It’s About the Story: Personal Reflections

Great digital content tells stories that people engage with.  Stories are part of all cultures, they are a universal means of communication that have survived through the ages.  Digital channels offer new ways to write, produce, and tell stories; but whatever your message is,  if the telling is rooted in story it’s much more likely to off opportunities to engage, captivate, entertain, or inspire your audience.


Pixabay: Public Domain


A critical aspect of telling stories is voice.  Throughout the course we have talked about finding your voice, honing in on who you are (personal branding), and where you “fit” in the myriad of content providers on the web.   Part of telling great stories is knowing which ones you feel compelled to tell, determining who you want to tell them too (speaking to a target audience), and perhaps most importantly–  knowing how you want to tell them.  Our unique voices can modulate depending on content and audience, but ultimately they still have to remain true to our authentic selves.  When that authenticity shines through in your storytelling then you can be a great storyteller.

Understanding the differences in how you bridge your writing for different types of messaging is also important.   B2C might call for a more entertaining approach while B2B might call for a more of a though leadership approach.  .  Although the “human” touch that social media brings to the table permeates all communications and has changed businesses and branding forever.   In the B2C world there has never been a more exciting time (and perhaps scary) time to be telling stories.  The reality is if you are not trying to reach your customers with added value and great content that speaks to them on all levels, you’re probably not using social media properly.

I have been a creative content storyteller all my life.  This course affirms me.    The craft of social media storytelling involves a few new rules, but great stories don’t change that much.   What is exciting to me is the new tools that exist and the new ways I can tell them.

I think what’ s interesting is how, once you get the “tools” down,  you just carry on being curious about the world, being fascinated by human endeavors, and being driven to find and tell great stories in a myriad of subjects—often in places where other’s wouldn’t even look!

Outside the Box…but maybe not?

Throughout this course we have looked at how social media can support marketing goals.   So what stands out as an unexpected use or application of social media to do that?  I think that the answer lies in the customer engagement end of the spectrum, and less in the conventional marketing end.

When you look to engage customers you are really working hard to communicate either by delighting, entertaining, or informing them on things that matter to them, AND you want them to react—you want to hear from them.

So while you may want to spend time on the attributes of your product and why it’s a great benefit that’s not where social media works best.

The surprising applications in campaigns that stuck with me were examples like the KLM campaign which grew out of the Icelandic volcano eruption that stranded passengers all over the world in 2010.

The KLM team got everyone involved from managers to flight attendants, set up a war room, and built a Facebook, Twitter, social media response campaign that helped their stranded customers and bypassed the phone log jams.  It was an application born out of a crisis that eventually became a brand marketing strategy.    See more here.

Another winner for me was the Old Spice Response Campaign where Old Spice followed up the hugely successful Smell Like A Man, Man campaign with a real time response campaign across a variety of social media platforms.   The elements of using social media like a live sports broadcast, then personalizing responses to individuals and allowing customers to get in on the fun, drove brand engagement and ROI through the roof.

The commonality of elements here are that these were quick turn-around responsive uses of social media that capitalized on engagement.

With the upcoming possibilities in the “internet of everything” I think the real winners will be those who take some of these lessons in responsiveness and apply them to the world where everything engages and talks to us.

Why success and failure matters


My greatest achievements in my work have been accomplished when I am an impresario for creative projects, where others are inspired to produce excellence.  I love the challenge of pulling together all the parts of a story line, a creative team, and a production team to make something happen that moves people either with compelling facts or emotion—or in the best of all worlds both.  My strength in this exercise is not so much doing creation from ground zero, although I have been doing more of that lately, but rather knowing who and what elements are necessary to ensure that stories are well told.

When I was young I loved the arts and due to a father who also loved the arts I grew up being in awe of great performance.   In our house on a Saturday morning as a child you could hear African music streaming into the air and we were packed up to go to the opera or theatre in Montreal.  His influences are clear in all my work.

I have run a production company and now I am working to launch a new on-line content service I look forward to bringing the skills I have to bear on these new enterprises.

smiley-798856_1280Disappointments for me need to be framed as learning experiences.  Disappointments are where you get the chance to live with your humanity and grow.  They are part of trying new things.    When you try new things sometimes they don’t work out the way you hoped.

