Gather Around the Social Media Campfire


The other day I read an interesting article about the World Championship of Public Speaking. The winner, a young man named Darren Tay competed against 98 regional winners from around the world. This event has always been sponsored by Toastmasters and it seems that in spite of our electronic age, public speaking is having a major resurgence. Toastmasters now has roughly double the chapters they had 20 years ago. The popularity of TED talks and other public speaking forums have also blossomed.

From the beginning of mankind, humans have huddled around the campfires listening to elders provide wisdom or to share stories. Oral histories of cultures were passed down and the young learned lessons needed for survival. As we became civilized we gathered together to plan and to seek entertainment but it was always that all important human voice or voices that pulled us in. There is something primal about sitting attentively and listening to a good story or an important lesson. That is part of the allure of TED. Spoken stories stay with us far longer than a series of spoken facts. Unfortunately, public speaking doesn’t come easily, especially these days. Rhetoric used to be taught in schools but that is no more. Toastmasters help people overcome their fear of public speaking and help them polish their skills so that they can make corporate presentations, teach or just entertain.

The twentieth century brought us mass communications but the microphone has always been closely guarded. That has all changed with the internet and social media. Today, the right message delivered well can fly around the world in literally seconds. That speaker might be anywhere in the world with internet access and using WebEx or another service and with an upload to YouTube the message is available to all. The speaker can go from obscurity to celebrity in minutes. YouTube is a tremendous resource for education and entertainment but there is much wisdom to be gained, as well. A few hundred years ago one person’s message never got past those gathered at the campfire. In more recent times there have been larger venues but you either attended in person or  read about it. Today, the internet can take you there, “in person”, sometimes to witness history.

Chris Anderson, in his book TED Talks, says “the campfires of old have spawned a new kind of fire. A fire that spreads from mind to mind, screen to screen: the ignition of ideas whose time has come”. Social Media can be used for entertain and for business but we must not forget that there is much wisdom and experience out there. All we have to do is seek it out and gather around the social media campfire.

The Party Line is Back!

imagesax29dkpxThere is probably no faster way to prove that I am one of the older people on this course then to announce that when I was growing up we had a party line. A what? Rural telephone services did not have private lines in the 1960’s. While everyone had their own telephone number that actual line was shared by an average of 6-8 families. If you wanted to call out you had to make sure that no one else was on the line. If someone was using it you were expected to hang up immediately so as to give your neighbour privacy and they, in turn, should have felt obligated to wind up their call as soon as possible. In truth, people ease dropped and some people refused to be short winded on the phone. Sharing a telephone line with neighbours was a difficult process and there was no such thing as a private conversation.

Technology Finally Brought Private Service


The introduction of private service took a few years and initially it was offered as a premium service for those that were willing to pay more. However, before long the party line was dead and people could talk in privacy. I can remember that it took years for people to say anything remotely personal on a telephone line because they were still convinced that people listened in. It really took years for people to relax and feel confident that they were holding a private conversation, but once they did it was a whole new world. Privacy was king. People were happy that they could call the doctor’s office for an appointment and actually tell the receptionist what was wrong with them! People talked about personal issues and discussed intimate details with abandon. They were really happy that the idea of sharing personal information with others was gone forever. Or so they thought.

It wasn’t just telephone conversations that were private. Mail was considered sacred and some people protected their correspondence very carefully. There were many subjects that a person could not bring up in civil conversation and personal matters were just that, personal. I even remember receiving my school report cards in sealed manila envelopes so that others couldn’t see the details. The problem was that I couldn’t either, which was a bit nerve wracking. It was a very closed, private and really happy world. It remains in evidence today. Some of our older seniors still protect their privacy as best they can but even they seem to know that it is a losing battle. Even people my age, in their 50’s, are far more reluctant to let go of what little privacy remains.

The Return of the Party Line

Social media is the new party line, except that openness and sharing is celebrated. For the most part people really don’t have the privacy issues of my generation, provided they are the ones that do the sharing. People post photos, make videos and sometimes say some pretty gnarly things on the net. What may even seem extreme by today’s standards will be routine in 10 years. I can’t image where things will be in 20 years and I really don’t want to know. That would take the fun out of it!


Why Social Media Context Matters

Social media is a net positive for almost any entity with the possible exception of governments. There is nothing wrong with social media per se, however, governments at all levels have certain disadvantages not faced by most corporate interests or individuals such as:

  • Government resources are usually high profile such as marked vehicles and uniformed personnel
  • Their structure usually doesn’t allow for a quick response to negative publicity
  • Governments get targeted more because of partisan politics
  • Everyone has a vested interest due to their paying taxes, citizenship or residency, etc.

