Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

Social Media and Advocacy

As you probably read in my last post, Ottawa City Council is proposing to cut 100% of funding for most arts organizations, which would decimate local culture at a tax savings of about $4 per person, per year.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused a fair share of outrage from the local arts community and the people who support it.  The community has united in a way that it doesn’t normally do to fight these cuts and to get people to take action by writing their councillors and telling them that their Ottawa includes culture.

The same thing happened in 2004 when the same cuts were proposed, and the arts community had to drop everything to fight a ridiculous budget plan.  The difference in 2008 is the way the community mobilized.

They created information pages with a mechanism to send a letter directly from the page, Facebook groups with thousands of members, videos and microsites for people to pass around and get their friends to express their concerns.  Social media gave the local cultural a much larger voice than they’ve ever had.  Beyond that, we organized through social media as well – collaborating on spreading the word and assembling at City Hall to make our voice heard.

The results won’t be seen until Friday, but most of the councillors I have spoken with have expressed that they have been inundated with hundreds of comments about the cuts.  If they listen to their constituents even a little, this proposal will be defeated.

So, to those who live in Ottawa and value culture, I say this:  “Pass it on.”

Thanks to Susan Murphy and Cheryl Gain for helping out with the editing on these videos.

Off-topic: Save the arts in Ottawa

I don’t typically use this blog to spout my own personal politics, but, well hell – I’m going to.

If you don’t live in Ottawa, you can pretty well ignore this post, but I’d rather you read it just so you can see how incompetent and short-sighted our local government really is.

As part of next year’s draft budget, the city has cut $35 million.  Of that, $26 million is for new projects that have not yet begun, and $9 million comes from existing spending.  The trouble is, that $9 million isn’t spread across the board like cuts of this nature usually are.  Almost half of that $9 million in cuts is set to come from local arts and culture, including 100% cuts to festivals and cultural organizations regardless of stability, sustainability or local impact.

Whether or not you choose to spend your nights at the theatre, you have to understand that disproportionately attacking arts and culture in the city is not a recipe for long-term fiscal repsonsibility.  Ottawa has close to 40 festivals, all of whom provide stimulus to the local economy.  It is estimated that for every dollar invested in the arts, $7 is injected into local businesses.  Besides that, these festivals and theatre companies provide valuable opportunities for young people to further their careers.

In 2001, I was the publicist for the Ottawa Fringe Festival, an organization for which I now serve on the board of directors.  As a direct result of this experience, I went on to found a professional theatre company, build my marketing and public relations experience, and after working for years in agencies, am the owner of a successful agency myself.  These are the types of opportunities the City of Ottawa is flushing down the toilet.

Artists don’t make a lot of money.  In fact, most that I know just make ends meet, and are comfortable with the fact that they’ll never have a huge payday, but they continue to work in the arts and take a substantial pay cut over what they could make elsewhere, because they love it and they want to give back to the community – by teaching children about the arts, by entertaining audiences and by building something that is bigger than themselves.

Ottawa has among the highest property taxes in the country, and the highest user fees in the country.  My question for the city clerk who drafted this budget and considers the arts his “lowest possible priority,” is that in a city that takes so much from its residents, why do you see it fit to so singularly punish those who give so much back?

I could go on at length about the contributions that arts and culture makes to the local community, but frankly, it’s an argument I’m sick of making because it so often falls on deaf and ignorant ears.  The reality is that investment in the arts is good economically (see Broadway) and socially (see countless research papers on the affect of arts education on youth crime).  If you don’t see that value, then you’re welcome to live in the drab, lifeless bureaucratic city that you deserve.

If you believe the arts have a place in cities, then I need your help.  Please, take action, and write your city councilors – all of them, and tell them that cutting the arts completely is not the way to balance a budget.  Email your friends, and tell them about what the City is planning to do with their city.  Get them involved.  The only way to fight this is to make it clear that the residents of this city value more than just a stable government paycheque – that they want the city to live up to its potential and attract people with arts and festivals, rather than being the butt of the rest of the country’s jokes about boring cities.

An example letter is here, and you can find your councilor’s email address here.

Please, spread the word, and don’t let our City Council decimate culture in Ottawa.

Social Media Crisis Planning – Build Your Network Before You Need It

Many brands and organizations are beginning to realize the value of the social web in developing their crisis communications plans.  These new tactics and strategies can seem daunting, but they all amount to one singular goal:

Build your network before you need it.

