Social Media

Toyota & Saatchi's Cautionary Tale

Sticking with the theme of automotive brands and engagement, you've no doubt seen that Toyota’s 2008 guerrilla marketing campaign, promoting its 2009 Matrix, is once again making headlines, and it aint’ pretty. As a refresher, in 2008, Amber Duick began receiving a series of emails from one by the name of ‘Sebastian Bowler’, a fictitious English soccer hooligan with a fondness for excessive drinking, destruction of private property and  general rowdiness (because these are all traits that every English soccer fan exhibits, of course). The first email Duick received from Bowler was to let her know he was on his way to her apartment – even so much as citing her address – to crash for a while. Additional emails chronicled his trip to her abode, often mentioning his frequent run-ins with the local law enforcement, while another email, this time from a hotel manager, demanded Duick pay for damages associated with a television, supposedly broken by Bowler, accompanied by an authentic-looking e-bill. Not surprisingly, Duick was a tad upset, or in her own words ‘terrified.’

Only after receiving a final email containing a link to a video did Duick realize what was actually happening: she was the target of a virtual prank designed to raise awareness of the new 2009 Toyota Matrix. What a rugged English soccer fan with a penchant for inebriation has to do with the Matrix is beyond me, and quite obviously, beyond Duick as well - a woman who was chosen because she represented Toyota’s target market.  The campaign certainly had a hint major dose of realism to it, something Alex Flint, creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi – the L.A.-based agency responsible for the campaign – boasted about. Now, three years later, news broke that a California court has agreed that Duick can move forward with a $10 million lawsuit against both Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi. Ouch.

I don’t think anyone can argue that this was a poorly executed idea, one that clearly – at least to everyone outside of Saatchi & Saatchi – wasn’t given nearly enough thought.  But as someone who works in the PR industry, this whole campaign fascinates me for a different reason, outside of its headline-grabbing concept.

Here Toyota was, in 2008, when Twitter only had 500,000 monthly visitors, when Facebook broke its first user milestone of catching up to MySpace, and when the concept of social media, and storytelling marketing was still in its infancy. Despite this, Toyota took a chance on a program, albeit one disconnected from its audience, and ran with a concept that was, to an extent, ahead of its time.

Today, one of the most difficult challenges PR, marketing and advertising professionals face isn’t always coming up with fresh ideas; it’s selling them to clients. Businesses have a comfort zone and it’s when they step out of it that great, award-winning campaigns are born.  To that extent, I applaud Toyota, which for the record, is still with Saatchi, for at least trying something new and taking a head-first dive into the unknown.

As for Flint, he told marketing magazine OMMA (Online, Media, Marketing & Advertising) that the prank campaign should gain the appreciation from ‘even the most cynical, anti-advertising guy.’ Three years, a flurry of negative articles, public backlash, and possibly $10 million later, I wonder if he still feels the same way.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Subaru WRX - Choose Your Angle

A few weeks ago, I posted about a project I worked on for Subaru Canada called "Pure Performance." Phase II of this project involved strapping four HD cameras to a Subaru WRX Rally Car driven by Canadian Rally champion Pat Richard as he drove through a stage during the Rally of the Tall Pines in Bancroft, Ontario.

We then created a series of interactive YouTube videos using this footage, allowing the viewer to change between the different views in real-time. In creating these videos, we actually maxed out the number of possible annotations that YouTube allows for each video. As far as I know, this has never been done before.

All four videos are below. However, I strongly recommend taking advantage of the interactive feature and clicking through the different views as Pat Richard and his navigator Alan Ockwell navigate the track. I'm not going to say that these videos were inspired by too much time spent playing Gran Turismo, but I'm not going to say they weren't inspired by this either.

Let me know what you think!


PS: If you feel like learning a bit more about the Subaru WRX STI, head over the

Negative Comments Can Have Positive Results

Most companies have realized that digital communications and social media tools are here to stay. They accept that they will need to embrace online strategies or go the way of the dodo, but many are still scared.  Can you really blame them? I can't.  No matter how succinct a company's launch into social media may be, it's unlikely they will completely avoid negative comments or  haters of their brand.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Negative comments or feelings can go a long way to actually help a company move forward with a successful social media program.
I recently worked with a client to launch a new product using a number of social media channels. Part of their program involved seeding content on  content sharing and community based sites. On some sites, the content was rather well received, and got positive reactions from bloggers and online media. On others, however, the content did not meet the standards of the community members. They felt the content provided too little value and made sure they told us so.  Confronted by negative feelings, we had to act fast to address their concerns.
We wrote a response thanking those who had spoken up for their feedback. Negative feedback is just as useful as positive.
We then wrote direct messages to the specific members who were most vocal, asking them for more input: What kind of content would they like to see? What questions (if any) did they have that we might be able to answer? Would they be willing to discuss industry topics in greater depth to help develop content that would provide real value to their community?
Unfortunately the community members didn't continue to engage with us after their initial round of commenting. However, we learned some really valuable information about the community and industry.  This community site is absolutely one we want to work with going forward. Even though their comments were negative, they are engaged and passionate.
No brand is hater free.  Negative comments are always a strong possibility. It's what you do with them and how you learn from them that will decide if your social media campaign will flourish or fall flat. Social media is social - good or bad, all comments count!

