Archive for “April, 2009”

Case Study: Yamaha's Conversation with their Customers

Yesterday Chris Reid and I co-presented a case study at the Canadian Marketing Association’s 2009 National Conference on Sled Talk, Yamaha Motors‘ corporate blog, which was launched in March 2007. Here’s the blurb:

It’s been two years since Yamaha Motor launched one of the first corporate blogs in Canada. Sled Talk debuted in March 2007, but what has happened since? In this engaging case study, Chris Reid, National Manager, Product Planning and Research, Yamaha Motor Canada and Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media Group, one of the world’s largest independent social media agencies, will walk you through the process of doing it right: getting executive buy in, proper planning and pitfalls to avoid. They’ll also share some of the many benefits Yamaha has realized across their organization as a result of their brave decision to be one of the first companies in Canada to open the doors to conversation with their consumers.

You can watch the slideshow on Slideshare below (without notes – we like to call this slideshow karaoke) or download a version for yourself with notes when you click through. Please feel free to use the data in blog posts or presentations. It’s licensed under Creative Commons non-commercial attribution, so a link back would be appreciated.

Please let me know what you think!

Identity and the domain name

Doug’s post last week got me thinking about how personal brand and reputation map to identity. By way of disclosure, I’ll preface this post by saying that before SMG, I worked for a company whose primary business is domain names and related services.

Those of us immersed in social networking and related web services, are often so focused on the next big thing we forget about domain names which remain the primary building blocks for establishing an online identity. Savvy marketers and communicators think about domain names first when coming up with campaign ideas, naming a new business venture or even deciding on a baby name.  At $10 per year it is a small investment to make, even if you aren’t ready to develop a site. At the very least, it is a shrewd defensive move to purchase hold your name so someone else can’t purchase it and use it.

I’ve heard the arguments against domain names – that they’re irrelevant because of the power of search and that web services with hostnames (e.g. are the future. These hostnames, or so-called “vanity URLs” are the names you choose across social networking sites and web services. While important that your username be consistent and that you take steps to register your name on multiple social networking sites, I don’t believe these replace domain names. Just for kicks, you can use namechk to check out your own user name availability at multiple social networking sites.

And, of course, I won’t discount the power of search. In fact, a well-chosen and optimized domain name can boost your search engine results significantly. Given our personal brands are spread across scores of sites, surely bringing together all those disparate services and organizing them under a single domain (which you control) makes sense. And it is a heck of a lot easier (and more professional) to tell someone to go to to read your blog instead of or worse.

One of the latest developments in domain names is .tel.  It is a global directory service that brings your contact information together in a single place. You don’t need to build or host a website to use .tel, it is easy to update and manage and a fast way to connect with people using the web or mobile devices. You can take a closer look at mine here. You can read more about .tel’s plans to become the world’s largest phone book, here.

If I’ve piqued your interest in domain names, here are some other sites to check out. My favourite “inside baseball” domain name commentary and news site is CircleID. Check out Hover to create your own personal URL shortener as well as simply buy and use your domain names. Finally, I like Domainr for name searches beyond the standard .com and .net.

So, what do you think? What is the role of domain names in social media?

Writing for Social Media vs. Writing for Government

I’m approaching my one-month anniversary at SMG and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. My name is Janine and I am the newest addition to this fabulous team. Prior to joining SMG, I spent three years in school studying journalism and public relations and another three years working at the City of Burlington as a communications advisor.

I think one of the hardest obstacles I’ve had to deal with while going through this transition from government to agency (other than the hours, LOL) is changing my writing style from formal and comprehensive to friendly and interesting. In government, I often used words like application, initiative, fiscal responsibility and, my personal favorite, critical. So instead of writing, “Here is the document you asked for.” I wrote, “As requested, attached is Word document you required.” Both say the same thing, but are written differently.

Another area of writing that I’ve found difficult to adapt to is letting go of my grammar impulses. You see, I am what Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, calls a “grammar stickler”. But over the past couple weeks, I’ve had to get over my comma-happy phobias and express myself through extreme punctuation, short-forms and emoticons.