It’s easy to get bogged down in new terms and unfamiliar territory, or to become obsessed with metrics to the point of analysis paralysis, but when it comes to crisis, it’s not about dark sites and blogger outreach so much as using the tools to create a trusted network that can be reached in good times and bad.

Trying to gain people’s trust while you’re on trial is the wrong way to do it, social media or not.  Establish a link of trust and transparency over the long term, and you’ll insulate yourself against crisis by enabling your organization to get your side of the story out before it’s delivered through the filter of the media.

[Update:  Doing some New Year’s reading, I realized that I may have inadvertantly plagiarized the title of this post from a post by Jeremiah, who I read regularly.  If you’re going to steal, it might as well be from those who are smarter than you, I suppose.]

Your blog may have ruined your political career

A few months back, while giving a lecture on social media to a group of business students, they were surprised when I mentioned that when I’m vetting people for job interviews, I care more about their blog and Facebook page than I did their cover letter.  Looks like Obama feels the same way.

From the Bulldog Reporter:

If you want a job in an Obama administration, be prepared to disclose every blog post or comment you’ve ever written. A nine-page questionnaire requires applicants to list — and if possible, provide copies of — all “posts or comments on blogs or other websites” they have ever made. Also required are “aliases” or nicknames used on those sites.

In politics, transparency is key, and it’s easier than ever to find out what someone wrote on a newsgroup back in 1995.  We sometimes forget that blogs and microblogging are permanent records of our reputation, and need to be treated with care.  Hats off to the Obama administration for understanding this.

[via: Bulldog Reporter]

Great moments in advertising

This says more about my personality than it does about marketing, advertising or communications, but THIS is objectively the best commercial on TV, period.

Know your audience, and entertain them.

Geoff Livingston talks to social media stars – and me

Solutions Stars Video Conference

Geoff Livingston and the Network Solutions team were out in full force at BlogWorld Expo, talking experts on all things social media to create a video series containing a ton of online marketing tips for small businesses. I was honoured to be asked to participate in the program.

To cap it all off, Network Solutions is producing the Solutions Stars Video Conference on October 29 at 1 p.m. It’s a totally free online conference (no travelling), which I’d say is a pretty great deal for small businesses.

To be able to be a part of a lineup of this calibre is humbling indeed:

  • Tim Ferriss, Best Selling Author of Four Hour Work Week
  • Guy Kawasaki, Co-Founder, All-Top
  • Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
  • Darren Rowse, Author, ProBlogger
  • Chris Brogan, Vice President of Strategy, CrossTech Media
  • Rohit Bhargava, Author of Personality Not Included
  • Wendy Piersall, CEO of Sparkplugging.com
  • Lionel Menchaca, Chief Blogger, Dell
  • Steve Hall, Publisher and Editor of Ad Rants
  • Scott Monty, Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager, Ford Motor Company
  • Liz Strauss, Social Web Strategist, Successful Blog
  • Toby Bloomberg, CEO, Bloomberg Marketing
  • If you’re a small business looking for more ideas on how to engage customers online, or if you just want a chance to hear great perspectives on social media from a group of really smart people, I highly recommend you take a bit of time out of your day next week.  I promise it will be the best $0 you spend all month.

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    So… you wanna grab some breakfast?

    Downtown Ottawa

    Image by Duane Storey via Flickr

    If you find yourself in downtown Ottawa tomorrow morning at 7:30 with a hankering for a bagel and some piercing insight on social media and community, stop by the offices of Gowlings at 160 Elgin and join us at the fourth Ottawa Social Media Breakfast.  Now, we’ve been at capacity for over a week, so there are no guarantees that you’ll get in if you haven’t already signed up online.  In the meantime, if you want to assure yourself a ticket for the upcoming breakfasts, swing on over to the sign-up page at http://smbottawa4.eventbrite.com/ and add your email to the waiting list, and we’ll let you know about upcoming breakfasts.  We’ve sold out almost every time, so it’s a good idea to act fast.

    You may ask: why do we do this?  Because, as Captain Hammer of Doctor Horrible‘s Sing Along Blog says:

    It’s not enough to bash in heads,
    You have to bash in minds.

    We’ve got some exciting things to announce in the next little while, including our new season sponsor – Gowlings Law – and our upcoming speakers.  Stay tuned, and I hope to see you at breakfast tomorrow.