I do believe that if we are willing to go through the open door created by a loss, it can make us smarter and wiser with a clearer view of the road ahead. (Source)

 I have had many disappointments in my career,  I’m not sure I can name one gigantic disappointment.   I have had a series of events where disappointments happen.  Lost opportunities in business due to misreading a situation, or where the “fit” just wasn’t there.     Usually disappointments are because of hopes or expectations that don’t quite happen the way I’ve envisioned them.    Disappointment is the discomfort of a misfit, and those happen all the time.   So I say sit with disappointments for a while and don’t just move on.  You will be wiser in career and life if you do this.



Professional Networking


Image Pixabay (Public Domain)

I have a long history of ensuring that I am developing my professional networks.  Before taking my MJ in digital journalism (2011-13) I spent most of my time developing contacts offline and very little time online.  That has almost completely reversed in the last 5 years as I moved out of the business I knew, producing for television,  and into the new world of digital communications storytelling and strategizing.

Before starting my new job six weeks ago as a Business Lead in a media buying and strategy agency I was focused on the creative side of branded content on social media.  Now I am starting to build a new presence and spending a lot of time listening in the world of digital media strategy and buying.

As I settle in I am finding that I am really missing the part of the business I love to do, the creative job of helping shape and create content for social media, as well as strategizing on how to get it out there.

This business is primarily about helping clients find the right channels to get their messages out on, but it’s not so much about shaping the message by creating content.   Although the customer intelligence and profiling part certainly informs what messages resonate for consumers.  Whatever happens down the road I have no doubt this is an incredible opportunity to learn and grow my toolbox in digital.

So the strategy for now is twofold.  I am maintaining developed presence on LinkedIn and Twitter on the areas of great story telling for social media content, and I’m having to develop a newer presence in media channel strategy.

I already participate in groups and I do comment and engage, BUT I ONLY do it when I really have something to say.  I find that there is a cacophony of voices that aren’t that interesting, but speak up I think mainly to push their services and businesses.  Honestly, I find that unless they have real added value which means insights and analysis then I actually turn off and sometimes unfollow.

My takeaway from the courses I have taken in this certificate is that it would be absolutely foolish to jump into the conversation in the areas that I am now moving channel buying and consumer strategy too quickly.  What I am doing is cultivating and learning both at work and through my social feeds in the new area.

Because this is a related field I am able to slowly add in the content I find most intriguing from this side of the business into tweets and LinkedIn posts.

Meanwhile I will maintain my ongoing presence in the world of creative branded content.  As mentioned the primary ways I do this in LinkedIn communities and on Twitter primarily.

Over the next six to 12 months what I have yet to do is actually go into the offline world in these new areas.  Surprisingly I haven’t felt the need to do that yet.  The realities are that as a freelancer with a tight budget going to conferences (my mainstay in the television business) feels like an indulgence right now, although I know from my old business that some of my biggest opportunities were afforded me by that one on one interchange either usually in an informal gathering at a conference where I would meet peers that I hit it off with.

I think what I would like to do is to take a few on-line workshops and eventually perhaps locate local initiatives where I can meet people.  Halifax, however, is not a big community, so I suspect that reaching out will still largely be on-line.  I already have been accepted into a few digital marketing communities and I will continue to grow these networks.

Also at work I am beginning to be introduced to suppliers and I will try to go and have some lunches and create working contacts that are reaching out to help me get my feet under me.

Getting it Right in Social Media

As more and more companies are moving marketing dollars to social media the quest for impact grows.  So who is doing it right, who is struggling, and why?

P&G: Hitting it Out of the Park

Very early on in 2010 P&G took a holistic approach to integrating digital into their overall marketing strategies ensuring that they maximized all parts of the plan with social tools bolstering results.

In 2010 they were experimenting with social media campaigns and hitting early wins like the Old Spice Guy Campaign.

