Pepsmedia News: Training Courses on "Blogs & Social Media in Business" in September & October

pepsmedia_workshop_artIn the past year, I’ve been providing in-house training for companies who are approaching blogging and social media with excitement, but need some guidance to ensure they do things right.

I’m now opening up the “Intro to Blogs & Social Media in Business” training course to the public, with a few dates in September and October:

  • Cambridge: 8th September and 20th October
  • London: 22nd September and 21st October

Some details about the training course:

This one-day introductory course will offer insight into the emerging social media channels:

  • Blogs
  • Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr
  • Microblogging: Twitter, Plurk, Tumblr
  • Podcasting, Videocasting
  • Wikis, mashups, community events and more…

We are confident that the above wonʼt sound like a foreign language any longer at the end of the day.

This course aims to explore each channel’s potential in terms of getting brand exposure, building feedback channels and integrating within traditional marketing campaigns. We will look at case studies of the best and worst uses of social media by marketers from businesses ranging from 1-man-shows to multinationals.

It will help you understand how you can join the conversation that is undoubtedly already happening about your company, your product and your brand on the web. You will discover the tools and techniques used for creatively communicating your message, building quality relationships with users & making your social media campaigns a success.

I suppose that coming from a family of teachers, I was bound to end up providing training. Seeing attendees leave the session feeling energised, with bucketloads of ideas for their own campaigns and having shed the fear of this social science is the greatest reward for me.

Interested? Download the course details here or register for the course right away to secure a space in one of the next few sessions!

Torchwood Writer Gets Online Abuse: Where social media stops being fun

A few days ago, I wrote about the Torchwood 5-day mini series which ended on Friday. During that same evening, it’s with great amusement that I also discovered that James Moran, writer for Severance, and episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval, Spooks, and Crusoe, was on Twitter.

In many ways, I enjoy seeing these backstage celebs on Twitter. By backstage celebs, I mean people who aren’t Britney, MC Hammer or Stephen Fry. Those people can be on Twitter all they like, but they’re already in the limelight. Seeing those who usually don’t get the limelight finally interact with the public through more than their scripts, stories or stage direction is more exciting, as we don’t usually get to hear them speak other than through their characters.

However, this evening, I came across a post by James which allowed me to realise just how seriously some people take television. He received many positive and praising messages, but was also highly criticised for a storyline that even upset me. Yes, I did have a tear in my eye when Rhys held the camera for Gwen to record her final words as “the world ended”.

Some have been spewing insults and passive aggressive nonsense. Accusing me of deliberately trying to mislead, lie, and hurt people. Telling me I hate the fans, that I’m laughing at them, that I used them, that I’m slapping people in the face, that I’ve “killed” the show, that I’m a homophobe, that I want to turn the fanbase away and court new, “cooler” viewers, even that I’m hurting depressed people with dark storylines. Asking me to pass on vitriolic, hateful messages to people I love and respect.

Not cool.

As James says, this just isn’t cool.

I love letting a story envelope me and take me away from work, home, the fact that the kitchen’s still not tidy and the stairs need hoovering. I love a story that lets me get a tiny little crush on one of the characters and picture travelling the stars with them. [Hell, I named my cats after Jack Harkness and Rose Tyler!] And yes, sometimes I want to shout at the TV and disagree with their stupid actions. “Don’t go in there alone and DO NOT put your gun down, you idiot!”

But people, all of you people who’ve given James abuse, get. a. fucking. grip.

“Hurting depressed people with dark storylines”? Please, get some real help. And I’m not saying this intending to offend, but with a true concern that if a TV show is enough to make you cross that line, it’s time to look at getting real help.

And if this isn’t your situation, then please go outside and get some perspective. This is television, and for a change, hey, it’s good enough to make people feel strongly about it by choosing a path less travelled. If the writers had taken the usual path, the same people would have clamoured that the ending was cheesy and predictable!

So have some respect for people and their trade. If a writer can’t join Twitter and enjoy it for what it is – a totally open means of communication with the audience – then writers, actors, authors and other backstage celebs will pull back and let their PR agencies do the talking. And that’s not what we want, is it!?

Here’s 50p, go buy yourself an ice cream and some perspective.

The Guardian Crowdsources the MPs Expense Investigation: Giving Idle Hands Direction

I’m fascinated by today’s effort by The Guardian to crowdsource investigation of the MPs expenses.

