Usually I like October. I enjoy cramming my ham hocks back into jeans. I enjoy the plethora of boot styles to gawk at behind storefronts. And I love Hallowe’en and great costumes and candy  and Dachshunds dressed up like hot dogs.

Not this kind of funk.
This year, I’m in a bit of a funk. Not a funky, James Brown funk, but a negative headspace that seems to be fuelling itself through social media and the internet. Now, when I say “fuelling itself”, I of course mean that I am fuelling it by allowing myself to dwell on the nasty behaviour, lying, and misrepresentation I see, from Twitter bullyin……(see, I almost allowed myself to dwell on something there, but pulled the nose of the plane up just in time).
Over the last few days, I’ve actively sought out some strategies to help quell those negative voices. Meditation helps (and it’s damn good for your brain). Exercise, too (and it’s damn good for your ham hocks). And surrounding yourself with trusted family and friends also does wonders.
From a professional standpoint, it’s very important to prevent the murk from entering the workflow. I could build another analogy here, but won’t because not everyone loves toilet humour as much as I do. (more…)

Dear Robert
Scarlet Guy, my 7 year old, recently did a school project where she had to research a notable Canadian. Being a rabid book-lover, she chose Robert Munsch, the author of many of her favourite stories. She found Munsch’s website and eagerly composed a little message telling him about her project. Within a day, she received an email response. From Robert Munsch (or at least a reasonable facsimile). The joy was palpable.
Earlier this year, she read several Judy Blume books and went to Blume’s site, eager to share her enjoyment. Same thing. Within a day or 2, Judy Blume herself, the GREAT Judy Blume, sent her a personal response thanking her for her comments.
And her tweets to former Toronto Mayor David Miller? He responded almost instantly, although her suggestion of a dedicated Dog’s Day in Toronto might not make the agenda of any council meetings.

Scarlet will never forget these meaningful digital encounters.

I think it’s fair to say that the personal effort made by these “brands” have consolidated Scarlet as a loyal fan and customer. Another thing has happened – she now has no doubt that if she reaches out, she will be heard and responded to.

I’ve waited weeks for a response from certain service providers. I’ve joined so called “communities”, and never heard from the moderator or any representative of the company. I have seen a lot of “join our community” calls to action, which only result in frequent spammy marketing emails. Community can be defined in a lot of ways, but the prospect of joining one is not made enticing with junk mail. My faith, one could say, is shaky.

Companies like Starbucks, Dell, Scholastic, Zappos, and FlipVideo differentiate themselves by being present in the communities they foster. They build trust. They breed loyalty. And they do it out in the open.
Many companies make excuses like “nobody has time for that”, or “we can’t have these conversations in public”, or “our audience isn’t online.” Closing the door on providing service out in the open looks like you have something to hide. Showing that you’re responsive, and that you understand that social networks and the online medium are important to customers is a win-win. And yes, someone needs to manage it. Someone who is an effective communicator and cares about customer service. And someone who enjoys being online and interacting in the digital space. I bet there’s someone who’d relish the opportunity. Can you find them and empower them?
In our web development practice, we regularly consult forums and discussion boards. Response and sharing is de riguer. It’s a very give and give back community, and we have formed amazing relationships through this network of shared contribution. The thing is, these faithful responders aren’t company reps. They’re human beings with a belief in the sharing economy. They likely rate highly on any social technographics measurement. They provide an excellent example of how relationships with brands could be, if brands weren’t so concerned with building the numbers of their email list.
I invite you to conduct your own research. Fill in a contact form with a positive comment and see what happens. Search for your chosen service provider on Facebook. Send them a tweet. Is anybody out there?

Stop Throwing Poop at Me
courtesy of GregPC on
I was shown a potential affiliate site for an advertising campaign. They claim that a huge number of our “target” market visits their site every month. *cough*

I took a wander through the “community”. All of the video content came from one advertiser. There might have been 6 videos, all introducing the staff of the advertiser. All from the same company.

Hmm, I thought, why didn’t they post this on their own website?

