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Oot and aboot on Twitter: how the @Canada account's first tweet came to be

How many polar bears is too many to promote Canada? That's one of several questions Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were asking themselves last fall in the lead-up to the launch of the @Canada Twitter account. Canada's twitter homepage is seen in this Saturday, August 29, 2015 photo illustration.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini
August 30, 2015 - 6:00 AM

OTTAWA - How many polar bears is too many to promote Canada? That's one of several questions Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were asking themselves last fall in the lead-up to the launch of the @Canada Twitter account.

But more importantly — what would they say first?

The Foreign Affairs department began tweeting from @Canada in November, two years after they acquired the account from a Spanish man who'd registered the name back in 2007.

Dozens of potential 'first tweets' were tossed around as part of the planning for how the account would be used, documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show.

Bureaucrats and the minister's office appeared to be after something with "shock value" — seemingly over the objections of the Privy Council Office, which raised concerns about too much whimsy.

Proposed inaugural tweets included references to hockey, Tim Hortons, poutine, polar bears, igloos, a line from the national anthem and "This Twitter account is aboot everything Canada."

The eventual winner was, "@Canada's now on Twitter, eh?"

Staff also planned out the first few weeks of tweets, debating what kind of content ought to be included — including the suitable number of polar bears.

"Let's try for 12 tweets per day at least," one social media adviser wrote to her colleagues. "Not all polar bear-related."

"Why not include polar bears?" another shot back. "It's part of who we are," adding a smiley face to the end of the sentence.

While bureaucrats were clearly excited about the potential for the account, the Privy Council Office — bureaucrats who support the Prime Minister's Office and cabinet — was a bit more cautious.

One idea apparently being kicked around by Foreign Affairs was guest editors. The account @Sweden is run by a different citizen of that country every week; what Canada was thinking wasn't included in the documents.

But PCO appeared to nix the notion of anyone other than embassies or civil servants sending out messages, telling the department there was a "perceived risk associated with the guest editor plans," after which the department replied it had put that idea on hold.

PCO also wasn't sure about the content.

"While we understand and support the need for occasional whimsical posts, with this content plan it is hard to imagine who would find regular value in such an account and what the account would accomplish," they wrote.

What was proposed as an alternative strategy was censored in the documents, but it appeared to raise the hackles of the department.

"The narrowing of the scope would in my view kill the intent behind what we envisioned," Charles Brisebois, the assistant director for social media, wrote in an email to the foreign affairs minister's office, which appeared to agree with the department's view.

"There is no way to make this compelling from the content angle if we restrict it to mainly original content ..."

Since it launched in November, the English account has gained 117,000 followers, while the French one at @AuCanada has 3,616.

Here are some of the suggestions, according to documents obtained via the Access to Information Act:

— We are @Canada. We brew our own culture.

— We are @Canada: We are more than maple syrup. #CanadaProud

— This Twitter account is aboot everything Canadian.

— We sommes @Canada @AuCanada English et francais are nos langues officielles.

— We are @Canada. We love our hockey and really good at it too. #CanadaProud

— We are @Canada...sorry. #CanadaProud

— We are @Canada. We stand on guard for thee, we are #CanadaStrong

— We are @Canada...some of us live in igloos. SOME of us. #CanadaProud

— We are @Canada, we are still not really sure what a Canuck is?

— Welcome to @Canada. Tell us what makes #CanadaGreat

— We are @Canada, our diets consist of beaver tails, poutine and timbits.

And the eventual winner:

— @Canada's now on Twitter, eh?

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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