Social Media Week Toronto – The ROI Discussion

Registration opens up today for the Toronto edition of Social Media Week – an international “conference” that takes place in a variety of cities across the globe. It’s not your typical conference, though. Instead, individuals and organizations of all types and sizes can create and host an event, as long as it has to do with social media. Social Media Week helps with event planning and coordination, but you’re on your own for the content and venue.

This will be the fourth Social Media Week where I will attend events, and the second one where VIA Rail will host an event. In September 2011, I worked with an amazing team to create the event “Brands, Agencies and Influencers – Unite!”. I wanted to host an event that would benefit anyone and everyone, regardless of their personal and professional background. Whether you’re an influencer looking for content opportunities, a brand hoping to increase your user-generated content or visibility with a niche group, or an agency trying to find the right creative and cultural match between these two groups, we all need to think about how to approach these partnerships, and how to leverage them using social media.*

This year, I focused on a hot topic in social media – Return on Investment (ROI). By partnering with The Fairmont Royal York Hotel, we are happy to host four amazing speakers on the subject, each with their own personal, professional and (perhaps) controversial views. We’ll hear about how these speakers define ROI in social media, what metrics they consider when creating programs or campaigns, and what they think the future of social media ROI looks like.

I’m also excited to be organizing a pre-event train ride to host a group of social media influencers from Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston. We’ll be discussing a wide range of topics as we travel to Toronto, and feed all of our thoughts into the event hashtag #SMWTOroi.

Social Media ROI: Myth or Reality? will take place on February 13th, in the Fairmont Royal York’s Imperial Room, with a reception at 5:30 PM and speeches starting at 6:30 PM. To ensure that anyone can attend the event in Toronto, we’re making it free, though capacity is limited. As of 10 AM E.S.T this morning, you can sign-up and secure your place!

What would you like to ask our panel of speakers about social media ROI? Let me know in the comments!

* We also organized this event to set some benchmarks to measure against future initiatives – come back tomorrow when I share some of the results.

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Moleskine Monday – Weekend Thoughts

Welcome to the first Moleskine Monday! In a weekly post on – you guessed it – Mondays, I’ll run down some of the inane thoughts I jotted down in my trusty Moleskine notebook throughout the weekend. Might be that these will turn into posts at some point, or might be that they’ll live on in their own little way in these weekly features and my notebooks alone.

Levels of community – I play video games. Quite a few of them, actually. I’m what you would call a “core” or even “hardcore” video gamer, in that I play a lot of different games, talk about them with my friends, participate in online forums and communities, and even pay attention to industry news (hey, I’m into business, too!).

What I realized is that I’m not the only market for the games I play. It’s a strange realization – I thought about all the different communities that I’m a part of, and a lot of the other community members think the same way that I do. But this is, in fact, the nature of a community! Likeminded people sharing a common passion or interest. The trick is removing yourself from the trees to look at the forest.

There are a bunch of different types of video game players – those who play casually, once in a while with friends or even just by themselves on platforms like Facebook; mid-core gamers, who like the latest and greatest AAA title, but aren’t involved quite so heavily in the industry or niche games; the hardcore like myself, who take their interest in games to another level; and even the pro gamer who plays for cash. There are more, I’m sure, but you get the picture.

Each type of gamer has a different level of interest in a game and the community that surronds it. The trick, then, is to create a community with content that attracts the right group, or groups. As a community manager, even though you may be very committed to your brand, product, feature, whatever, you are the hardcore  gamer version of a brand advocate (maybe even the pro gamer version, since you’re getting paid for your specialization). But not every customer or community member is on the same level as you, and there are many levels of fans – keep that in mind when conversing with them and creating content to appeal to a wide range of people.

Take away all the names and social media is just three activities – listening, connecting and publishing – A great reminder from Chris Brogan to focus on building relationships. The tools are new, but the activities are the same.

Don’t get too high on your own supply – Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Foursquare, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc., etc., etc. We use them for our work, but we also visit them for our own personal use. When you’re at work, ensure that your attention is on your work accounts and tasks. If you have your personal Twitter account open, it can be tempting to peek in there a little bit too often throughout the day. We have a social media policy at VIA Rail where we state that social media use is encouraged, just not on company time, if it’s not for company business. I try and adhere to this rule, too.

