Guest Post

On Personal Branding

The following is a post by my friend Amanda Laird: Earlier this week I participated as a mentor at Humber College’s Personal Brand Camp. During the event, I heard many students express that they were apprehensive about, if not confused by, building an online presence.

Before we go any further, let me give you a little background on my online presence. I started writing online in 1997 as a way to connect with other young writers and artists (let’s just say my high school had more sports teams than poetry clubs). After college I realized that the skills I acquired building websites in my parents' basement were transferable to the real world. My knowledge of and passion for online communication set me apart from other job candidates, and so my personal brand was born.

I started to wonder if the exercise of forcing students to create an online presence was futile. Making them get online isn’t going to do them any good; in fact I think it might even be counter-productive. If students are keen on getting involved in social media, by all means encourage them to do so—in a smart way; it will go a long way in helping them create a personal brand. But if they’re not, don’t force them. If a student doesn’t want to blog, their blog is going to be lame, and how is that going to set them apart in the job market?

Here are a few tips that Rayanne Langdon, my Personal Brand Camp partner-in-crime and I shared with those students who were interested in getting online, but weren’t sure where to start.

Be where you want to be. If you’re not comfortable with being online, don’t be online. What makes the Internet awesome is the passion that drives people to tweet, to blog, to engage in social media. If, to you, being online means tweeting and not blogging, or blogging and not tweeting, go for it!

Be your fabulous, funny, smart, creative, passionate self, and the personal brand stuff will come on its own. Being authentic will set you apart in a job interview and online.  Unfortunately, if yourself is an asshole, you might be in trouble.

Be passionate. While I am certainly passionate about my work, I’ll leave writing about PR to the Dave Fleets and Martin Waxmans of the world. I write about home cooking because that’s what I love; not only am I better at it, my “personal brand” is better for it, too.

Be nice. This one’s easy. If you can help someone online (and in real life), do it. And don’t do it because you think you’ll get something out of it. Do it because being nice is a good thing.

Be smart. I’m all for sharing online, but you’ve got to give yourself some guiding principles. I’m friends with my dad and my boss on Facebook, so I generally don’t post anything I wouldn’t share with them over coffee. And now, as my professional and personal lives blend together, I even give my actions a second thought. I don’t spend too many nights dancing on tables with lampshades on my head anymore. (But man, those were good days.) You never know where those pictures will end up.

A personal brand isn’t a limiting checklist. Sage advice from a wise man. People aren’t one-dimensional, so there is no reason to limit yourself online. Have multiple interests? Have multiple blogs! Contribute guest posts to other blogs or segment your website into sections with posts on various topics. Your online presence is just that: yours. Do it your way.

Amanda Laird is a Communications Specialist at CNW Group, a gig she got through this very blog.  Her personal brand is about home cooking, complaining about the TTC, and the odd smart thought about PR. Find her online at mise en place or @amandalaird.

Less Talk, More Do

BrainstormingIn my last post "Toronto Meet-Ups and Greet-Ups", I highlighted some of the main social media and communications events in Toronto. Today, I noticed a tweet by @malcolmbastien which read "Chatting About Event Overload in Toronto" with a link back to his blog. The post features a discussion between himself and Justin Kozuch (founder of Refresh Events), emphasizing that the increasing number of meet-ups in Toronto is not generating higher quality conversations. If anything, the discussions are becoming more fragmented and the groups more obscure. Malcolm's post got me thinking. Many of us go to a number of events for different reasons (mainly networking and knowledge accumulation), but after a while you start to realize you've heard it all before. I'm not knocking the events that I attend, or any of the hundreds of other ones out there—they all have a certain value to their participants. What I am saying is that as time goes on I am learning less and less new information and coming away from the events feeling less accomplished than I might have a year ago.

I wonder how the Toronto community can change this current trend. How can we make the events not only relevant and topical, but beneficial and useful from a practical standpoint?

Idea: What if some of the larger, more established events set up wikis where members of their community can submit problems, campaigns or current projects. Attendees and other members of the community could then put their names beside projects of interest until working groups were formed. I think something like this would allow us to use the knowledge we have accumulated and directly apply it, while still networking and continuing our education. When a group solves a problem or puts a project to bed, they could share what they learned with the rest of the community.

