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Managing expectations: the passion of ideas vs. the passion for brands in social media

Social media is taking people powered organizing to a new level – the relative ease, speed, and agility with which groups of like-minded people can get together and affect change is amazing. The real life examples of this power continue to roll in and while the case studies are intoxicating, from a marketing and brand standpoint, it’s a good idea to separate the insights from the actions and ultimately to manage our expectations as marketers/ communicators.

A recent example of the power of social networks to rapidly mobilize and pull together an amazing “crowdsourced” event is the #hohoto.ca geek holiday party in Toronto which benefits the Daily Bread Food Bank. This event didn’t exist prior to a week ago and so far has raised over $8k for charity based only on Twitter communications (while the event will use other channels – Flickr, YouTube, etc. the organizing and promotion has happened almost exclusively via Twitter networks) by a group of people who got together and decided to throw a party. The money raised from ticket sales is impressive with over 100 folks signed up to attend, but the small business community has stepped up as well and sponsored the event, and the venue (Mod Club) and ticket agent (Eventbrite) have also waived their fees to help with a good cause. All in all this mobilization and the resulting support has been something to behold – check out the twitter search stream for a sampling of how active and generous the community has been!

(Other recent examples are of course the #motrinmoms recent controversy and the #mumbai tragedy, but those have been well covered, and for these purposes I’m going to focus on what brands can learn from the #hohoto example.)

However, the temptation will be to say this is another proof of concept that social media works and use this as a case study for how brands should jump on board and harness this crowdsourcing. Yes and no. While this does prove in the power of the tools to mobilize and activate individuals, it’s not something brands should *expect* to happen for them just by participating in the social web. There is a difference between passion for an IDEA and passion for a BRAND after all.

Here are a few key insights that companies can learn from #hohoto and what makes it different from outreach and participation in SocMed for a brand -

  1. This event needed influential catalysts – the Mesh Conference team who are well known and liked influencers on the Toronto scene stepped in at the outset and pledged their support & promoted and “re-tweeted” the details non-stop to their network of “influencers” in the Toronto tech & communications community.
  2. It’s the holiday season and geeks like any reason to get out and network in person – throw in a charity angle and you’ve got a winner of an idea.
  3. Low commitment on behalf of the attendees – it’s a party after all, not providing intellectual property for the benefit of a company brand.
  4. Lowered expectations surrounding the implementation – the website and promotion was a work-in-progress by a loose group of individuals. There were some snafus – the website didn’t actually list the event details when it first went up, the date changed after the launch & tickets were sold, and there were spelling mistakes, etc on the site. No harm, no foul, but if this was a “brand” event I expect the reaction would have been a tad harsh to the “launch & learn” approach.
  5. The timeline for the event is tight – it’s being held on December 15th and therefore the constant stream of #hohoto hashtags and promotion is tolerated and embraced. If this were for a brand program I think we may have seen some “cease & desist” snark and comments from the Twitter community when every other tweet is about the event from personal accounts.
  6. The tools are powerful and the “cool factor” of tweet streams, on-site video streaming, twitter DJ requests, etc. etc. are important to extending the reach and motivating this particular community, *but* without the two key IDEAS – holiday party networking & charity – they are just that, cool tools.

For a brand venturing or participating in the space it would be dangerous to expect the same type of response for a purely commercial endeavour. Crowdsourcing can be powerful, but it can also backfire if the right insights aren’t there at the outset. Planning matters and a good idea will still rule.

Participating and building a network honestly is the rule of the day, and ensuring that you’re tapping into the passions of individuals for something they care about will motivate people far more than any shiny tool will.

If you don’t receive the same type of response to your brand, don’t be discouraged, it’s a different experience. Your response is probably just fine for your goals… if they were realistically set to begin with.

See you at #hohoto on the 15th? :)

[photo credit: Derektor via Flickr]

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Social Media News Release for a ‘Social Media’-based campaign

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I don’t usually blog about client business, but this current campaign we’re running for AppliancePartsPros.com is an exception imo because of the nature of the “news” itself.