The other content was of the extremely thinly veiled sponsored type. And to make things worse, it appeared that the publication had only managed to sell this coveted space to two or three businesses.
And to make things even worse, the content stunk. Stank?
A gigantic number of our target audience are frequent frequenters of this site? Really?
And best of all, the publication would send out an email BLAST to this audience (on our thinly veiled behalf).

I capitalized the word BLAST because that’s exactly how I view this type of spam. Like people who capitalize their online communications for effect, email blasts, in my mind, are obnoxious, abusive, and scream-y. Stop yelling, eh.

In other, related news, I unsubscribed from a whole lotta junk this week. Community initiatives that sounded good at the time, but revealed themselves to be BLASTERS of the same, boring, market-y sponsored content. Sure, they’d promised to be my “one stop shop” for resources and information, but most of them could only manage to rope together a boring, amateur list of links (back to their site, of course) with stuff I couldn’t read/open on my cursed Blackberry (always on me though, BTW) to product promotions and testimonials that the sponsoring companies had obviously paid for. Yeah, we know that customers didn’t write those.

I don’t believe that email marketing is dead. I just get a lot of it, and as an informed consumer, I’ve learned to separate the shit from the champagne. Same with “community” websites that are really little more than a community of desperate advertisers. For parents, for athletes, for readers, for teachers, for rich stay-at-home Pilates mums, for web designers. When someone trusts you with their email address, you must take that trust and vow to not throw poop at them. Step up your content, people, or don’t be surprised when the punters run, en masse, holding their noses.

To end on a positive note – I came across some excellent content-based campaigns this week. Here they are:

Hunter Shoots A Bear, NSFW from the makers of Tippex.

How to Build Your Workday around Focus from the fine folks at Lifehacker. Yep, they’re helping sell a book, but the content is juicy and fresh-smelling.

How to Leverage Social Media for PR Success from Hubspot, who are selling their service, but always give great content.


courtesy of
October marks the release of media maven Brian Solis’ and creative agency JESS3’s 2010 Conversation Prism 3.0. A colourful, spectacular infographic, the Conversation Prism represents the plethora of online engagement channels and applications available to brands, entrepreneurs, and organizations. As anyone involved in online marketing knows, the landscape of opportunity the web presents is massive, and growing all the time. It also changes at rapid-fire pace, as services collapse and expand, and as more and more companies and initiatives fight to find where their audience is, and engage their pants off.

I love infographics such as the Prism, and not just because they’re great for embedding in presentations. Visual representations are an excellent way for communications and marketing peeps to plan, strategize, and explore. Just as mind-mapping activities are an essential teacher tool to promote lateral thinking and idea generation in students, a handy infographic of web possibilities can really bring inspiration to brainstorming sessions and campaign reviews.

Of course, a peacock with this many feathers would be far too weighted down to strut. And a marketing or online engagement initiative can suffer the same fate if careful consideration, testing, and listening protocol isn’t undertaken in the planning stages. Take a strategic and critical approach and define your goals first, before delving into the buffet. Decide what you want to measure, and ensure that your chosen channels are robust enough to deliver the analytics you need. And above all, don’t overwhelm your audience with option overload. Choose the best and go from there, and do it right. An embarrassment of riches is still an embarrassment, right?

The Conversation Prism is available for purchase here. It’s $20, and worth it.

*No birds or other creatures of flight were harmed in the writing of this post.


Sometimes it’s easier to think about Twitter in terms of what it shouldn’t be:

  • a place for robots (or people acting like robots) to blast out sales shizzle
  • a place where the gormless stars of The Hills brag about spray tans
  • a place for  faceless companies to spew mission statements
  • a place to be a twat