When Customer Service is Too Fast

A couple of months ago, I was in H&R Block filing my late father's taxes. It was late April, and the tax deadline here in Canada is April 30, so you can imagine the scene. If not, allow me to paint it for you: chaotic, depressing yet hilarious, and nobody from H&R Block was happy to be doing their job. The manager, who was no older than 25 and, for what it's worth, stereotypically gay, told one person who complained about the price of her tax return, that he wouldn't pay that much to get his taxes done here and would absolutely go elsewhere, if not for the fact that he was the manager on duty. This might get him in trouble, but I believe his name was Tyler. Sorry Tyler. Another woman, whom I had been in to meet with two days earlier about my late father's tax return only to have her show me the door when I wasn't able to produce legal documents authorizing me as the executor of my father's will (which didn't exist because my dear old dad died without a will, or an executor, or anything else for that matter) and after explaining the situation to her, she still turned me away. Imagine Kelly Kippur from "The Office", and suck every ounce of life and personality out of her—voila. On this particular day, Tyler the manager told her that her next customer was ready, to which she replied something to the effect of "I need to go to the washroom", and left. Somewhere between five and ten minutes later she returned to her workstation, and immediately turned around to leave again while her customer waited. When asked where she was going by her boss, she snapped back at him "I haven't been to the washroom yet!" even though she had just been out of the office for an extended period of time. She eventually came back from the washroom. Fortunately, I was not the person waiting on her.

The person I was waiting for was an older woman. I didn't have an appointment, but I was next in line to meet with her. She was late taking her lunch, and unfortunately had to take it while I waited for her to return. She spent her lunch hour outside the "office" (I use the word "office" loosely—it's poorly lit, has no windows, and is located on the top floor of The Bay at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto, shoved into a glorified crawl space at the far end of a cafeteria that I doubt few know exists), which I would have no problem with if she hadn't spent half of that hour meeting with a client about a tax return while I waited. Yes, she worked through her lunch (good) but met with someone else while I waited not just within earshot but in plain sight nearby (very bad).

So after waiting about two hours and seeing all of this, plus listening to Tyler take phone calls and watching H&R Block co-workers attempt to co-exist, I had every reason to tweet the following:

I'm at H&R Block, by far the most hilarious screwed up workplace I've encountered in a long time

I thought absolutely nothing of it and continued waiting. That was at 3:07 p.m. At 3:30 p.m. I received an email from H&R Block titled "H&R Block Customer Support", and it reads as follows:

Good Afternoon,

Thank you for contacting H&R Block's Customer Support.

We were sorry to read that the service you received did not appear to meet your expectations.

We have escalated this concern to the District Manager in order to have your concern further investigated.  Please trust that your satisfaction in our product and services is of the utmost importance to us at H&R Block, and that you will be contacted by a local resource within 2 business days.

We have started a file for your concern, for tracking purposes your reference number is XXXXXXX. Please keep this number and refer to it should there be a need for any future correspondence.

Thank you for choosing H&R Block for your tax requirements and providing us with the opportunity to ensure that our service does meet your expectations.

Have a nice day.

Customer Support Team H&R Block Canada

My first reaction was confusion. My post on Twitter didn't even come to my mind, so I didn't know what this e-mail was regarding. Obviously, I asked Tyler because I thought he might be able to explain it since there was a reference number quoted. Tyler was helpful and picked up the phone to find out more info, but the person on the other line couldn't give him any information because it was a matter for the district manager and he wasn't privy to that information. He actually told me it was a big deal and he would be sure to hear about it soon—and he didn't mean that in a good way. I still didn't have a clue why I had been contacted by customer service. I sat down, spent at least 15 minutes thinking it over, and slowly realized what had happened. That's when I stopped talking to Tyler and started to worry.

I needed to get my late father's taxes done. I didn't have a clue how to file for a deceased person, especially one without anything more than a death certificate and a T4 slip. I had waited for several hours. I was at the mercy of H&R Block, and I had just told the store manager that I had been contacted by customer service about a complaint that I knew nothing about.

You may be saying, "Chris, how could you not have figured out in today's uber-connected world that H&R Block was e-mailing you about your tweet because they monitor social media?" and that's fair. In my defence, I'm not a genius. Still, for H&R Block to file a complaint, escalate it to the district manager, and notify me of it all before I even had the chance to leave H&R Block's office? That's fast—and because my tweet could have upset any number of people who work in that office, I say H&R Block reacted too fast. YES, TOO FAST. Tyler wasn't able to learn why I had received the email from customer service over the phone right away, but he soon learned (while I continued waiting) that my complaint came from "one of those internet sites like Twitter or Facebook". Can you imagine how uncomfortable it made me feel to sit there waiting for service from his staff thinking that at any moment he could find out that I said his office was "hilariously screwed up"?

