MSVU Social Media Course Blog

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I’ve heard of an end-of-semester bash, but that was uncalled for

When I heard we’d be doing yet another client communications plan and pitch, I must admit, I pouted. Many of my classmates agree that the age-old client comm plan has gotten a little bit redundant over the past four years of the Bachelor of Public Relations degree. Fortunately this final project was different.

Working with Danielle Gaudet and the Women in Business initiative was an excellent experience. She was the most receptive and participative client I’ve ever worked with for an academic assignment. In addition to providing detailed responses to all of our questions, she asked questions of her own, demonstrating a genuine level of interest in our work.

The requirements for the communications tactics were also a refreshing change. Working solely with social media tools allowed us to transcend the monotonous press release rut that many of us have gotten ourselves into. I’m so grateful to complete my degree with an arsenal of fresh ideas along with the theory and practice to back them up.

On another note, I’d like to address something that happened toward the end of our class presentations—and I say this with the utmost MSN smiley emoticon-ness . After one team finished their pitch, several student spectators took it upon themselves to interrogate the team, questioning the validity of their research and the suitability of their tactics.

While we’re all encouraged to be critical thinkers, I don’t think it was an appropriate occasion to articulate those criticisms. From my understanding, the classroom should be a supportive learning environment where students can bounce ideas off one another—not squash them in front of a client to whom a team has just presented weeks of evident hard work.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned or just naïve, but I think the same standard should apply everywhere—even in this business world that we’re all so competitive and eager to enter. I would hope that we, as Public Relations practitioners, could set an example in mustering up some support and tact in regards to our colleagues. As self-gratifying as it is to be competitive, things seem to work better when we drop the cut-throat attitude and work as a team.

Okay that’s my beef.

It’s been an awesome semester and I’ve learned so much from everyone—what a sharp bunch of ladies (and gentleman) we are!

Best of luck to all! 

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Comment on Course Material, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bull Twit

On June 15, Social Media Group posted a blog entry called “Tweeting your way into a Twinternship”. A Twinternship is essentially an internship where students can act as a Twitter expert, consultant or content manager for large organizations or high-profile individuals that don’t have time to Tweet themselves.

Considering Twitter’s sole mandate to determine: “What are you doing?” (“you”, meaning organizations and individuals on Twitter), does it make sense for someone from outside the organization to come in and answer that question? Does a fresh-faced student, not-yet immersed in the company culture have the knowledge and intuition to provide daily updates on the inner workings of an organization? Maybe.

On one side of the coin, an outside source would be free from the biases and cynicism that result from years of working for the same company. Someone with a fresh perspective could tweet about exciting news and events that they know would be of interest to the outside world.

On the other hand, that fresh perspective may not be an accurate one. Furthermore, it might not be articulated in a tone that is true to the organization or celebrity.

It’s one thing to Tweet about oneself. We don’t have to research the current events in our life, or adopt a specific tone in order to accurately portray our Twitter status. But when we Tweet on behalf of an organization or celebrity, we must assume the personality of that organization. Someone external to that organization would likely have to fake it.

I suppose that is what we, as communicators do when we write a news release or speak to the media on behalf of an organization. The difference here is that social media claims to be a more organic, or “real” medium. Can companies, political figures and celebrities really claim that they’re using social media to be “real” and transparent when they pay someone else to do the tweeting?

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Review of Monitored Site, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

(SEO)ver-rated?

There’s a lot more to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) than meets the eye. Google and other popular online search engines prioritize search results on the basis of several criteria. These criteria include whether or not a website has a user’s search terms in its title, slogan, text body and keywords; how often the search term appears within the website; and whether or not an organization pays to have its site bumped to the top of the results list.

This makes it very easy for organizations to promote their websites with a few simple SEO tricks. Through Google Analytics and other statistical tools of the like, organizations can determine what terms users search most frequently, then include those terms somewhere (or everywhere) on their website.

Organizations could even include the hot search terms in invisible text, thus bumping its website even higher up the search results list, and under the Googler’s cursor before other websites.

But is all this SEO action benefitting the Googler?

Those searching for “best quality cupcakes” truly want to find the best quality cupcakes possible. If an internet-savvy cupcake company with mediocre cupcakes is including the search terms “best”, “quality” and “cupcakes” repeatedly on their website, then Googers will find their website first. With the level of trust that many internet users place in Google and their go-to search engines, it’s likely that they’ll trust their search engine to find them the website for the best quality cupcakes. Little do they know, they won’t be finding the best quality cupcakes any time soon—just the best quality SEO. (Which is not nearly as tasty under a blanket of vanilla frosting and sugary sprinkles.)
I guess it’s up to consumers to look closely at the websites their search engine retrieves for them, to determine if it’s really what they want. But in today’s fast-paced web-based world, I worry that many consumers won’t take the time to look past the first three websites that Google populates.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | Comment on Course Material, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social vs. Traditional

On May 26, Social Media Group (SMG) columnist Doug Walker posted a blog entry entitled: “How much does social media rely on traditional media?” The entry discusses the decline of traditional media tools as social media tools become increasingly popular. Traditional formats like newspapers are losing precious advertising dollars to free online news sources–which, of course, are more attractive to consumers as they are free.