Now, I’m not saying that the Internet is full of sentence fragments and split infinitives because it’s not. What I am saying is it’s more important in the social media world to get the right message out than it is to properly punctuate it. And since it is often difficult to interpret written tones like sarcasm and humor, sacrifices must be made.

I’ve explained how writing for social media and writing for government are different; now let me tell you how they are the same. The bottom line is that both are written for mass audiences. Whether it’s a blogger writing his daily post or civil servant developing her council report, their ultimate goal is to get their message across in the clearest way possible and to keep their audience moving from one paragraph to the next. It seems simple, right? Well, it’s not and any writer can tell you that.

Did you know that the average person only reads the first three paragraphs of every news article? And that that same person only scans a headline, looks at the photo and maybe reads a lead paragraph while surfing the Net? So if you are reading this right now that means I’ve successfully captured your attention for the entire post. Go me! But let’s test that theory. Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite punctuation mark is and why. Mine is the question mark because I love to ask questions. What’s yours?

Thoughts on my first Mesh conference

Last week I went to Mesh, a web conference in Toronto. This year was it’s fourth year, but my first.  While I have a few posts in mind about specific speakers and workshops, I thought I’d first do a bit of an overview/review type-post.

The conference spanned 3 days and consisted of two separate events. Monday was MeshU.  MeshU was geared towards developers, designers and management. Each stream was covered by a number of speakers/discussions/sessions throughout the day. Personally I stuck to the design and developer streams, but I heard some great things about all three.

Tuesday and Wednesday were the main event. The theme of Mesh is Connect, Share and Inspire. That’s essentially what happened for two straight days.  From hour one of the first day until the very last reception on Wednesday (Tuesday night party included) people were connecting, sharing and inspiring all over the place. The speakers and workshop hosts were from all aspects and levels of the Social Media world. It was a very busy few days.

Mesh vs. MeshU

The two events differed for me in one key way — everyone who spoke at Mesh discussed big ideas and things that have been done (the past), whereas MeshU presenters shared more tangible/hands-on tools and techniques that could be used to create a better online space (the future).   Though there were a lot of great ideas and informative best practice discussions at both, I didn’t really witness too many large discussions that delved much beyond the big idea on Tuesday or Wednesday… But it’s also possible I wasn’t invited to those discussions.  Some people I talked to had similar thoughts — not a lot of new ideas, but lots of great ones.

I think the limited sharing/revealing of ideas stemmed largely from everyone at the conference being either a) directly competitive with each other, b) a potential client hoping for pitches or c) generally just completely overstimulated — I fell pretty cleanly into the overstimulated category.

Mesh Favourites

Of the keynotes there were two I enjoyed the most. Those by David Miller (Mayor of Toronto) and Jessica Jackley (co-founder of Both of them discussed what they were doing in the space, what was and wasn’t working and how they are doing it. For me, the thing that made these keynotes so interesting was because neither of them are all that tech saavy. They didn’t start from the social media sphere. They started from their own goals and aspirations and discovered the potential of social media from outside the bubble. They each spoke purely from their experiences and how the Internet and it’s tools helped/is helping them meet their goals. They both also won over the entire audience.

Both of these keynotes as well as many of the other sessions and keynotes have been edited down into a podcast by Roz Allen and the awesome team at MaRS. They are all available here on iTunes for free. The entire event was also well documented in the photography of Rannie Turingan and everyone on Flickr.

MeshU Favourites

Personally, I found MeshU to be a little more helpful. Everyone who spoke discussed and shared techniques and ideas and also shared tools to to help us improve a users web experience. I came away from some of these workshops with a pile of tools and ideas that will keep me busy for months.  There were three workshops from MeshU that stuck in my mind the most.

Ryan Singer from 37 Signals, the team behind Basecamp, etc., discussed the development process and how design and development can coexist to create a more coherent project from the development side of things. He also touched on why design should take the lead on certain projects.

