- Key Actors
- Social Media Presence
- Impact of Movement
- Critiques of Movement
#BellLetsTalk is a social media movement initiated by Canadian telecommunication company, Bell Canada. The movement was founded in an effort to begin a discussion surrounding mental illness awareness, hence the name, Bell Let’s Talk. #BellLetsTalk operates on a platform that draws success from 4 action pillars: anti-stigma (overcoming the stigma of mental illness), care & access (supporting Canadian organizations with donations), research (investing in research to better understand cures and treatments), and workplace health (encouraging greater corporate mental health awareness engagement). The Bell Let’s Talk logo, pictured above, consists of a conversation (speech) box and a simple smiley face, while also incorporating the color schemes of Bell, blue and white. The speech box and the smiley face represent the notion of openly welcoming discussion regarding mental illness awareness.
#BellLet’sTalk primarily took place in Canada, where the headquarters of the telecom company is located. Through its respective Bell Canada Community Fund Grant program, as well as donations associated with #BellLetsTalk, Bell Canada has donated to 657 communities and over 1,000 organizations, varying across Canada within the Atlantic, British Columbia, Ontario, Prairies, Quebec, and other respective territories. Naturally, the larger, more developed, and more populated cities have a higher number of participants. This includes cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
Since its inception, the movement has been extremely successful, with discussion of mental illness awareness increasing, a total of 1,168,302,700 social media interactions referencing #BellLetsTalk, and donations from Bell Canada to various mental health programs totaling $108,415,135. Ultimately, social media has helped to perpetuate #BellLetsTalk from a corporate campaign to an integral Canadian social movement, largely in part due to Canadian citizens’ ability to indirectly contribute to the campaign through various social media platform interactions, as well as their ability to benefit from the campaign through Community Fund Grants.
Bell Canada launches the #BellLetsTalk movement, committing 5 years and $50 million of funding towards mental health initiatives. The first donation begins – a gift of $1 million to the Royal Ottawa Hospital.
The first #BellLet’sTalk Day was held, resulting in 66,079,236 Canadian calls and texts, which ultimately led to donations of $3,303,961.80 to mental health organizations.
Bell decides to further its mental health initiative with a $1 million donation towards the inaugural Bell Let’s Talk Community fund, a fund designed to donate to mental health intiatives within Canadian communities.
In collaboration with Queens University, Bell moves its initiative into the classroom with a university-certified, workplace mental health training program, Mental Health @ Work.
#BellLet’sTalk becomes the #1 trending topic on Canadian twitter, with a record 4,775,708 tweets.
Bell Canada announces a 5 year renewal of its commitment to mental health, for total funding of $100 million.
#BellLetsTalk is a Canadian movement that mostly affects Canadians rather than other nationalities as it has yet to make any significant impact internationally. Since its first initiative in 2011, it has grown to include nearly half of all Canadians and more than two-thirds of people between the ages of 18 and 24. A report, based on an infographic representative of 2010-2020, showed that 86% of Canadians are more aware of mental health issues since the movement began, which can be credited to the rise in its popularity. Over the past decade, the movement has masterfully weaved itself into Canadian society, and became part of Canadians’ identity and traditions, a feat that requires persistence, constant innovation, and relentless dedication. Every January, Canadians look forward to contributing their fair share of mental health awareness posts on social media, not only to raise money for this cause but also as an effort to eradicate the many stigmas around one of the most important issues facing modern society. Additionally, it has mainly made a substantial impact on three particular groups of communities; namely the youth and children, military family and indigenous people. Through Bell True Patriot Love Fun, it has so far helped 15,846 families with $1.82 million in funding. It also has reached 1,476,878 youth and children donating $17.5 million. Lastly, there has been $2.2 million in funding for indigenous communities.
