Archive for “August, 2012”

Take an Unplugged Vacation

Jordan Benedet is a Manager on the Client Strategy and Innovation team at Social Media Group. Follow @jbenedet.

As a lot of my previous posts have illustrated, I really like technology and gadgets. I’ve had some kind of Smartphone since I graduated school and began my career many years ago, giving me the ability to stay in touch, and up to date on both personal and professional issues. I liked how it made my life easier in so many ways. Fast forward a few years, and Smartphone adoption has happened faster than any other major technology shift in history!

These days almost everyone has a smart device and thus the ability to leave the office without the fear of missing that important email. On the other hand, always being connected means that your work can follow you even after you leave the office. Always being connected means that information overload can occur, causing a person simply burn out.

This is where unplugging comes in. Over the last five years, I have not really taken a formal vacation where I completely unplugged from work. I recently got married, and thanks to Social Media Groups’ unlimited vacation policy I was able to disconnect for over two weeks and have a fantastic honeymoon in Europe. This hiatus meant I didn’t touch any email, and rarely ever logged into any social media site – I was as far off the grid as I have ever been, and it felt surprisingly great (I still did reach for my phantom Smartphone for the first few days though).

Disconnecting is becoming common among all level of workers, even Executives! Many employers are starting to recognize the benefits of allowing employees to unwind without having to feel like they are still tethered to the office.

The Huffington Post reported last month that FullContact, is now offering to pay employees $7,500 per year to go on a vacation, that’s on top of their normal salary. There are only three rules for this offer; you have to go on vacation, you must disconnect, and you can’t work in anyway while on vacation. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal!

Overall, I think some of the most important reasons to unplug on vacation are:

1. Gives a person the chance to spend more quality time with the people they are with
2. Provides a much more relaxed experience and improves mental health
3. Allows a person to avoid burning out, and a chance to recharge the batteries

As the line between work and personal time becomes increasingly blurred, I think it is very important for everyone to achieve a proper and sustainable work balance.


Social Media and the Small Business: Heaven or Hell? (…and 5 tips to make it easier to cope!)

Ruth Bastedo is Director, Business Development at Social Media Group. Follow @rutbas

Last week, I was up in the Muskoka region, which around these parts is affectionately known as “cottage country”, talking to a sold out group of women business owners in the region. The event was organized by the Mukoka YWCA’s Women in Business program, and the topic was “Strategies for Success”- based on an article I did last March for the Globe and Mail on women entrepreneurs, “Ten Strategies for Achieving Success as an Entrepreneur“.

It was a fabulous evening, and it was great to get to know the group of 60+ women business owners, all of whom were keenly looking for ways to build and market their businesses in a smaller community.

The talk was not on social media. It wasn’t really about marketing. It was about how business owners set goals for success and put together the support structure required to reach them- but “dealing with social media” turned out to be a hot topic. I am always struck in these types of situations by the love/hate relationship that small business owners have with digital marketing in general, and social media as a sub-section of that.

Digital marketing is a necessity for all small businesses. Period. You ignore it at your peril. But many, many business owners (and I would put myself in that bucket, in my time as a business owner) have a huge challenge finding the time, resources, workflow and strategy to make it truly effective. Let’s face it, it can be a grind. That’s the hell part. And then all you feel is guilt for ignoring what you know can be an incredibly powerful, game changing exercise.

BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Really. It can be heavenly.

It took me a long time to find my groove in the social media space, and I’ve been in digital communications for 15 years. This is hard stuff to get your head around, but if you tweak your approach, and find that magic combination of channels, content, tools and workflow. It can be very easy to execute, and incorporate into a daily routine. Once I hit that right combination, I started seeing results immediately. My social media world is aligned, and for now, does what I need it to do.

Looking at this task from an non-marketer’s perspective, here are 5 tips that I think would be of huge benefit to any small business owner, looking to get a handle on “this social media thing”, with a minimum amount of pain.

1. Access “Social Media 101” content. There’s a ton of it around. One recent post that I thought was a good solid, up to date overview of the major channels is “Social Media 101: Getting Started on the Top Social Networks”. Pick one or two as a starting point for your company. It’s likely going to be Twitter and Faceboook, for consumer oriented companies, and Twitter and LinkedIn for business oriented companies.