The problem is many online sources have an original source in some traditional media source. News blogs, for example, tend to borrow from newspapers, summarizing and commenting on stories which have already been published elsewhere. As such, many blogs have been inadvertently siphoning advertising dollars from the newspapers whose stories they rely on.

Traditional media outlets are now rallying for something to be done to even the playing field. TV and news tax models have been suggested along with pay walls for online news.

My concern here is that raising the pay walls on social media will suffocate the dialogue that it generates in the first place, thus defeating the purpose of the medium.

I’m also concerned that it will be difficult–if not impossible to slap a price tag on something that has been free to consumers for so many years. Furthermore, how could traditional media news outlets determine and monitor each of the millions of bloggers who benefit from sourcing stories from traditional outlets? And when I say benefit, I’m not necessarily referring to financial gains. Most of the bloggers using the stories aren’t at all motivated by money, but rather a universal need (and right) to feel connected, and to comment on the world in which we live. If we begin to police that right we will be moving backward instead of forward when it comes to open communications.

MoneyIt seems to me that traditional outlets would also experience some benefit from bloggers referencing and linking to their stories. This is a free form of promotion for them. Something tells me, however, that promotion and increased connectivity are not $olely what motivate traditional media outlet$ . . .

June 8, 2009 Posted by | Review of Monitored Site | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Champions & Cheerleaders

Gooo Harold!

Gooo Harold!

First of all, I want to send a shout out and a thank you to Rogers Communications Director Harold Simons, who woke up at 5 a.m. Vancouver time to Skype with our Social Media class at MSVU. If anyone would like to continue to mooch off of Harold’s expertise, fear not: I’ve already done some preliminary internet creeping for you. Check out Harold’s Twitter and Harold’s Facebook. Sometimes social media just makes me feel like a big stalker.

So I was thinking about Matt’s question/suggestion for Harold via Skype today. Matt asked if Rogers had assigned employees to champion Rogers’ ning employee site. From what I understood, these employees would act as gatekeepers, encouraging less vocal members to speak up and cheerleading for increased involvement in the website.

What would be the best way to implement this cheerleading role? Would other employees be aware that the cheerleaders were encouraging them because it’s their job? Or would they be secret cheerleaders, sort of like social networking moles who posed as regular (but eager!) Rogers employees? I think both options would present some problems:

Give me a B! . . .

Give me a B! . . .

Identified Cheerleaders: Employees would know that their input was being encouraged by someone whos job it is to encourage input–rather than someone who is genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Undercover Cheerleaders: Employees would get duped. Concealing one’s identity and motives is not a transparent or honest practice.

Another concern that arrises from planting cheerleaders is the fact that they have been planted, or perhaps scripted in the first place.

Harold mentioned that Rogers’ Toronto office recently implemented a Social Media Specialist position. (Hey Steph, its exactly what we were chatting about yesterday!)

My worry here is that when people engage in social media with corporate motives, or as a job function, it takes some of the power away from “the people”, meaning, Regular Joes who blog from their basement apartment about their political philosophies which, before social media, would not otherwise have been heard. Regular Joes finally have a cost-free platform to share, debate, complain, promote and question aspects of everyday life, without the influence of power structures silencing or overpowering their voices.

Furthermore, Regular Joe social media users expect their communications to be real. This means unscripted, unbiased and free from hidden (corporate) motives.

As a communications practitioner, I’m well aware that regardless of whether you’re a 100K Social Media Specialist, or a Regular Joe, your online input is rarely un-biased or free from hidden agendas. My point here is that the Social Media Specialists are less likely to be percieved as such by the Regular Joes.

June 3, 2009 Posted by | Comment on Course Material | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ll put my virtual foot in my mouth…

Foot in MouthWow! Just hours after my May 25th weekly blog review, Hey SocialMediaGroup, Update Your Darn Blog…,  SMG’s Founder and CEO Maggie Fox replied:

 

“You’re right – you’re right! We have been struggling to keep our blog relevant and updated. The irony of course is that the reason it’s been such a challenge is that we’re so busy with REAL client work, and our clients take precedence over self-promotion, fortunately/unfortunately (depending on your perspective).