Mark Pritchard, marketing chief, was quoted in an Associated Press story as saying “Digital Media has become very integrated with how we operate, it’s become part of the way we do marketing.” …”It’s kind of the oldest form of marketing –word of mouth—with the newest form of technology.” (Source)

Not only did they get the importance of social being baked into their marketing culture;  they recognized early that their target market,  women, were heading on a digital path, and they experimented early with social media campaigns to learn what would appeal to them.

The concept of content as king is not lost on P&G nor is the understanding that social media tools are tools of engagement, and this understanding is paramount to success in their campaigns.  The quote above about “word of mouth” plus “newest technology” continues to inform their winning strategies.

In 2015 when other brands were stumbling P&G was leveraging social mobile for brand building

In the mobile campaign for Tide run in real-time during the Super Bowl for instance they leveraged the Vine mobile app to send out bits of video in real time featuring other products TV spots and it worked!   Cheerios ran an ad about welcoming a new baby and a new puppy and Tide creating a tag with Cheerios twitter handle that warning the cereal brand about stains from new puppies. (Source)

They also ran one of my favourite campaigns the #LikeAGirl campaign for Always.  It was a campaign aimed at helping Always regain ground from competitors who were appealing to millennial women.    The campaign focused on turning the term “like a girl” into an empowering message for young girls. See full case study here.


In these campaigns P&G did what social does best, it delivered  appealing emotional messages that were funny, authentic, and altruistic.  Those elements are a recipe for engagement and sharing, and ultimately success.

Law Firms:  Barely a blip

Cassels Brock is a large corporate law firm of more than 200 lawyers based in Toronto and Vancouver focused on serving the transaction, advocacy and advisory needs of the country’s most dynamic business sectors”.  It has a particular strength in mining and natural resources, but provides a gambit of traditional law services including the areas of mergers and acquisitions, securities, finance, corporate and commercial law, litigation, taxation, intellectual property and information technology, international business and government relations.

The chances of convincing Cassels Brock they should have a larger outward social media presence is probably slim to none, but I thought I would tackle a player in the legal industry to see what in fact they could be doing to bolster their business and their reputation on-line.

While law firms are notoriously conservative, and Cassels Brock with a strong presence in areas that are PR minefields—natural resources and mining , may shy away from social media that looks to generate general brand awareness—there could be benefit in a strategy that adds this to their arsenal.    While law firms consider it unseemly to openly compete for business, and consider advertising unseemly, the reality is that they are all in a competitive  battle to be known and acquire clients.

If I were to recommend a new way in for Cassels Brock to expand their outward facing social media strategy, I would look to the corporate reputation piece of their business.  As one of their primary functions they list:

Serving leadership roles in business, political, civic, charitable and cultural organizations in community, national and international organizations

I would suggest they think about setting up a Facebook page and creating text and video content that tells stories about their activities in the communities where they live.    They could amplify the content on their Twitter feed (which they do have) and link back to their website.  The Twitter feed is a mouthpiece for “announcements” and “articles” that exist in the blog pages that are nested on their web pages.  It appears right now to speak to existing clients and possible future clients.

They could also eventually build campaigns around community issues that they are aligned with.

They could then amplify their community content stories and align them with the groups they support.  So, for instance, if they are regular contributors to United Way they might create special content during the United Way campaign that tells success stories that can be either sponsored by them and live on the United Way site and and or they could tell stories on their website; either way links driving traffic to their homepage and to the United Way pages would increase brand efficacy.

Obviously providing insights and thinking on legal issues of the day also offer opportunities and it appears that Cassels Brock does make use of this to a degree.

Hello Millennials!

Hi, this is a 1960 Baby Boomer reaching out.

I know we’re different, really different, in a lot of ways.  Age is definitely part of it, after all I am 56, and at the young spectrum of my cohort known as the Baby Boomers–people who are between 52 t0 70 years old.

You, on the other hand, have a cohort of 19 to 35 year olds, and are referred to often as Generation Y or  Millennials.

One thing we both share is that we are large populations, and therefore we influence a lot of key societal values from politics, to consumerism, to religious beliefs.  This year, however, your numbers overtook ours—meaning your influence in society is beginning to ascend and ours is beginning to wane.

So how will that change things? If I want to communicate with you and understand you what do I need to know?