My interest isn’t in the topic investigated, really. While I agree that MPs need to be brought down from that Lala land where they can expense duck houses for our hard earned tax money to pay, I do feel that it has somewhat turned into a witch hunt. The time and energy spent by auditors and journalists to establish who should be burnt at the stake first could have been used in much better ways.

mp_expenses_guardian_smallSo The Guardian came up with a solution; use those idle hours we spent faffing around on the web when we should be working and crowdsource the investigation. Built by Simon Willison and a few others, it is a giant repository of the scanned expenses documents for us to browse.

The process is simple:

  1. Visit the “Investigate your MP’s expenses” site
  2. Hit “Start Reviewing” to see the first expense document (Bonus, they provide a progress bar telling us how many pages we’ve looked at)
  3. Decide what kind of document it is and whether it’s interesting
  4. Make observations to help the journalists investigate the right entries

So how did The Guardian manage to make it such that we have collectively crunched through 20,000 pages in the past four hours, when we procrastinate for weeks before doing our own 12 receipts worth of expenses at work? By rewarding us and feeding our voyeuristic streak.

Rewarding us

The rewards are simple; we get satisfaction in knowing we’re taking part in “justice” being made. So far, I’ve marked two items as “Investigate this!” and I feel like a mini Sherlock Holmes.

In addition to this, the use of a big fat progress bar makes us feel the power of the crowd by showing us how quickly it’s progressing. At one point, I refreshed every 60 seconds to see over 100 documents knocked off every minute. For a generation used to racing games’ lap times and Flight Control high scores, it’s just another little buzz.

mp_expenses_progress_bar-1

Feeding our voyeuristic streak

Admit it, you’ve always wondered what these people spend their allowances. Being able to snoop around feeds that urge. Well… somewhat does. There’s enough black tape redacting out claim details to hold together the hockey sticks of an entire team for a couple of seasons, but we can make out enough to shake a finger and tut at our MPs.

How crowdsourcing could (and should) be used

This kind of manual work that cannot be handled by a computer is already widespread on the web.

Spammers use a clever tactic through which they republish a captcha they want to solve from any given site to a porn site, let an “innocent” porn site visitor solve the captcha by telling them they must fill it in to access the site. Use the solution to access the first site. The poor porn site visitor has not only killed kittens, but also helped a spammer fulfill its dirty deed.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is also using the power of crowds by enabling companies to outsource manual tasks to workers at a lesser cost than hiring staff to do colour comparisons or other tasks computers struggle with.

However, the potential for this type of crowdsourcing is amazing. Thousands of people, passionate to get something done, can achieve seemingly impossible tasks when shown a way to direct their efforts.

It makes me wonder how we can unleash our own communities’ potential; beta testing, idea shaping and customer cross-support… The possibilities stretch forever.

Spring brings change to Pepsmedia.com

With many years of moonlighting and now nearly a year under my belt working full time for Pepsmedia, we felt lately that it was time to refresh our site to reflect the shift in what we’ve been doing for our clients.

The new Pepsmedia siteMuch of my time this year has been focused on strategic planning for blog & social media campaigns, in-house coaching and brand monitoring, interspersed with some gorgeous blog and website designs. So far, it’s been both the most enjoyable and the most challenging experience I’ve ever faced.

Many people ask me whether I regret choosing this economic climate to jump into self-employment, and I always answer that I don’t have an ounce of regret. Sure, I’ve had a few sleepless nights and my squeezy stressball is due for some therapy, but it’s been worth it every step of the way.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with great clients to date, and every new meeting excites me because it keeps getting better. Great projects, great experiences and best of all, I didn’t have to eat beans on toast for too long. (Phew, I hate beans on toast…)

So over the past few weeks, we spent some time brewing a new design for pepsmedia.com and finally launched it this week. Let me know what you think of it!

Five Years of Blogging: Giveaway Winners!

Earlier this month, I announced that I was giving away five fun gifts to celebrate my blog’s five years. Each of the gifts represents an aspect of my personality and what I’ve been blogging over the years; Geeky, funky, practical, foodie and artsy. (No, they’re not five of the Seven Dwarves, before you ask)

It’s taken me a bit longer than expected to pick winners. Who knew cats would be so adverse to making choices! (Seriously, they either fell asleep on the papers or tried to eat them…)

So with no further delays, here are the winners:

Geeky:
The ticket to the FOWA UK Tour was won by Kat of Safety Goat fame.

Funky:
The three sets of Spin Collective vinyl wall stickers were won by William, Neil and Terence.

Practical:
Eric and Dan won the two SpinVox voice-to-text voicemail accounts.

Foodie:
Adam won the opportunity to have a recipe of his choice immortalised by Niall Harbison on Look & Taste.