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    My glibness in the Globe and Mail

    I was asked to do an interview for the Globe’s Report on Business about making the leap from a day job to being your own boss. The money pullquote:

    “The hardest thing is the lack of human contact. As much as having to put up with the guy who’s constantly in your office talking about last night’s episode of Rock of Love is annoying, when you spend your days working alone, sometimes you wish that guy would stop by.”

    Ryan Anderson, principal, Fat Canary Communications Inc., in Ottawa

    I’m not going to lie… I do miss that guy. Read the whole article here.

    Helping others through social media

    When I talk to people outside the echo chamber about social media tools like Twitter or Friendfeed, there’s one key element of it that is very hard to get across – community.  Of course, most businesses understand the idea of community as a group of people who share the same interests and can contribute their ideas to a product or service, and that’s completely valid.  But real community – the way we think of our neighbours, our families, our church / theatre group / team, is much more meaningful than just like interests.  It’s not just a business relationship – it’s about helping each other out when it’s needed.

    A few weeks ago, I was at BlogWorld Expo with Overlay.TV.  My flight wasn’t until later the day after the conference, so I decided to spend a bit of the day walking around before I took off to the airport.  I decided that I would pick up something for my girlfriend at the Paull Frank store on the strip, and as I was about to pay, I made the horrifying realization that my wallet was no longer in my pocket.  Whether I left it on the counter at the last store I was at, or someone lifted it will remain a mystery, but it was officially gone, along with my money and all my cards.

    I cancelled my credit cards without incident, but that wasn’t the problem.  I had no cash, nor access to my cash… and I needed to get to the airport.

    I tried talking to the front desk at the hotel I stayed at, but they were no help (side note: up yours, Vegas Hilton) so I turned to Twitter.  I had met Rich Becker the night before at dinner, and, being the only person I knew who lived in Vegas, I messaged him and asked him to call me.  By the time he called, he had seen my Tweet, and generously offered to meet me after work and take me to the airport, thereby saving me a three-hour walk through the desert.

    Rich not only picked me up, but gave me money for dinner, apologized for not being able to invite me over for dinner with his family that night, and told me how embarassed he and his wife was that something like this happened in their city.

    When I got home, I naturally sent Rich the money he had leant me for dinner, and a week later, I got a message from him saying that it wasn’t necessary, and so he had donated it in my name to a cause that was near and dear to his heart.

    Given the kindness that Rich showed me – a complete stranger – in a time of need, the least I can do is to encourage all of you to help a member of the community and donate what you can to the 2008 Arthritis Walk.  It’s an important cause, and one that touches the lives of many people.

    It’s important to talk about the business and enterprise benefits of social media, but it’s a nice reminder that community still goes beyond products and services, and connects people.

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    Reputation 2.0 at the Social Media Breakfast

    Last Tuesday, I gave a presentation on Reputation 2.0 – reputation management in a social media environment.  I was asked by a few people to put my slides up online, but since they have no real context without me standing in front of them talking, I figured I would write this to accompany the disembodied Powerpoint.  So, as you read this, just imagine me standing in front of the slides saying it.  Then imagine me extremely charming and eloquent, rather than bleary and uncaffeinated from getting up at 5 to set things up.  Got it?  Perfect.

    View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: reputation media)

    It seems like every week I read more stats about the state of the blogosphere, or new data about who’s using the internet.  These numbers are great for making a point, but they don’t really matter, and they often conflict with one another.  The real information lies in between all of these omnibus studies and online surveys that we cite in our presentations, and that is the fact that most people in North America use the internet, and most of those – especially among the younger and more affluent – are in some way involved in social media.

    Reputation, and by extension, the protection of that reputation, has been around as long as self-awareness.  Likewise, as long as there have been companies and brands, there has been a need for companies to maintain their reputation.

    Reputation management as a formal business function is relatively new, only surfacing in the early 1900s, but little has changed with regard to the basic principles.  At its core, reputation is the sum of actions, and the perception of those actions.  When media was much more scarce than it is now, most of reputation management centred around perception – it was much easier to spin your way out of a bad spot when there a lack of widely distributed media made it much harder for the public to see through a public statement or key message.

    Now, however, media has advanced to the point where anyone has the ability to publish their thoughts to the world, whether they are the smaller percentage of creators – bloggers, podcasters and the like, or the much larger percentage of commenters – those who do not necessarily publish their own content, but add to public review sites like Yelp, ePinions or public forums that emerge around products and brands.

