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!

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 🙂

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!

RSS Feeds: Full Fat or Summaries?

I love RSS and I hate RSS.

It’s both one of the most useful tools I’ve ever used; it allows me to catch up with my favourite blogs, keep up with seldom-blogging friends and find inspiration for my own posts.

google_reader-1It’s also the bane of my life; I turn away for a day or two and Google Reader sits there, laughing at me with its smug “1000+” in the toolbar, reminding me just how far behind I’ve fallen on my reading.

Either way, it’s a way of consuming media that seems to have become routine so this morning, when I came to the realisation that I had just unsubscribed from my last summary-only RSS feed, I wondered if I was the only one to take such drastic action against those frustrating feeds, and wanted to understand why anyone would choose to publish them.

I wrote about this topic 2 years ago with little conclusion so I thought I’d investigate informally whether things have changed by asking my Twitter followers.

So what are their issues with the short summaries?

The results were enlightening but roughly reflected what I expected; Out of 15 responses, 12 people expressed a strong preference for full feeds, to the extent where summary feeds were either not subscribed to or unsubscribed from.

  • Don’t want to click
  • Don’t want to be forced through to a site to read something
  • Full feeds get more readers and engagement
  • When using Google Reader on iPhone, RSS summaries are annoying. Clicking through is a waste of time
  • I never subscribe to anyone with summary-only feeds, why encourage them?
  • “Publications” opt for summaries to drive traffic and ad revenue
  • Summary on mobile sucks, don’t subscribe and probably forget to visit again
  • Would rather see a full feed with ads, than a summary feed

One person seemed to stand up for the summary feed, saying that short post feeds are fine when reading basic news story while travelling. So that’s one for the summary feeds, but with the caveat that the summary must really summarise the story rather than simply be the first run-on sentence of a post where the author might not get to the point immediately.

The publishers’ point of view

Two publishers were kind enough to explain their side of the story; in both cases, it was a question of protecting their content against sploggers who previously stole their feeds on a regular basis. While summaries don’t fully solve the problem, it makes it more difficult for a spammer to copy their content.

No one piped up with regards to summary feeds as a method to gain more traffic to the site, and more ad impressions as a result. Either that isn’t the motivation of most summary-feed publishers, or they’re aware that it isn’t a popular view and avoided responding to my question.

Finding a solution

Finding a solution to these publishers’ problem is tricky; it’s difficult to identify who is subscribed to your RSS feed and what they’re using it for. Feedburner makes a good effort of reporting “uncommon uses” of your feed, but in my experience it has picked up the legitimate uses of my feed (where I’ve used it on another site I own) but missed most instances of splogs “borrowing” my content.

So if the flow can’t be stemmed, we need to make the flow smarter:

  • Add an automatic footer to a post in the RSS feed linking back to your site: Joost de Valk created a WordPress RSS footer plugin which takes care of the hard work for you.
  • Cross-link generously when writing your posts: Don’t go overboard and write purely for the purpose of linking back to your older content, as it’ll show in the quality of your posts. But when you do post, think of the relevant and useful content you could refer to, so that if your post is on someone else’s blog, there is still a reference to yours. This can be done within the content or as “related items” at the end of your post. Yes, some services or plugins can create related items automatically, but I don’t endorse those as I find the relevance to often be too poor. Take 5 minutes and do it manually!

These benefit you from an SEO point of view as well, so why not put them into action? Remember, however, that creating value on your site and building your personal brand so that people recognise you as YOU rather than a generic blog-post churner is the best way to create a loyal readership and make the sploggers’ efforts (almost) pointless.

Valleyrag's Boutin says blogging is dead, I say good riddance!

Desperate as ever to get a rise out of bloggers, Paul Boutin, of Valleywag fame (or shame, your choice), has been writing in Wired’s Entertainment section that “Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004”.

He says “Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.” Boutin’s argument is so flawed, when he mentions Jason Calacanis’ decision to stop blogging last summer and refers to Technorati as though it’s the sole reason for a blog’s existence.