2. Determine your marketing objectives. Do you want sales leads? Brand awareness? Do you want to reach out to your customers, and get them to refer other customers to you? Is your marketing effort local, regional or national? It could even be international. Be clear on what you’d like to get out of this time you invest in social media. How can social media integrate or support what you are already doing on the marketing front. Look at models out there that reflect your objectives.

3. Be clear about your target audience. Who are these people? What information is going to be most relevant to them? How are they going to use and engage in social media? In order to engage with your audience in a meaningful way, try making a list of all the ways your content can add value to their lives. This list should guide you in developing value add content.

4. Develop what we call a “content strategy”. This is developing a mechanism to create, curate, source or simply pass on content that is going to be relevant to your clients and customers. People are more likely to “follow” you if you are providing thoughtful content that is going to add value to them. You have to figure out where to find this content, and how often you are going to “share” it with them. Quite often, we develop “editorial” or “conversation” calendars ahead of time, so you know what themes you are going to focus on every week. Download the Social Media Group White Paper on Content Marketing for a good introduction.

5. Find a tool that works for you. There are lots out there, but a good tool makes all the difference in the world. A couple of months ago, I started using a tool from a local company called Get Elevate, which makes it easy to find content, curate it, and send it out via Twitter. There are some good lists out there- here’s the type of thing you should be looking for: 50 Mostly Free Social Media Tools You Can’t Live Without in 2012. Find something that you find intuitive, and easy for you and your staff to use, and that lines up to your marketing objectives.

As a small business, keep your scope small and focused, and before diving in, be clear on what you want to achieve with your social media investment. Test as you go… at least for the first little while. Get help if you have to, professional or otherwise- but social media can be a very valuable part of any marketing plan, but you have to at some point, just start somewhere.

Group Buying …..Still a Good Idea for Businesses?

Wangari Kamande is a Research Analyst at Social Media Group.

If you’re an avid group buyer, you are all too familiar with the lure of buying trips to those random vacation spots in the middle of winter as the deals role in on an early, gloomy Monday morning, or buying that dinner deal at 4pm in the afternoon when you could eat a sack of potatoes or better yet, that massage deal on Friday after a long work week and you just want to get pampered because you DESERVE IT!  These are the moments where I stare at my credit card as if it were a person and say to it, “Are you going to hurt me for buying this?” the answer is usually “most likely”…so I take a deep breath and let it slide…

So how is group buying working out lately?

State of the Industry in Canada

There are a number of group buying sites. I personally subscribe to Groupon and TeamBuy; other popular sites are: Dealfind, WagJag and LivingSocial. Here are some interesting facts from GroupBuying Canada:

  • Canadians spent approximately $400 million through daily deals sites in 2011
  • Group buying in Canada has a current market size of $415 million
  • There are about 140 daily deal / group buying sites in Canada and over 40 aggregators (more than the US on per capita basis)
  • In any given city or province, there are different leading sites e.g ,Tuango completely dominates in Montreal and the province of Quebec
  • Over 50% of all group buying sites have been launched from Toronto
  • The majority of deals and sales are also from Toronto
  • Niche sites are not as popular in Canada in comparison to the US where niche sites for golf, pets, kids, food are popular

Source: Canadian Coupon Saver

Given that the industry is ripe with opportunity, is it all fair game for small businesses?


  • The model appears to work best for attracting new customers as many discount seekers purchase what they would normally not try because they are getting a good deal.
  • Creates an awareness and provides exposure for businesses, especially small and medium sized ones.
  • While customer loyalty is not promised, if customers get a good experience they are likely to provide repeat business and thanks to the Internet and social media, word of mouth recommendation is limitless.


  • Customers are spoiled for choice, there is a new deal every day and customers are likely to go with the best deal of the day, so customer retention might be somewhat of a pipe dream.
  • Some small businesses are not always prepared to deal with the influx of customers as a result of the deal; this could harm your brand’s image in the eyes of customers and negate any positive results you hoped to gain.

According to, the list of questions below are useful for businesses who are considering using group buying sites as a marketing or selling strategy:

  1. What are your goals and objectives that make group buying sites a good strategy for your company?
  2. Can your business afford it?
  3. Can your company meet the expense of offering products or services at a discounted rate?
  4. Do  you have a high profit margin?
  5. Can you up-sell or cross-sell other products and services for potential profit?