This is obviously only one suggestion. I've always preferred to learn from practical experience. I'm interested in putting the question out there: how do you think we can make these events more beneficial and useful to you? How would you like to see them grow? What would inspire you to attend more of them? Would you be interested in forming working groups to work on solving projects of interest?

Toronto Meet-Ups and Greet-Ups

Third Tuesday TO via LexnGer If you're part of the PR, tech, communications or social media community in Toronto you can pretty much fill up your entire week (and sometimes weekend) with different industry events. There are so many of them that it's sometimes hard to keep track, and even harder to know which ones are worthwhile. As September begins, bringing with it cooler weather and an end to the summer vacation mindset, Toronto's networking community is back in full swing. Here are some regular events to check out this fall:

1. Third Tuesday: Organized by Thornley Fallis, Third Tuesday is a long running social media event featuring discussions and presentations by industry professionals. Past guests have included Steve Rubel, Jeremy Wright, Mathew Ingram and Amber Mac. Third Tuesdays are a good venue for anyone just getting into the industry as well as self-proclaimed veterans. The networking at Third Tuesdays always adds value. I have made many great connections by simply attending and engaging in pre- and post-presentation discussions.

Cost: $10.00

2. SproutUpTO (formerly Wired Wednesday TO): Sprouter's SproutUp events are geared towards the tech, online and geek communities. They bring together start-ups and entrepreneurs as well as some PR and communications professionals. Recent events have seen presentations by Saul Colt and Stuart MacDonald. I find the networking at these events to be really top notch and have met great people and learned something valuable every time.

Cost: Free

3. Toronto Geek Girl Dinners: I wrote about these in a recent blog post on Toronto Uncovered. Food, girls and geek talk. Need I say more?

Cost: $10.00 (to hold your spot), plus cost of your dinner

4. GenYTO: Less formal events held at different watering holes throughout the city. These meet-ups are for young professionals working within the tech, communications and social media fields. Upcoming events and news/dialogue are streamed through their Facebook page.

Cost: Free

Thirsty Thursday Toronto5. Thirsty Thursdays: Similar to GenYTO, Thirsty Thursdays are usually held once a month, or once every couple of months at different bars in and around Toronto. This is a more intimate event, where you can count on a good mix of professional and not-so-professional topics of conversation. They're always a lot of fun, and a good way to meet people in the industry.

Cost: Free

30 Days of Wine Challenge

Sideways Movie I am a wine lover. Admittedly. I have proudly arrived at the level of consumption which laughs in the face of the ever-dreaded wine hangover. I like to believe I have a fairly open-minded pallet, and love trying different regions and blends as they catch my eye. When I saw a tweet for the 30 Days of Wine Challenge (#30DOWC), daring Ontarians to drink nothing but Ontario wine for 30 days, I immediately stepped up to the plate. I believe that Ontario produces great wines, and that these wines are often overlooked for seemingly more exotic and worldly vineyards. I wanted to become more educated on what my home region has to offer. At first glance, the Wines of Ontario campaign has all the social media  elements needed for success. They are active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and have a semi-interactive website. Participants also receive regular e-mails providing tips on serving, tasting, and purchasing wine. However, three weeks after signing up, I realized I hadn't bought a single bottle of Ontario wine. I quickly ruled out any decrease in my overall wine intake and focused on the campaign itself. It seemed to be missing connectivity and engagement. The following is a list of possible remedies:

1. Make the 30 days start at the beginning of each month. By setting a unified start date the community can solidify and build from a certain point—working together towards certain goals within that month. Right now there is no start/end date, which left me feeling a little disconnected and not part of a greater movement.

2. Give each month a general theme. This will encourage people to participate for more than one month and will also provide people with ongoing information and sense of commitment.

3. Add content to your Facebook page. There are currently 145 fans but very little content on the page itself. No posts, links to videos, events, photos, or other content. There is no reason for fans to check the page. This is easily remedied by highlighting new promotions and engaging fans in discussions on their favourite Ontario wines.