Artsy:
And finally, Angela has won the Blurb book gift certificate!

Congratulations to you all, I will be in touch soon to put you in contact with the provider of your goodie 🙂

Community managers – This season's must-have accessory

This year’s must-have accessory for any business or marketing team seems to be a community manager.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had nearly a dozen emails – either direct or via LinkedIn – from companies who were calling upon my network to find Social Networks Managers, Community Relations Executives, etc. [If you’re of the right breed, skip to the bottom for information] I couldn’t help but think about how much things have changed in the past few years.

What’s it like being a Community Gal?

sunflowerI don’t care what fancy title a company makes up, I’ll always boil them down to being the Community Gal/Guy. I was once asked why I “lowered” my job title to Community Gal, when one of my previous employers had hired me with the title “Blog Goddess”. I mean, wow, Goddess? That’s a shiny title, isn’t it?

If you can’t see the issue with the Goddess title, then you’ve failed the first test to becoming a good Community Gal/Guy (CG).

In my opinion, being the community’s main link into an organisation requires a lot of humility. Maybe, just maybe, having a humble and simple title like “Community Gal” was a daily reminder that I wasn’t hired to stand in my ivory tower telling people how GREAT the company/product was. I was there to sit in on conversations and listen. Like a sunflower, I faithfully turned to where I should be every day, no matter what happened.

As Toby Moore said today at Amplified 09 East: “We have 2 ears and one mouth. Let’s use them at that ratio.” Listening actively means there’s a lot of feedback to filter, summarise and turn into actions for the rest of the company, whether from a technical, ethical or business relations management perspective.

Being a CG also requires thick skin. There are some real bastards out there who will absolutely not sugar-coat their views of your business. They’ve always been there, but social media now gives them an easy way to make themselves heard. While it’s important to listen to those users and act upon their feedback wherever possible, anyone taking those comments too personally will lose sleep over it and feel like crap.

I know, I’ve been there. Nearly failed the second test myself.

However, the thick skin can’t be accompanied by a thick skull. If you’re a stubborn mofo who assumes that anyone disagreeing with you is wrong, you’ve failed the third test.

So being a CG is both the best job and worst job in a company.

Why so in demand, suddenly?!

As I mentioned in my introduction above, the influx of CG roles has been unbelievable lately. It’s like everyone woke up two weeks ago and decided they should recruit their own.

For most of these companies, it’ll most likely be the first time they put any thought into how to interact with their community. From cursory glances at the many job descriptions thrown around, many companies seem to allocate very minimal budgets to their new-found passion for social media, hiring junior to mid-level people.

Nothing wrong with that, I’m all for the youff getting to experience great new roles. I got to where I am now because some people were mad smart enough to give me a chance to setup their first blog back in early 2004. It was a complete and utter failure because neither company or market were ready for it. Since then, I’ve setup community outposts everywhere I’ve been and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in the process. But we’ve also achieved great things through spending time listening to the community’s feedback.

That’s the wonderful thing about young, creative people – they might be a bit green but believe me, they can be passionate!

So it’s a question of balance then; someone youthful* enough to understand what excites and engages your users. There is no maximum age to “getting it” when it comes to community, but younger people often have an affinity with technology – I don’t think anyone could deny that. However, experience can help avoid making a complete cock up of an outreach campaign through having a deeper understanding of the risks involved.

[Note: By youthful, I don’t necessarily mean based on birth date, but rather in mentality. My grandpa was in his 70’s and was still more young at heart than many 25 year olds I know!]

Finding the right balance is key. Every company will experience a crisis at some point and a very junior team member may not have the experience to deal with it best. In the same way, someone with little knowledge of social media may not spot some great opportunities to build new relationships.

This is an area where I believe mentors – whether internal team members or external consultants – can make a world of difference to how successfully a business can be in their first year of active community interaction. A few hours a week with a skilled mentor can help your CG become far more confident and resourceful.

Would you want your PR Manager to be a £20k fresh graduate with no experience of dealing with customers or journalists? Then why opt for that in social media, when your CG probably touches 100 times more people in a day than your PR department does?

So here’s my advice

1. Build your team with a cool head

Find someone who has a passion for your industry, not the first girl who says she knows how to use Facebook.

2. Have someone dedicated to community relations

If the CG is torn between a number of roles, he/she is more likely to drop the ball at an important time. If it’s not possible to have someone doing just that, ensure that community management remains their top priority.

3. Give your CG a support network

If your product is technical, ensure the development team are aware that they’ll occasionally need to provide insight when the CG reports bugs or enquiries. There’s nothing more demotivating than feeling that no one in the company is willing to help.