Twitter is a conversation. It’s a place that facilitates worldwide communication within the tricky parameters of 140 characters. And 140 characters means a very small window of opportunity to get one’s point across. Twitter is as search-y as Google, but in real time, and related to conversations actually happening. Twitter’s usability has morphed and improved with the development of third party applications, particularly for business. Users can experiment with clients such as HootSuite, TweetDeck and CoTweet to manage multiple accounts and access numerous search fields and conversation strands. The ability to stream followers and friends into lists (public and private) is an amazing organizing tool.
In order to be followed on Twitter, a company or individual  (and preferably, an individual from a company) must follow others and initiate conversations, share valued content, conform to the Twitter “rules”, such as giving credit when a link is shared, and respond to mentions and direct messages in a reasonably timely fashion.  Not once a week during scheduled “social media time”.  Surefire techniques for not being followed would be to not follow back (here again is a fine line, since automated following is hugely frowned upon), to blast out scheduled content directed at everybody (but really nobody), and to be unresponsive. All interactions are public on Twitter (except for Direct Mentions, which work like email), so it is easy for anyone to look at a Tweeter’s history and see a gaping absence of real connection. Like any social network, it takes time to build community. But the time to start is now.

Tweeting as a company is a hugely difficult exercise unless one has the brand awareness of a Dell or an Apple, a government agency, or a specifically web-based customer service function (like FlipVideo, FreshBooks, Prezi). Since companies aren’t typically good at making their messages personal and directed at individuals (whether within an existing Twitter channel or a conference related backchannel), they can come across as unwelcome, noisy advertising reps. Companies that Tweet successfully allow the personal and human qualities of their Tweeters shine through. They prove themselves not to be robots by being real, multifaceted, and genuine. They use real photographs, instead of company logos. They indicate which company they work for, but describe themselves in authentic, natural ways.

The consistent use of hashtags (the act of putting a # in front of a term, thus making it searchable for all others and creating a de facto “theme”), makes it relatively easy to follow discussions, events, and topics.  Even the act of monitoring these discussions is useful, because despite their frenetic appearance, many individual issues are being addressed. Most chats are archived for those who miss a week. Lists and groups of participants are available on third party sites like TweepML. Think of these chats as a place to hold a virtual focus group with real, live, online customers. It’s a great opportunity to start connecting and build trust.

Tweeting through events provides a valuable backchannel for attendees and virtual observers alike. Most conferences now assign themselves a hashtag, so that anyone following the event can participate or “watch” by following that particular meme. Examples include #BlogHer, #ISTE2010, and any TED or TEDx event.
If a company is sponsoring a speaker, they might assign someone to tweet from the audience, mentioning that speaker’s key points, external resources, plans for later (TweetUps etc), links mentioned, and manage questions for the speaker from the audience. Presenters might agree to be online to answer questions post workshop. Displayers might offer promotions and contests through the backchannel. Twitter users at conferences often organize their own events, or TweetUps, to make IRL (in real life) connections. Participation or sponsorship of these events can show potential customers that the backchannel is valued, and that companies are listening and participating, and facilitating the IRL holy grail. Because it’s great to meet people. Unless they’re twats.

Tweeting content that people want to share is important, and can include articles, blog posts, free access to desirable content, and promotions on websites. The best way to gauge whether content is valued can be through the number of retweets (RTs) a message earns. But if nobody is following, then nobody benefits. If a tree falls in the forest….  However, the best, most authentic, and only sustainable content worth sharing is interaction. Entering conversations. Asking questions (real ones). Promoting others. Sharing research, within a loop that allows those who access the content to share it, comment, and add their thoughts.
Twitter is full of content, great articles, posts, videos, and discussions. By tapping into what people are talking about, it’s possible to understand what they value. What they share with each other, and the topics that resound.  For organizations, developing an “editorial calendar” can help for planning time spent nurturing and creating relationships on Twitter. Each month of the year presents opportunities to focus on specific content, as well as the more traditional areas of interest.  For example,  September and October offer a variety of opportunities to talk about heading back to school. Hosting a Tweet Up (where Twitterers shed their keyboards and meet up in real life) can be paired with promotions, launches, and bringing people together, eliciting a favourable emotional response from existing and potential customers.

Be real. Be human.  You can’t automate it. You can’t manufacture trust. But get out there. The early bird catches the worm, and poops on the twat.


“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you..”