4. Encourage user-generated content. Ask for submissions of photos and videos of taken of participants during the challenge, possibly even following one or two key fans on their 30-day journey.  Post these to the website, Facebook page, YouTube, etc.

5. Send me tips on brands of wine—e.g., Five Wines To Try This Month. I am less in need of "how-tos" of drinking wine (this part I think I have down), and more in need of different brands and wineries in the Ontario region and which blends to look out for. The Twitter feed has some good suggestions, but more could be done to highlight specific wineries and blends.

6. Link all of the content (and communities) together. So far the website only provides a link to the Twitter stream, which might be why YouTube and Facebook pages are suffering from lack of content and viewers. Linking the content and communities together will increase awareness, interest, and engagement.

7. Results, results, results. At the end of each month provide me with some numbers. Did sales increase? How much? Are we making a difference?

Overall, I think the 30 Days of Wine Challenge is a great idea, but it needs more continuity, engagement, and a boost of WIIFM (What's In It For Me) factor.

What are your thoughts? Agree/disagree? Other suggestions?

The Rise of the Video News Release?

Empty News Room A large part of my week is spent meeting with clients to discuss their communications and media objectives. In one such meeting last week, my client announced that they would be increasing the number of Video News Releases (VNRs) they produce for distribution  to the Canadian broadcast media.  As multimedia becomes more important for online coverage, this wasn't exactly an earth shattering announcement. What did surprise me, however, was that they had no intention of using the content to build up an online or social media presence (aside from eventually posting the VNRs to their website's media section).

Instead, their reasoning for increased VNRs is as follows: News rooms across the country have been cutting journalist and editorial positions in an effort to save their bottom lines. This has meant an increased workload for the members still on staff and a decreased likelihood that every story will get the same attention it might have a few years ago.  My client is betting that if they increase the number of ready-to-air VNRs they distribute to these overworked and understaffed outlets, their chance of televised coverage will increase and they will benefit from more air time and exposure.

One hopes (and advises) that the stories are still strong and news worthy. Otherwise, why bother with the production efforts? This  made me wonder if any other agencies or organizations are increasing their VNR output for the same reason. Mike Masnick recently posed a similar question in his TechDirt post "Corporations Hiring Their Own Reporters". He too notes a definite shift towards corporate journalism. Will we see more VNRs and corporately crafted stories run in the place of journalist-generated content? Does this pose an unfair advantage to companies with deeper pockets? What are your thoughts?


Turn Online Activity into Offline Action

The Obama presidential campaign was one of the most successful social media campaigns to date. Last month I went to see Rahaf Harfoush speak about her time spent in the "trenches" as a member of Obama's new media team. She gave a good overview of how a variety of online tools and applications were used to rally supporters, build awareness and raise funds. Rahaf emphasized one important theme which was featured in every online initiative. It was simple: aim to turn online activity into offline action. It's one thing to rally online support for something or someone, or have a huge number of fans, followers or friends, but it's a lot harder to turn that momentum into something meaningful offline. MyBOThe Obama camp did a great job of this. MyBO ( was launched early in the primaries to unite communities and supporters already active online. The site grew to over 2 million profiles and 35,000 volunteer groups. This activity translated into 200,000 offline events and over 35 million dollars raised by personal fundraising pages alone. The new media team also used a number of other social applications including YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter to build support and provide fans with shareable content. This helped get Obama's message out and also directed traffic to MyBO, where fans could be converted to volunteers. High levels of engagement with supporters led to millions of dollars of small donations. By building strong online communities, divided by region, Obama's team could spring into action offline whenever and wherever they needed to.

Other successful campaigns have also benefited by keeping this rule in mind:

Dunkin' Donuts uses its Facebook page to bring fans together to share pictures and videos of themselves expressing their love for DD. It also uses Dunkin' Run, a site where customers alert their friends and co-workers when they are about to make a "run" and invite them to submit items to their order. This activity has created a sense of community online and also increased DD's in-store sales.