If you personally follow people who put out interesting content related to your work, then follow them on your work account and keep that feed open instead. If you do pop into your personal accounts for a looksy, favourite things for later using the network or your trusty ‘ol browser bookmarks. Or, keep a plain text document open throughout the day where you can copy&paste URLs or interesting info to review later (I use my Moleskine, of course). For a lot of us, our knowledge and expertise in social was built off of our own personal interest in this once-emerging-now-flourishing communications channel. Just make sure to separate business and personal now that it’s part of your work, too.

Social Media Strategists: Make Yourself Obsolete

This is a repost from the old Caffeinated Imagination site, originally dated April 11, 2011. Still relevant today, and in the future! I had mentioned I would talk about the rise of the “social organization” – consider this the set-up post.

It seems very counter-intuitive. Most employees are trying to keep their job by keeping themselves and their skills relevant and important to the organization. My favorite quote from Poolhall Junkies (a classic, look it up!) came from Christopher Walken: “When I was a kid, I figured out right away: most companies pay people enough, so as they don’t quit. People work hard enough so as they don’t get fired. You know, what’s that?”

It’s this delicate dance that employees and employers try to perform. Each tries to keep the other happy and satisfied, while at the same trying to maintain a standard set of expectations. Well, if the rise of social media has taught us anything, it’s that expectations are changing.

In my experience, a social media strategist is the champion of the communication tools and the one-to-one engagement mentality within an organization. They work to unite the various departments and form a common set of social media guidelines and goals. Then, they help design and implement programs and campaigns, teaching others in the company how to set objectives, execute, and then collect the data and metrics needed to evaluate success. Eventually, the hope is that the corporate culture will shift and including social media strategies in everything from hiring new employees to writing RFPs will become second nature.

If the end goal is social media ubiquity within the organization, then it figures that the point of being a social media strategist is to make yourself redundant, unnecessary, obsolete. Sure, you can claim some responsibility for the new corporate mentality and an earth-shaking culture change. But when everyone in the company, from the CEO and board of directors to the nighttime custodian is empowered and educated to participate on behalf of the organization in blogging, YouTube, and Twitter, where does that leave you?

You’ve done your job. Pat yourself of the back and give yourself three cheers! Your dream of having your colleagues finally “get it” has become a reality. They crack out blog posts about their latest product improvement without hesitation, then submit it to a self-curating system where a set of their peers from other departments add their knowledge and participate in 100+ comment discussions with future happy customers. They now know the difference between a “tweet” and a “Like”, between Foursquare and Quora, and with the excellent e-learning courses you helped create, they’ll be ready to teach new employees about all the subtleties of social media.

And now that your work is done. You can move on to bigger and better things! Chief Content Officer? Chief Engagement Officer? Maybe. Or maybe you’ll go off and find another company to revolutionize. But whatever you do, you’ll know that you’ve done your job and made the world a more engaging place.

“Social Travelers” at SoshalGroup’s DNA Awards

I spoke with Dave Hale, CEO of SoshalGroup, a little while ago about about my role in developing and executing the social media strategy at VIA Rail, as well as our future plans. He’s just published an excellent write-up, titled “Social Travelers“.

It may seem like a bit of a pat on the back, but I think you should go read it. It’s just a little bit of proof that you can drive change from the bottom up in any organization – all it takes is some planning, the right champion on your side, and a lot of hard work and commitment.

Dave also touches on a concept that I’d like to expand on more here in the future – the “social organization”. It’s not a term I claim to have originated, but it’s one that I will be living and breathing for at least the next year at VIA Rail.

If you have a comment or question about VIA’s social media strategy, please let me know in the comments.

Webinar on VIA Rail’s Social Media Strategy – December 13th at 1 P.M. EST

Ever wonder what it’s like to put together a social media policy? Or how to organize a governance structure for social media in your organization? What about the steps you can take to get buy-in from the executive team?

I’ll be answering these questions, and any others you may have, on Tuesday, December 13th. At 1:30 P.M. EST, the Conference Board of Canada will be hosting a webinar with yours truly, where I’ll share the story behind VIA Rail Canada’s social media strategy.