It’s a question that isn’t just one I’m asking a lot of people are asking it.  In particular advertisers and institutions want answers.

After all, you are heading into the years where what you buy, how you vote, and how you behave generally will have a lot of impact on all of us.

Our differences some say may lead to age warfare, but I don’t believe that.   Although commercials like this Toyota one do seek to emphasize our differences.

I don’t believe that our differences are going to separate us, instead all the research I’m finding on you says we may be the first inter-generational group that can really talk to one another, and that is because of who you are and what you value.

Who You Are:

  • The most educated of any generation that’s gone before.
  •  The most culturally diverse.of any generation that’s gone before.
  • If a woman,  considerably more educated than your male counterparts, and more likely to be a professional.
  • A digital first native. A plugged in and cross platform generation that seeks out and embraces on-line communities and all the latest trends in technology. laptop-958239_1280
  • All that digital means your brain is rewired to multi-task and to expect quick results, making you a little bit impatient when things don’t happen fast or provide the intrinsic rewards you want.
  • You equate self-fulfillment with self-acceptance, creativity, and self-expression
  • You are happiest when you’re being positive and having fun.
  • You aren’t necessarily getting the same fast ride to wealth and prosperity your parents had. You live at home longer, marry later, and worry more about your financial future.
  • That said, Canadian millennials actually are economically better off than their American counterparts due to our public university education system, our maternity and paternity leave, and the fact that your parents did not go through the housing market meltdown which triggered the financial crises of 2008 in the USA.

What You Value

people-23733_1280   gay-couple-1192249_1280

  • You are liberal and Inclusive. You’re supportive of diversity and equality in race, gender, and sexual
  • You don’t put much store in traditional hierarchies, and see other age groups as more your equals then your betters. That results in you viewing your parents often as friends and support.
  • You think family is important.
  • You don’t put much store in religion.
  • You value authenticity, transparency, and sincerity in institutions and individuals.
  • You also value information which you consume more of than any generation before.
  • You value work and want status and good jobs, but you don’t want to sacrifice your personal life to get those things, which actually leads to quite a bit of stress. Once working, you are busier than your baby boomer parents were!
  • You lean toward supporting local initiatives in community and consider communities important whether on-line or off.


What’s interesting is that age isn’t likely to divide us in terms of your willingness to engage with me.   So what do I have to do to catch your attention?

How to Communicate With You

First I need to find you on-line where you do the majority of your interacting. That doesn’t just mean finding you on Facebook or YouTube, although your still there, despite the gurus who claimed that you would abandon these channels to your parents.  What I need to understand though, is that you are going to be on-line on cross platform channels.  Mobile is really big so any message I want to reach you better be mobile responsive.    I need to keep trolling for the latest apps and trends on-line because you are doing that and are constantly updating to thinks like Kik or Snapchat.

When I do find you on-line most likely I’ll find you gathered around a like-minded communities.  I can talk to you as long as I get that whatever content I deliver has to:

  • Be authentic not deceptive
  • Be entertaining and emotionally rewarding
  • Be funny when appropriate
  • Be relevant and evolving
  • Be inclusive of others and open minded—no judgement
  • Be Local as in leverage all the tools (video, giffs, text) to reach you
  • Help you discover new things
  • Inform you
  • Inspire you and help you be creative

Did I miss anything?  Let me know.

The 4 Top Beginner Blogging Mistakes



So you’ve decided to start a blog.  After all, those insightful scribbles on Evernote are burning a proverbial hole in your back pocket.   Before you sit at the computer and fire up WordPress however, you might want to take stock of common errors newbies can make in the rush to publish.

1. Not having a clear end goal


Why are your writing?  What’s the purpose of your blog or post?  Are you trying to establish yourself as an influencer in a niche market?  Are you trying to persuade customers to buy a product you make?  Are you building readership to attract advertisers or launching a YouTube Channel and looking for subscribers?  The more specific you are in answering these questions the more aligned and purposeful your writing will

2. Not truly understanding your audience, or what their problems are

problem-1020300_1280You might think if you know what your purpose is in writing you’ll also know who you’re writing for, but chances are you’ll need to dig deeper.    Blogs are a dime a dozen, but you’ll be ahead of your competition if you do the research needed to identify your target market .

