COM0014 – Blog #2: Storytelling in a Digital Age

What was most interesting to me in Lesson 2, Becoming a Digital Storyteller was the discussion on the various types of readers – identified as Elementary, Inspectional, Analytical and Synotopical – and the encouragement offered to content creators to strive for that synotopical bullseye where readers form new insights and understandings based on the design and delivery of your content. I must admit, ‘syntopical’ was a new category of reader to me and initially struck me as a bit doe-eyed: Few would dispute the power of the written word in the age of the Internet, but is that state of enlightenment a realistic goal of the content creator, and consistent with how the majority of us use the Internet?

For me writing has always been about the audience, or more precisely, what we want of the audience. What we want them to understand, to believe, to act upon. It can change minds or break hearts, document our triumphs or the trajectory to the moon (though not usually in the same piece). But I had not until now thought of writing in a social media context much beyond informing, engaging or entertaining the audience. I suppose I thought social media too shallow a forum to enable readers to form new opinions and insight, or at least, those that would stay much beyond the next click.

I suppose social media just proved me wrong, and I have a new goal as a content creator.

COM0014 – Blog #1: Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer (Vacation)

So, how was your summer?

I don’t know about you but I can’t help but feel I am noticeably short on details when I’ve been asked that question. It’s not like we travelled to some exotic locale or went spelunking or any other suitably interesting dinner conversation-type fodder. But high humidity aside, I loved every little bit of my extended summer vacation.

Time at the cottage – simplicity rules.

So strange, really. Fall has always been my season. And this summer in particular – with its hot, humid, wildly temperamental weather – was enough to make even the season’s biggest fans a little nuts. But even though my summer wasn’t full of soda and pretzels and beer as waxed lyrically by Nat King Cole, his song is nonetheless my choice for this summer’s anthem, simply because, this year, “[I] wish that summer could always be here”.

I suppose a newborn – my son Shawn was born in March – helps to focus attention on the here and now. Feeling like time with the first child went WAY too fast, I made an effort to linger longer on the smiles and snuggles while I could. My husband was able to take off a little time and we kept our seven year old daughter’s summer only loosely programmed. It all combined in an easy, take it day by day kind of existence filled with day trips to the beach, the skate parks, and with visits with family and friends in just the right amounts.

Fearless child, nervous mom!

There were some highlights. Watching my little girl find her courage to take her place at the skate park and scramble atop a ramp among the mostly teenage boys was AWESOME. Taking the kids to the cottage to see their great grandma, and watching her become 20 years younger as she plays with them. And Granby Zoo! A favourite destination now in regular rotation.

So, what’s your summer’s anthem? Did you have a great summer, or at least, a summer with some great parts to it? Share your stories! Meantime, as fall draws near (yay!), I pay homage to summer 2016. Thank you, this time was a real gift.

Christmas in a Click

Free-Christmas-Social-Media-Icons-set-red-color

It’s the most wonderful time of year, and I speak not only of Christmahanakwanzika or other holidays observed this time of year but more specifically of the feelings and sentiments that are evoked. I love this time of year because of the buzz in the air, the palpable excitement that’s everywhere as people celebrate and take in the pleasures of the season.

But with all the fun and flair come certain orders of business, like the holiday greeting card. Challenged as I am to find time to hunker down and pen individual notes to all those we want to share our best wishes and hopes for the future? Well take heart social media minders, in addition to Tweeting, Facebooking or emailing your greetings there are apps for that. But I wonder, do people hold messages sent in bulk in the same regard as personalized messages, whether it was received electronically or not? Some people clearly prefer sending and receiving cards but isn’t a physical, tangible card with pad message and a simple signature not a lot like a generalized, electronic mass mail?

To me it comes down to the tastes and preferences of the recipient. I know, for example, that certain among the older generation in my family have very little experience with computers and are infrequent users of social media. For them, a card decorated by my daughter (and a promise to call more often) is the best route. For those I’m connected to on networks that include a wide cross section of people from close friends to former clients, I think a greeting that brings warmth and a smile has achieved its purpose. Personally, I love receiving cards that include photos of the sender and their family; hokey and fun or sweet and sentimental, all are stuck on my fridge until they’re updated the following year.

Whatever you celebrate and however you choose to reach out, here’s to having fun with it. Happy holidays everyone!

