All posts in “smwto”

Cutting through the noise


Brandon Oliver Smith is Research and Insights Analyst  at Social Media Group.

This past February, a meeting of digitally minded people took place in 12 cities across the globe. The goal was to discuss emerging trends in social and mobile media. The meetings, called Social Media Week, featured an event hosted by SMG at our Richmond St office in Toronto. Here I spoke about content, and cutting through the noise in the digital age. This topic was inspired by my background in independent music and arts.

While in Junior High, Grunge music was huge. At the time, it seemed like every one in my class was wearing flannel shirts, listing to Nirvana and like any 13 year old, I desperately wanted to fit in. The only thing was, I never really liked Grunge. In fact, at the time I was secretly infatuated with early electronic music emanating from inner city Chicago and Detroit, a sound considered “weird” by the majority of my classmates.

The day I decided to follow my own tastes rather than those of the crowd is still a memorable one. I was put on a path to seek out new and interesting forms of expression. To accomplish this, I had to adopt a type of pseudo investigative journalism that involved a considerable amount of “crate digging”, zine reading and word-of-mouth from other like-minded fans.

As Internet technology evolved, the challenge of finding enough new content to satisfy my thirst became much easier. Hanging out in record stores was replaced by all-you-can-eat file sharing services and online music stores with hyperlinks that begged for discovery. Zines were replaced by blogs curated by taste-makers and trendsetters and with the rise of social networks, connecting with likeminded others was faster and more scalable than ever before. Web technology made it not only easier to find new content, but advances in affordable technology created an environment where the tools required to produce content were increasingly available to everyone.

Undoubtedly, advances in technology have transformed the way we both create and consume content. I always thought of these advances to be steps in a positive direction, until I started becoming overwhelmed with the sheer volume of content available. To make matters worse, not only was there an ungodly amount of content waiting to be consumed, the signal to noise ratio of great to filler began trending in a concerning direction.

The irony here is that after all of these advances in technology, the fundamentals rules of how trends and ideas spread have not changed. We’re now in a position to create and consume a seemingly infinite amount of content, but to uncover unique gems, we still have to roll up our sleeves and dig in the (proverbial) crates.

Big Data and the Perception of Privacy

Cam Finlayson is a Director on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group.

On Feb 17, 2012, I had the pleasure of participating in SMG’s Ignite-style Social Media Week Toronto Event.  The Ignite presentation format itself was a fun challenge, although what was most memorable for me were the conversations that took place after the six presentations.

My session focused primarily on privacy concerns and the future of social data. Based on the dialog after the event, it become clear that this topic was very much top of mind for many of the attendees. Interestingly, there were related articles published in the New York Times the weekend before SMW 2012 on Big Data and a second the following weekend highlighting Target’s use of personal information . These along with the recent changes to the Google Privacy settings likely provided much fuel for discussion. What follows are three of my favourite discussion points during this post-presentation dialog.

Volunteered Data & The Value Exchange

It is my belief that the privacy debate is an extremely complex issue and it will take some time to settle. That said, public option regarding ‘volunteered data’, or willing contributed information (Twitter posts, Facebook comments, etc.), is relatively straightforward. It is generally understood that in situations where there is a clear value exchange of a service for data or personal information, this is part of the social contract of using digital tools. In other words, in exchange for the use of a free service like Facebook or Google there are terms that outline privacy and ownership considerations. It is also understood that the value of this information to companies like Facebook or Google is that it provides valuable user intelligence that can be leveraged as part of their advertising offering.

Observed Data & Consumer Profiling

In comparison, the world of ‘observed data’, or the breadcrumbs of information we leave behind as we conduct our day-to-day digital lives, is an entirely different story. In many ways, this is the new Wild West of data with very few rules and many trailblazers. For example, corporations that are developing innovative techniques in data analysis are seeing huge benefits. That said, as public awareness increases these innovative practices are put into question.

A perfect example of this is found in the recent New York Times article on Target . Many readers were alarmed by the accuracy of Target’s customer profiling via data refinement. The fact that the company could anticipate major life milestones (like upcoming pregnancy) based on changes in buying habits (increase of body lotion consumption and a switch to unscented) is too much ‘Big Brother’ for some. However, for corporations and marketers alike, the ability to predict these milestones creates an attractive opportunity to generate consumer brand loyalty by marketing to an impressionable consumer at a time when they’re experiencing major change of habits.

Data As An Owned Asset Versus The Concept of Open Data

As we look to the future, arguments regarding data ownership run the gamut. However, most agree that data has become its own asset class that will continue to increase in value in the years to come. There are some that feel all personal data is the property of the individual and, as such, in the future we will be able to decide how this information is used.  Whereas, in contrast, many feel that our ‘digital exhaust’ is simply open information that is legitimately free game for those that have the means to refine it.

Looking to the Future

We live in a day and age where sharing personal information is part and parcel with how we conduct our digital lives. This exchange is so intertwined with our digital existence that for younger generations it is becoming an afterthought.