4. Provide guidance

Whether it’s through the existing marketing team or an external consultant, your CG should have someone with experience to sanity-check ideas with. The book of social media remains largely unwritten so the best way to check something’s a good idea is through a good ol’ natter over coffee.

5. Set realistic (and useful) objectives

Getting 500 Twitter followers is pointless if the followers are spammers or people who’ll never become your users. Social media is much less about numbers than a traditional marketing team might be used to.

It’s more important to have reached out to 10 bloggers who’ll love you and talk about you, than ship your press release to hundreds of people to whom you’re only vaguely relevant.

6. Be open to your CG’s feedback

This is a tough nut to crack, but the feedback coming from the community might not always be rosy. Be open and welcoming of it, and accept that people will occasionally suggest things you think are stupid or useless. Don’t close up or start to ignore those reports – you might just miss some real gems.

Let’s Connect!

As you’ve gathered by now, I’m a strong believer that there’s a big future out there for people who are passionate and interested in being the main point of contact for an active community.

If you think you’re that person, please connect with me on LinkedIn. Use the intro box to tell me what makes you tick and what you’re passionate about. When companies next contacts me looking for a Community Gal/Guy, I’ll introduce you to each other.

I hope that, in doing this, I can help top notch companies find someone who’ll help them nurture the relationship with their community, whether budding or already fully-fledged.

[Image Source: “Yellow sunflower. Blue Sky.” by wabberjocky on Flickr]

Five Years of Blogging: Celebrating with some giveaways

In April, That Canadian Girl celebrated 5 years of bloggy goodness and, yet again, I nearly missed its birthday. Oops!

In reality I’ve been blogging for nearly 10 years – a friend kindly hosted my first diary-style site back in 1999 or 2000. The Wayback Machine can see a site on thatcanadiangirl.co.uk from 2002, which is when the previous iteration of this blog was born.

This makes me feel really old. In Internet terms, that’s an eternity. I mean… ten years ago, Geocities was still popular, Google was moving into its first office, the Melissa worm was working its magic on mail servers across the world, and everyone was still starry-eyed about the Information Superhighway.

Oooff… sorry about that flashback, it was like being the old drunk guy from the Fast Show for a minute.

As my memory is absolutely hopeless, I usually consider my blog’s current archive – which goes back to April 2004 – to be the beginning of Time As We Know It.

Now for the giveaways: To celebrate this milestone birthday, I’m giving away goodies to my readership which match the topics I’ve written about over the years; geeky, funky, practical, food-related and artsy goodies.

To take part, all you need to do is leave a comment and tell me which ones interest you: On Sunday, 10th May, Jack & Rose will pick out winners for each of the prizes!

geeky

A ticket to FUEL conference FOWA Tour, an excellent Carsonified event about online marketing and social media, held in London on June 23rd. Ryan kindly offered me a ticket for one of my readers, so entrepreneurs, marketers, this one is for you.

Anyone can win this ticket, as long as you’re able to make your way to London for the event.

[Update: As there have been some changes to the Carsonified calendar and FUEL has been cancelled, you will win a ticket to the FOWA Tour in a city of your choice: Cambridge, Leeds, Bristol or Edinburgh.]

funky

I love unusual art and beautifully decorate home offices. Stuart from Spin Collective is giving away three sets (up to a value of £30 each) of the superb wall stickers. They’re jaw-droppingly cool and I’m having to resist very hard the urge to keep them all for myself!

Spin Collective will ship anywhere, so everyone is welcome to take part. If you win, you’ll get to choose from the website and they’ll be shipped to you directly.

practical

To satisfy the productivity nerd in me, I had to include a tool I’ve been using for a couple of years that changed the way I use my phone. James from SpinVox is giving away two SpinVox voicemail-to-text accounts.

SV is available in the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany & Spain, so if you live in any of those countries and uhh have a mobile phone, go for it!

foodie

I’m a total foodie, so I thought it was only fair to include something food-related to the list. Of course, I’m not going to ship you a bowl of my awesome homemade chilli as it’d get messy and Royal Mail would give me funny looks (…yet again)

Niall Harbison from Look & Taste (previously ifoods.tv, and yes he’s the guy who braved Dragons’ Den) is offering a few things:

First, if you’re an iPhone user, there are 10 licenses for Twecipe (£2.39) and another 10 for Look & Taste’s own video recipes app.

Secondly, Niall has agreed to create a pro video of a recipe of my readers’ choosing. Want to immortalise your nan’s best pudding or that wild recipe you made up the other day? You’ll get a mention, and Niall will let his viewers know where the recipe comes from.

