Is social media turning mainstream?

When I was at PodCamp Toronto 2009, a thought occurred to me amid the lively, p2p discussions: social media feels like it’s nearing the end of its indie phase.

By that I mean it’s being embraced (or at least considered) by a lot of folks who wouldn’t call themselves early adopters. We’re certainly reading about it in MSM. And clients are asking how it works.

And that’s not a bad thing. It’s a rite of passage for most independent movements that really catch fire (think music, movies, writing…).

Companies are beginning to see that more and more of their customers are engaged in social media and realize it’s a good place for them to be too. They’re starting to accept the notion that they need to be more open, transparent and conversational.

Lately, I’ve been giving interactive social media 101 sessions every week – to demystify web 2.0; demonstrate that the tools are tactics – not strategies; and try to get people thinking about how they can create online programs that work for their company and culture and help them achieve their business goals.

A year ago people were mildly curious. But maybe the recession has caused organizations to look at their marketing communications from a different angle (i.e. a new bottom line). It feels like the economy and social media have intersected on a supply and demand graph and we’re about to see a steep trend upwards. (And no doubt we will see some tremendous missteps, but hopefully people will experiment, learn and adapt.)

What we may lose is some of the independent spirit that’s part of the beginning of every movement. What we will gain is a wider audience that will come to see companies and brands in a new light. Hopefully, businesses will find a new way to relate to their customers and turn a profit, too.

And perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but I wonder if this could become a catalyst for a fresh way of thinking that will help us climb out of our economic mess.


Writing in Twitterese – a blog post in 17 tweets

I’m trying an experiment: writing a blog post composed of 140 character paragraphs (or less) to see if Twitter supports longer-form thoughts.

I’m checking each paragraph in Twitter – to make sure it doesn’t exceed the limit. And, I’m trying to adhere to CP style too. Here goes:

Lately, there’s been much ado about Twitter in mainstream media. It feels like you can’t open a newspaper without reading about it.

This week alone, the Globe and Mail had stories by Sarah Hampson, Margaret Wente and Ian Brown.

So what does it mean? I think it shows that yet another social media platform has hit a tipping point and is gaining wider acceptance.

In all cases, the journalists seemed both intrigued and reluctant. And they questioned Twitter’s usefulness for real human interactions.

As one of the formerly reluctant, I can empathize. It took me months to begin to understand why it’s such a powerful communications tool.

I think my biggest obstacle was the randomness and messy nature of the medium. It really is an endless stream of consciousness.

Think party line with a few too many conversations going on at once. Noisy? Absolutely. Trivial? Sure. But there’s an amazing energy too.

I like Twitter a lot. For me, it’s the people I’m following, the shared ideas, immediacy- personal and professional ‘news’ in real time.

Perhaps it’s about our innate desire to connect with others. Its instantaneous nature is a relationship spark.

But it can be a diversion as you immerse yourself in the never ending flow; the ‘bursts of being’. And forget how fast time rushes on…

And that’s the trade off. The choice each individual needs to make. How much time on Twitter (if any) is too much?

I’m still figuring that one out. Stay tuned.

Note: That was harder than I thought. I felt constrained by the format and the act of looking for smaller words that would fit the space.

My writing seemed staccato. Maybe because this is a monologue and Twitter needs a response to bring it to life.

Conclusion: it’s not easy to write a full blog post in Twitterese. The one-sidedness of the voice lacks one of Twitter’s essentials: flow.

Clearing the Air (Canada)

Last summer, I posted about my first experience with the new Air Canada electronic boarding pass (eBP) that was sent directly to my BB. At the time, it wasn’t that well recognized by airport security and was difficult to scan. I reverted to printing it the old fashioned way.

So I was a little taken aback when, two weeks ago, I got a message from Darcy Noonan, who works for AC as a ‘customer service platform manager, ecommerce’. He said he’d read my blog and, though it was published in the summer, wanted to talk about my concerns. He followed up with an email, too.

When we connected, he was pleasant, well-informed and listened to what I had to say. He told me the airline was trying to educate the front lines on the new processes but it was more difficult than they’d planned. They were, however, committed to making it work and rolling it out across the country. He also mentioned that if I had any other issues, he hoped I would contact him.

I hung up the phone feeling pleasantly surprised. Here was Air Canada, not generally known for its stellar service and yet I’d just had an experience that made me think positively about the company.

From a social media perspective, I think the fact that they’re trying to listen to and engage customers is a good beginning.

However, IMHO I think they might want to add additional functionality to their regular online experience, here. I may be lucky enough to have a direct number, but it’s difficult to get through on the toll free lines. Perhaps AC could include a two-way platform so customers could reach them in real time (especially important mid-travel). An active eBP Twitter stream would be helpful too. That’s my two cents.