Similar & Other Movements
There have been many movements created by for-profit companies, but very few have had as much success as #BellLetsTalk, which makes it a distinctive and rare movement. During the last several years, the most popular social movements have normally been created rather organically and led by the public or non-profit organizations. #BellLetsTalk is among the few largest corporate-led movements that managed to gain large support, continued its momentum for years, and surpassed the clutter to cause a mass call to action that created real positive influence on mental health awareness throughout Canada. Corporate movements often fail, as the organizing firm is often credited as being selfish by using a good cause for its marketing efforts to better its brand image and perception. #BellLetsTalk also faces similar problems and it is definitely one of the largest criticisms against the movement. In spite of that, Bell managed to elevate this movement and hashtag to reach the status of the most tweeted hashtag/topic in Canadian history. This idea of a company contributing to a good cause is appropriately named ‘corporate activism’, and is carried out on a smaller scale in different companies including:
- Barbie(#MoreRoleModel): A movement that focuses on empowering women by working with successful women.
- Adidas: An anti-pollution movement that aims to make a closed-loop product which recycles used products to create new ones.
- REI(#OptOutside): A movement that encourages people to spend more time outdoors by closing its stores on Black Friday and sending out supply kits.
- Levi’s: A movement to fight water crisis by using water-saving technique for its manufacturing.
- Sky: An environmental movement against single use plastic.
- Jigsaw: A British clothing brand that launched Love Immigration campaign to support and value immigration and refugees.
- Empowerment Plan: It manufactures jackets that can be used interchangeably as sleeping bags for homeless people.
One of the most important characteristics of #BellLetsTalk is its annual nationwide occurrence, which is the key strategic move to keep it relevant for many years. More often than not, social movements gain popularity/virality and experience a rise, a peak, and then it slowly dies down with an eventual downfall. However, #BellLetsTalk has been growing steadily ever since its inception in 2011. In fact, it engages more participants and popularity every single year, and has yet to lose its momentum. This is one of the reasons why it has succeeded in embedding itself with the Canadian identity and traditions. Counterparts movement such as #22aday and #StigmaFree pledge gained popularity, but eventually reached their peaks and then experienced a trough, whereas #BellLetsTalk will follow a sinusoidal trend for as long as it decides to continue the movement.
Movement Leaders: Within the Bell Let’s Talk movement, there are two different groups of support leaders: Experts and Ambassadors. Experts of the movement include 22 people, primarily with medical and higher degrees; their primary role is to offer support and raise awareness for mental health initiatives. By contrast, Ambassadors of the movement include 6 people whose lives are all within the public eye; their primary role is to inspire change about how mental illness and health are discussed.
Celebrity Endorsers: As mentioned above, Bell Let’s Talk’s official celebrity endorsers are referred to as Ambassadors. However, one of the biggest celebrity advocates of Bell Let’s Talk that is left off the official ambassador list is Clara Hughes. Clara is a six-time Olympic medalist hailing from Canada, and is diagnosed with depression. She has utilized her public status to advocate for the importance of the Bell Let’s Talk movement, including forming a six city bike ride tour leading up to #BellLetsTalk day in 2017. In this manner, the movement benefitted from celebrification by gaining other high-profile endorsers such as Alessia Cara, Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Lisa LaFlamme, Seth Rogen plus Howie Mandel.Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness & Mental Health- Faces of Mental Illness: In addition Experts and Ambassadors, Bell Let’s Talk denotes a special team section – “Faces of Mental Illness”. This team is composed of five members of the general population: Anita Manley, Donovan Taplin, Jillian Brown, Mélissa Néron, and Onika Dainty. Each team member respectively has their own story and background regarding mental illness, and utilizes the Bell Let’s Talk movement to platform their stories and display the ability to overcome adversity.