    This democratization of production and distribution of product reviews has led to a mediascape that makes it exceptionally easy for consumers to see objective and community-edited opinions on products and companies, and makes it virtually impossible for companies to bamboozle its consumers.  For this reason, reputation 2.0 must focus more on changing a company’s actions than changing the perception of those actions.

    Managing your reputation online requires three key elements: listening, analysis and influence.

    Listen

    The first element is one that every company needs to take to heart. Without actively monitoring the myriad public conversations that are happening every minute of every day in blogs, Twitter, Friendfeed, public forums and review sites, managing reputation is impossible.  You can’t change what people are saying about you if you don’t even know what that is.

    Start with a simple Google blog search, and find out what people are saying about your brand, about your products, about your company or about your employees.  Listening doesn’t have to be complicated right off the bat, and at the point where you require a more complex system, you can always switch to an enterprise solution like Radian6.

    But keep in mind that it’s not only blogs you should be listening to.  As I’ve remarked before, many conversations are moving to Twitter or Friendfeed.  People are sharing photos of your brand on Flickr, videos about it on Youtube and possibly even creating Facebook groups – either for or against – and sharing them with their entire social graph.

    Analyze

    The second step of any monitoring effort is analysis.  What are people saying about your brand or your company?  Is it overwhelmingly positive or negative?  Is there one thing that many people are harping on?  Is it one segment that is talking about it the most?

    These are the questions that should shape your analysis, and will eventually shape what you do to improve or maintain your online reputation.  Look for the good and the bad, and try to really understand what is being said, and especially how these conversations affect your business.  Are people being scared away by bad reviews?  Are they coming in droves because of positive buzz?

    Secondly, ask yourself how these comments reflect your actual business?  Take a step back, and try to understand the comments in terms of customer experience.  One comment about customer service doesn’t mean you have a customer service problem, but 100 comments certainly suggests it.  The social web provides you with a persistent focus group – don’t ignore what it has to say.

    Influence

    The final step of effective online reputation management is influence.  Once we understand what is being said, how do we change it if it is negative, or leverage it if it is positive?

    To really influence anything online, you first need to be there – the journey of 1000 miles begins with showing up.  This doesn’t mean you have to spend 30 hours a week blogging, but it does mean that you should be active on Twitter, in comments, and it wouldn’t kill you to have a blog to aggregate it all at one place.

    Influence also requires participation – which means engaging with detractors or fans, and going beyond just listening to actively soliciting feedback.  Participation means creating content that places your side of the story in public record – hopefully before you have to react to the other sides negative comments.  Admitting mistakes before anyone else jumps on it can often sway the conversation in your favour, rather than requiring your apologies.  Participation is also about creating a network of sympathetic people who will go out of their way to understand you, and who will eventually help defend you against unwarranted attacks.

    There’s a lot of talk about “joining the conversation,” and while that sentiment is 100% valid, there’s one aspect of being active in social media that is rarely talked about.  Dell is active in the blogosphere, and has many sites dedicated to listening and participating, but to suggest that they are there simply because they as an organization are passionate about social media would be silly.  By creating so much content, a search for Dell now requires an entire front page of their side of the story, which is obviously positive, rather than a page of someone else’s side of the story, which isn’t always.

    Of course, if your reputation is under fire, you likely won’t be able to SEO your way out of it.  Just like spin doesn’t work as well online, it’s very difficult to suppress the truth through search results.  Google is smarter than that, and is objective in a way that human beings can’t be.  Dell improved its reputation by listening to the commentary about its brand, and changing.  It’s a popular sentiment that we’re no longer in control of our brand – the consumer is.  Of course, that’s not true – companies ultimately control their product, and the content that they produce, but the consumer certainly has a louder voice.  But it’s not because the voice is louder that we should be listening to it – it’s because they’re our customers.  This is not a social media revalation – this is a basic principle of business that was somehow forgotten along the way.

    The bottom line to this whole presentation is that on the web, you’ll be seen for who you are and for what is said about you.  If you’re not part of that coversation, you’re not in control of your reputation, and that’s a dangerous thing.

    A stage manager I worked with once in my theatre days was asked by a director why he was always so calm, when other stage manager spent so much time dealing with crises.  He replied “being able to put out fires is important, but I prefer to keep the candles away from the drapes.”

    Take control of your online reputation, and figure out how to keep the candles away from the drapes.  It’s way easier than putting out fires.

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