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Can we stop being so defensive about the tools we use?

This is a bit of a rant about something that is occuring all too frequently these days on my favourite social tool – Twitter. Yesterday an article in the Globe & Mail by Margaret Wente appeared that questioned, in her particular snarky tone of voice, the value of Twitter. You would have thought she questioned the cuteness of puppies by the vehement reaction by the Canadian Twitterverse. Update after update sought to match her snide tone and “set her straight”. It was an over-the-top reaction to a piece that in the grand scheme of things was just one persons opinion based on the plethora of mainstream media attention Twitter has been getting recently as the “next Internet phenom!!”. 

We really need to stop being so defensive. It’s a tool some of us use. It’s not for everyone after all and none of us own stocks.

Sure, it would have been nice if Wente had spent more time getting to know the tool before writing a piece about it, but let’s not forget that not every one has hours to spend figuring out the ins and outs of what is a highly charged, established community who are quite vocal when they deem you aren’t using it right. Not every one wants to either. If we cheer when Twitter makes the Wall Street Journal or The Star, are we not asking the general public to join based on what they’re reading? As with anything in life (and marketers should really know this already) people go through phases before deciding to buy (or join). Sure, we’d *like* them to take a test drive, but sometimes we have to rely on the dry specs and pretty pictures to even get on their consideration list. So Wente (who most likely has been hearing about the wonders of new media and Twitter from her colleague Mathew Ingram for months now) checked out the public stream and wasn’t impressed. Not surprising, there’s a lot of updates there about what people are having for lunch, and unless you have a group of people for whom you care about what they’re having for lunch, it really would seem silly for the lay person if we’re being honest. Of course that isn’t the *only* thing happening on Twitter, and not the reason I use it (I’ve explained before here and in an interview on CityNews recently why I use Twitter), but it takes a lot of time and energy to build that network… and maybe that isn’t time some people want to invest, or know they have to. Twitter works when it’s a conversation vs a monologue and perhaps, just perhaps, someone may have other channels they use when they want to converse. 

Let’s also add some perspective to the time investment using Twitter properly is – some people may not be able to bill clients for the hours upon hours they spend using the tool each day either, because they aren’t in marketing communications, PR, or customer service (or an entrepreneur, artist, etc.). Let’s keep that in mind when we jump all over people for not “getting” the tool.

I’m not a fan of Wente’s writing (or opinions) for the most part, but I recognize frustration with over-hype when I read it, and that’s what her piece felt like to me. I also wonder why no one called out the most glaring thing in regards to her article — she asked @biz (the guy who OWNS Twitter) for a chance to interview him the day before the piece ran. Did he care enough to defend it, or even respond? Perhaps her view of Twitter may have been different if the guy with the vested interest in getting positive coverage of his business by Canada’s largest daily paper had gotten back to her.

Twitter is for some, not for others, and it would be productive in my view to allow that there is more than one way to use the tool, or not. 

Also, that everyone is entitled to form an opinion based on what they read/ see. It’s up to the community to convince people the tool is right for them if we are going to get so defensive when they don’t “get it” and vocalize that, question it, or poke fun at it.

[photo credit: merwing via Flickr]

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Ada Lovelace Day – recognizing women in technology

March 24, 2009 is Ada Lovelace day and people from around the world are marking the occassion with blog posts recognizing important women in the tech field. While I initially thought I would write a post about a famous woman I admired, a trail blazer in the space, I ultimately decided to write about someone closer to home, someone I’ve known and worked with personally. Think global, act local if you will.

If you don’t know her already, her name is Vanessa Williams (aka @fridgebuzz) and she’s a leader in the tech and interactive space in Toronto. What makes Vanessa someone I admire is not only her incredible intellect and ability to code like a maniac in complex languages like Juxta, but the trail she blazed by being a leader when women programmers/ techies were a rarity. She’s commanded respect from her teams as well as from clients… all while believing in her inherent right to be treated as an equal in a male dominated field. She also took a chance with an idea she had for a startup and toiled away at her computer to make her vision a reality.

I don’t claim to know the intricacies of the work she does (I’m a strategist, not a programmer), but I do know that she always delivers results and I’ve had the pleasure of sharing many a pint on a patio and discussing the industry, technology, and the world with her. 

Vanessa is someone you should get to know.

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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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Toronto Web 2.0 Summit – step in the right direction, epic fail, or a bit of both?

This week the City of Toronto held a Summit to discuss how Web 2.0 (or the social web) can “increase civic engagement, reach all communities, and improve City services”. As the event itself was invite only a lot of participation occurred via the live webcast and in back-channels such as Twitter. I have a lot of thoughts about both the way the event worked, and how it didn’t, and will try and balance the two, while being honest & open in my feedback as I think it’s an important first step in a process that concerns all Torontonians. There have been opinions expressed that should be voiced if the City is serious about community engagement & interaction online.

