Across Canada, organizations that provide waste and recycling services to residential, industrial, commercial and institutional customers are more social than ever, simply because it makes good business sense.
According to Sherpa Marketing’s 2017 Canadian Social Media Statistics report, approximately 22.7 million Canadians had a social media account by the end of 2017, a number that has grown by 300,000 annually for the past two years. Data show that 63 per cent of Canadian social media users engage regularly with brands and products and 48 per cent with non-profit organizations.
“Social media is now an expectation and for the past five years, Emterra has used Twitter and Facebook to inform, educate and influence 10 per cent of Canada’s population and relied on LinkedIn to connect with our peers, colleagues and potential recruits,” says Janice Rendflesh. She’s responsible for corporate communications with Burlington, Ont.-based Emterra Group, which provides recycling resource management and waste disposal solutions nationwide.
Elsewhere in Canada, Recycle BC, a non-profit organization that has provided packaging and paper recycling services to over 1.8 million households (more than 98 per cent of British Columbia) since 2014, launched its social media program on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that same year. It added Instagram last year and continues to use LinkedIn to learn, share industry news and recruit.
“Social media allows Recycle BC to quickly, consistently and inexpensively educate and inform residents province-wide to support recovering a clean stream of recyclable materials,” says Lyndsey Chauhan, director of marketing communications at Recycle BC. “The various media – including social, traditional and event-based – convey different information and enable a range of interactions to help us best connect with residents.”
In Ontario, Quinte Waste Solutions, in Quinte West, which provides curbside recycling, commercial recycling, household hazardous waste collection and waste electronics collection to about 180,000 residents in nine municipalities, started a lot earlier. QWS began posting to Twitter in 2009, then Facebook in 2013 and Instagram in 2015.
“Social media gets the information out effectively, particularly when used in conjunction with traditional media, such as radio, newsprint, flyers and posters with a presence at everything from fall fairs to schools and seniors’ residences, because people need to get our messages repeatedly,” says Rachel Revoy, Quinte Waste Solutions’ communications coordinator. She notes a staggering majority of residents still prefer flyers delivered by Canada Post. But, “social media is instantaneous and typically costs 10 per cent of what it costs to reach residents using more traditional means.”
In its most northern, rural municipalities, QWS focuses primarily on traditional media, because where Internet is available, it is often slow and pay-per-use, if residents even opt to connect.
Organizations such as QWS, Emterra and Recycle BC typically share information ranging from news, announcements, scheduling changes and pick-up day reminders, to updates on recyclable versus non-recyclable materials and products.
Proactive, responsible organizations also rely on social and traditional media to influence and educate customers to help protect their truck drivers and operators, increase their pickup and sort line efficiencies and maximize the volume of salable recyclables collected.
For example, the ongoing QWS #Don’tWishRecycle campaign tells residents that wishing it were recyclable doesn’t make it so. In a recent post, the wish-recycling fairy explains why paper cups can’t be recycled and that medical waste – such as needles, syringes and bandages – endangers lives. Since the campaign’s launch, the QWS sort line manager reports there have been fewer hazardous and sharp items.
“Customers need to know that because every piece of Blue Box material is collected and sorted by hand. Sharp objects and items like diapers are hazardous to our employees,” says Revoy. “The real people who sort our waste are also our neighbours, friends and family members – they shouldn’t have to be on guard every second they’re at work.”
As further proof that education and explanation can help change behaviours, a 2015 QWS campaign with the Beer Store and Ontario’s bottle return program increased glassbottle returns to the Beer Store once residents understood re-use requires less energy than recycling. It also saves QWS about $85,000 annually in glass transportation costs and reduces the risk of glass cuts to material recovery employees.
Talking to the front lines
Social media and communications managers like Revoy, Rendflesh and Chauhan boost their own knowledge of their companies’ and employees’ challenges by attending the drivers’ early-morning meetings, riding along on daily collection routes and walking the facilities’ sort lines. Revoy has found the drivers and sorters talk more readily and openly face-to-face, particularly after seeing how her ability to influence and inform their customers can make their daily tasks safer and easier. Chauhan also points out that Recycle BC’s ongoing in-field visits consistently deliver the many photo opportunities social media demands.
“Get out from behind your desk and computer screen and interact with people in real life,” says Revoy.
When Quinte residents meet Revoy at a plowing match or a Recycling 101 workshop at the local library, they’re more comfortable asking questions, such as what they should do with pop-out pill packs. Emterra’s Rendflesh points out that every employee is a customer, from her CEO to the frontline employees, and that astute communications managers participate in their conversations early on.
“Get out there and connect with people to have your finger on your organization’s pulse,” says Rendflesh. “Initially, you may catch them off guard, but they’ll get used to you showing up.”