Social Media Presence
Platforms & Analysis
Social media has been the very cornerstone of this movement since its dawn in 2011. Bell Let’s Talk has relied on strategically using a variety of social media platforms to grow exponentially through Canada and abroad. As arguably the most prominent corporate-movement pioneer, Bell recognized that the movement would not survive year after year if it did not reach a critical mass in a short period of time. Therefore, the company combined social media marketing through a variety of channels with a mental health financial contribution campaign in order to grow and expand rapidly through Canada and abroad. The movement revolves around sharing the hashtag #BellLetsTalk through the most diverse range of social media, including but not limited to: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat. In this manner, Bell Communications used a mix of organic and planned growth to perpetuate this movement. Organic growth was the result of participants sharing the movement through their respective social media, while planned growth relied on Bell’s annual #BellLetsTalk day campaign and its promise of financial support.Without social media, Bell would not have been capable of gathering such a large amount of supporters for the movement. It is social media and the power of communication and fundraising that allowed for this hashtag to grow as quickly as it did. Consistency and repetition in affirmation of messages using social media over a decade has led to synchronization of opinion between the movement’s supporters. Over time, this has allowed the movement to benefit from network internalities, which are built by allowing the movements’ followers to act in networks over a sustained period of time. In this manner, this movement is one of the very few cases where social media helped in forming network internalities, instead of neglecting it. Lastly, the movement made excellent use of celebrification and social media in order to gain a larger following and promote awareness. An example of this starring Howie Mandel is provided on the right.
For every ‘interaction’ with the movement made on Bell Let’s Talk day, Bell Communications pledges to donate five cents towards Canadian mental health, which is split into various projects, institutions, and initiatives every year. Each respective media’s defined ‘interaction’ for the most recent Bell Let’s Talk Day (January 29th, 2020) is listed below:
- Twitter: Use of the hashtag or view of the video posted on Bell’s account
- Facebook: Use of the photo frame and every view of the 2020 #BellLetsTalk video
- Instagram: Every view of the 2020 Bell Let’s Talk Day video
- Youtube: Every view of the 2020 Bell Let’s Talk Day video
- Snapchat: Every use of the Bell Let’s Talk geofilter and every view of the video
- Talk: Every call made on Bell’s wireless network or long distance telephone calls
- Text: Every message sent over a Bell network
Each of the respective social media platforms involved with the campaign provided their own benefits and drawbacks. Three of the most notable platforms for this year included Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.
Twitter: Year after year, with its punchy 140 character limit, simple-to-use interface, and the viral ‘retweet’, ‘mention’ and ‘like’ culture, Twitter remains as the most successful method of sharing the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. On top of this, Bell Let’s Talk uses Twitter as a platform to increase its support base from active millennials and zoomers, as well as specialty groups including activists, news organizations and political leaders. With two ways to contribute (using the #BellLetsTalk and viewing/retweeting the Bell Let’s Talk Video), the movement is bound to spread through much of Canada’s twitter population in a matter of hours. In fact, #BellLetsTalk has been consistently recognized as the most used Canadian twitter hashtag year after year. It is also the most retweeted hashtag by Canadians.
Facebook + Instagram: Between the most prominent social media channels, it is no surprise that Facebook is ranked first in number of users, with 2.449 billion users worldwide as of January 2020. However, this does not qualify the interface as the most popular or effective channel to perpetuate a movement in. Although a portion of Facebook’s weaknesses are due to its out-of-style interface and unpopular content sharing mechanisms, a major factor has to do with shear demographics. In Canada alone, although Facebook boasts nearly 25 million users as of January 2020, only about 60% of its users are 44 years and younger. This is an important population demographic as millennials and Gen-z are widely recognized as the more tech-savvy, ‘woke’ demographics compared to their older counterparts. This is where Instagram steps in. Although the platform has half as many Canadian as Facebook since January 2020, more than 80% of its users are aged 44 years old or younger. This channel is therefore crucial for Bell Let’s Talk to reach younger audiences that will make-up the future of Canada. Moreover, with video sharing and ‘Instagram Stories’ capabilities, Bell Let’s Talk is well in shape to spread their message among their targeted audience.Snapchat: Founded in 2011, Snapchat remains as the youngest of the social media platforms used by this campaign. Two key factors differentiate it from other forms of social media. Firstly, although Snapchat only captures 8.15 million users in Canada as of January 2020, its users are among the youngest across all social media platforms. In fact, roughly 82% of Snapchat users worldwide are younger than 35 years old – an astonishing figure compared to Instagram and Facebook. This segment is not only the most tech-savvy, up to trends demographic, but it is the future of Canada, the integral portion of the population that will come back year-after-year to contribute to this campaign.