First, it was a great idea – connect the decision makers, industry, internal government employees, and the public together to figure out how the social web can facilitate a better civic experience. Great idea, yes, but it unfortunately it didn’t live up to its promise, and actually the promise of Web 2.0/ social participation, the very topic of discussion.

There were some excellent speakers and panels that sought to provide some anecdotal as well as concrete examples of how government can use the tools to reach out to citizens, including the luncheon keynote by Mark Surman and the interaction with Mayor Miller, but there were also logistical & planning issues that stifled the potential and made many comment that the day was a “FAIL” (in 2.0 parlance). While 300 people tuning in via webcast is a small proof of concept, and there were passionate discussions online, with only 10 people physically in attendance during at least one session and with images of rows of empty city councillor seats seen via the webcast, the importance to the decision makers within the City seemed absent, or at the very least, under-represented (h/t Adam Froman); another misstep was starting the day with a panel on how the public wants to be engaged online without any representatives from the public on it. Great idea; poorly strategized.

What the City could have done:

  • Make the day into a blend of panels and workshops with concrete examples of issues from constituents and push for mandatory councillor participation and involvement. Bring together facilitators (our city has a ton!) to moderate and brainstorm actionable solutions to real-life problems – both internal and external; tech, procedural, etc.
  • Not make the day invite only. This seems a no-brainer to me, web 2.0 is about collaboration and openness and it feels counter-intuitive to close the gates to true participation at the outset, and it ends up cutting off some of the voices and ideas that are so vital to moving the premise forward.
  • Solicit and prioritize issues/ ideas in advance – for the public at large and for the city – transportation? health care? waste management? events? Focus on more than just the abstract. While Google maps mashups with the TTC are great (and I totally dig them and think they’ll be a great step forward), is that the number one priority for the City or best use of resources? Is web-casting every council meeting? Maybe, but maybe not.
  • Lay off the heavy moderation of the webcast and citizen participation – I asked two questions, once in the morning and once at the end of the day and neither one was released from moderation by whomever was monitoring the channel. Web 2.0 is as open and transparent as possible, not guarded, except for language and threats.
  • Bring in outside voices and expertise from the grassroots level in the city who are already using the social web and to bring together a diverse group of the population to work on local issues and spur action – Toronto has a vibrant community of passionate people to draw on, why not tap into it to shorten some of the learning curve?
  • Some kind of “next steps” to keep moving the discussion and planning forward and encourage participation – there are, as we saw at the event, a lot of talented individuals inside the government who could easily be the point persons to manage something like a wiki (which if the two days had included workshops or similar direct participation could have been frameworked) to solicit ideas and keep the citizens who wanted to engage and share informed of what was on the agenda (and recruit organically from their local circles – build momentum). It’s a challenge of course to coordinate in government, but “idea labs” are something that should be on the radar.
  • Included members of the public who represent different community organizations and looked to other government agencies and groups using the social channels so far & invite them to participate as part of a “lessons learned so far” discussion – Foodland Ontario, City of Markham, Prince Edward County, Ottawa Public Library, etc. etc.

I don’t believe the event qualifies as a FAIL, and I think a lot of good ideas and interest was spurred during a few sessions and hopefully a lot of food for thought and take-aways for the municipal officials who participated. I truly hope the City is committed to this and will take this first event as a baby step, incorporate and learn from the feedback available to them (blog posts, twitter updates, webcast questions, etc.) and keep moving forward. It can be a big or a small challenge depending on how we all deploy our resources – as a community!

[photo credit: Olivia via Flickr]

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Upcoming speaking engagement – Digital Marketing Conference in Toronto

The 11th annual Digital Marketing Conference is upon us and I’m excited to be on a panel with some esteemed marketers on October 29th.

My fellow panelists include:

Michael Anton Dila, Partner, Torch Partnership
Lisa Charters, S.V.P Director Digital, Random House of Canada
Christopher Thompson, Associate Vice-President, Online and Interrelated Business, Canadian Tire

And the session will be moderated by the esteemed Jon Lax of Teehan & Lax.

The topic is:

Beyond Gimmicks: Why Behavior-Changing Experiences Will Rule in a Fragmented, Digital Age

Time and attention starved consumers, users and even social media participants are becoming wary of thinly-veiled disguises at getting them to help make something go viral. What’s a marketer to do? Our panel will discuss alternatives to buzz marketing and dig into why it’s so important to provide value in an increasingly fragmented world where people can forget about your brand and why it matters in a nanosecond.

Hope to see you all there!

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