Once you understand who your audience is, and what their needs are, you can be far more relevant to them.   You’ll be able to tailor your writing or video blogging style to them, and you’ll be able to deliver content they actually want.

3. Not Writing Well


If your writing is disorganized, unclear, and grammatically incorrect then you aren’t credible to your audience.

Sloppy, disorganized writing is a result of not knowing your story focus well enough to structure a beginning, middle, and end.  If you’re struggling with structure go back to Mistake No. 1 and answer the questions to correct the problem so you can move

Once you know your focus you can use the inverted pyramid method to prioritize you’re story content.  The inverted pyramid method prevents you from burying your lead and your readers’ interest with it.

Use headers and sub-headers to grab readers’ attention, and to allow them to skim your post to decide if they want to read it more carefully.

Finally, when you start to write remember to use clear sentences, in an active voice, with proper spelling and grammar.

I spent 20 years writing for television, and that led to some bad habits.  For that reason I check and double check my spelling and grammar.   English Grammar for Dummies has a place of honor on my desk, there’s also great on-line resources to double check your work.  So do it!

Here’s a great article from Poynter’s University (a university for working journalists) with more tips about writing on-line.

4. Not making a meaningful contribution


A cow chews its food, and then regurgitates it, and then chews it again to digest it properly.   When you regurgitate information that you culled from other sources, but offer nothing new, you’re about as compelling as that cow chewing its cud.     So be sure that you have gone the extra mile to provide meaningful analysis to interesting questions that enriches the on-line community you belong to.  (Sourced from @Brian Clark, How to Read)cc-zero


My Tools for Social Media Monitoring


Sourced on Pixabay 





The social media trend monitoring tools that I use are Google Alerts, my Twitter feed, LinkedIn, Vimeo, and Youtube.

I do advanced searches on Keyword Planner on Google Adwords with an eye to keywords on topics I want to follow.   From there I create Google alerts (although some are saying Mention is better, and Alerts might disappear), and content feeds in my TweetDeck.  I spend time on LinkedIn and use Groups and Interests to monitor influencers and join groups that can provide me with interesting information on trends.  It’s a bit of a feedback loop as I find that they all feed into, and amplify one another—subject matter can influence who I follow and who I follow can lead to a deeper dive into subject matter.   I also use keywords, and other search methods, to subscribe to relevant channels that interest me on YouTube and Vimeo.

I am a freelance digital content provider specializing in video production, and I am usually working to monitor trends in two main streams.  I follow subject matter and influencers relevant to my clients, and I follow specific marketing content niches, like branded content and video marketing in branded content.

In terms of news sources and updates, I don’t know if I can isolate that from the trend monitoring tools.  I do use Flipboard and follow topics and people there.  Why Flipboard?  I like it is ease of layout and user interface.  I would say it’s a bit of a proverbial feedback loop between listening tools and news and updates.   Am I missing something?  Does anybody else have some ideas on that one?  I haven’t really made a lot of use of RSS streams and I think I might be missing out there.

Why these tools and not others?   Well I think part of it is that over time I have found there’s a simplicity to my method that works well for me.   I need to be a generalist and a niche specialist when it comes to information so the broad search and then the drill down is effective.

I haven’t found much use for Facebook, but I am not sure that is because it isn’t useful, or I just haven’t put energy into figuring out how it might be.  I use Facebook on a personal level, but not so much on a professional level.  Again I welcome thoughts.

I also have found that to date I can make my world overly complex with monitoring, and when I have it hasn’t served me well.  I prefer to niche, niche, and niche some more.   The other way leads to information overload and diffuses the desired results.

There are some monitoring tools that I tend to use more as delivery tools like and I want to get going with Buffer to program my Twitter activity.

I think there is probably a lot more strategy and intelligence I could do with paid tools.  I would be keen to mine more insights with options available from companies like Radian6, but I would perhaps be more likely to run into it through a client using it.