Nevertheless, thanks for the poke – you’re right, we should be setting a better example!”

I was floored. I certainly did not expect to receive a response from SMG’s CEO–let alone such a quick and thoughtful response. While I poked at SMG in my orignal post for not setting a good example for social media newbies, I must say that they set an incredible example in responding to my post:

1. The response came straight from the CEO–it made me feel like my opinion really mattered to the organization.

2. Maggie Fox acknowledged my accusation, and offered an explanation as to why their blog hadn’t been updated as frequently as they’d like.

3. They reposted my blog entry as a comment on SMG’s blog, for all their viewers to see. This shows that SMG has nothing to hide–not even harsh criticisms from student blog-monitors like myself. (This also created a link to our class blog from SMG’s website–promotion for us, woo hoo!)

4. Fox acknowledged my comment once again on SMG’s blog, promising to do “a better job of getting [their] insights out there.”

5. Since then, SMG has posted several new articles which I look forward to reviewing here!

I definitely understand where Maggie is coming from. It’s a huge challenge to keep a blog updated and relevant, especially when you’re busy. Between classes, part-time work, family affairs and fighting the flu, I have to confess that I haven’t posted to our blog in a week (sorry DeNel). (Lucky for you guys, I’ll be bombarding our blog airways over the next few days with an array of thoughts and arguments to make up for my recent lack of input.)

Which brings me to an interesting question: why do we put social media on the back burner? In both my case and Maggie’s, we neglected our blogging responsibilities when more pressing responsibilities arrose. Why is blogging less pressing anyway? Is it because the online world isn’t as tangible or real? Does this present problems for companies striving to communicate and meet deadlines in the virtual world?

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Review of Monitored Site | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Beauty is [such a] Pain

What does my Second Life usage say about me in “real life”?

Today’s Second Life tutorial class with Denyse Rodrigues was an eye-opener for me. One of the SL benefits we talked about in class was the opportunity it provides its users to drop the physical limitations of person-to-person interaction. Without these limitations, users can transcend gender and age biases. Persons with physical disabilities have the opportunity to walk, run and even fly. The way we look in real life is no longer a factor in socialization.

But what about the way we look online? SL gives users the oppourtunity to design their avatars, with customization options for hairstyle, body shape, clothing and even facial bone structure. Want higher cheekbones? No problem. A smaller butt? Just a few adjustments and you’re as slim as you want to be. The best part is, if users get tired of their avatar’s look, they can change it anytime with just a few clicks of their cursor.

Clearly, this is not how it works in “real life”. (I put “real life” in quotations because I don’t want to undermine the realness of online life.) For those of us who chose to socialize in person, our saggy cheekbones and big bums are far more permanent. When SL gives us the option to adjust and perfect our look at the click of a cursor, are they liberating us from physical limitations? Or are they placing an even larger emphasis on physical appearance?

I can only speak for myself, but I was far more concerned with my avatar’s appearance than I am concerned with my “real life” appearance. (And I’m a girl who likes to spend an hour on my hair and makeup when I go out to socialize.) In fact, I’m ashamed to say that I spent the entire class period tweaking the shape of my eyes, augmenting my breasts and applying makeup. I was so concerned with my avatar’s look that I forgot that the purpose of the exercise was to get out of the virtual beauty shop and socialize with my classmates online. Before I knew it, the class was over and all I had accomplished was a really bad digital smokey eye makeup job.

I can only chaulk my behaviour up to one of two things:

a) My makeover madness was just a manifestation of who I am in real life: self-conscious and image-obsessed. SL simply emphasised my vain tendencies.

b) By providing so many avatar appearance options, SL creates an unrealistic environment where appearance is valued over character just as much–if not more–than it does in “real life”.

So is it me? Or is it SL? Maybe me and SL are a just a bad combination for eachother. Either way I think I’ll stick to being self-conscious and image-obsessed in real life. Worrying about my appearance in one realm is enough for me!

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Comment on Course Material | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hey SocialMediaGroup, Update Your Darn Blog

I’m monitoring the blog for Social Media Group (SMG). So far, it hasn’t been an overly wearisome task to keep up with the site’s updates. In fact, the same blog entry has been greeting visitors since May 12, when I began monitoring it.

The current entry is titled Microsoft to Sponsor May 12 TGGD. The article is a last-minute plug for a Toronto Girl Geek Dinner (TGGD) that took place on the evening of May 12. 

TGGDGirl Geek Dinners are monthly events that feature expert panelists to teach young women and others about new technology. The dinners are held around the world in casual pub settings and are open to everyone. The concept sounds extremely cool. Maybe our class could work on developing something similar in Halifax. It might be a fun class side project…but I digress.