In the end, I sat down with the woman I had waited a few hours to see, and she filed my taxes in minutes. Tyler even gave me a discount for waiting so long. In the end, I had a good experience with H&R Block at the store level because I understand that everyone is under pressure during tax season. Would I take my tweet back? Of course not, but H&R Block's customer service did the company a disservice by contacting me and putting me in the uncomfortable position they did. I'm sure there's a lot to be said about privacy and social media monitoring in this example, but I think I've said enough for one blog post. I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments if you have any.

Oh and by the way, I never did hear from H&R Block, even though they promised to contact me within two business days.

Peter and Valentine Were The Original Bloggers

Note: this post has some spoilers about Ender's Game, so if you haven't read it yet, don't read this post. Just go out and buy it and read it, because it's amazing. But don't take my word for it;  I mean, the 1986 Hugo Award and 1984 Nebula Award are hard to argue with. It's not even that long of a book. You can probably finish it in a lazy summer afternoon at the cottage, if you put down your iPhone for long enough. You can buy it on Amazon right now for, like, seven bucks.

This weekend, I finished re-reading Ender's Game for the first time since I originally read it ten years ago and was blown away by how well the author, Orson Scott Card, predicted the future from the early 80s.

I say the early 80s, but it could have been earlier. Card's first version was published as a story in a science fiction magazine in 1977. He later fleshed this out to a full-fledged novel in 1985 (according to the copyright information in my copy of the book), and made some more minor changes in 1991.

And when I'm talking about how Card predicted the future, I'm not talking about Ender's Desk (which is described exactly like an iPad) or even the Ansible, a device capable of near-instantaneous communication over vast distances (not that far off, really). I'm talking about how he predicted the rise of blogging and the influence social media can have over culture and politics.

While most of the plot of the book follows young Ender Wiggin, youngest of three children, as he goes to Battle School at the age of six to learn how to be the commander of a fleet to fight invading aliens, a sub-plot involves how his sociopathic, but brilliant, brother Peter, and more empathetic, but equally brilliant, sister Valentine, are left home on earth.

Under the leadership of Peter, the two of them start contributing to "forums" on the "nets" using pseudonyms, or characters:

"They began composing debates for their characters. Valentine would prepare an opening statement, and Peter would invent a throwaway name to answer her. His answer would be intelligent, and the debate would be lively, lots of clever invective and good political rhetoric. Valentine had a knack for alliteration that made her phrases memorable. Then they would enter the debate into the network, separated by a reasonable amount of time, as if they were actually making them up on the spot. Sometimes a few other netters would interpose comments, but Peter and Val would usually ignore them or change their own comments only slightly to accommodate what had been said."

The next paragraph describes how Peter tracked how their work was being read and shared, and reads almost like a description of media monitoring in 2010.

As the two keep writing, their influence grows, their articles get syndicated, and they begin to get involved in serious policy discussions. Since its all online, no one knows that it is actually just two genius children.

Implausible? Yes. Impossible? No.

While I doubt that our global politics are being played like a game of chess by a couple of kids, I think Orson Scott Card's prediction of the way an ordinary citizen can get involved via the internet and become a serious, real-world influence is a great bit of future-casting.

Reasons like that are why I love reading science-fiction, be it old-school Heinlein and Asimov, 80s cyberpunk, or the post-human stuff that's all the rage these days. Science fiction is a framework for thinking about what could happen; it's a way of looking forward to finding out who is going to be right.

Have you read Ender's Game? Were Peter and Valentine the original bloggers?

Posting, Pitching and PR: The Presentation (#TalkIsCheap)

Last week, I gave a presentation at Centennial College's Talk Is Cheap unconference. The talk was Music Blogging: Posting, Pitching and PR, and if that sounds familiar, its because I wrote a blog post with the same title a few months ago. I've gone to #TalkIsCheap for the past few years, and I've always had a great time. I think it's one of the better social media events in Toronto these days, and the organizers deserve a round of applause. (Thanks for letting me speak!)

The gist of my talk was that as much as I enjoy writing the occasional post here on BlogCampaigning, I don't really like writing about PR, and I don't like reading about PR and and communications. By the informal polls I did of the audience, it seems like most people agreed with me. (I mean, c'mon: do you REALLY enjoy reading about PR and communications?)

I went on to talk about how much more I enjoyed writing about electronic music and science fiction for my other blog, and how doing that has taught me way more about PR and online communications than writing posts for BlogCampaigning.

While I didn't get too deep into the details of music blogging, I did talk about some of things I'd learned about PR from my other blog:

1. Your pitches don't have to be personalized – I feel like PR and communications pros who blog are the only ones who insist on pitches being personalized. The rest of the blogging world will post about something if they feel its relevant to their audience. Personalized pitches can help, but they aren't necessary.