Governments Can be Highly Visible

Social media itself can be very good for government in that it allows for immediate feedback, a two- way discussion and an opportunity for citizens to have their say. But there can be a clear downside as well. Sometimes people will post a photo or report on a situation without putting it into context or they may not understand what they are seeing. A friend of mine was a Canada Border Services Agency employee and had stopped in at a grocery store to pick up diapers after completing a 12-hour shift. Two days later a Letter to the Editor appeared in the local newspaper criticizing a uniformed CBSA officer for shopping on taxpayer time. It was assumed that since it was mid-day that he should have been on the job.

Most of my career within government has been spent in search and rescue (SAR). One of the very first things that SAR teams are often taught to do when arriving at a crisis scene is to stop and evaluate the situation. This is done to prioritize actions and to assess potential safety hazards. However, one quick photograph of a rescue team not moving with a caption such as “they arrived and just stood there” can be very harmful to the actual team as well as the government in general.  When the Royal Canadian Air Force flys over a sinking boat they will make several passes so that they understand the wind and sea conditions before dropping a liferaft or other rescue equipment. A short video of this could look really bad on the national news but these aircrews have to understand exactly when and where to kick out the liferaft in order for it to land within reach of people in distress.

A minor oil spill can look catastrophic if the photo is taken from a particular angle and those opposed to fossil fuels may find it in their best interests to send out the most harmful looking photo. Paramedics could be shown standing around when injured people are nearby but there could be very valid reasons for it. Perhaps there are live downed power lines or they are awaiting police as there is an armed suspect inside. A picture may be worth a thousand words but just a few words to put things in context would be really helpful.

Why Big Government Needs a Media “War Room”

If you follow federal elections, you will note that the major political parties have communications staff standing by around the clock to respond to negative publicity. While municipal and many provincial governments may not be able to afford to do this but the larger provinces and the federal government could have a small team of communications professionals and social media experts on duty at all times to combat bad PR. They would be able to call the government personnel involved or other subject matter experts to get the information they need and get it out there quickly. Currently, most employees are not authorized to take unilateral action and getting permission to do anything media related can take hours or even days. This can have a heavy impact on the public trust in government, the moral of the employees involved and could even lead to unnecessary and expensive lawsuits. Governments at all levels need to embrace social media as it can bring a lot of good and can make it easier, better and less expensive to provide certain services to the public. But it has a downside as well. Most major corporations have a strategy to quickly respond to negative publicity. It is high time that governments did the same.

Do you have any examples of harmful social media posts due to a lack of context? If so, please share them with us.



Five Great Ways to Celebrate Fall

October is finally here and it seems that the heat wave that has enveloped us for some many months is finally abating. The crisp coolness of early morning is a sign that that colder weather will follow but it also reminds us that this is the season where we reap the rewards of our labours, usually with a bountiful harvest, feasts and celebration. Those brilliant fall colours on our trees, the crops ready for harvest and the spooky traditions of Halloween all await us. There are literally hundreds of things to do in the fall but i thought that I would share mine in hopes that you will be encouraged to set your own and to enjoy the best that fall has to offer. So here goes:

Fall Colours



For me, nothing epitomizes fall more than the spectacular colours of autumn. You can walk, hike, bike, drive or kayak to see them but they should never be missed. I would encourage you to bring a camera as every year I swear I find the perfect autumn tree!


Baking & Cooking

You bet, it is pumpkin season again. The autumn seems to be the season for all things pumpkin, although apple seems to be a suitable substitute. The cooler weather makes for great baking conditions and just when you think that you have run out of ideas just sit back and have a pumpkin infused beer or a glass of apple cider. don’t forget that getting there is half the fun which means that if you can start with a trip to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard then so much the better. Which leads us to….


Even if you live in downtown Toronto or Vancouver you can still enjoy a harvesting experience within a reasonable drive. What a great experience for your children to learn where their meals come from, This is the time of year where you can often get a hayride thrown in on the deal and if that doesn’t get the little ones on board then consider a haunted maze as well. If you can arrange for a harvest from an organic farm then there is a great lesson to be learned for your family. There are few lessons more important for families than understanding the food chain and the importance of food security.


I know that it is October but this one is a personal favorite. The cool night and morning air will help you sleep better and you can get much better camping sites this time of year, with better prices to go along. For me, it is a great way to end the camping season and has become a great tradition for me. Algonquin Park anyone?