Hello? McFly!? Being a Top 100 Technorati blog isn’t the be all and end all of blogging. Thousands of bloggers make a living from their trade, directly or indirectly, and it’ll take more than one bitter blogger to stop them from writing about their passion.

Millions of bloggers, big and small, write for completely non-financial reasons. It can help someone find focus, in the way a personal diary may have done a few years ago. Some find like-minded people to discuss hobbies, habits and interests with, from GTD to crocheting.

Others have found the longest lasting value of a blog; indirect revenue. Advertising is a fickle friend when revenue from your blog is dependent on traffic. A bumpy ride on the Googlecoaster and revenue can be eclipsed quicker than you can say “Google AdSense”. So the indirect revenue can be a longer-lasting, slow-burn solution, whether it’s in selling homemade jams and liqueurs after having detailed on your blog how you make them, in selling your band’s music where you’ve been actively blogging about the evolution of rock in the modern day or, like myself, providing services that are in line with the knowledge you’ve been sharing on your blog.

In this instance, blogging is about reputation building, finding a community that feels like home.

Technorati’s algorithm and Boutin’s thinking are both relics from blogging’s first life. Now, like a snake shedding its skin, we are seeing blogs evolve into something more organic. They’re more three-dimensional, showing people’s Flickr photos, their tweets in the sidebar and contain a link to their Dopplr profiles outlining their next few trips. But in all reality, they still are the home and heart of many passionate bloggers, money-earning or not.

Blogging as part of a marketing role: Give it the time it deserves

In the corporate world, there are more blogs than ever. Along the lines of 70% of Fortune 500 companies will have at least dipped a little toe in it by this year, according to Wikipedia’s utterly incomplete entry. For a handful of us, it’s an integral part of the job; important internally, important externally, yet so little time allocated as thinking time. That’s frustrated me for a long time.

Blogging is natural for me, but it still doesn’t come as easily as having a morning dump. Seriously. I realise that my entries are rough and ready; I don’t have Seth Godin‘s conciseness, Chris Brogan‘s punch or Jeremiah Owyang‘s insight (especially with my comparison above, for which I truly apologise) but even with my willingness to keep entries in a natural state – thorns, weeds and crawling critters included – it takes some time to cook up. And unfortunately, I don’t believe most marketing teams generally allocate enough simmering time for even the best in-house blogging god or goddess to write something meaningful.

I’m a strong believer that in every business there is a story worth telling, a mistake worth owning up to, a success worth sharing. Or just a story. A really honest, truthful story that allows customers, prospects, fan boys and haters to see behind the marketing pitch. A blog is so much more than a home for your latest press release.

So marketing managers, directors and CEO’s, please remember that beyond the board reports and year-on-year growth charts are human stories which will help your users, current and future, love you more and become true evangelist for your brand, if only you’d open the door and let them in. How good is your relationship with your users? Honest enough to let you see without makeup on Sunday morning?

and they say that the truth will set you free
but then so will a lie
it depends if you’re trying to get to the promised land
or you’re just trying to get by

ani difranco (listen)

Like the new look?

Moving from my old unreliable hosting to the rock-solid ServInt VPS hosting we use for pepsmedia clients felt like moving from a studio flat in some dirty backstreet to a Kensington mansion yesterday. So we thought we’d go the whole hog and give the new pad a fresh lick of paint. (For those who don’t remember the old look, I’ve put a screenshot on Flickr for posterity.)

I’m pretty pleased with it, hope you like the new style too!

Open letter to PR agencies: It doesn't have to be that way, you know…

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of press releases I’ve received, an observation many bloggers around me have confirmed. But these PR emails are accompanied by intros as uncomfortable as the teenage “Will you go on a date with me? Yes/No” scribbled by the nerdy girl who sat next to you in geography class.