Snapchat’s second key differentiator is its unique interface. Users can take a picture (‘snap’) of themselves using the BellLetsTalk filter, and they can send it to an entire array of contacts list, helping contribute 5 cents towards mental health initiatives everytime. Unlike sharing a post or retweeting a hashtag which is usually only performed once, Snapchat users send an average of 34 snaps per day, all of which can be customized with the #BellLetsTalk filter. In this repetitive manner, a single Snapchat user has the potential to contribute far more than other forms of social media.
Media: In addition to Social Media, Bell Let’s Talk’s presence is felt in traditional forms of media as well. This includes CTV Television Network’s special premiere of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action: A Bell Let’s Talk Day Special, and a Francophone mental health documentary titled Stronger Together that was released as a Bell Media special. Although traditional media is expected to reach a much smaller audience compared to its social counterpart, it is anticipated to target boomers and individuals that have less access to or are less affluent with social media.
Popular Hashtags#MentalHealth: This hashtag remains as one of the most commonly used hashtags to describe mental health issues around the globe. The hashtag’s broad scope allows it to be used in context of any mental health struggle or any related issue.
#EndTheStigma: Very popular mental health hashtag aimed to end any stigma and embarrassment surrounding mental health issues. This hashtag has raised popularity through the years and boasts popular Twitter and Facebook pages as seen by the screenshots below:
MentalHealthMatters: Hashtag with a message similar to #MentalHealth. This hashtag puts a special emphasis on why mental health matters and how they have affected individuals and societies. This hashtag is accompanied by a company sharing the same mission and name.
#TimetoTalk: Hashtag and movement targeted at young adults and youth targeted on mental health awareness. This hashtag was created by the Changing Minds organization and has a day dedicated to it similar to Bell Let’s Talk (February 6th, 2020).
#BellLetsTalk is largely a digital movement present in social media, but it does have some offline presence. This includes billboards, posters, events and initiatives meant to remind the public that raising mental health awareness does not and should not only occur online. #BellLetsTalk continued to expand its movement offline by working with post-secondary institutions such as the University of Toronto. Despite its offline presence, the movement is still more effective in its online initiatives since we have yet to see offline initiatives gain mass attention. This is due to the fact that online initiatives are simply more scalable as almost everyone today has a smartphone and has to do very little work to participate in #BellLetsTalk.
Impact of Movement
Mental health issues are often kept discreet by individuals, restricted only to a private scope. Social media helped break the silence, making it a more public issue, which caught the attention of companies to implement better workplace policies. In January of 2013, Bell implemented the world’s first voluntary standard on mental health at a company according to National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Collaboration was also made with the Canadian Red Cross to create a “mental health first aid kit.” This offered a set of practices for both organizations and the general public to adopt to train medical professionals and the general public on the skills they need to recognize symptoms and provide assistance to those who need help.
Financial and Access Impact
Due to a viral spread of #BellLetsTalk interactions, Bell Canada has donated $108,415,135 to support mental health initiatives, with over $11,000,000 donated as community fund grants. Among the largest donations include: two million dollars to Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, ten million dollars to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, two million dollars to start a research facility of Bell Canada Brain Bank, one million dollars to launch the Bell True Patriot Love Fund, among many other significant financial contributions.
Bell’s donations and outreach have significantly improved access to mental health services in Canada. Due to Bell’s work with various organizations, they have helped provide access to mental health services to 3,409,680 Canadians.
Mental Health Awareness Impact
Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the movement has been the impact in spreading awareness about mental health issues. #BellLetsTalk has generated 1,168,302,700 total interactions since the beginning of the movement due to social media. Because of Bell’s initiative and these interactions, 86% of Canadians say they are more informed about mental health issues since the beginning of the movement.