2. Your pitches should be well targeted – if they aren't, you're just wasting everyone's time. When talking about this, I used an example of a PR person that sent me an album to review for my music blog. I normally only blog about electronic music, but the album was folk guitar. I'm going to ignore every e-mail I get from that PR person from now on, because I'll just assume it is the same type of music.

3. Don't send fancy HTML emails - once again, you're wasting everyone's time. They don't show up well on mobile devices, Outlook frequently blocks the images and even Yahoo! and Gmail don't seem to like them.

4. Don't follow up – it just pisses people off. While admittedly I've gotten some great coverage out of following up with a journalist, and have also posted something just because some guy followed up so often that I started to feel guilty, nobody feels good about a PR pitch being followed up. It's one of those things that everyone just feels awkward about. In the case where you have a good relationship with a journalist or a blogger, then its probably alright to follow up because you'll know when it is appropriate. As someone else commented during my presentation, if you're pitches are well targeted then you probably shouldn't have to do a lot of follow-up.

In the end, I tried to encourage the audience to start a blog about something they care about. For example, if they want to work in PR for one of the big car companies, they should start a blog about cars. If they want to work in fashion PR, they should start a fashion blog. Seeing the world in the eyes of an online journalist will be far more valuable than writing the occasional post about something like the "intersection of PR and social media".

So what do you think—should students blog about their thoughts on the PR industry, or should they be blogging about something they care about?

Have you started a blog, and given up after a while because it was about something you weren't interested in?


When Social Media Becomes Work

Talking with my friend Mike Kennedy recently, I realized that social media have invaded my job. My personal and professional lives are colliding! Blogging and reading blogs have become part of my job description, and there are small Twitter and Facebook communities among my co-workers (including me) and higher-ups. I talk to my boss on Twitter—weird. These things used to be solely personal pursuits—stuff for friends and family. Now I do them at work? Yuck!?

I'm sure this is nothing new to many of BlogCampaigning's readers, but it was a bit of a shock to me, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I'm happy that my company has started a blog and that I get to write for it. I think it's great that we're actively, if tentatively, pursuing a social media strategy. I've even written some posts on how social media affects the workplace (we're in human resources publishing, so you know).

I think my surprise arises from an artificial barrier that I had built dividing The Internet and its Many Diversions and Modes of Communication including Social Media, from E-Mail and Proprietary Closed Systems and their Singular Purpose of Doing My Job. What I mean is that I previously thought The Internet was for leisure, and one only used it occasionally for work. But in an instant, I recognized that this was far from the truth, and I was thus in some sort of work-leisure limbo. (It's clear now that this realization was building for some time.)

So what now!?

I don't really have a problem with social media entering my job. In hindsight, that was clearly inevitable. This episode has just made me realize that I will now have to deal with all of the mixed-up things that come next: delineating work time from leisure; maintaining a professional web presence; managing the time I am working...

I guess the question is: does this situation even really change anything?

Sure, that barrier has fallen down, but does that mean my behaviour or life will change? I don't know the answer to that yet.

--- Update ---

I think I might have figured it out. The thing is, I already spend a lot time at the computer; I don't like that it has intruded into so many daily functions. If I want to read the news, I go to my computer. If I want to see what my friends are up to or talk to them, I go to my computer. If I want to listen to music or look at photos—computer. If I want to write—computer. Recipes, directions, phone calls, videos, communication... You can probably guess that I don't have a Blackberry or iPhone or some other piece of fancy portable gear. Maybe that's my trouble but I'm not sure.

I have two problems with spending so much time at my computer: guilt and headaches. On the one hand, it just doesn't feel right staring at a digital screen for as long as I do each day; on the other, I feel unhealthy doing it. You could say, "Get a Wii Fit!" But I'm pretty sure that's missing the point. I want to do all of those leisure activities, but I don't want to sit in one spot all day, staring into the bright light, to do them. I want to leave my house!

So I wonder, what is the solution? Am I just waiting for the right technology to come along to allow me to do all of the things I want to without feeling like I'm attached to a machine? Do I want to give up technology altogether? Let me tell you when summer comes around.

Everything I Need To Know About Social Media I Learned From The Globe and Mail (THE VIDEO!)

A few months ago, I gave a presentation as part of the Canadian Institute's Managing Social Media Conference titled "Everything I Need To Know About Social Media I Learned From The Globe and Mail." A few weeks ago, the good folks from the Canadian Institute were kind enough to give me that presentation in video format so that I could share it with my readers.

I pretty much walked straight from the presentation to a job interview at MAVERICK PR, where I now work.

For more on this presentation (including my explanatory notes and the slides), please see this post or visit

Anyways, it looks like the Canadian Institute has another Managing Social Media conference coming up in Calgary in March. I'm sure it will be good, so if you're in town you should check it out.


PS: You should totally follow BlogCampaigning on Twitter. It is twice as easy as RSS, and all the cool kids are doing it.