The apps are (obviously) for iPhone & iPod Touch owners, and the recipe video is open to everyone.

artsy

I love beautiful things, making cards & handmade gifts. I’m pretty much rubbish at it and my projects look like something out of a preschool classroom, but I still love it.

Blurb.com have offered a £35 voucher for a Blurb book, so it’s a chance to create your own full-colour, beautifully professional-looking bound book. Whether it’s to remember your kids’ summer holiday or a special event, it’ll be unique!

Blurb ships to lots of countries, have a look at the list if in doubt. Promise you’ll show me your finished product 🙂

So what are you waiting for? All these awesome goodies are just one comment away!

SocialMediaCamp London 09: A Few Lessons Learned

New mothers apparently say that after they hold their newborn in their arms, they forget almost all the pain of the laborious process (literally!) that preceded. I think this week, I can see what they mean.

On Saturday, April 25th, the second SocialMediaCamp London was held at Wallacespace St Pancras after a long gestation period. The event itself is fairly simple; BarCamps are “unconferences” and therefore there are no speakers to book and manage. smcstart-1The venue is fabulous and the team there make my life incredibly easy by being such a well-oiled machine. The only pain was the sponsorship issues I encountered, which was resolved by making the event a single day instead of the original intended two days.

In general, the event was fantastic; there were some stellar presentations, on topics ranging from “What to do with a corporate Twitter account?” to “Porn & social media: A practical guide to working with ‘adult’ content” and a discussion on LARP to one on how to help PR agencies collaborate better with bloggers (“PR agencies want your soul”). The weirdness of presentations can pretty much be summed up in a single photo by Neil Crosby.

The day was topped off by what I hear was a comedy Scavenger Photo Hunt, organised by Kat Neville. “I hear” because by that point, my knees had turned to Jell-O and so had my brain, so I had to skip on the photohunt, as brilliant as it seemed.

A few days from the event now, and I’m still basking in the glow of a great day, filled with new and known faces, creative ideas & suggestions. I’ve pretty much forgotten about the faff of the weeks leading up to the event and am already thinking about doing it again.

As  far as the homepage of my blog is concerned, this is where the post ends. If you’re interested in a few contentious aspects of the event, then read on.

Read More

Heading to Texas next week for SXSWi

I get the impression that a very large British contingent is heading to Austin, Texas for SXSW this year, based on the few conversations I’ve seen floating around Twitter. I’ll be amongst the masses, heading to my favourite event of the year.

sxsw-logoSouth by Southwest Interactive is “Spring Break for Geeks”, with around 7,500 attendees; developers, designers, marketing people, social media folks like me, hippy dippy creatives… All there to learn, exchange ideas and have a lot of fun in the meantime. Not sure it’s much of a break, considering how much there is to do in only a few days.

I’ll be blogging whenever I can and twittering as usual, so if you’re attending, drop me a line to say hi. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to meet face to face at the conference center, or over a drink at one of the many evening events.

Texas, this time don’t disappoint me, I don’t want any snow. I want 25 degrees Celcius, sunny weather, a light breeze, oh and a cocktail umbrella on my drink too please!

Twestival: Charity, Water and Music

Tonight, in over 170 cities across the world, people are getting together for an evening of fun and to raise money for charity:water. After a first successful event in London back in September 2008, brave organiser and fellow Canadian gal Amanda Rose decided to take on the world. Rather than a single event in a single city, over 170 Twestivals have cropped up in cities worldwide, from Vienna to Sydney and Doha to Rio de Janeiro, like mushrooms after the rain!

twestival-logoBut who are all these volunteer organisers and attendees?! They’re all active Twitter users.

We’re talking about hundreds of self-organised volunteers who found a venue, sourced musicians, announced and promoted the event. Having organised the first SocialMediaCamp London, with a second one in the works, I’m amazed at the communal effort put towards this event which is expected to raise over $1 million USD for charity:water.

One of the aspects I love most is the contributions from artists; Over 160 tracks donated by artists have been uploaded to Twestival.fm for people to download under a ‘pay what you want’ scheme reminiscent of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album.

British singer-songwriter Imogen Heap (who I could listen to for days on end!) chose to donate an unfinished song, “The Song That Never Was”, for artists to remix and edit in their own way. It’s taking Creative Commons to a new level, and I simply can’t wait to see what creative minds make of it.

Once considered to be a bizarre service used only by geeks, Twitter is now not only a mainstream tool, but it’s a communication tool that is underpinning powerful social events. Might it be worth considering signing up for it now?