We all get two shots at decorating this season. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to be particularly artistic and with Halloween it is just plain fun. But don’t forget that the scarecrow can do double duty! Personally, I find that less is more when it comes to Thanksgiving but my style is the exact opposite for Spooky Night. For years my family had a very large front yard that we divided into three zones. The first was bright and harmless for the littlest ones. The middle zone accommodated the majority of trick or treaters and then we had the Dead Zone for the more adventurous. I usually hung out there in costume in the earliest years until my teenage son and friends took over. In the end even I was scared to wander in!


Okay, so those are my top five but I am sure that you have your own. Please share them with the class. What are your preferences? Tell us about your best Halloween display. Happy October everyone!


It Can Pay to Be Picky

After reviewing all of the various medium listed in Lesson Two it is easy to see how a person can be quickly overcome and filled with anxiety. How can someone possibly apply all of these tools to their business? The short answer is that they can’t, or more aptly, they shouldn’t. While one major advantage that social media has over mass marketing is that the new kid on the block can help you to target your specific market and potential clients, but not all forms of social media will work for everyone or every situation. That is why I am suggesting that it can pay to be picky.

Before you can even begin to determine what social media strategy may be best suited to your circumstances you must get to know your business and your potential client base well. If you are attempting to service a particular niche, as I am, then you need to know where to find those people online. In my case, I am seeking out an older group that is either very close to retirement or recently got there. This may not be the LinkedIn crowd. Don’t get me wrong. I intend to be on LinkedIn but I don’t expect to focus on it. While I am still doing research I think my demographic is more likely to be found on Facebook. I think that when the time is right I am going to have to develop a focused social media strategy that will employ some of the tools that are out there but certainly not all of them. Will I get it right the first time? Probably not but that is okay, I need to get out there and try and it will take some tweaking to get it right. Even then, my strategy is going to have to be evergreen because it will evolve along with my customers and while I don’t ever envision the majority of them to be at the cutting edge of the next big thing I should be able to watch them progress at a safe speed behind younger people.

Actually, I am thinking of using a hybrid marketing solution that could be unique, or nearly so, to my situation. I am hoping to provide retirement planning products (non-financial) to those that are near retirement or have recently arrived there. This would be the tail end of the baby boomer generation and while we (yes I am one of them) struggle to adapt to the new technologies and social media we still cling tightly and proudly onto the old ways. Yes, it is true. I subscribe to cable television, I still watch the National News and I get the newspaper delivered to my door and I realize that these quaint antiquated ways will soon be but a memory. But I am becoming convinced that there is an opportunity for me to cross over from mass marketing to social media on a minor but important scale. I am actually thinking about using classified ads. Stop laughing, I mean it! :). For those of you that don’t know what classified ads are I should point out that it they have nothing to do with Julian Assange or Eric Snowden. Think of it as Craigslist on paper.

I spent a good part of my day today asking friends if they read the paper thoroughly and if they hit the classified ads. I was surprised by the number that do. I usually just check the obituaries to ensure my picture isn’t there but the classified ads are more active then I could have ever imaged. I expect that those that still place classified ads are not familiar with Kijiji or just feel more comfortable in print. I am trying to decided if I should try a classified ad that reads “If this problem concerns you (insert retirement issue here) then the answer can be found at www….. It might be a fun experiment to see what kind of result I get.

Yes, my demographic is on Facebook but we are the last of the mass media generation as well. We will never adapt to snapchat because the snap will be gone before we can find our eyeglasses!

Question: Will mass marketing still have a place in society in twenty years?



Preaching to My Own Choir

My passion is for writing about retirement lifestyle issues as opposed to the more traditional financial planning aspect. I am developing some planning products to help people ease into retirement. I have to remain mindful that my demographic is people in the 50 to 65 age and  while there are many mature adults that engage in social media it is not as ingrained in them as it is for younger people. I know this because my wife still considers the telephone book to be a major information resource.

I was interested to learn that most people that make purchases these days seek advice from friends, relatives and other community members before deciding on a product or service but that is less likely for my demographic. Social media certainly has a role to play but my peers are likely the last generation to be heavily influenced by mass media such as television, radio and newspaper advertisements. I strongly suspect that we are about the only ones reading the flyers that show up on my doorstep with regularity.

There can be no doubt that social media will deliver my message and marketing but I have to remember that while younger people are quick to jump to the next new medium it is far more likely that my potential clientele are still centred around Facebook and continue to adapt to Twitter and other groups. To help solve that issue I have identified two couples that I know well and would perfectly represent the average customer that I want to attract. I don’t intend to market to them or even tell them what I am doing for now but I will casually bring up social media when appropriate to see where they are at and how they engage. As they progress to new forms of media I will try to follow along with my own marketing strategy. It may not be a perfect plan but it is a start because I can’t preach to my own choir if I don’t even know where they are!