What does Twitter do? (Part 1)

I've been using Twitter now for a few months, and I still have little idea of it's purpose—or if it even has one. At it's base, Twitter is a simple way to share and receive bits of information, the modern currency. It's like a data marketplace—a microcosm of the internet itself, and more manageable than the world wide web. But I like that it has undefined boundaries, and that users have come up with new uses for it. I don't go out of my way to read about Twitter's development on technology blogs or whatever. I have my interests (technology and internet culture among them), and I read about them semi-regularly; but I don't have the time or the interest to consume or sort through all of the blather, opinion, and predictions about something like Twitter, which I would prefer to explore myself.

That said, here are a few of the ways in which Twitter has changed my internet and information consumption behaviour.

1. Interest-targeted information I never had a selection of specific blogs that I would visit regularly to find news on a certain topic. I retrieved stuff from the internet mostly via news sites (e.g.,, search engines, and aggregators (e.g., Digg and Reddit), each of which serves a particular purpose for finding information. Google news was my main news source for a brief while a couple of years ago. I also began using Google Reader to follow with pitiful—make that pathetic—regularity my friends' blogs.

These all might have their own purposes, but I found them inefficient because they forced me to visit a website and scan through bits of info for what I wanted to read. I had heard of RSS feeds, which could send interesting links directly to a central location, such as your e-mail or a web application like Google Reader, but I was too lazy to bother figuring it out, and besides, Facebook had captured most of my internet attention; and with Facebook, I could share information as well as receive it.

This was all before Twitter. I looked at Twitter last year some time and thought, like just about everyone else on the planet (that's facetious western arrogance, by the way): "What is this nonsense? Who cares about what everybody/nobody has to say about their nonsense lives?" I hardly realized that millions were already paying attention to others' nonsense on Facebook all day long. But Twitter just seemed too simple and pointless: why would anyone actually want to know about what others were doing or, you know, thought about stuff?

Well, I was wrong. I mean, I still don't care about what most people are doing or what they think about stuff—my use of Twitter has actually made this abundantly clear. I also note that recently (even before Twitter) I've been using Facebook far less than in the past. The thing is, now I can "follow" "twitterers" who "tweet" information in which I am interested, as well as my friends—those who are currently taking advantage of the service—and all of that information goes to one central place, where I can scan it with far greater ease than before.

For example, I used to visit Digg, which aggregates user-submitted stories from the web, placing the top stories (by users' votes) on the "front page". This is incredibly useful, but the content is still all over the place. Current events and world politics are combined in an unholy mixture with pictures of cute animals, celebrity "news" and UFO and crop circle sightings, and eventually, I found myself disillusioned with sifting through all of the stuff I wasn't interested in. As for friends' blogs, as I mentioned, I simply didn't look at them very often, probably because I was spending my online time scanning Digg.

Twitter allows me to narrow the scope of my information retrieval. I follow certain news sources and blogs that mainly focus on local (i.e., Toronto) news, for example:

Torontoist for general Toronto news, mostly written by local independent journalists BlogTO for more general news NOW Magazine for the "alternative" news Urban Toronto) for a great look at Toronto's history and future

Some of my other interests are satisfied via:

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project Tech news, commonly involving Google at myunblinkingeye News about all the good food we produce in Ontario from Foodland Ontario

I follow friends (including the writers of BlogCampaigning):

Justin Broadbent, a terrific artist, illustrator, photographer, and videographer Angie Johnson, fashion designer and Montréal boutique owner extraordinaire Tyson Bodnarchuk, another terrific artist and Montréal boutique owner extraordinaire

And I even follow the odd celebrity: Neil Gaiman, writer of fantasy and science fiction Rainn Wilson (kind of), via his "big questions" blog, Soul Pancake

I could go on, but I fear that I'm already pushing the boundaries of attention, and will raise the ire of my fellow blogcampaigners with my first post.

So, to wrap up: maybe you're not an information junkie to the extent that I am, but if you use the internet to seek useful or interesting information for personal or professional use, and you find you're not satisfied with your current methods, I recommend you give Twitter a try. It's not difficult to understand and use, and it should be even easier for people who are already somewhat social-media savvy.

Let me know if you've got questions. I probably won't be able to answer them, but I'd like to hear them!

Upcoming: Twitter as human-powered search engine—the new (better) Google!? Twitter as hyper-modern communication tool—not just for nerds!

Know Your Audience

Before embarking on ANY kind of communications campaign, you should know the audience you're trying to reach. Yeah, there are a ton of great sites out there that would be neat to reach out to. But if your audience isn't there, what is the point? According to a recent post on Business Insider, 69% of adults don't really know what Twitter is. Unless your audience is part of the 31% that does understand and use the service, you are probably better of focusing your effort elsewhere.

Similarly, a recent post on TechCrunch about Friendster, shows that the social networking site we North Americans might have thought of as dead is still alive and well over there. Any kind of marketing campaigning focusing on people in that area of speakers of languages from there might be better off focusing their efforts on Friendster than on Facebook.