BlendTec made a series of inexpensive "Will it Blend?" videos, which are housed on its YouTube channel. The videos generated hundreds of thousands of views and led to a 700% increase in sales.

Starbucks launched its My Starbucks Ideas site where members can share ideas, give suggestions, vote and chat. The aim was to tie Starbucks fans closer to the brand and allow them help "shape the future of Starbucks". By also adding an "Ideas In Action" section, contributors can see the suggestions that earned the most votes and which ones will be called to action offline.

Canada Dry Mott's recently launched a Facebook page and Twitter account to energize fans and followers around their goal of making the Caesar Canada's official drink. Not only are they becoming more engaged with their community, but they also have a clear goal of 50,000 signatures before they can take their petition to Parliament Hill. This campaign is still young, but looks like it may develop a strong following.

In your next online campaign or initiative, remember to ask yourself how it will translate towards your online goals.

Do you have any other examples of campaigns that have succeeded by employing this strategy?

Virtual Worlds: Hype or Here to Stay?

For the last little while my interest in virtual worlds has been growing.  Having spent countless hours playing games like The Sims when I was younger, I can easily understand their appeal on a gaming and entertainment level. My real curiosity, however, is whether they will play a key role in the next phase of social media. My original inclination was heavily weighted towards 'No'. There have been a number of companies, law firms, and banks experimenting and opening offices in virtual worlds, namely Second Life. To the best of my knowledge, many of these have since shut down because their virtual offices were too timely to maintain and, after the initial buzz had died down, they failed to see any inherent value in keeping them open.

That said, the more I learn, the more I understand how virtual spaces may become extremely valuable going forward.

About a month ago I attended Digital Theory's "Playing to Win: Broadcasting and Social Media event, which featured a presentation by Valerie Williamson, VP of Marketing and Business Development for the Electric Sheep Company.  Electric Sheep built a name for itself by creating virtual worlds for a number of different companies. Valerie explained that instead of using two dimensional applications like Twitter and Facebook, younger generations have been raised on virtual games where they create 3D avatars to co-exist with their 'friends'.  She believed strongly that this was the future of social media and online engagement, and the direction in which we are headed.

These Experiences will occupy a previously barren portion of the Engagement Plane

If what she claims is true, what will the future look like? To begin answering this  question I looked at what organizations are currently doing to tap into this market.

Some brands such as Disney's Club Penguin and Webkinz have built their own virtual worlds, and experienced success by providing a new, rewarding form of entertainment to children. These sites are able to monetize without the help of advertisers, leveraging product sales and/or membership fees.

PepsiCo. Virtual Hills Other brands such as PepsiCo. are using the popularity of worlds  that already exist to market their products .  This can take the form of advertising within the VW, or selling virtual products to benefit the world's citizens.  PepsiCo. launched into this model last year by sponsoring vMTV's Virtual Hills. They have  since reaped branding and reputation benefits both on and offline (further outlined in Ad Week's Case study: vMTV's Virtual Hills Makes Pepsi Cooler).

Role playing and video games such as World of Warcraft, Counterstrike, and the Halo Trilogy have maintained popularity with slightly older generations (many of my friends included). These games have made significant earnings through subscriptions and virtual product sales. WoW alone makes up half of Activision/Blizzard's earnings, proving VWs to be a highly profitable model.

Although the above examples are largely entertainment focused there are many other useful applications of virtual worlds being explored.

At Mesh09 the #MeshLearn session  focused on education. Although virtual worlds were strangely absent from the conversation, the panel did state that the education sector in the US is larger than both the military and finance sectors combined. If this statement holds true, it is certainly a huge market.  In response to growing demand from educators, Activeworlds launched educational settings a few years ago, betting that virtual worlds will start to play a larger role in the development and education of children and university students.  With this tool, teachers will be able to develop new concepts and learning theories not possible in a regular class room setting.