Back to my beef with SMG. I think it’s pretty upsetting that SMG has not only failed to update its blog in nearly two weeks, but is providing visitors with old, irrelevant information when they enter the website. With the TGGD event already passed, Toronto-area visitors may make the mistake of reading the post, getting excited about the Dinner and planning to attend, only to find that it’s too late. (To SMG’s credit, the post does serve the purpose of advertising to future Dinners, but only if interested visitors take the time to follow the link to the TGGD main website.)

As a national leader in social media, SMG should set a better example for its current and potential clients. One of the chief advantages of social media is the speed and ease at which its users can update and share information. Part of SMG’s mandate is to show client companies the advantages of social media tools, when they are used properly. Failure to update a blog frequently does not constitute proper or effective use, especially for a self-proclaimed social-media leader.

Get with the program SMG—after all, it’s your program.

How frequently do you think social media leaders/advocates should update their blogs? What about social media-savvy businesses? Regular Joes?

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Review of Monitored Site, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

About that Ice Cream Thing . . .

Ice-Cream-Cones

So I was thinking about the Social Media in Plain English  video that we watched in class this week on Youtube. And I was thinking that, while it does a great job of simplifying the concept of social media for those who have been living under a rock for the past five years, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

The video uses an ice cream metaphor to explain the social media phenomenon. Before social media tools, we were living in a world where information was disseminated by big companies, and therefore we only received a few types of information—or flavours of ice cream. Once the new tools came along however, people began to create their own flavours at an affordable cost. This created endless possibilities and a variety of flavours for everyone to enjoy.

But is it really that simple?

First of all, the video makes the assumption that everyone has access to the ice cream making tools. This is not the case with social media. Not everyone has access to a computer and/or internet. People in developing countries, for example would be hard-pressed to find access to the right tools to create and distribute their own flavours of information—and perhaps these are some flavours that should be shared in order to open our eyes to how diverse our world truly is. There could be thousands of exotic fruity ice creams that the world is being deprived of, because those who know how to make it don’t have the right tools.

Furthermore, not everyone knows how to make ice cream, or social media contributions. Senior citizens, for example grew up in a world without computers, and many of them don’t have the knowledge and skills required to share their stories and viewpoints through new media. I have a feeling that we are missing out on some real classic ice cream flavours here. With such emphasis placed upon social media, will those old recipes be lost once the older generations pass on?

While social media is an improvement in information sharing, it is not the idyllic solution that the Youtube video purports it to be. We still have a long way to go in creating a world where everyone’s voice can be heard. Recognizing the importance of information-sharing, I think it’s crucial that we improve access to and education surrounding social media tools. That way, we can ensure that we’re not depriving ourselves of the array of flavours that exist in our world.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Comment on Course Material | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Media Group

SMG LogoWhere was this website when I needed it? Over my past three work terms I’ve struggled with old-school communications practitioners, who were hesitant to give new social media tools a try. Many of them failed to see the strategic purpose of the tools, while others were weary of using the tools correctly. Social Media Group (SMG) is an independent agency that solves both of these problems for timid communications practitioners who are new to the new media scene. Best of all, SMG is 100% Canadian, based in Dundas, Ontario.

SMG is devoted to helping communicators “navigate the new socially engaged web,” by developing both strategic frameworks and tailor-made tactics. From what I can tell, SMG follows the same communications planning process that has been drilled into our psyche throughout the Public Relations program at Mount Saint Vincent University.

Research   The agency begins with in-depth research conducted by their extensive department of social media analysts. Within the department, there are specific teams devoted to each unique aspect of social media, for example, the Blogger Relations Specialists team.

Planning   Once the research phase is complete, SMG works with organizations to develop a strategic plan that meets their organizational mandate and the needs of their stakeholders.

Implementation   With a strategy in place, SMG assists organizations in implementing appropriate social media tools. Their Digital Snippets service, for example, is a platform for organizations to launch social media releases.

Evaluation   SMG even equips clients with ongoing evaluation and monitoring services once the social media tools are in place: “Using SMG’s proprietary methodology, our Social Media Analysts keep their fingers on the pulse of Web 2.0 on behalf of your firm, executives or product. Whether you are listening to the conversation, or (ideally) participating in it, though our exclusive partnership with monitoring industry leaders Radian6, SMG provides you with real-time, meaningful analytics that allow us evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the social media strategies you have in place.”

So far, business has been booming for SMG. Clients include Ford, Yamaha and Home Hardware. I just wish I’d known about this agency when I was repeatedly asked by co-op employers: how can social media help us? SMG’s main website is laid out in a blog-style format, announcing events, posting industry news and profiling client successes. I will be monitoring SMG’s updates over the next few months—stay tuned for more!

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Review of Monitored Site | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment