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How Veterans Affairs uses social media to bring 100-year-old battles to life

A team at Veterans Affairs is marking the anniversary of a battle that took place 100 years ago, but they're using 21st century technology to bring it to life for this generation.

Team to broadcast live from 100th anniversary of the Battles of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel in France

Sarah Sullivan watches one of the Facebook Live test feeds from Vimy. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A team at Veterans Affairs is marking the anniversary of a battle that took place 100 years ago, but they're using 21st century technology to bring it to life for this generation.

From Facebook Live to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, the social media team from Veterans Affairs Canada is finding new ways to promote commemorations.

Over the Canada Day weekend, they'll be using their phones to broadcast live from the 100th anniversary of the Battles of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel in France.

"[We're] letting people be part of the moment," said Jennifer Ellis, a social media officer with Veterans Affairs Canada based in Charlottetown.

"There will be no delay … As soon as the ceremony starts we'll be live on Facebook as it happens and unfolds in Beaumont-Hamel, the people watching will be able to see."

The team is broadcasting live from France on Canada Day. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

'There's tons going out'

Veterans Affairs has been running the Canada Remembers Facebook page since 2009. There's now a second page in French, and the two combined have more than 1 million followers.

We're connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they'll be able to be part of it without having to go anywhere.- Jennifer Ellis

And Facebook is just one of the social media platforms they'll be using in France.

"We have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr," explained Sarah Sullivan, the second member of the social media team at VAC.

The team has been gearing up for months for the anniversary events in France.

"During significant anniversaries like this we post very frequently," said Sullivan.

"Today there might be five posts go out, lots on Twitter, a couple on Instagram. And Veterans Week, we ramp it up even more — there's tons going out."

Four teens from Newfoundland and Labrador will be taking over the Instagram account during their trip to France. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The testing ground

The number of followers on the Veterans Affairs accounts tends to jump during big commemorations, and they're hoping all of those platforms will help them connect with younger Canadians.

"Younger people today and the youth that are on this trip, everybody's connected," said Ellis.

"We're connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they'll be able to be part of it without having to go anywhere."

If all goes well, there are plans for even more coverage on social media during another huge commemoration planned for next summer in France.

"This event here for Beaumont-Hamel and the Somme will be our testing ground for next year for Vimy 2017," said Ellis.

"We'll continue to look into the new technologies as they come out and see how we're able to use them as a department."

The live coverage on social media runs over the Canada Day weekend from Belgium and France.

The social media team is gearing up for this weekend's rollout as part of the 100th anniversary of the battles in France. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

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