Why I Love Social Media: Translating the printemps érable.

I will admit it. The Quebec student protests never really resonated with me.

Despite my liberal democratic ideals, despite my support for a fully accessible public education system, and despite my conviction that public protest is an essential component of a healthy democracy, I didn’t instinctively find any common cause or sense of purpose with the events in Montreal.

Even when the Charest government passed the ridiculous Loi 78, I responded with a detached sense of incredulity — like it was a bad move in a chess match I was following online.

I will also admit, I even started to buy into the notion that these protests are somehow distinctively Québécois and French. We are living, after all, in the land of the “Two Solitudes”, where those wacky French Québécois get up to all kind of antics that can only mystify English Canadians.

Fortunately, a Francophone and recent arrival from Montreal, who I met through social media, flipped me a link to “Translating the printemps érable”.

The premise of the blog is simple.

The bloggers think the English mainstream media is doing a poor job of covering the student protests and the now much broader response to Loi 78. They are trying to help English Canadians get a better understanding of the events on the ground by translating — to the best of their ability — some of the French press that, they feel, is providing a more nuanced portrayal of the events.

For Canadians, I think the significance of this blog really can’t be overstated because its essential premise explodes the notion that the “Two Solitudes” is a basic fact of Canadian identify.

Fundamentally, the authors of the blog recognize and accept:

  1. English Canadians are not intrinsically disinterested in the events unfolding in Montreal and Quebec and are not too alien to care or understand, but are, in fact, simply being misinformed by mainstream English media;
  2. It is worthwhile for what is happening in Quebec to help English Canadians better understand what’s, in fact, happening there.

In other words, the blog is living proof that there is no essential and intrinsic disinterest between French and English Canada. The reception the blog has received on Twitter also supports this view.

Furthermore, whether they intend it or not, the existence of the blog also implies a very plausible explanation for the fact of the “Two Solitudes.” The supposed disinterest between French and English Canada is, in all likelihood, something manufactured by our national media and political elites.

In retrospect and thanks to Translating the printemps érable, it’s now painfully obvious why the events in Montreal did not resonate with me. I was experiencing them through the lens of the national English media, which is hell bent on convincing me these events aren’t significant and are somehow intrinsically foreign and alien to me, as an English Canadian. I like to think I’m a fairly savvy consumer of media but, clearly, I was sucked into this manufactured narrative, without even fully realizing it.

So, if you value democracy — in any sense of the word — you should give a few minutes of your time to Translating the printemps érable. What matters most, whether you agree or disagree with this or that point of politics, is that you recognize and accept that the events unfolding in Montreal and Quebec are significant for all of us in Canada, whatever language we speak.

If you recognize and accept this key idea, please follow @TranslateErable and tell as many of your friends as you can that, unlike the national media, there’s a blog dedicated to helping them better understand the events unfolding in Montreal and Quebec.

How To Outflank Facebook, Google, and Twitter: Run A Global Popularity Contest.

If I had two million dollars to invest in an idea, this is the idea I would invest in.

The Idea

  • A sales and marketing platform with the appeal of American Idol and the scale of social media. It will leverage existing and future social media, incorporate game elements, and fully integrate into people’s offline lives.
  • American Idol meets Klout meets the American presidential primaries — on a global scale.


The Opportunity for Users

  • Turn your social media influence into a substantial reward for you and and your favorite charity.


The Opportunity for Brands

  • Target and engage proven influencers, their supporters, and be imbedded into the everyday minute-by-minute game of their lives.