Big (Data) Brother

big-data-word-cloud

If you engage at all with the online world, nearly every click you make is registered, tracked, packaged into data bytes and bought and sold by any number of interests. Collecting and trading in personal information is big business. But how much is done with our knowledge or consent? And does it really matter to those among us with boring browsing histories? Should it?

It starts innocently enough, with companies expanding their research net into the online world in an effort to learn more about their target audience or market. So what, you may say, everyone needs to make a living. And does it not make all of our lives easier if the hotel website we visited yesterday posts ads offering special deals on another site we visit more regularly?

Nearly all websites you visit place text files known as cookies on your computer to track activity. But while most small websites are interested only in remembering your preferences, login or other analytics such as the amount of time you spend on each page, others by virtue of their size or frequency of use (think Twitter, Facebook or Google) get to know you quite well from your daily searches and other activities on their sites. Considered on a search-by-search basis, your engagement with such sites may seem inconsequential but in the aggregate, it may add up to divulging more than you care to. The infographic below posted by socialstrategies.net.au paints a compelling picture of the sheer magnitude of our individual key strokes. 

what-is-big-data-infographic

In the end, barring extreme or egregious violations of privacy, this may just add up to a question of tolerance. But if you’re inclined to click the No way rather than the OK button to a direct proposition like “This site wants to use cookies”, your tolerance threshold may be lower than you think. Interested in curbing some of this access to your information and activities? Lifehacker has some suggestions. Don’t really care who knows what you’re doing and where you go? Devil-may-care browsing can be a many splendored thing. Where do you fall on the spectrum?

 

 

Measuring the Fuzzy Wuzzies

change

If I had to settle on a single, preeminent problem facing those in the business of winning over people, it would be how to demonstrate value for the money spent on the outreach / engagement / awareness raising / marketing effort. Whatever your field and objectives, when it comes to efforts to move people in your direction and trying to measure your success, too often parameters fail us. The latest group of professionals to join the club – our friends, the social
media-teers.

Lesson 4 offered some substance on methods and means for measuring Return on Investment (ROI) in social media, particularly Neil Patel’s article How to Calculate the ROI of your Social Media Campaign. His process begins with setting straightforward and easy to measure conversion goals, moves to assigning a monetary value by conversion and ends with a percent return on investment. It seems to me that this model would work best when tracking the conversion of a visitor to an actual sale, something tangible. Other articles referenced in Lesson 4 offered ideas on measuring the intangible, such as the potential reach of a message. Natalie Burg in Forbes Magazine suggests multiplying the number of Likes received on Facebook by the number of friends those individuals have to create a proxy of how many people your message may have reached.

In the field of social marketing (simply, the ‘marketing’ of behaviours that benefit the individual and/or society at large), we learn the importance of tying something tangible, in the form of a call to action, to our fuzzy wuzzy messages. Apart from seeking to actually deliver something positive (eg., don’t just think donating to the Food Bank is a good idea, do donate), it also helps create meaningful parameters by which to gauge the impact of your campaign. Tying an action (that becomes a measurable parameter) that is relevant to the kind of campaign you’re creating also instills greater credibility in the minds of those you’re trying to reach (ie., this has purpose and is worth my time), and has greater potential to add more to the quality of the outcome. Consider for example, a Facebook page highlighting the plight of dull pencils and the need for more sharpeners that implores visitors to ‘Like’ their page (and say 80 do), versus a call to action to customize and click send on a letter to school trustees for more pencil sharpeners in classrooms (say, 50 do).  Which parameter means more by just about any measure to value for effort?

So, in our haste to establish methods of demonstrating value to our social media efforts, let’s try to give people an outlet for action that means something to them and to us.

Blog Post 3: Social Media in the Public Sector

Trudeau Social Media

Last week, some of the latest developments in the social media tools and practices used by the public sector were explored at the Public Sector Social Media 2015 Conference in Ottawa. As it has done elsewhere in our personal and professional lives social media’s use by Canada’s public sector stands to transform the way people share information and ideas, but I think its most exciting promise is its potential for further opening the decision-making process to Canadians. By extending the reach and frequency of engaging citizens with opportunities to access research, consultation materials and to understand and evaluate available options, social media could become one of the most critical tools of modern democracies.