Nerdy Nancy wants to go on a dateRanging from impersonal emails to borderline harassment calls and Facebook messages, there just seems to be a plague of poorly thought-out attempts at exploiting the circles of bloggers who are gaining influence in the media by the day.

According to Forrester Research, the general public doesn’t seem to trust us bloggers just yet, and might think we’re still total nerds, but it doesn’t matter, PR agencies have got a total crush on us.

So this is my open letter to all PR agencies we have had the (dis)pleasure of dealing with recently.

“Dear PR agency guys & gals,

We’re all very flattered that you fancy us now that we’ve gone from being viewed as the losers who spend too much time on their computers to being the cool kids with influence. We appreciate it’s difficult to accept that bloggers were never in the curriculum in your marketing theory classes, and that you feel the need to poke us with a stick while observing us from a distance, like you’re the Steve Irwin of public relations and we’re a wounded python. But I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re actually really quite normal. And we don’t even mind being treated that way.

I won’t be pointing fingers and naming names today, but I’ll use a few examples to illustrate where you unnecessarily complicated your own lives recently. If you recognise yourself, feel free to either take it as a call to action to review the way things are done, or roll your eyes and mutter that I’m an idiot. Don’t worry, I’ve got thick skin. But if you choose to do the latter, I may just name and shame you next time you stick your foot in stinky cow dung.

Exhibit A: The Lazy Approach

“Hi,

Please see below for news on this weeks launch of the [Product Name], which I thought would be of interest for the blog.

Let me know if you need any more info.

Thanks,

R”

Now, not only did I not give permission to R’s agency to email me, but R here failed to call me by my name (it’s in my email address, can’t miss it), use my blog’s name (also in my email address) and didn’t notice that I’d already reviewed the viral campaign for the product they’re pawning. Already, 3 strikes, you should be out.

Below that dull message is an equally dull press release, using 3 different fonts and sizes, a LOT of ® characters, no real call to action, no freebies/samples offered and a link to an entirely Flash-based website with no HTML alternative. What the hell good is all that tripe when I’m on my iPhone?

Honestly how this PR agency received two PR Consultancy/Agency of the year is beyond me.

Exhibit B: The psychopath

Blogger pal receives mail from PR agency who wants them to show up at a product launch in exchange for a measly fee and liveblog the event like it’s the Spice Girls’ reunion tour. Blogger takes offense (rightly so) at the suggestion that his readership can be bought for the price of a cheap pair of shoes and chooses to ignore PR agency.

PR agency follows up deluge of pushy emails with “Email broken – Msg me your phone #. Love facebook!” via social networks. Next thing you know, they’ll be outside knocking at the window as he gets out the shower.

Creepy. Not good. Sometimes, the non-verbal signal should be enough to tell you to back off.

Exhibit C: The foreign agency

“Hi,

Hope you would forgive the intrusion.

We have been working on this for a couple of months now and are NOW live. Allow me to present Plooshh [name changed for anonymity] – why the extra ‘h’? We think it’s sexy! We think it gives you an extra H – oops, ‘extra EDGE’ we mean. :)”

And it continues on for two full screens worth of awkwardly friendly banter, filled with bright coloured large fonts, caps-lock sentences and extraneous exclamation marks. The English flip-flops between too formal and chat-speak, a bit rough ’round the edges yet endearing.

Exhibit C is the product of an Indian agency jumping head-first into Web 2.0. Nothing wrong with their pitch, everything strikes me as being done textbook-style, ticking every box. But it’s soulless. Again, there’s no attempt to get to know the bloggers they approach, opting for a scattergun mail-out. Throw enough stuff at the wall, something’s bound to stick.

While this wasn’t a particularly thrilling email, I suspect that once these guys catch on to the nuances of public relations in the new media age, their willingness and motivation might allow them to overtake many Western agencies who otherwise had a headstart in the game.

Jury’s Verdict:

Toilet cat is guilty! PR agencies are too!While a few PR agencies have embraced social media and are actively engaging with the communities their clients have an interest in, most have totally blown it so far. They’re as guilty of carelessness as this cat is of drinking out of the toilet bowl.