The decisions that are made now regarding ownership and use of personal data will lay the groundwork for digital information platforms. And here’s a reality check: Gone are the days for fretting over whether or not information is collected. The focus now needs to be on how personal information can be used and ultimately who dictates the terms.

If you missed the SMG Social Media Week event you can see all of the presentations here. My presentation on Big Data and social good can be found below:





A Sneak Peek at SMG's SMWTO event this Friday!

If you didn’t catch my post yesterday, this Friday Social Media Group is holding an Ignite-inspired event, Spark for Social Media Week Toronto. At Spark, SMG presenters will share their personal and professional passions, using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds for a total of just five minutes for each presentation.

Here is another sneak peak from two more of our speakers:

Patrick will talk about the democratization of data.  The new online world and communication landscape has made consumer and market data ubiquitous. Marketers of all stripes have unprecedented access to consumer information and are looking to action that data in almost real time. The reality is that clients and agencies have always had access to data, but the real target is insights, not anecdotes.

Cam will discuss data mining & social good. Big Data has quickly becme an industry buzz term and with it promises of exciting opportunities for consumer intelligence. However, increasing privacy concerns and the logistics associated with data refinement bring their own unique set of challenges for marketers. In his session, Cam will outline some emerging solutions to address these concerns as well as innovative opportunities for social good through real-time data analysis.

Incase you missed it, in yesterday’s blog post I shared details from two of our other SMG speakers.

The event sold out in no time but we are offering live streaming during the event! Visit to read more about Friday’s event and check back on Friday morning at 9am EDT to register and watch live!

And don’t forget to Tweet using our event hashtag: #smwtoSMGspark.

SMG's Ignite-inspired SMWTO event this Friday!


Inspired by Ignite, which is a geek event in over 100 cities worldwide, Social Media Group presents Spark for Social Media Week Toronto. This Friday the 17th at 9 am EDT, members of the SMG team will talk about their passions, experience and expertise in business, innovation, collaboration, community and content. With only five minutes per session, this event is perfect for short attention spans. You’ll be inspired in no time!

Here is a little sneak peak from two of our speakers:

Michelle will address a popular, but misguided request in social media marketing: making a piece of content “go viral.” This session will cover why “viral” isn’t a useful term, what executives really mean when they ask for content to go viral, and how we can design content so that users are likely to spread it throughout their networks.

Brandon will discuss the barrier to entry for anyone to create content has dissolved in the age of affordable technology. How can your content make an impact when it’s competing with nearly  everyone on the planet? Brandon talks about Pop Culture and the importance of taking the road less traveled to make an impact in the digital age.

This event sold out almost immediately, and we know we’ve got lots of fans who don’t live in Toronto. But we want everyone to be able to participate, so we’re offering live streaming during the event! Visit to read more about Friday’s event and check back on Friday morning at 9am EDT to register and watch live!

P.S. Don’t forget to Tweet using our event hashtag: #smwtoSMGspark.

Social Media Roundup for February 5, 2010

First off, thanks to everyone who came out to our Social Media Week Toronto event last night on the Social Media RFP. I need to call our the excellent work on Social Media Week Toronto by Eli Singer and the organizing team.  If you’ve enjoyed Social Media Week events, please consider a donation to SickKids Foundation, the official charity of Social Media Week Toronto.

The Social Media Week Toronto team goal is to raise a final $10,000 to renovate the Critical Care Unit waiting room at the hospital. Donate online or through your mobile at

SMG is just warming up for the busy conference and events season. Maggie is giving the keynote at Social Fresh in Tampa on Monday morning (Feb. 8). She’s going to talk about The Art and Science of Scaling Social Media. Don’t miss it.

After Social Fresh, next up is PodCamp Toronto 2010. It is shaping up incredible event again this year. All of us at SMG are proud to be a sponsor.

A National debate on Facebook about the merits of an Onion Ring over Canada’s elected Prime Minister aside, Charlie Brooker’s (of Newswipe on BBC4) How To Report The News has our vote for viral video of the week.

In other news:

Facebook turned six this week and reached 400 million users. According to a blog post by Mark Zuckerberg:

Facebook began six years ago today as a product that my roommates and I built to help people around us connect easily, share information and understand one another better. We hoped Facebook would improve people’s lives in important ways. So it’s rewarding to see that as Facebook has grown, people around the world are using the service to share information about events big and small and to stay connected to everyone they care about.

For all you wannabe Jacques Costeau types, this week Google released new data for the ocean in Google Earth. Called Google Ocean Showcase it lets you: “Dive into the ocean and discover who lives there — from a deep sea octopus to humpback whales. Explore lost shipwrecks, dive and surf spots, the ocean’s deepest trench, and the latest discoveries of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).” A little closer to our day-to-day, our very own Kyle McKeown alerts us that Google rolled an update to Google News this week which provides more options for users following stories in using the Custom Sections Directory feature.

That’s about all I’ve got here at the end of an incredible week. What rocked your socks in social media this week?