Leigh Honeywell from discussed Internet security in her session titled Break it while you make it.  This is something I’ve been meaning to look into for a while now and she provided a bunch of tools and services that will help a lot. Like all presentations about internet security, she covered how scary the web can be, but she also provided loads of tips and tools to help deal with the monster that is the internet.

I also really enjoyed Luke Andrews‘ (from DabbleDB) session on Responsiveness: The Perception of Speed in Web Apps.  He ran through three main points that articulated perfectly what I’ve always kind of known in my gut for a while. The perception of speed can be created through good design.

Thanks to everyone who made this event happen and I’m looking forward to next year.

Photo of me at mesh09 by CNW photographer Kaz Ehara: more

Originally posted:

Who owns your personal brand?

I love Maine (ME) shirt from Laughing Squid

I have never been a fan of the notion of “personal brands”. I get the meaning of how one can build a brand-like presence based on your interactions with social networks, what pops up when you Google your name and the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter (aside: services like Twitter GraderTwitalyzer and Twitterrank can give you some indication). To me everything about personal branding can be summed up in one word that avoids the messy translation of the metaphor; reputation.

But what about the reputation/personal brands of high-profile community managers, brand stewards and social media customer service reps? These roles have been popping up all over the place lately. In many cases these people have spent company time and resources building up their personal brand as a corporate asset. In other cases someone may have previously established a reputation and then lent some of their influence to the company they represent.

From a corporate perspective, borrowed or built reputation has value, influence and most important the authenticity of a real personality.  Yet there is also tremendous risk.

  • What if the “personal brand” quits, or is fired, and worse yet goes to a competitor?
  • Can the employee take their influence with them (i.e. Twitter followers, Facebook group admin privileges, forum identities and most ethereal of all, the Google juice linking the person with the brand)?
  • What is or is not permissible once the reputation is no longer employed by that brand?
  • Who owns the intellectual property associated with the reputation (blog posts, tweets, etc.)?
  • What if an employee with influence does something that negatively impacts the company or discloses material information?

The answer in almost all cases is “it depends”, which is not sufficient in my mind. In fact, we may not be far off from the first law suit when a company tries to fight for control of the trappings of a high-profile personality after they have left the company.

This is tricky stuff and I am no IP lawyer, but here are a couple of thoughts that may help social media mavens and the companies they work for to keep their branding separate.

  • Treat it like personal vs. private email – Conduct your corporate communication on one account and your personal communication on another. It is messy, yes, but not as messy as a lawsuit. Most IT people understand that even though you might access your personal email from a work machine, it doesn’t mean that your plans for Saturday night are a corporate asset.
  • Segment your existing accounts – If you have already set up profiles for social media tools, classify each as primarily Personal or Corporate and draw a line. If it is both, then register a new one and conduct personal communication on that one. The @richardatdell format for Twitter is a good model to follow.
  • Treat your communication as a company asset – If you are doing it on company time and you are gaining most of your influence because of your association with the brand, then chances are it should stay with the company when you leave.
  • Review your contract – If you have a well-established online reputation and you are lending your influence to a company, spend some time negotiating or re-negotiating your contract for who owns what. Specify which profiles and accounts you are bringing with you (and thus will take when you go),  which accounts you are transferring to be a company asset and how you will handle new profiles.
  • Review your company policies – Many companies have restrictive intellectual property policies that if aggressively interpreted could have you handing over more user names and passwords than you bargained for.  So review the policies now and get exceptions where needed before it becomes an issue.

SMG is hiring – Project Managers!

Social Media Group is hiring! We’re looking for a kickass project manager based in our new Toronto branch office. Here are the details, and you can download the full job description here.

SMG is looking to hire the Best Intermediate Project Manager in the World. We need someone to take ownership and manage some of our many projects from start to finish, leaving out not one detail and missing not one deadline (as well as holding the project team to the same standard). You will ideally be a skilled and experienced (4 years’ plus) project manager or website producer with a marketing/communications/agency background and a passion for (and deep understanding of) the technologies and behaviours that drive the social media/online bus. This position reports to our Director of Operations.