Appliance Parts Pros is a pure ecommerce internet company that has been growing steadily for 8 years now and they have embraced blogging, direct interaction with customers, and search, in all their strategies to date. When Wildfire (working in conjunction with Page Zero Media) was tasked with coming up with a holiday promotion that could extend beyond traditional, the natural fit was to run a blog contest and engage the community outside of a strict online contest structure. We started by looking at ‘who’ AppliancePartsPros is at its core, what makes sense for the brand, their customers, and their community. The result is the “Comforts of Home” Holiday Contest. The promotion was built in two phases: the first was philanthropy and a donation to US soldiers serving overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan by sending 80 “Comforts of Home” care packages out in early November. The second was the contest itself, where not only can participants enter to win an iPhone¬Æ or Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer¬Æ, but, if they have a blog, can also help to build an item in a care package that will be delivered in mid-December. For every 5 blog posts about a holiday cooking horror story, or a text, video, or audio message to US troops, one additional care package will be sent.

Of course, a key part of this promotion is outreach to the community; be they military bloggers, food bloggers, holiday bloggers, or DIY bloggers. We spent a significant amount of time getting to know the space and who might be interested in hearing from us directly. We also prepared a Social Media News Release (I refuse to call it a press release because the people who consume the content may not be “press”, but the item itself is “news”). We used a customized version of the Shift Communications template for the SMNR and so far the feedback from the community we are reaching out to has been terrific and heartwarming. The outreach and interaction is on-going, and is now moving into the news media phase as well. We did not include comments or trackbacks on the SMNR because of the blog posts and comment abilities there (where folks should be heading to enter the contest!), but did include Digg, del.ici.ous, and Flickr links.

I’m proud of this promotion, the SMNR, and having a fantastic client willing to try new things. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the release and the contest, and will share results when appropriate.

On another, related note, I am thrilled to welcome Rebecca Muller, a former client of Wildfire’s and all around stellar interactive pro, to the Wildfire Strategic Marketing fold as Director of Client Service. If you haven’t already, check out her terrific blog – The Direct Approach – which is linked as well from my sidebar. Her contributions to this campaign have been much appreciated and welcome (if you have any questions about military blogs, or bloggers, she’s your woman!).

[photo credit: Appliance_Parts_Pros on Flickr]

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What’s wrong with Toronto event planning?

I’ve recently attended a few professionally organized events in the city, ranging from the Virgin Music Fest to the Canadian Opera Company’sOperanation” gala last Friday, and in each case, for various reasons, the event planning was just… off.

They ran out of beer at the Virgin Music Fest and the rainy Saturday didn’t even draw a sold out crowd, which is just inconceivable in Canada, home of people drinking suds. But even worse was the planning surrounding the Operanation event at the brand-spanking new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a fabulous time, but the event itself, and the ambiance of the FSC left a lot to be desired. The truly tragic part was that with a little forsight it could have been a smashing success. Which leads me to the question – what’s wrong with Toronto event planning?

For starters, although beautiful and modern with fantastic views, the venue itself on a fall evening feels cold and cavernous. Walking into the event I was struck immediately that although the building was built to house our two world-class performing arts companies, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, there was nothing that felt like art. No history, no pictures of past performances or costumes anywhere in the lobby. Just metal, marble, glass, and wood. Nothing warm and inviting and dripping in culture. But there was a Land Rover. ;)

Which leads me to the event itself. The concept was fantastic – the food and drinks were themed around different opera’s, from bratwurst and beer for the Ring Cycle, to sushi and lychee martini for Madame Butterfly. Each station was housed in a different location, encompassing 3 floors of the lobby. Except… they were in horrible locations for foot traffic flow and ease of access. The sushi bar was at the top of the main staircase right next to the champagne reception area, and a small walkway that led to the tapas and sangria bar. To say the least it was difficult to navigate, and by the end of the evening, after the alcohol was flowing freely, it was difficult to navigate without getting spilled on. Did no one do a dry run with the number of people who would be expected at the event? Or a computer model of natural gathering places and walk space?