As it happens social media in government was also a topic we explored in Lesson 3, and I was particularly interested to see how social media was being used internally. Knowledge retention and enhanced transparency were some of the benefits from the internal use of social media cited, and I thought the internal wiki GCPedia created by the Government of Canada was brilliant for breaking down silos and generating synergies. A 2014 working paper by the OECD titled Social Media Use by Governments: A Policy Primer to Discuss Trends, Identify Policy Opportunities and Guide Decision Makers revealed more about the motivations of OECD governments in engaging in social media.

OECD graph

But at the end of the day, social media’s benefits are only possible in the hands of willing partners. With a new government in Ottawa I remain cautiously optimistic that these avenues of communication will be enhanced, and may one day become standard mechanisms of meaningful engagement with our federal government.  To my mind, the potential for social media to bring greater innovation and collaboration to our decision-making processes is not in question, but rather, will those in the public sector be given sufficient rope and resources to effectively manage public engagement on this scale?

Blog Post #2: Would You Buy ‘Brand Me’?

Since this program offers me access to an audience interested in social media and its applications, wrestling with the same assignments and perhaps similar personal objectives, I am going to take advantage of it! Further to the personal branding content explored in Lesson 3 of our Intro to Social Media course, in this blog post #2 I will explore refined, niche-focused expressions of my areas of expertise and look to you, dear colleagues, for your input and feedback.

In his online article The 5 Keys to Building a Social Media Strategy for Your Personal Brand, Kevan Lee recommends we narrow our personal brand expertise to 1-3 areas. Trading volume for significance, he explains, will not only offer more opportunities to show our chops, it will define a more relevant pool of individuals in our audience. For someone in the broad fields of communications and government relations, this is important advice indeed.

I found the personal research questions Kevan offered helpful in getting my head around narrowing these broad fields down to potential niche areas to highlight. My strengths are in distilling the story of the organization or issue, and presenting it in a way that will resonate. I am good at “getting into the shoes of others” and creating a bridge to their intended audience such that understanding is achieved, hurdles can be overcome and at the best of times, the call to action is followed through. With respect to passions and interests, I thrive when my work involves local community groups and not for profit organizations, which, as it happens, often have trouble finding their voice and conveying their messages.

I also followed Kevan’s suggestion to see what conversations / topics were being explored in my areas of expertise, using Buzzsumo and RiteTag. With that, my proposed keyword and power headlines for “brand me” follow. Your thoughts on language, style, target audience or other point are much appreciated!

  • Keyword Headline:

Communications and government relations professional helping non-profits tell their stories, get noticed and create change.

  • Power Headline:

Helping You Make a Difference: Communications and engagement strategies for non-profits to create impact and get results.

Personal Privacy in the Online World

Friends and colleagues raised their eyebrows in something between surprise and bemusement when I told them I enrolled in a social media program. I’ve already confessed, in this very forum, to being a social media neophyte; but the reason for this is more than just being (a little) older and perhaps (a little) behind the times: I’m a fiercely private person.

Wikipedia marks 2006 as the year Facebook broke onto the Canada / US scene in a major way. But it was another two years before I had my own account on what had quickly become the most important social networking platform among my peers. And I didn’t even create it! Utterly astonished I didn’t have my own Facebook account my old university roommate created one for me and established my first few connections. My Twitter and LinkedIn accounts came many years later and were born of professional necessity than any real desire to reach out and communicate with someone.

This isn’t about being an introvert – no one, not even the popular personality profiler Myers Briggs – would accuse me of such. I suppose it’s one part shyness about announcing things to the world with reckless abandon, and 99 parts the belief that the fabulous new crème brulée recipe I found are best shared directly with the two or three people who may really be interested in it. Social media was for attention seekers, I concluded, and I blush when people sing Happy Birthday to me.

If you, too are in this program to improve your social media skills and raise your professional profile but are feeling a little shy about it all, we’re in good company – the 102,000 self-help / how-to hits I got from Googling “overcoming shyness in social media” tells me so. But I have found an approach to it all I think I can manage: If you’re uncomfortable with the spotlight, shine the light on others. In “Shy of the Social Media Spotlight? Get Over It” (Harvard Business Review, 2012), Dorie Clark points out that more than an online soapbox, social media can be “… an opportunity to raise the discourse, focus on meaningful ideas, and draw attention to worthy people and causes…”.

So… other people’s birthdays? I think I can live with that.