurement & evaluation to determine the relative contribution of the various channels to their success.

    I would also be curious to see the evaluation done at the end of the campaign about the overall impact the initiative has had on donations/volunteers, especially as the current economic situation is not very favourable for charities.

    I perfectly well understand that the CRC may not wish to publish such information (and is unlikely to have it to hand at this early stage), but I just wanted to flag the information that I think would help determine the overall success of what sounds like a fabulous campaign.

  5. Judy, human and touching stories are older than the Bible, as old as the human race. Your story was compellingly human. Twitter was useful in one sense and incidental to this tale in another – it is the human bit that appeals.

    I’m actually a big fan of social media – it is the hype I resist.

    Toni has my respect, otherwise I would never have put his thoughts on a par with my hero Walter Lippmann.

  6. Dan:

    Thanks, not only for joining the conversation, but also for providing an additional social media (i.e., YouTube video) resource and more information, particularly from a Canadian perspective. In the media, Canadians are often informed that we donate less to charities (per capita) than many other nations, so it’s great to hear that we were actually the leading contributing country, in regards to the Canadian Red Cross tsunami relief effort.

    By the way, I’ve added a goodly chunk of your comment into the post itself. (I’ve also provided links to the other posts about the Toronto #TalkingPictures Tweetup, of which I’ve become aware.)

    * * *


    Of course you get my attention by saying my approach seems to be flawless…even though I recognize that’s probably partially because I used your three principles framework!  Regardless, I’m intrigued by your further evaluation methods and suggestions, and hope that the organizers of #PicturesTalk are also taking note.

    Bear in mind, though, that I wrote this post specifically as a response to Kristen Sukalac’s discontent with the combination of a conference and proposed tweets with an (unrelated) Twitter hashtag of #fightcancer.

    I believe the Talking Pictures Twitter account and #TalkingPictures hashtag and dedicated Tweetup are a much more effective use of social media. (The fact that the Talking Pictures exhibit was also featured on a major Canadian television network, as well as an extremely popular morning talk show, demonstrates that social media was only one aspect of the communication campaign for the exhibit itself, if not the Toronto Tweetup.)

    Regarding “Had you done this before you had been exposed to the initiative, you would now be able to evaluate the dynamics of your relationship with x,” (specifically related to “the familiarity of the content”), my query would be what could be the baseline, given that my entire exposure to the Talking Pictures initiative (until this week) was through the Twitter accounts and hashtag? Or would that simply mean that my exposure had increased by 100 per cent?

    Finally, I’m wondering if this post is moving you any closer to setting up your own Twitter account and discovering and determining its usefulness (or not) as a part of a communication campaign? (I’ve been saying to people for a long time that I think Twitter, from an organizational point of view, is most successful in relation to cause and arts marketing. Less so for consumer products and services. That’s one of the reasons I was so pleased to see this #TalkingPictures initiative work.)

    * * *

    Finally, to Paul, who is sometimes cynical about social media and the more altruistic aspects to an effective public relations campaign, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to read that you were “touched” by this case study. Maybe that’s because you feel it is somewhat old-world (can you elaborate?), and harks back to a simpler time, without the techno razzle dazzle that’s become the norm. Whatever the case, I happily accept and thank you for the compliment, on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross staff and myself.

    (And I’m sure you’re not implying that Toni plagiarized Walter Lippmann. More likely, they both espouse beliefs in effective communication messaging that you find plausible and acceptable.)


  7. There’s something very old-world and touching about this case study, despite Twitter being a modern medium. Moreover, “source credibility, content credibility and content familiarity” falls in line with Walter Lippmann’s description of how messages get communicated and how they take hold of the public’s imagination.

  8. Judy,
    the approach you use appears to me to be flawless.

    When I apply this I ususally do it using a ‘before and after’ scale of 1 to 10….so in the case you describe:
    the credibility of the source for you before and after; the credibility of the content for you before and after; the familiarity of the content for you before and after

    You might wish to further elaborate and -beyond evaluating the effectiveness of the communication- evaluate the status of your relationship with x.

    Again, you would ask yourself:
    -from 1 t0 10 how much do I trust my relationship with x;
    -how much am I satisfied of my relationship with x;
    -how much am I committed to my relationship with X and, of course,
    -how do I value the power balance in my relationship with x.

    Had you done this before you had been exposed to the initiative, you would now be able to evaluate the dynamics of your relationship with x.

    Finally, you would ask x the same questions so that you may identify the eventual gaps where action is needed for a healthy and effective relationship.

    Of course,if you really want to be sophisticated and bright, you might apply the co-orientation model and ask x what they think you would reply and you ask yourself what you think they would reply. This would give you very clear indications on when, what and how to do to really improve your relationship with x.

    I am fully aware that many research experts will say this is not quote scientific unquote, at least because one should never ask direct questions…

    I hope they do, because this is really a can of worms and involves ethics, front organizations, misleading others etc..
    Personally I am interested in knowing what others think about the contents I elaborate and, more importantly, the status of my relationship with them.
    I am not interested in fooling around, in taking side streets in order not to awaken them etc…

  9. Thanks for the kind words and support, Judy. Tanya and her Ontario team together with national Public Affairs in Ottawa put together an amazing exhibit. You might also be interested in viewing the short (5 minute) but compelling International Red Cross (IFRC) video available on the mainpage at It details the progress the Red Cross has made in the five years since the tsunami. Bear in mind if viewing it that the $383 million donated by Canadians accounted for almost a fifth of the $2B raised globally for the Red Cross tsunami relief effort – the largest contribution of any country in the world.


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