Virtual worlds are also being used for collaborative learning, allowingRatava's Line students and/or professionals to engage, learn, and share over large distances. In 2003 students from three universities developed a fashion line (Ratava's Line) and show rooms using collaborative VWs. In a final report, students described it as  "a perfect medium to marry culture, collaboration, visuals, 3D, and social spaces" .  Collaborative VWs can easily translate into other business settings as well ie. training, safety, architectural design, business strategy, etc.

As the economic downturn continues to rear its ugly head, we will likely see more companies taking advantage of VWs to host job fairs. Dennis Shiao's Blog Post "Economic Downturn to Spur Virtual Job Fairs" does a good job of outlining reasons for this growth.

Given their collaborative nature, popularity with younger generations, and ability to adapt to a wide array of applications a strong argument can be made that virtual worlds are here to stay (and may even be highly profitible).

I'm interested to hear any of your thoughts on the business of virtual worlds - do you see them as the next wave for social media? Or just a lot of hype?

PodCamp Wrap-Up

This past weekend I officially popped my Podcamp cherry. Tagged everywhere as PCTO09, PCTO09, Podcamp Toronto was a whirlwind of activity. Although it wasn’t easy motivating myself out from under my nice, warm duvet at 8:00 on a Saturday AND Sunday morning, it was well worth the effort. Day 1 was pretty intense, with large crowds, and ‘standing room only’ in some of the more popular sessions. Whether you were interesting learning best practice when engaging with bloggers; how to calculate (and dictate) your success on Reddit, Digg, or StumbleUpon; or effectively (and creepily) stalk your audience, there was something for everyone. The Molson party following the Day 1 festivities was also well attended – apparently we are all easily swayed with promises of free beer tastings, munchies, and swag (who can resist 6 free Heineken glasses!). Day 2 was a little emptier. I imagine most people were probably nursing their hangovers and live streaming from the comfort of their beds. The great thing about having everything stream live and archived is that you know you’re not missing out on any content – sometimes it was really hard to choose between sessions. Overall, a great first experience. PCTO was well organized, FREE (thanks to generous sponsors), and filled with tons of networking opportunities. I was able to put names to faces and faces to names, and engage with people whose eyes didn’t glaze over at the first mention of Twitter, SEO, or Blogging. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for their hard work – I think it was a great success!

This post was written by Heather Morrison, who has previously written about Israel's Use of Social Media and about Building Your Twitter Empire here on BlogCampaigning. She is @Hmorrison on Twitter.

Thanks to Wayne Macphail for the photo above.

Nothing to Fear

The following post was written by Heather Morrison

At a recent IABC social sedia event last week the discussion of ‘buy in’ was brought up a number of times, from various perspectives. The question seems to be on every communicators mind – How do you convince your boss/CEO that social media is worth being involved in? How do you get buy in? How do you decrease the risks, and allay their fears.

The first question to ask is: What is their greatest fear or concern?

Costs? This is an easy one. Most social media applications have very little monetary costs associated with them. The real resource needed is time. Many companies combat this by starting small (think baby steps), and working together so that no one person feels over loaded with work.

Making a mistake? More than likely every company first entering into social media will make a few mistakes along the way (close to 50% of initial attempts will flop). But whatever happened to ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try try again’? With proper education, these initial mistakes will provide a good base for future initiatives.

Negative Feedback? There are two types of kids in every schoolyard - the kids who stand up to rumors and bullies, and those who hide from them. While those who hold their heads up might take an initial beating, they will ultimately gain more respect than those seen hiding their heads in the sand. Not everyone will agree with every opinion, post, or decision that you make. That said, people will agree and/or disagree whether you are part of the conversation or not. Social media allows companies to enter these discussions, learn from what’s being said, and provide feedback and perspective directly to their clients/prospects. It also provides an opportunity to sculpt future campaigns based on raw customer feedback.

There is far more to be afraid of by remaining disengaged and distant from your market than there is by becoming involved. You don’t want to miss the boat and let the conversation carry your brand and reputation down stream (think Motrin, Walmart, Wholefoods, Kryptonite, and Hertz). As Matthew Ingram once pointed, “you need to have a presence in social media to have a voice when you need it. Don’t try to jump in during the fire!”