Please send your resume to ramona[dot]gallagher[at]socialmediagroup[dot]com by Friday April 24. This position is available immediately.

Talking Whose Language?

Do you remember, way back in your salad days, hanging out with your friends and chatting away about the things that were of utmost importance? Remember the time one of your parents thought they could hang with you for a bit?

Hey kids. What are we all rapping about today? You can talk to me about it. I’m with it. I’m groovy. I’m hip to your jive.

hey kids, I'm hip to your jive

Now think. Think real hard. How likely were you to engage with that adult? Were you set to ‘rap’ with them? Were you willing to share with them your hopes and your fears and your dreams, or were you just shooting them dagger eyes and hoping desperately that they would drop dead?

Is your company trying to ‘rap’ with those facebook millennial crowd? Are you finding yourself a moment away from telling the folks on the gaming forum that if they only washed their dishes with your company’s brand of soap they would “t0tally pwn teh grease and grime…. d00ds… ftw. really.”

You can’t win acceptance with a community by trying to pose as one of them. If you are not one of them then you need to approach very clearly as being an outsider. You need to be authentic. You need to be yourself. Otherwise you will not only fail in your attempt to engage, but you push them away from the brand you represent.

Back in your teen years, not every adult was a square. There was always that one stand out who didn’t try to talk to you like a teenager, they just talked to you like a person. For that, and that alone, you would grant them a little respect and welcome them into your discussions from time to time.

As your company moves into the social media space and you attempt to connect with the communities you uncover there, it would do well to think long and hard about your approach. Are you going to approach like a parent joining their teens at the thrash metal concert, or are you going to approach like a person?

Original cartoon by Rob Clark

How do you keep track of your relationships?

When I first started in the digital influencer relations practice, here at SMG, I had no need for a contact management system outside the one I had on my mobile. We’ve done some growing since then and the need for managing those relationships has changed. It’s not only managing the growing number of contacts we’ve established but our team growing as well, so the keeping-everything-in-my-head method isn’t really going to cut it for much longer.

When we brainstormed as a team about what we wanted out of a contact management system there were some of the obvious features – the ability to customize, having numerous search functions and the basic ‘name, blog, contact’ fields – but we all agreed on the not-so-obvious fields as well. The information that changes it from a contact to a relationship; the truly rich information about each person we converse with.

We build relationships, not lists.

By cultivating information that goes beyond contact information we are able to build a comprehensive system that will enable us to be more successful with our pitches. It will take a lot of the leg work of searching every time we need to do outreach and it will significantly minimize stupid errors.

So…what kind of rich information is important to us?

Who owns the relationship? – Knowing who owns the relationship can prevent one of the worst outreach tactics – over pitching. This is especially helpful when you work with other agencies for the same client. It also helps you to be more successful. Obviously, a pitch coming from someone they are familiar with is the way to go.

Where else do they exist? – You know that very popular writer on that big important blog? She even has a personal blog. And did you know she’s also very active on Twitter on three different accounts? Oh, and she is a talented photographer; I looked at her photos on her Flickr account. My point? Yes, most bloggers have lives and day jobs outside of that one blog you are pitching. The more you know about a particular person, the more likely you are to find something that interests them.

How do they like being pitched? – This is a very simple courtesy.

Past articles – What have we pitched them on already? What were they responsive to? What did they ignore? Of the articles they wrote, what kind of feedback did it garner with their audience? This kind of information will remind us what we should avoid and what we should focus on.

Of course our system contains more rich information but I thought to highlight a few of the key areas we really focus on. What kind of information do you prefer to have on hand when doing any type of outreach? What would you add? Is there anything you would take away?

Does #AmazonFAIL actually matter?

For those of you unfamiliar with the #amazonfail phenomenon, here it is in a nutshell:

Hundreds of gay-and lesbian-themed books suddenly disappeared from’s rankings over the weekend, causing an uproar among authors and activists who alleged it was a stealthy extension of the company’s policy concerning adult content. The internet bookseller claimed it was the result of a technical “glitch.”