For all of the details, including how to register, click here: Dec 13 Social Media Strategy Development Webinar

Have any questions you want me to address? Throw them in the comments section below! Hope you can make it!

Top 5 Social Media Topics for Inquiring Minds

I was lucky enough to join a panel discussion yesterday as part of my role as Community Manager at VIA Rail and participate in a back-and-forth about social media with some of Toronto’s best practitioners. Hosted by Jennifer Powell of Hart and Galla Marketing, and Susie Parker of Sparker Strategy Group, with fellow panellist Leigh Mitchell from Women in Biz Network, we had a great turnout and some good discussions for newbies and veterans alike.

Jennifer and Susie did a great job in their presentation (in that they made me feel guilty for not blogging more often, so here I am!), and the questions afterward gave me an idea of what some hot topics are right now for social media. Being an industry professional, it’s tough to see the “forest from the trees” occaisionally, and events such as the one last night give you an idea of what page others might be on, guiding your work and focusing your attention on areas where they need the most help.

I’ve thrown together a quick top 5 topics based on my experience last night, and the recent conference I attended in New York City as part of Social Week, called Pivot.

  1. Show me the money! Return on Investment is quickly becoming a key topic in social media. As budgets requests continue to increase, executives are being forced to ask “what do I get in return?”. This will be a focus of this blog over the coming weeks, possibly part of a regular feature.
  2. What networks should I use / What’s the next big thing? The answer to both of these questions is the same: It depends on where your audience is, and where they’re going. Charlene Li pointed out at Pivot that we “shouldn’t worry about the next big thing until your customers start to use it”. Focus on the networks where your customers are interacting, whether that be on Facebook or a niche blog.
  3. How much time should I spend on social media? A classic question, and one that’s difficult to answer with a blanket statement other than “it depends”. I advocate spending no more than an hour a day across all profiles. This helps ensure that you are still doing other things, and that you’re taking advantage of your real-life relationships, too. Turning social relationships into real-life ones is a great way to benefit from your time online. On the other hand, is social media the sole method of promoting your business? Then you should probably spend a little bit more time on it.
  4. Influencers: The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Identifying influencers is a tricky thing. Numbers like Klout and Kred can be gamed by users. Only by digging deeper into a user’s profile, focusing on their engagement with and the quality of their network, can we truly begin to identify influential social media users. But when you do, it can provide a measurable impact on your campaign metrics.
  5. If content is king, why do I feel like the town drunk? Creating relevant, interesting and fun content for your business means creating engaging content for your stakeholders. The trick is figuring out what kind of content your audience or potential audience is looking for, and then delivering it in a way that reflects the uniqueness of your brand. As we move forward into the age of the social consumer, it’s a no brainer that the creativity we used to find only in radio, print and TV will spill-over into social, and the integrated campaign will become king. It already has.

Let’s call this a starting point for the blog for the remainder of the year. I’ll touch on each of these subjects, and I have a few new ideas for regular updates, starting next week.

Comments and suggestions for other big topics in social are welcome!

Siri Has a Sense of Humour

The newest shiny object on the block is the iPhone 4S. Although most people were disappointed with the announcement last week, a couple key features stood out as game changers.

For most, it was Siri, an application exclusive to the 4S. Siri is voice activated and responds in a woman’s voice. She can help you do nearly everything from schedule reminders, to write and read your text messages, to finding a local Indian restaurant.

She’s also pretty funny.

On launch day, we already have a Tumblr of funny answers that Siri as given to ridiculous questions. Shit Siri Says plays off the name of the popular Twitter account (and not-so-popular TV show), Shit My Dad Says. My favourite back and forth at the time of posting?

Fun, friendly, clever. Just like Apple itself.

Apple has a reputation for creative, clever, intelligent and easy-to-use products. The killer app for the iPhone 4S is no exception, and it looks to be more than just a selling feature for this years release. It gives the product a personality, something Apple usually accomplishes through aesthetics instead of apps.

Is it a must-have smartphone because of this? Probably not. Will you go around and show all your friends the funny things that Siri says? Definitely. And that will help strengthen not just the relationship consumers will have with the product, but also with Apple.

If this is Steve’s swan song, it’s a pretty sweet tune.