Immigration Matters in Canada: A social marketing case study
By David Hickey
How did it begin?
In November 2017, the Government of Canada announced a plan to increase gradually the number of immigrants to be welcomed over the next three years. As a result, immigration will trend toward 1% of Canada’s population in 2020.
At the time, our public environment tracking was picking up some shifts in how Canadians view immigration. While Canadians tend to see the value of immigration nationally, they are less likely to understand how it benefits them personally, in their communities.
As a result, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) launched the Immigration Matters initiative in November 2018, to demonstrate the benefits of immigration at the local level, dispel common myths about immigration and promote positive engagement between newcomers and Canadians. The initiative targets Canadians who are neither strongly in favour nor strongly against immigration – about 60% of the population.
What was the strategy?
The initiative relies on compelling storytelling to appeal to Canadians on an emotional level. Stories humanise immigrants while pointing out, in realistic ways, how they contribute to the economy and society as a whole. Research shows that stories are effective not only in promoting connections, but also in sharing factual information in a way that helps it to be retained and believed. The initiative aims to make connections between our target audience and immigrants through these stories.
The stories are posted online and promoted via social media, along with facts about how Canada’s immigration system works and economic data showing the impact of immigration on communities. We have reached out to other Canadian organisations, a part of our strategy to help amplify our content and encourage them to develop their own, as the target audience is not one who would normally visit the IRCC website. These local and regional partners bring an essential credibility and reach to the campaign.
IRCC is also supporting guided conversations in communities across the country about the communities’ experiences with attracting and integrating immigrants. The goal is to help diverse community members find common ground, and propose local solutions to their challenges, such as the need to fill labour shortages or retain newcomers in rural areas.
What are the challenges and lessons learned?
An important challenge is to make sure the stories and supporting facts featured are honest and balanced, acknowledging both the opportunities and challenges in building immigration levels. Otherwise, the campaign could be criticised for not being realistic. We developed guidelines for the stories we profile, with clear criteria to facilitate partner and community participation.
We also have to make sure the supporting facts are clear and concise. Our research showed that our audience views statistics with scepticism. While some statistics are important, we tried to use them sparingly and in association with the stories that put a human face on the issue. They were also carefully vetted to avoid misinterpretation.
Finally, public opinion does not change overnight. It can take years for efforts to bear fruit and the initiative is just ramping up. Although we’ve developed a series of diverse stories from across the country and are starting to see the results of our efforts, we anticipate dialling back promotion in the coming months during the 2019 federal election, according to established communications rules.
What are the benefits to date?
The economic data we prepared to support community conversations is being used by partners to anchor immigration conversations at community “town hall” events.
So far, the hotel, restaurant and sports industries have been the most receptive to our outreach efforts, leading to collaboration on the initiative, amplification of our content, and generation of their own content. Our stakeholder toolkit has proven an invaluable resource in this regard.
Each story we feature gives us an opportunity to reach out to organisations in that region and related to that theme – opening up a wide-range of potential champions for the initiative. We’ve tapped into new audiences in the technology, charitable and business sectors, among others.
Finally, Immigration Matters messages generate a more positive response than IRCC’s regular social media posts, leading to positive engagement on our channels.
We’re excited to see how the initiative will evolve over the long-term. Overall, it provides a solid foundation for highlighting the ways in which immigrants continue to benefit communities across Canada.
David Hickey is Director General for Communications at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.