Not only is it a good idea to know your audience in order to know where they are looking, but it will also help give you an idea of what they are looking for. To grossly simplify things, someone trying to reach college students might be better off with a series of entertaining online videos, whereas someone trying to reach purchasers at businesses might be better off providing their audience with printable, fact-filled PDFs.


Twitter is the RSS dream made real (follow @BlogCampaigning!)

Twitter is the RSS dream made real. (I repeated the headline here because I'm feeling pretty self-satisfied with having written it.) If you're reading this post, you're probably pretty hip to the RSS scene (I know that the majority of BlogCampaigning's readers read it via RSS). But you're not mainstream—you're probably a PR Pro with a Penchant for Social Media, one of my Blogging Brethren, a Conference-Attending Corporate Communicator

RSS never really caught on because even the simplest analogies made it sound complicated. I mean, between Rich Site Summary and Really Simple Syndication people can't even seem to agree on what it stands for.

But Twitter... people seem to instantly grasp the concept of Twitter. They understand the idea that if they "follow" an account, they get updates from that account. No messing around with moving the subscription URL to your RSS reader.

Professional communicators should always try and make it as easy as possible for people to access their message, or at least make it possible for their audience to access the message in the manner they prefer.

While some people might frown upon feed-based Twitter accounts, I'm all for them and for that reason I've set up As I feel fewer and fewer people are checking their RSS readers and moving more towards their Tweetdecks, Twitter homepages and Twhirls, I want to make sure they're still able to easily access the freshest BlogCampaigning posts. Hardcore BlogCampaigning fans probably don't want to be bothered with the daily chatter that fills my personal Twitter account—they just want the hottest news from the BlogCampaigning team.

Even if you don't want to follow the BlogCampaigning Twitter feed, you can still subscribe by email, RSS or even access the page directly (which, in case you haven't noticed, went through a redesign recently).

Applied to the greater world of PR, don't limit your campaigns to just a Facebook group, just a news release directed at traditional media, or just a Twitter account. Except in probably very unique cases, making your message accessible in only one place probably won't result in much success.

How do you feel about feed-based Twitter accounts? Is there a better way we can be getting our news out?


PS: Don't forget to follow @BlogCampaigning!

Must Love Death: German Social Media Lessons

The preface: The claim resurfaces regularly. I've written about it; others have written about it: in terms of internet and social media, Germany lags behind.

ReadWriteWeb just published an interview with Marcel Weiß, the editor of—one of Germany's most popular blogs—in which he explains that Germany is at least five years behind the U.S. when it comes to social media and its adoption by a larger part of society. Blogs are still considered to be suspect by a large part of the German public and have very little influence, and social news sites and aggregators attract very little attention.

He goes on to explain that

[B]logging and social media adoption in Germany is far behind similar trends in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Blogs are still considered suspect and have almost no influence over local or national politics. The mainstream media still likes to describe the Internet as a dangerous place, full of malware, porn, and scammers. While regular newspapers in Germany have also started to feel the pressure from the Internet (and every major German paper has a web site), the absence of a successful Craigslist-type site in the country has given the newspapers a longer lease on life than in America.

The reasons for this are very deeply ingrained in German society. Felix Salmon offers a short and comprehensible (yet also stereotyped) overview: basically, Germany's culture is the antithesis of what blogging is all about.

The blogosphere is fundamentally egalitarian, to the point at which the young and even the completely anonymous can become A-listers. At the same time, highly respected professors and experts often find themselves ignored, perhaps because they hedge themselves too much or are simply too boring to pay attention to. Germany, by contrast, is fundamentally hierarchical.

A bit of a generalization, but he's close to the point. I'd say this statement rather applies to culture. The use of mass culture in Germany is quite hierarchical as it reflects power structures. I will spare you the sociology behind it (see my post about Bourdieu and social media). Just this much: in contrast to American discourses, which embrace the internet as a genuinely democratic and—thus specifically American—cultural practice, in Germany this egalitarian appeal and integrative potential is perceived as a threat to milieus (and media) which still perpetuate restricted high cultural traditions (or the "right" use of pop culture) in order to gain social capital.

Also: Germany experienced its greatest push towards modernity under the Nazis, the first party to embrace mass media for propaganda purposes in a kind of reactionary modernism, which makes the whole field... suspect.

Anyway, the result of all this is: Germany indeed does lag behind.

My Problem:

I was confronted with this fact very recently when an old high school friend of mine asked me to help him promote a movie he produced, by means of social media. The movie is in English (in fact it's supposed to take place in the U.S.), and aims at an international audience. Here, two mindsets collided.

It had to explain what a Facebook fan page was, why we want to get a Twitter and a Flickr account, etc. Once everything was set up, the next step was to explain how everything worked. It was a social media crash course.