The middle ground is the murky in between. User experience designed for the middle ground is a rather “Stealers Wheel” way of approaching engagement. In fact, the word engagement itself is a rather middle ground concept. If I’m not “engaged”, I’m pretty much asleep. I’m not paying attention.
As a customer, of anything, I don’t really want to be in the middle. The middle of any demographic is that soft, sludgy place that doesn’t really matter. The middle ground isn’t a place for early adopters, or even late ones. The middle ground is rarely the place to create a convert, let alone the holy grail of a viral spark.

What happens when you encounter something truly surprising? If it delights you, you share it compulsively with pretty much anyone who will listen. And if something pisses you off, well, can anyone say BP?

So this post is about extremes. Or polarities, if you will. And it’s about marketing too. Over the last month, I’ve had the extreme good fortune to attend a number of events that catered most effectively to those inhabiting the opposite ends of many spectra. I participated in MentalHealthCampTO, the planning for a ChangeCamp in my local East Toronto (as a run up to the upcoming municipal elections), NXNE Interactive, and a knowledge sharing and social media forum with recent project grantees in the environmental action arena. Each event is significant in its own right, catering to its own audience, and encouraging of next steps and actions. And I’d be willing to hedge a pretty strong bet that those who got the most out of each respective gathering operate outside the murky middle. And if life, business, and social change are one big graduating class, these are the ones most likely to succeed.

Now clowns. Clowns scare me. They’re garish and they wear outsize shoes. Their makeup conjures memories of having to kiss my senile Auntie Ada on her juicy (and hairy) crimson lips. Clowns are aggressive. Yet converting a clown could be the action that takes your campaign or target to the next level. If you can catch a clown’s attention – if you can get past their objections (or floppy red shoes) through content that either thrills them or makes them want to hurl a bucket of water – then you’ve created a conversation. And possibly a convert.

And jokers, well, jokers are the connector types fetishized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Jokers want to tell you something. They thrive on you being delighted. They love to see you laugh. Your shock makes them wet themselves with pride. Hook a joker with something worth talking about, and the joker will do his or her best to make everyone else care. (Did someone say “viral”?)
In the lofty name of inspiration, here are 6 campaigns or ideas that seem to be oh-so-cleverly designed for those operating on the edges.

Mr W
Greenpeace’s BP logo contest
Pretty much anything by Ze Frank
The Story of Bottled Water
The Future of Publishing
The Vanishing of Evan Ratliff

I hope these inspire you. I hope they make you want to raise the bar. Do something cool.


Oh, the hilarity!
I came across this inventive new breed of form just the other day. It’s set up like a Mad Lib, which I love. The possibilities for form filling fun seem endless. If you’ve ever done a Mad Lib, you already know about the sidesplitting joy that “plural body part” can result in.

I’m a joiner. I sign up for a lot of stuff. I check the boxes. When they ask about my combined household income, I always select the largest amount (and then spend a day feeling guilty). I wonder why I never win, even though I gross over a million and have 6 teenaged dependents.

Every time autofill clicks in, my ‘puter sighs a bored, tired sigh.

What if you, dear company, invested some art into the form? What if you asked me what my favourite show tune is, and then sent me a YouTube video of the original cast? Maybe on my birthday?

What if I had the chance to tell you that my celebrity doppelganger is Carol Burnett (it isn’t), or that my secret vice is eating wontons (I’m a vegetarian)? Wouldn’t we then develop a more personal exchange – maybe one built on humour and delight rather than the usual demographics?

What if I didn’t have to agree to 12 months of spam just to enter a contest? Or tell you my entire employment history to download your white paper? Or agree to join your online community about….wait for it….toilet paper? What if you just tried a little harder to engage me, and learn about my preferences? It might take a little longer, might require some higher energy customer service investment, but I’d be willing to bet that our conversion exercise would be mutually beneficial. Because I wouldn’t resent you for a) boring me and b) treating me like data.

It would be an art form, and I’d probably tell someone about you (isn’t that what you want?), and I’d definitely remember that I signed up.

Seen a form that thrilled you? Signed up for anything memorable, where the signing up part was memorable? I’d love to hear about it.


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.