. This incident happened at lightspeed over the Easter weekend – 36 hours from initial post to hitting a blog on the Wall Street Journal, and then today the Technology section of the paper itself (that’s less than 60 hours from consumer complaint to mainstream media story).

There was a time when one might have the luxury of four or five days before a blogstorm hit a mainstream publication with a mainstream audience. No longer.

So, Corporate PR folks: is your organization prepared for the new speed of crisis communications?

Timelines are condensing.

The reason why is Twitter. Unlike a blog post, which realistically would take me anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half to write and research, I can tweet something (with a link to original source material) in about five seconds. To over 4,000 people. Additionally, those people are ambiently consuming the information I have posted in real time, on mobile devices via apps like Tweetie and on their desktop via clients like Tweetdeck. Both of these services are designed for maximum information intake. A very different mode of consumption from from a blog post which I would expect most people to read via a feedreader they check perhaps once a day.

It’s a viral platform.
Replies on Twitter (unless sent by private direct message) are public – they are distributed to a broader network, and the whole conversation is visible to thousands of people who may choose to engage and forward it on to their own networks. When something catches fire, it’s exponentially viral on Twitter – I’m not simply emailing it one to one to my friends, I am literally broadcasting it to hundreds or even thousands of people who have subscribed to my content. If they like the information, they may do the same, and so on, and so on…

Amazon was less than forthcoming initially, but has since released a well-worded mea culpa from Director of Corporate Communications Patty Smith that stated,

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Does it Matter?
Sure, it matters right now, no question – Amazon has suffered a blow to their corporate reputation. There have been over 300 articles about the incident in mainstream publications. Therefore the question of the moment is how well are today’s Corporate Communications departments prepared to deal with this dramatic acceleration in crisis communications timelines (I’d answer not well – someone senior enough to respond would have to be living online 24/7 to have caught this).

But here’s a question for six months from now: if dramatic incidents like this become commonplace because of things like Twitter, will it still matter from a corporate reputation perspective? In other words, if the media doesn’t report on it, making it visible to an audience broader than the estimated six to nine million Twitter users (not all of whom are active or even paying attention), is a Twitterstorm big enough to actually matter?

Applied Social Media – A case for more case studies

When you’re immersed in social media 24/7 it’s easy to lose sight of what the rest of the world thinks of what we do. That’s why it was so refreshing to attend two great conferences this past month, Mesh’09 and SXSW’09. Being able to connect with like minded people, all struggling to wrap their arms around this thing we call social media, gave me a well needed shot in the arm. Yet, though some of the brightest minds in social media were in attendance at these conferences, there were no real standout moments for me at either one.

The lack of meaningful case studies and customer success stories doesn’t really surprise me though because I think everyone is still a lot more interested in discovering the next Twitter or listening to the vision of the thought leaders in the space. As a result, we end up with a lot of Social Media 101 presentations and workshops where some very smart people talk about what they are planning to do, not what they’ve done. Unfortunately, the real success stories are not glamorous and don’t make for good conference presentations. They are usually the result of hard work, commitment and a determination to fundamentally change the way an organization communicates. It means constantly working to get invited to meetings and included on distribution lists. It means always having to justify your presence at the table with marketing, communications, legal and, often, other traditional agencies. It means managing the pressure of providing the next big viral campaign while delivering lots of small incremental wins. It means having patience, confidence in your beliefs and a very thick skin. It does not mean the creation of a social media department but rather the integration of social media into the very fabric of the company’s DNA. I call it Applied Social Media and ,when allowed to work, it has the ability to change the very core of a company’s culture.

Personally, I would love to hear more presentations from customers who have ventured into the world of social media either because they were caught in a digital firestorm or through the courageous vision of their executives. Like Scott Monty at Web2.0 or Bonin Bough at Mesh’09, I know there are a lot of companies who have successfully or, perhaps even more importantly, unsuccessfully embraced social media and it’s their stories that I really want to hear at these conferences, because these are the stories that will ultimately shape the success of social media in business.