I suppose Twitter alone would warrant a whole night of instructions (if the other person has no idea at all): What are the basics? How do I contact people? How, why and when do I send direct messages? Wait, I can change the background? I woke up to ICQ (yes, ICQ) messages asking me why a # was in front of a tweet. And what the hell is Follow Friday?

At this stage, we didn't even discuss the "proper" use of Twitter yet: engage in conversations, be nice and say thank you, look for Twitter users or bloggers who are interested in the romantic horror comedy splatter genre and get them to cover you... If someone does an interview or writes a review, see if the person has a Twitter account and add them... A sample conversation: "One of the singers from the soundtrack is following us." "Did you follow her back?" "Why?"

And so it went on. I was the one who's supposed to update the account. Andy, the director, attended the film's premier in Montreal. Lot's of potential there in terms of Twitter. But he had no idea about it either. So apparently it was up to me... (sitting at my office desk in Germany, writing my doctoral thesis, not really having the time to monitor any coverage of the movie). It was going to be a long way. I really hope my friend realized how to use Thwirl by now...

"BTW, it would be nice if Andy could take some pictures and could upload them on Flickr. I also installed a plug-in to display the latest Flickr uploads on the Facebook page" "Uh... he doesn't know how to. And why do we need Flickr in the first place, I thought we could upload photos on Facebook!" "Yaaaaah, but..."

The problem was: my friend's German mindset, not being acquainted with any social media or its principle at all, collided with the world out there.

But, to give credit were credit is due: he seemed to be learning—in terms of the basic idea at least.

While having a beer at a bar, the producer told me what kind of trailer they would produce and how they would introduce the people behind the movie in little clips; how he would ask the director to film movies with his mobile at festivals and put those on Facebook and Youtube—basically share the experience and engage people, let them become part of the project and involve them in the process of getting the whole thing started. Or as he put it "Keep zings reel!"

We were getting there. Slowly.

I invited all my friends on Facebook to become a fan of the movie, while my friend sent out an e-mail to the 150 people of the (German) movie team. All of a sudden 2/3s of our fan base came from Australia—apparently hardly anyone of the team was on Facebook!

In short: please become a fan of Must Love Death and follow us on Twitter!!


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.

Advice For PR Students

Next week I'm going to be giving a presentation to a group of PR students. Besides telling them about Canada's favorite newswire, I thought I'd also give them a bit of advice.

As I mentioned earlier, Julie Ruscioelli Rusciolelli* recomends that they include some of their interests on their resume, so I'll probably tell them about that.

I also plan on telling them that they should get involved in social media - its a great way to start learning about PR and a great way to start interacting with the people that will eventually be their peers (and potential employers).

Can you think of anything else I should tell them?

*UPDATE: Also make sure you check your spelling.

Getting CIRI-ous about Social Media

This afternoon I'll be joining social media vet Michael O'Connor-Clarke and Natalie Johnson, manager of Social Media of General Motors Global Technology Group onstage at the Albany Club in Toronto to discuss Using Advanced Technologies Effectively in front of members of the Canadian Investor Relations Institute. From the event description:

Advanced technologies are revolutionizing communications in every field. Investor Relations is no exception. New technologies such as blogging, Web 2.0, RSS feeds, search engine optimization (SEO) and new channels such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo Finance are changing the way IR professionals execute their strategies. Join us as our expert speakers explain how best to employ these technologies to improve the effectiveness of your capital markets communications.

I think it should be a great talk, and I'm looking forward to a healthy discussion period with some of Toronto's IR professionals.

-Parker Mason

Public Speaking Tips

I am by no means an expert at public speaking, but over the past few years I've found myself in front of an audience more and more often. Some times I've excelled, sometimes I've bombed, but I've managed to learn a few things along the way. Eat before your presentation Especially if it is a presentation centered around a meal, like a "lunch and learn" or if you are the speaker at a dinner. Normally, you'll be scheduled to speak at around the same time others are eating. Even if is a casual setting and you'll be dining with your audience, you don't want to look like a glutton. Your audience is there to hear what you have to tell them, not watch you eat.

Eating beforehand also ensures that you don't spill anything on your shirt.

More water, less coffee Coffee gives me the jitters, and I tend to speak too quickly and excitedly. Water keeps me hydrated and my mouth moist so that I can keep on talking.

Know Your Material Your audience will be able to smell bullshit more easily than fear. If you don't know your material very well, then you shouldn't be speaking about it. If you understand your material well enough, no amount of distraction, nerves or difficult questions will throw you off.

Engage your audience Look them in the eye, ask them questions, make them feel like they are part of a conversation rather than being lectured at. Look around at different people in the crowd (rather than at the back wall, as I used to do) gives you a better idea about who is paying attention and who isn't so that you can measure the level of information getting across. If all you see are glazed eyes and people praying into their Blackberries, you need to be doing something different to get their attention.

Make sure your fly isn't open and that your shirt isn't tucked into your underpants Seriously. It takes two seconds to check. (Hilarious anecdote related to this tip available upon request.)

Any other advice?