Critiques of Movement
Bell received significant criticism over the brand exposure and increased revenue gained from its wildly popular social movement in mental health. The fact that the company name is included in the hashtag feeds the notion that the reason for starting this movement wasn’t just assisting those suffering from mental health issues, it was also a means of free advertising. Putting “Bell” in the hashtag made it so that as social media users used the hashtag, they participated in raising mental health awareness while also driving attention to the company’s involvement in the movement. According to a research paper through the University of Windsor, approximately 13% of Facebook comments directed at Bell questioned underlying motives. Criticisms have been raised that if Bell was truly dedicated to solving mental health problems, they would focus solely on the issue and eliminate public exposure as a brand heightening opportunity.
Bell’s strategy is related to astroturfing, the concept that companies use social media to make the appearance that their message is a grassroots effort. By basing donations off of hashtag uses from the public, they made it seem as though the movement was in the control of online participants. Critics have contended that Bell used social media to disguise a corporate campaign aimed at driving brand recognition as a social movement that was originated and fueled by the public, and was solely intended to benefit sufferers of mental health issues.
Bell has been criticized for saying one thing and doing another; as they say they combat mental health issues on social media, but also contribute to those issues through their business practices. Ottowa Lawyer, Michael Spratt, called out Bell for charging high rates on calls made from the prisons they provide calling services for. Calls can only be made to landlines and supposebly cost $30 for a 20 minute long distance call. Bell has not released information to contradict these claims. Much criticism has come from how Bell has profited off of vulnerable inmates dealing with the mental health issues they claim to combat and have exacerbated issues in the prison population by not granting them an affordable means of communication with the outside world.
In 2017, Maria McLean was fired from her job as a radio host from a Bell owned media station. McLean was fired just one hour after sharing her mental health issues and presenting a doctor’s note stating she needed two weeks off to adjust to a new medication. The reasons for McLean’s termination were never released, but Bell did contact McLean to ensure all HR protocol was followed.
The McLean incident along with the high prison-call costs, relate to the term of slacktivism- how one claims to be in full support of a cause without being fully invested. Bell has used social media to spread awareness about mental health issues and their brand, but they have not proven completely dedicated to the movement since some of their business practices contribute to those issues they claim to combat. Social media was used as a strategic tool in this case to draw attention towards Bell’s philanthropic work, and away from their exploitative and controversial business practices.
The #BellLetsTalk movement started as a corporate campaign directed at beginning a discussion about mental health. Since then, it has grown into a social movement that has generated over one billion interactions and over $100,000,000 in donations. This would not have been made possible without social media’s capabilities to empower the Canadian public to indirectly contribute by engaging and spreading the message. To this day, Bell Canada continues to hold #BellLetsTalk Day in late January and maintains its commitment to the issue by donating based off of the same structure it originated with. #BellLetsTalk exemplifies social media’s ability to turn a structured campaign into a movement fueled by the public, enacting the change it wishes to bring about.
Team Member Bios
Anonymous: I am a senior majoring in Business Administration. I have always felt connected to #BellLetsTalk, as I have personally struggled with mental health diagnoses, so I am glad I could aid in bringing this movement to light for others.
Rob: firstname.lastname@example.org | www.linkedin.com/in/robert-paylor I am a graduating senior majoring in Business Administration. I only recently became aware of the #BellLetsTalk movement, but have great admiration for the work Bell has done to serve those with mental health issues. I appreciate when a corporation uses their resources to serve the greater good of the society whom they interact with.
Marko: email@example.com | www.linkedin.com/in/markowijaya/ I am a junior majoring in Economics. Mental health is a topic that has a lot of stigmas in many communities. I chose to work on this topic as an effort to learn how a movement managed to shed some of these stigmas and make mental health a relevant topic.
Parham: firstname.lastname@example.org | https://www.linkedin.com/in/parhamrouz/ I am a junior studying business administration and data science. Growing up in Canada, I have wondered about the socio-political impact of the #BellLetsTalk movement since a very young age. I am excited for an opportunity to delve deeper into this movement and understand the crosshairs of mental health awareness and social media.
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