Still, this take-off seems to be heading in the right direction.

Thanks for following up, Darcy. I wanted to let you know that I going to give the eBP another chance.

SocialCorp – the company ‘social’

Nearly every day, I’m asked about social media and how businesses can jump into the fray. Lately, I’ve been referring people who want to learn more to SocialCorp – Social Media Goes Corporate, a great new book by Joel Postman.

Joel is a former corporate speechwriter, PR practitioner and consultant who recently joined Intridea. I first met Joel when he led a session on social media for Counselors Academy and found him to be knowledgeable, witty and somewhat skeptical; an early adopter with a balanced view.

All of this comes through in his book, which is clearly written and, unlike the blogosphere, well organized and thought out.

Joel begins by offering his definition of a ‘SocialCorp’ and then goes on to discuss what it takes to become one. In chapters filled with case studies and examples, he provides a strategic overview of the tools, talks about the impact on brands and audiences and offers a perspective on ethics (they haven’t changed) and measurement (it has).

He believes it’s most important for organizations to articulate their business goals and then develop a communications plan that incorporates the relevant web 2.0 tools that will help to achieve them.

Two highlights: a social media readiness quiz that quickly gives you a snapshot of where you/your organization stand (you can try it online here) and a useful glossary.

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the business of being ‘social’.

Good counsel: Counselors Academy 2009

When I started Palette five years ago, I asked Pat McNamara, president and founder of Apex PR, for some advice. And she suggested that I should join an organization called Counselors Academy, which comprised agency owners and principals and had a not-to-be-missed conference every spring.

I wasn’t able to make it that first year, but I’ve been faithfully attending ever since and I have to say it’s one of the best things I’ve done in PR.

The conference is about all things agency with sessions on strategies for running and growing your business, finding and motivating your team, becoming more profitable, successful networking, emerging industry trends…

The people are smart, dynamic and open. You get into some amazing conversations that continue over dinner and drinks, long after the meetings are done. And because we’re all running agencies of various shapes and sizes, there’s a real common ground and it’s easy to make business connections, and more importantly, good friends.

There are superb keynote speakers like psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini or Robert Scoble. I first learned about social media at CA from Giovanni Rodriguez, who piqued my interest in the blogosphere and started my head swimming.

Whenever I leave a spring conference, I’m filled with fresh ideas, energized by the people and excited about our industry. It’s the highlight of my year.

This year’s timely theme is ‘Your Business Matters’ and, in this or any economy, it’s well worth the investment. Here’s where you can go for more information or to register.
Hope to see you there.

Rupert Pupkin lives – but not necessarily on Skittles

Last week, I re-watched Martin Scorcese’s piercingly funny, King of Comedy, where two psychotically-obsessed fans (Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard) kidnap a popular late night talk show host (Jerry Lewis). The reason? For Bernhard it’s love. For De Niro (aka Rupert Pupkin), it’s because he wants to appear on the show and become famous.

Pupkin has a modicum talent and spends his days practising in the faux talk show set he built in his basement. He’s not interested in pursuing the paying-your-dues route; playing clubs, honing his act. He wants a quick hit. And (scene spoiler…) when he gets on the show with a passable, if corny act, the tabloids and MSM splash him and his (mis)deed on their covers and he succeeds.

The recent Skittles foray into social media reminded me of the film.

Why? Because both were gutsy moves. Audacious, high concept publicity stunts (or so it seems). I’m not sure what Skittles objectives were when the company turned its home page into a Twitter search, complete with racist slurs and salty language – hey, isn’t candy supposed to be sweet? I’m also not sure why they removed anything on the site that might be remotely fun for kids (who presumably are eating the stuff).

From my perspective, rather than embrace social media (i.e. a two-way dialogue), the company used it to create buzz. However, as the comments – good and bad – were pouring in, did the company say anything? Were they part of the conversation or idle bystanders?

And did the brand increase its equity by actually engaging its customer; reach their target audience; sell more product? I’m not sure they did.

This is by no means scientific, but yesterday afternoon I went to two stores and asked if their Skittles were selling better today. Both looked at me like I needed my head examined.

Now, if this program was conducted by a beer or a condom company trying a new way to reach its customers through an edgy conversation, I think it would have moved the needle.

However, I feel it’s important for every brand, business and individual to understand who they are.

As of yesterday, Skittles removed the Twitter feed from its homepage. I guess we’ll have to watch to see where they take it from here.

The moral of the story: P. T. Barnum (or Rupert Pupkin) lives.

BTW, if you want three more perspectives try: Ian Capstick, Collin Douma and Louise Armstrong.