Outside of Canada, the industry in general appears to be facing some challenges. Recently there have been articles surrounding consumer fatigue on daily deals, according to a New York Times article, when Groupon reported its second-quarter results this week, it said that active customers grew just 3 percent, a significant slowdown from previous quarter-to-quarter customer growth rates. While traffic to Groupon was higher at the beginning of 2012 than last year, it was down almost 10 percent in May and June from the same months in 2011, according to comScore.

Further, groupbuyingcanada, has been reporting a number of acquisitions in this space with Teambuy purchasing Fabfind and Wagjag and Tuango just announced the acquisition of the assets of DealoftheDay from the Yellow Pages. While other Daily Deal providers seem to be shrinking or selling and investment firms and groups want nothing to do with the Daily Deal business, it seems that for Tuango and Wagjag that is all great news. They, unlike others, are growing and on a buying spree.

What do you think about the future of group buying sites?

Save Money on Dinner by Turning Off Your Phone

Karly Gaffney is a Manager on the Content and Community team at Social Media Group.

Would you power down your phone during a meal if it resulted in a discount on your bill? Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles is hoping a 5% discount will keep patrons off their phones while they eat. In an interview with KPCC, owner/chef Mark Gold explained:

“For us, it’s really not about people disrupting other guests. Eva is home, and we want to create that environment of home, and we want people to connect again,” he said. “It’s about two people sitting together and just connecting, without the distraction of a phone, and we’re trying to create an ambiance where you come in and really enjoy the experience and the food and the company.”

I am guilty of checking my phone (multiple times) when in restaurants or even at dinner parties. We once attempted to instate the phone stack over dinner (everyone stacks their phones in the middle of the table and leaves them there for the duration of the meal.), which lasted an entire ten minutes before someone had to send a text.

Source: Mashable

Kudos to Eva Restaurant’s attempt to restore dinner conversation. This is likely more directed at patrons who are talking on their phones as opposed to texting or Facebooking, but I think I would give it my best shot if a local Toronto restaurant offered a similar promotion. No more #foodporn Instagram shots, no more lunch emails, no more hilarious OH tweets – just enjoying the company and the break in the day.

Would you be able to last an entire meal without using your phone? Even when your dining partner steps away from the table to use the washroom? Would this type of incentivized dining work for you?

Yammer Gets an Update

Michelle McCudden is a Client Engagement Director on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group. Follow @mmccudden1

First, Yammer was bought by Microsoft for $1.2 billion.Just yesterday, it was announced that Yammer will integrate with HootSuite and other third-party apps, as well as roll out a new instant messaging feature similar to Google Talk. I’m interested in these stories, as Yammer is SMG’s inter-office network of choice, but I find myself most intrigued by its move into employee emotion analysis.

Yammer has partnered with Kanjoya to develop a product called Crane which analyzes Yammer messages for sentiment and reports “trending emotions” back to managers. I’ve long been skeptical of automated tools that claim to measure sentiment, as my research experience has shown time and again how challenging it can be for humans to consistently and accurately evaluate language, much less an automated program, which tends to struggle with concepts like irony and sarcasm. Crane bills itself as “different,” analyzing “with emotion first as opposed to simple positive, negative and neutral classification.”

Do you think Crane will actually be an asset to managers or just another dashboard to check? Will employees really post negative comments on Yammer or is that a career-limiting move?



Marketing Isn't Dead – It's Everywhere

Last week Bill Lee wrote a controversial article in which he claimed that “marketing was dead” (yet another clever use of a traffic-grabbing title.). It was later (correctly, IMHO) pointed out that what Lee probably should have said was that “advertising was dead”. Regardless of where you come down on this debate, it’s nice to see a lively discussion around the disruption that social channels have wrought; despite the hyperbole, it’s still a significant pain point for organizations everywhere, and few have it figured out.

However, at the moment, the conversation seems to be largely unsophisticated – more of a contradiction than a true debate of ideas (I’m reminded of the Monty Python “Argument” skit – where the argument becomes about what, exactly, constitutes an argument). So I’d like to throw another perspective into the mix. Marketing isn’t dead – the big disruption is simply that it’s now everywhere, and everything, that a company does.