But hope is not lost. Assuming said agency is willing to put some elbow grease into their day’s work, I dare say there is a huge amount of potential for a beautiful relationship to blossom between PR people and bloggers.

So dear PR guys and gals, behave in a natural and human way; you’ll resonate emotionally with us. Emotional resonance is invaluable; we feel that we can become friends and are far more willing to listen to you, even when the product you’re pitching isn’t 100% on target.

I appreciate that we are the means to an end, helping you reach the (sometimes unrealistic) targets set by your client, but remember that we’re all human – yes, even us weirdo bloggers – so treat others as you would like to be treated and we’ll be more than happy to give you a hand.

In Summary

Your future cheat-sheet.

Do…

  • Have a Twitter account or personal blog where we can find out about the real you.
  • Have a product geek or evangelist we can speak to and quiz without getting the canned marketing answers (Carphone Warehouse and O2, I’m looking at you, guys. You could have definitely done with a public-facing real-person on the days surrounding the iPhone launch.)
  • Participate in events in an altruistic way every so often. We’ll get to know each other, and it’s bound to be good for your karma.
  • Put some chili in your cornflakes; By that, I mean, have genuine energy and passion about your client’s product. If you don’t get up in the morning loving your job, maybe you need to find something else to do.

Don’t…

  • Try to buy our participation to your event. Telling me you’ll pay £150 to show up on Thursday morning with a video camera for a “secret launch” isn’t social media, it’s cheap labour and fake hype.
  • Send us a stock press release with an intro that betrays you’ve never even looked at our blogs
  • Always play it so safe that we’d rather read the back of the cereal packet than your press release. Have some balls, and hey, have some fun!
  • Don’t run with scissors Be afraid of asking a couple of bloggers for a pint to bounce some ideas. Most of them will be happy to help you out!

I’d love to hear what PR agencies or other bloggers would like to add to this. How’s your PR-to-blogger relationship going?

With much love & geekery,
Vero”

Wikio Top 20 UK Tech Blogs

The wonderful team at Wikio gave me a sneak preview at the July rankings for the UK Tech blogs. Amongst the ranks are some of the usual suspects and, just off-the-podium, yours truly coming in at #29 30 this month – up by a smashing 81 places from last month!

Fingers crossed you’ll see That Canadian Girl in the Top 20 next month. 😉

Wikio Top 20 UK Tech Blogs

1 dot.life =
2 TechDigest =
3 gapingvoid =
4 Coolest Gadgets +1
5 TechCrunch UK -1
6 The Guardian Technology blog =
7 The Red Ferret Journal =
8 xlab =
9 Technology Blog =
10 Speckyboy – WordPress and Design +2
11 jkkmobile =
12 E-consultancy News Blog -2
13 BlogStorm =
14 Dial-a-Phone =
15 Wonderland New
16 hicksdesign +2
17 NevilleHobson -1
18 Gizmodo UK +1
19 confused of calcutta New
20 Simon Willison’s Weblog +1

[Update: Wikio even gives That Canadian Girl a mention in the July top blogs review. What an honour, thank you Wikio!]

Cory Doctorow speaking in Cambridge, UK on 22nd July

Quick post to tell readers that things do happen up here in Cambridge, interesting things!

Cory Doctorow is a blogger, science fiction writer and journalist. He is an editor of Boing Boing, the 11th best blog in the world (according to Time Magazine). He was the 2006-2007 Canadian Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. He founded the software company Opencola which was later sold to the Open Text Corporation. He also writes regularly for The Guardian newspaper

Cory will be speaking for one hour at 5:30pm on July 22nd 2008 at ARM, 110 Fulbourn Road, Cambridge CB1 9NJ. Robinson College, Grange Road, Cambridge, CB3 9AN.

If you’re thinking of coming to Cambridge for this, get in touch and we’ll make an evening of it.

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)

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