17th April 2014 London, UK

Building an audience for a Pop-Up Consulate

Digital postcards

Have you ever tried planning a party in a city where you don’t know anyone? Yes, it doesn’t sound easy.

Last month we took on a comparable task when we decided to follow in the footsteps of our colleagues in Chicago and host a British Pop-up Consulate in Halifax.

One of the main reasons for choosing Halifax was because we don’t have a permanent Consulate-General there but we are keen to engage with that part of Canada. Why, you ask? Well, the UK exported over 1 billion Canadian dollars to Atlantic Canada in 2012. We would like to see that trade relationship continue to grow and prosper, especially under the new free trade deal between Canada and the EU. Our large coastlines also make us natural partners in off-shore energy development, and Halifax is a main port for Canada’s Atlantic naval fleet, making it the perfect place to highlight our strong defence links.

But despite these exceptional examples, my communications colleagues and I faced a challenge – how do we find our audience in Halifax and get their attention? Here is how we used digital to deliver.

1 – Find friends

From the very beginning we realised there were people who knew Halifax a lot better than us, and we reached out them. We knew these partners had to have a strong local social media presence and access to a diverse audience so we partnered strategically with a local weekly, a modern rock radio station, an art gallery,and an independent cinemato host a series of British-themed events. While none of these events were directly tied to our official programme, which included a trade mission of 20 UK companies and the signing of a tidal energy MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), they did help us leverage the cultural connections between Halifax and the UK to reach a far broader audience.

2 – A friendly invitation

Although we had strong reasons for visiting Halifax (as mentioned above), we realized most of those were too specific to interest a general audience in the beginning. So, in an effort to tease the Pop-up Consulate we focused on the many historical links between Halifax and the UK. Case in point, our Pop-up Consulate was located within a former British fort in the heart of the city.

To do this in a direct, but visual manner we tried using digital postcards for the first time to highlight some of these common links. We also knew ‘government-speak’ wouldn’t work, so we tried to have some fun with our messaging and use a tone that was inviting, informative, and clear.

Digital postcards

3 – Spreading the word… and keeping track

Next, the hashtag. We settled on #UKinHfx because it was short, clear, and easy to incorporate into tweets.

To get the ball rolling we made sure it was included in all our promotional items from the start, including 25,000 newspaper inserts, and all our digital materials. We also made sure all our contacts were aware of it, including our staff, and our deputy high commissioner made mention of it during press interviews. We wanted to make it easy for the public to follow our events and with a potentially large audience we felt advertising #UKinHfx would be effective.

The results

Ultimately we were very happy with the results and we learned a lot. We had large crowds for all our public events, hundreds of public visitors to the Pop-up Consulate itself, and we were able to get our key messages out to a large local audience. According to Tweetreach, our partners’ outreach alone on twitter provided us with over 100,000 impressions. That Tweetreach number is also particularly impressive when you consider the population of Halifax is only about 370,000 and our partners’ followers are mainly local.

The #UKinHfx hashtag also showed strong results. Analytics from Tweetreach show #UKinHfx had over 500,000 impressions on Twitter (including our own tweets). It also allowed us to spot feedback and comments on twitter and respond throughout the week. We even later met some of these people in person at our events!

Our digital postcards also proved to be popular on Twitter, and Facebook. They combined for almost two dozen re-tweets and 50 ‘likes’ on Facebook. Both are very good numbers for our digital channels.

Interestingly enough though, our most popular social media updates were much less visual. The announcement of our public events received 24 re-tweets, reaching 4-times our normal audience on twitter and over 39 likes, comments, or shares on Facebook. This is something we will definitely consider in the future, and perhaps evidence that a unique event is sometimes enough to drive interest on social media.  

Identifying and working with key partners in Halifax definitely allowed us to maximize our reach in the market and attract a larger audience than we would have on our own. And we hope that audience is one we can tap into again in the future. In fact, we have already noticed an increase in interaction on social media with followers in Atlantic Canada in the month since our Pop-up Consulate.