On Working With Mark McKay

There are a lot of creative people in this world, and there are a lot of reliable people in the world. There are far fewer people who are both creative AND reliable.

Mark Mckay is one of those people, and I recently had the good fortune of working with him on the video that accompanied CNW Group's announcement about the launch of the CNW Social Media Release (if you haven't seen the video, check it out now on the release here).

For those of you that don't know him, Mark McKay was the fellow that did the video for the 2nd mesh conference ("The Wacky World of Web 2.0"), and he also hosts his own online-TV show called "Happy Hour with Mark McKay. If you watch MTV Canada, you'll know that Mark has parlayed his online success into a regular gig television gig.

I've always thought he was entertaining, and knew that he was skilled at creating video content for the online space.

After working with him on this recent video project for CNW Group, I can also say that he is also incredibly reliable. When we first met to start the project, he gave me a time line of when he would have certain elements of the video ready, from a draft script to a rough version right through to the finished copy. We agreed on the timeline, and he kept right to it, delivering the final version when he said he would.

The only thing stopping me from recommending his services to other people is that I'm worried he'll get too busy, and that I won't get a chance to work with him again.

You can get in touch with him via Twitter, his website or his YouTube channel.

I've posted one of my favourite Mark McKay clips below.


Social Media Is The New Hip Hop

Remember last year when I was slagging MyRagan and saying that it wouldn't make it past the first year? During that whole debacle I continued to update my roommate. He isn't a blogger, but he told me that it sounded like social media is the new hip-hop, complete with beef. With M0serious climbing up the charts and my recent post about Wu-Tang, I'm starting to think that there is more to my roommate's comment than I first thought.

I was reminded again about this because of this recent post by Tris Hussey at Maple Leaf 2.0 about how Mike Arrington couldn't handle being scooped by Erin Kotecki Vest. Similarly, Shel Israel and Loren Feldman seem to have worked up some serious tension (back story here).

In the words of my roommate, "someone is gonna get shot."

And in semi-related news, look for a post on BlogCampaigning in the next week about the similarities between the Wu-Tang concept of "Killah Beez" and crowdsourcing/smart mobs.


Social Media and Social Paranoia

Parker's last post raised a question I have been toiling with for some time: what do I do with my Facebook page? I joined Facebook in my last year at McGill  in 2004. At that time, only students from certain post-secondary schools were able to join; I mostly interacted with friends from US because of the inception at Harvard. (For a more thorough historical account, click here.)

At that time, the site served a redundant purpose alongside Friendster, its more dominant cousin.

 We all know the story since then. Particularly over the summer of 2007, it seemed as though everyone I knew was suddenly Facebooking. In addition to connecting with distant friends, it quickly became the primary mode of communication for my local network: organizing birthday parties, starting groups based on jokes, and uploading shameful pictures.

Then I entered the world of Public Relations.

 Suddenly, I began acquiring professional contacts through the site and suddenly, my profile seemed ill-suited as a résumé.

Most recently, I acquired a mentor through the CPRS program. Excitedly, I looked up my mentor and saw that she was on Facebook. Before adding her, however, I hesitated. "I don't know if that's the kind of contact you should have on Facebook," murmured one friend. Another friend echoed those sentiments, "Be careful who you add."

So, how do I reconcile the fact that my social life on Facebook preceded my professional life?

I have de-tagged unsavory photos and removed (most) contentious jokes. I have considered limiting profile access for professional contacts, but that seems shady and duplicitous. I have also thought about having two different profiles: Workjess, meet Partyjess.

I welcome any suggestions you may have. Shall I add my mentor?

 Thanks for reading BlogCampaigning, guys!

- Jess

Marvel At This!

While doing some research about which superhero I'd like to be, I came across the Marvel Comics website. I was pretty amazed at what I found.

Marvel has created a wiki, called the Marvel Universe, letting fans contribute to the biographies of each character. There are thousands of characters, each one with an incredibly complex story behind him or her (or it), and it makes sense to leave the reporting to the people who know the history best and care the most: the fans.

I feel that for many of these fans, being able to contribute to the Marvel universe in this way is a reward for their support. In a way, it probably allows them to interact with their favorite authors, illustrators and (in a way) characters that isn't possible via the standard mailbag and conventions.

Official character bios are offered alongside the fan-created ones, proving that user generated content can peacefully coexist with corporate-sanctioned content. Similarly, each character has a bar graph representing their various skills (you know, real life ones like speed, strength and energy projection). For each attribute, there is the official Marvel statistic alongside fan-voted statistics.

In an ideal social media world, Marvel will be taking a look at what fans offer on these pages, and may even create wiki pages appealing to their fans for new content. For now, they've simply put together a great social media program.

I've never been a huge fan of comic books, although I do like the stories and characters. However, taking a look at the Marvel website and being reminded about the intricacies of the stories has inspired me to stop by a comic book shop sometime in the next few days and pick up one of those books collecting an entire story arc.

In short, their use of social media has created a new customer.

Well done, Marvel.