From user manuals to the now largely undisputed notion that customer care (or, for that matter, any customer interaction) is an important part of the brand experience, everything you do is marketing. Even if you’re not a marketer. Social and digital channels have accentuated this shift, in no small part because of the firehose of content that they demand from brands and enable users to create; figuratively spraying brand experiences (good and bad) all over the web. To put an even finer point on it, the metadata around your content is now also part of the marketing experience, and something that is not often considered. I’ll provide you with a few examples:

From HBR: “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poo…”

The author of this excellent post on why words matter (I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar) probably didn’t consider how their headline would translate into an URL, which would explain why, from a metadata perspective (ie: if all you ever saw was the link, shared, unshortened, via email or elsewhere) you’d think the article was on a different topic altogether, a topic not likely to be covered by the Harvard Business Review.

You need to consider everything that's findable on the web, even your comment signature.

This is a personal example. It occurred to me several years ago that every time I (hopefully) leave a reasonably intelligent comment on a blog post, it would be a pretty good idea to help establish my credibility to make that comment based on where I work and what I do for a living. So I started including a little more metadata, and in the process ended up providing some incremental exposure and marketing for my company.

Missed opportunity: this image out of context is meaningless

Of course, these days it’s a foolish writer that doesn’t mention Pinterest at least once in every post! All jokes aside, Pinterest is a great way to check your metadata, and, let’s face it – as the fastest growing website ever, it’s also something you need to consider. In this example, MOMA misses an amazing opportunity to promote their upcoming Ellesworth Kelly exhibit. By failing to provide the “what, when and where” in their image metadata, they’ve lost the chance to ensure that no matter where this file is shared (by someone interested in Ellesworth Kelly!), important details will provide context and a marketing opportunity for the upcoming show.

Bulgari has it right - give me the details!

Bulgari gets it – their product images will travel across the web with full details, though they have neglected to include their brand name (viewing the image as a discrete file, out of context and as an independent object, should inform how you think about its ability to act as a marketing vehicle. It could end up anywhere).

Flash websites, ugh.

And finally – the dreaded Flash website, which doesn’t let me share much of anything, on Pinterest or elsewhere (never mind mobile).

In researching this post, I also found something a little surprising: when we think about marketing in this context, that it’s essentially everywhere, and every image, file, graphic, video, whatever your organization produces, needs to be looked at through that lens, guess where best practices in metadata popped up? On sites that are fully accessible to the visually and hearing impaired. The descriptive text, while generally missing brand names and a marketing perspective, was far superior to the limited data surrounding websites that did not comply with accessibility standards. Interesting convergence.

So – is the fact that marketing is everywhere a good thing, or a bad thing? Are you thinking about it this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Air Hashtag: Sign It, Gesture It or Forget It? [POLL]

James Cooper is a strategist on the Content and Community team at Social Media Group (SMG). Follow @jamescooper

You’re probably familiar with and may, at some point, have used air quotes. But have you heard of an air hashtag?

Stowe Boyd showing the air hashtag
at Defrag 2009. Image: Maggie Fox.

A few weeks ago, I thought I was quite clever and original when I crossed the index and middle fingers of my left hand over the index and middle fingers of my right hand to form what I called the “air hashtag” for my colleague, Karly Gaffney. Karly seemed to like the idea.

However, I soon suspected that something so simple must already exist in the vast web of ideas. Sure enough, after asking around the office here at Social Media Group, my suspicions were confirmed. Maggie Fox, SMG’s CEO, shared a picture she snapped of Stowe Boyd doing the four-fingered air hashtag at the Defrag Conference in November 2009.

June Thomas, culture critic at Slate, also Tweeted a photo of the four-fingered air hashtag sign more than a year ago.

(Needless to say, it seems I’m a “bit” late to the air hashtag party.)

Through a more thorough investigation, I found that, in addition to the four-fingered sign, there is a hand gesture version of the air hashtag, which Neil Patrick Harris’s character, Barney Stinson, so dramatically demonstrates in the CBS series How I Met Your Mother.

Earlier this month, The Guardian Short Cuts Blog made a post about finger hashtags and, in June, A Librarian’s Guide To Etiquette also posted on the topic. Both blogs call out the need for an air hashtag standard. I agree with them.