Heather Morrison is an Account Executive at CNW Group and has previously written about Israel's Use of Social Media and about Building Your Twitter Empire here on BlogCampaigning. She is @Hmorrison on Twitter.

How To Get Your Company Into The Financial Times

Occasionally we're lucky enough here at BlogCampaigning to have someone guest write a post for us. The latest person to share their knowledge with our readers is Malte Goesche, CEO and cofounder of, a website that "allows users to publish and share products with the broader public which they find cool, innovative, exceptionally beautiful, or just weird. Included with every item is a link to an online shop where it can be purchased." He's written a post for us about how his company got a great deal of publicity without the help of PR companies or newswire services.

If I say it is not that hard to get into the pages of the Financial Times, you might not believe me, even though it only took two well-written emails to get there. Of course, I’m leaving out a lot about building a startup (from having the idea to build the product and get funded), but this is supposed to tell you more about how we built and established the brand of

Out of our team of four,  one of my jobs was to get our name out there. Since I didn’t take PR & Marketing 101 I just did what I thought would be the way to do it: find publications (online and offline) that I liked myself and found suitable,  then get in touch with the the right person at each publication, approaching them as directly and personally as possible. It sounds easy, but I think my naivety back then saved me from making many mistakes (I guess that’s what these 101 classes would’ve been good for). I didn’t write press releases or generic emails. By browsing through the chosen publications I found out which authors would be the right fit and then I went ahead and introduced myself via email as what I was back then: a student who had a website with some friends and who would be happy to hear some feedback or a have some review their site. I wasn’t pretentious, didn’t lie and never bullshitted anyone. People seem to have appreciated that a lot.

I believe that approaching people on an eye-to-eye level is very important. When you are writing (I intentionally don’t use the term pitch here due to its spammy connotations) to a smaller blogger you don’t want to come off as the big-headed founder of a startup, just as another internet/tech savvy person/fan who wants to share what he created with others. Be approachable and open to people. Even if whomever you reached out doesn’t write about you right away they might remember you and get back to you once your startup is just the one they need to write about at some point. To go back to the article in the FT, in this case I was lucky, because I emailed the journalist right when she was researching a piece going into our direction. Sometimes a little bit of luck helps.

When writing that email try to keep it short and simple. Remember that you are writing to a human being and don’t just copy and paste some impersonal marketing piece. Let the recipient know that you did your research about her/him and why you think that they could be interested in your product. Just imagine you are meeting that person face-to-face somewhere and act/write accordingly.

After putting in weeks and weeks into researching journalists and bloggers and then writing emails, quite a few publications wrote about us and we also started to write few press releases. I don’t really know about press releases. We did spend the money on sending one out through PR Newswire once with zero response. Unfortunately, it was just a waste of time and cash; as a small startup €800 is real money. Here I think it depends on what your product is and I believe it can’t hurt to try it once. If the ROI is satisfactory, great and if not you know where you can save some money in the future and you've  learned a lesson.

I like to rely on my personal mailing list that I built and keep building. Sending a message out through it every few months has always brought good results.

Some people will also tell you to hire a PR agency. That of course depends on so many factors. If you are a small startup you might not want to spend a monthly flat fee (I found that they usually started at around $10k for mid-sized agencies) for many services you might not need, but it all depends. If no one in your team wants or can handle the PR work this might be the right type of thing to outsource. Some startups grow so fast and have so many press requests coming in that it makes sense for them go down that road. I can only speak for us, and say that so far we haven't needed a full blown PR and marketing package. Although we did spend some money to get some advice from a few experts, I believe there is nothing we can’t handle ourselves.

Well, this post was very long considering that my main message is actually very short: Try different approaches and see what works best for you. Do some PR A/B testing, carefully evaluate the results and sort out what didn’t do the job. Learn those lessons and keep moving forward. Or, as the world's best basketball player Michael Jordan once said:

“I have failed over and over and over again in my life – and that is why I succeed.”

Feel free to email Malte at malte (at) i, follow him on Twitter (he's @malte) or to read his blog at Don't forget to check out!

What do you think of Malte's thoughts on getting coverage?