Last, but most certainly not least, was the acoustics. Part of the appeal of attending the event was to hear the DJ mixing arias and beats, as well as the three live performances of arias by up and coming opera stars. Well, good luck hearing anything much in that space. The positioning of both the live performance and the speakers was horrible. For the first opera performance we were standing directly above the performers (who were tucked away off to the side in a corner of the lobby) on the walkway of the second floor. We could barely hear them and there was no announcement that the performance was about to begin, or where they were located for the people who didn’t happen to be chatting above them. For the second performance we made it to directly in front of them, one row of people ahead of us. We couldn’t hear them at all. The crowd noise, the terrible acoustics at that location, it was awful. And frustrating. Again, where was the dry run with crowd noise and the noise of food and beverages being served? Why were they in a corner?

What’s wrong with Toronto event planning? Where is the pursuit of excellence that is so evident in events held in other world-class cities around the world? And who’s idea was it to have so few wait staff? Waiting 20 mins for a lychee martini only to have a manager come over and make them eventually didn’t feel “Opera Chic” to me.

Update: I almost forgot that my food options as a vegetarian were limited to bread or pastry at the French Bistro or an eggplant tapa at the Spanish Bar.

[photo credit: Bamcat on Flickr]

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The United Nations makes social media a priority

In their Millenium Campaign to eradicate poverty, the UN is actively & innovatively engaging in the social media space. In order to reach as broad an audience as possible, and push the limits of how you can ‘be counted’, they are organizing events, and have kiosks throughout Second Life, as well as engaging ‘Lonelygirl15′ star Jessica Lee Rose to make an anti-poverty video that’s posted on YouTube.

This is a bold move by a nonprofit to utilize the strengths of the internet and social networking sites to raise awareness for the cause, as well as provide an additional platform for disparate people to get involved and build a movement. The foray into Second Life is quite interesting for its social implications, but a great alternative way for those who wish to, to ’stand up’ and contribute. It will be interesting to see how the move to engage a personality who caused quite a bit of controversy around authenticity is received, but with over 11k views since it was posted on October 5th, it’s off to a good start.

I’d like to see more active engagement with niche social networking sites, community building, and blogger awareness campaigns, but regardless, for an activism campaign it is off to a great and imaginative start.

[photo credit: pbo31 on Flickr]

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iBegin’s innovative charity drive

iBegin is a Toronto-based social reviewed search engine which enables the community to provide feedback on establishments, events, and residences, etc. in and around the city. Ahmed Farooq dropped me a line to let me know about a great charity drive iBegin has started which directly helps the Assaulted Women’s Helpline in Toronto. For each review or picture submitted to iBegin, 50 cents will be donated to charity with the goal being at least $10,000.

It’s an amazing venture and one I am proud to support – I plan on adding my first review today and will be snapping some shots of the Kensington Market area establishments later this week.

I asked Ahmed a few questions via email about how iBegin got started and the goal of the charity drive:

1. When did iBegin get off the ground? Who are the founders?

iBegin went live on March 4, 2006. You can read a bit more about how we think here. I run the site alone (I own a successful web development company).

2. What differentiates you from a RedToronto or Toronto.com?

This post sums it up well. It is quality results extended with useful information (pictures, reviews, tags, etc).

3. How are you spreading the word?

Bloggers, our own sites, and friends. Bloggers are the key ingredient here. We have opted to skip around traditional marketing methods for all of iBegin, and this donation drive is no different. It is so simple – add reviews or pictures, get money donated to charity, that I expect it to do well. It is a win-win situation for everyone. [note: you can download a banner for your blog at the iBegin site]

4. What motivated iBegin to undertake the charity campaign with the Assaulted Women’s Helpline?

Really it is more of a ‘why not?’ From my own point of view, I think a lot of people are teetering on the edge – they really want to be independent, they really want to make a difference, but they just need a little bit of a boost. And who appreciates life and needs a boost more than the women who call the helpline? Rhetorical question of course :)

5. Are you planning to expand to other cities outside of the GTA?

We will be expanding ’soon’. Our next city will be Ottawa, but there is no confirmed time-line on that.

The campaign runs from August 28th – October 15th with a daily goal of $200-300. So far they’re at $48 and counting so get those reviews going Torontonians – I know you have an opinion of your local watering hole or favourite restaurant! Share them with the world for a good cause!

[photo credit: moonpointer 1 on Flickr]

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