I’m in favor of the four-fingered sign because it lends itself to photographs, whereas Barney Stinson’s gesture clearly does not. However, Stinson’s gesture does have the advantage that it can be done with one hand.

So what do you think? Should the four-fingered sign become the standard? Or should it be Barney Stinson’s flamboyant air gesture? Or should we scrap the idea altogether?

Cast your vote.


The Psychology and Art of Unfriending

Cam Finlayson is the Director and Group Head, Client Strategy & Innovation at Social Media Group. 

I was recently asked for my thoughts on Facebook ‘unfriending’ and what effects on Facebook users – a topic that I can honestly say has never crossed my mind. After saving face with a relatively generic answer to the question, I decided to do a little online digging.

Similar to most people on Facebook, I have a core group of people who are actually friends, then family members, some coworkers and a network of acquaintances. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been unfriended. However, I’m not entirely sure I’d even notice with majority of the people in my network. Reasoning being that if I were observant enough to recognize that someone disappeared from my news feed, my initial thought would be that the person simply wasn’t using Facebook.

Anyway, the original question got me thinking: do people actually monitor their friends to a point where they could catch someone in the act of defriending them? And if so, how? What have I been missing? After a little bit of research, here’s what I uncovered:

The psychology of social ‘unfriending’

Typically there are two types of unfriending: (i.) You’re experiencing too much activity in your news feed and you decide to cut down on the noise by removing people that aren’t close to you; and (ii.) you have a real-life issue with someone and you decide to maliciously defriend them with the hope that the act will send a message. Some research actually suggests that a vast number of Facebook breakups happen as the result of a real-life issue. But does it really have a psychological impact?

Read Write Web recently published an article highlighting the factors that increase the pain of being unfriended. Their article summarized a scientific study on human behaviour and the consequences of someone terminating a social friendship. This study suggests that the more time someone spends on Facebook, the closer it is to the emotional impact of a real-life breakup. Makes sense, I guess.

Regardless of whether the act of unfriending is innocent or malicious, the question remains: how do people actually monitor all of this?

Unfriending 101: The How-to Guide

Unfriending someone on Facebook is incredibly straightforward. However, if you’re incapable of figuring out the process, Facebook has a How-to page dedicated to the act of unfriending.

Identifying when you’ve been unfriended, however, is a much more difficult thing to navigate.  Facebook does not currently offer a way to receive notifications when you’ve been unfriended. Good news though, this hasn’t stopped people from creating their own ways.

First off, there’s the tried and true manual method: you notice someone isn’t active on your news feed and you visit their page – to your surprise you see ‘ad as a friend’. Bad news, you’ve been unfriended.

For those that are tech savy, there’s a way to add a script to your Facebook account to allow for instant updates. And for those that aren’t tech savy, but really require real-time notifications, Mashable has a pretty extensive article with a step-by-step tutorial here.

And finally for those paranoid people on the go, there’s, of course, a dedicated app for the price of $1.99.

After all of this research, I can’t help but feel that I got a glimpse of the dirty underbelly of social media – a place where childish insecurities, popularity contests and stalkers hangout. That said, to each their own. At the end of the day, they’ll always have each other.


Upcoming Speaking Engagements

Here’s what we’ve got on tap for the fall – hope to see you out there!

4th Annual Employee Communications, PR and Social Media Summit
Oct 3-5, 2012, Microsoft Headquarters, Redmond, WA
Topic: “The Five-Step Social Media Plan: a practical step-by-step guide to developing a social media strategy within your organization”
Register here.

Toronto Board of Trade, SMB Exchange Conference
October 9th, 2012, Toronto, Ontario
Topic: “Business Development and Marketing ROI”

Breakthrough Strategies for Corporate Communicators Conference
Nov 28-30, 2012 at SAS World Headquarters, Cary, NC
Topic: “The Art and Science of Content Marketing”
Register here.

Disney Social Media Conference
February 6-8, Orlando, FLA
Topic: “Sleep Number and Social Media ROI: a case study by the numbers”
(Registration not yet open)

Closed for Civic Holiday

The Social Media Group Toronto office will be closed Monday August 6, 2012,  for Civic holiday, also known as Simcoe Day in Ontario.

The annual holiday is to recognize and celebrate our cultural heritage. We’ll be back in the office on Tuesday, August 7, 2012.

Have a safe and happy long weekend!