Understanding the Added Value of Social Media



Social media campaigns need to have clear goals and purposes.   One of the things I’ve come to be more curious about as I dig deeper into social media marketing, is how video, and other tools, should be aligned with value.

There is no doubt that there are some kick ass on-line ads that viewers watch, love, and go on to share or comment on.  Great!  But I think real success in campaigns is based on making sure that the tools and the platforms you are using work to bring exceptional value to consumers.  When there’s seamless integration of media, with a clear understanding of what you have to offer, then magic starts to happen.

Clever campaigns that haven’t figured out how social media allows a company to provide real value to consumers run the risk of falling flat.

For KLM, an international airline, it took an Icelandic volcano eruption to figure out how social media was going to up their value to consumer quotient.

It was the 14th of April when the ash from Eyjafjallajökull caused the largest closure of airports around the world since WWII.  10M passengers were stranded, some for up to 6 days. KLM passengers were desperately trying to get information from their airline, but couldn’t.  There were too many people calling in.

In response KLM set up their social media room figuring that they’d reach out to their customers on Facebook and Twitter.   Everyone got in the act from middle managers to agents and they worked around the clock to answer people’s questions.  The response from their customers was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.

KLM would go on to build a comprehensive social media strategy without ever losing sight of the fact that their secret sauce or value for their customers in social media was first and foremost great customer service.     (Sourced from “A Socially Devoted Case Study”,

While it wouldn’t have been possible to get video into the act in 2009 (today, might be a different story) future campaigns would feature video integrated with Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook–all with a message about customer service.

A 2011 campaign Live Reply had 500 KLM employee volunteers respond to social media queries with 1 minute personalized video replies that had employees hold letters up to respond.  See it here.

Another campaign had KLM social media managers researching their customers on-line and showing up in the airport to bring them personalized “gifts” that they could use on their trip.  See it here.

Understanding the unique added value social media brings to your marketing may take time, but it’s worth the effort.


Branded Content and Why it Matters

Branded content is marketing content which takes on the characteristics of the home environment it lives in.   It can appear as a great investigative journalism story, a funny video series on YouTube, or an informative podcast.

While it most likely will include the goals of informing or entertaining, the content also has another agenda which is to meet the marketing objectives of the companies that pay to produce it.

Most controversy around branded content centers on the authenticity of the content and how it is presented to viewers.   In some cases, particularly in news organizations, there’s a lot of concern about maintaining the integrity of news content and ensuring that branded content is clearly marked so viewers aren’t “fooled” by it.

With video being the fastest growing, and most viewed content on-line, news sites are setting internal branded content production divisions.

Organizations like Buzz Feed consider branded content as part of their lifeblood and don’t even take banner ads.  Hailed as the go forward on-line business model for journalism it focuses relentlessly on providing shareable content like listicles, celebrity gossip, pictures and breaking news.

It launched its commercial video studio in California in the summer of 2014 and has scaled rapidly trying to capture as much of the 1B dollar branded content pies as possible.  (See full article by Jennifer Fall at the Drum).

Other legacy news organizations like the New York Times are also coming to the party, as the pressure of banner and pop up ad blockers makes diversifying their ad revenues essential.  According to Business Insider It has launched its T Brand Studio to produce what it calls native advertising (branded content by another name).

So what does any of this have to do with you or your organization?

If you are thinking about producing video, looking at the branded content that these news organizations produce on-line can be helpful in thinking about your own strategies for video, and how suitable your content/channel “fit” is.

It also highlights that when you produce your video you want to  try to pick producers who have the right expertise for the content.

Here are two branded content examples which reinforce the points above.

When Netflix wanted to produce branded content to support their widely successful series Orange is the New Black they chose to work with the NYT.   The result was an in depth interactive piece of journalism that took a hard look at how the penal system designed on male models was failing women inmates.   You can see the piece here.  While it is branded content the form of that content brings the journalistic strengths and integrity of the NYT brand to the endeavor.

When Purina wanted an on-line video campaign for their new wet cat food they went to Buzz Feed.  Along with its other attributes, Buzz Feed is well noted for its adorably shareable pet pictures.   Purina’s Dear Kitten campaign was a viral hit.  You can see the first video in the series here.