The Contest

  • The prize: $100,000 for the individual and $1,000,000 for a charity of his or her choice.
  • There will be two finalists: one male and one female.
  • Men will compete against men and women against women, until the two finalists are identified.
  • The top, say, 100 contestants will be offered jobs or helped to find jobs in the social media industry.
  • Users register either as a contestant or a supporter. Contestants will provide a substantial amount of personal information. Supporters won’t provide as much information but a substantial amount will be required to avoid voter fraud.
  • A set number of contestants and supporters must be recruited before a deadline, for the contest to begin and for the prize money to become available. This will encourage contestants and supporters to recruit other participants and eliminate the risk that the reward will be given away without generating enough interest.
  • Before the contest officially begins, supporters will be able to switch their vote as often as they like.
  • Once the contest begins, a supporter will only be able to switch their votes a set number of times (three, for example).
  • At designated intervals, contestants will be eliminated from the game based on the number of votes they’ve earned and they become supporters. All supporters, old and new, will now be able to switch their votes a set number of times. Early in the game, supporters will be able to switch their votes more often and later in the contest less often. In effect, over the length of the contest, there will be several voting opportunities of escalating importance.
  • New contestants and supporters can enter the contest at any time but once a contestant is eliminated s/he can’t restart as a contestant.
  • Throughout the game, participants earn points by undertaking certain tasks that will also help them get supporters (e.g. start a Facebook page and get 1000 likes, run a Movember campaign and raise $1,000, get 100 supporters to enter a coupon code at a certain site, or check-in to a store and post ten photos of your favorite dresses).
  • Supporters earn points based on the success of the person for whom they’ve voted.
  • As the field narrows, the tasks become more elaborate (e.g. earn points for number of media mentions generated in regional dailies).
  • Contestant and supporters can use the points they earn to buy goods and services from brands that have partnered with the contest.


The User Interface

  • Each contestant will have a simple profile, including a photo, a short blurb, the charity s/he supports, and links to whatever social media s/he uses to recruit supporters.
  • A counter will indicate the number of votes each contestant has, the number of points earned, and the number of points spent. Badges for the the top ten goods or services purchased by the contestant will also be displayed.
  • Contestants and supporters will be able to access basic demographic information about the supporters of the contestant they currently support.
  • The landing page of the site will always feature the top two profiles at any given moment – the male leader and the female leader. The second page will feature the top four and, so on.
  • Supporters will have the option of creating a similar public profile (but won’t be required to). The main difference is that it will highlight the contestant that is supported. It can also be used to help win more supporters for the contestant. It will also show the top goods and services the supporter purchased with his or her points.


I Love This Idea! How Can I Help?

  • Share the crap out of this post, please.
  • If you know someone or an organization already working on an idea like this, please post the details in the comments section below and flip this post their way.
  • Sign up to my social media newsletter, to keep tabs on how this idea develops and on other social media ideas, as they come up.
  • If you have the skills and resources to run with this idea, by all means, get on it. Ultimately, this idea gets money to registered charities, so the more iterations of the idea the better.
  • If you like the idea but are working on another project, check out my CV to see if I’m a good fit for the team. Meanwhile, I will be rolling my pennies.


If you have any thoughts or ideas, please share them below.

Social Media 201: Will You Be Ready For The Changes We Can’t Yet Conceive?

The Big Picture

  • When thinking about social media tools strategically, whether for yourself or for your organization, it’s important not to get too bogged down in the details of a specific tool.
  • Instead, you must first understand what these tools, on the whole, uniquely allow you or your organization to do, why they are important, and how they can serve your strategic goal or goals.


Why?

  • Social media tools come and go.
  • The dominant social media tools are constantly evolving and at a very fast rate.
  • Because these tools are user driven, each tool is used differently and has its own culture and subcultures.
  • Like any other tool, these tools can be put to different uses, given your strategic goals.


How should I think about these tools?

  • First, understand what these tools uniquely allow you or your organization to do.
  • Then, decide whether or not that capacity will serve your strategic goals.
  • Finally, if you think these tools will serve your strategic goals, then, look at the specific tools more carefully.


What Does Social Media Uniquely Allow You To Do?

  • Social media allows you to communicate instantly and at any time with people who themselves can communicate to others instantly and at any time.
  • These tools also provide a wealth of information about the people with which you communicate.
  • Using social media effectively, you or your organization can create a local, national, and/or international network of engaged and active supporters organized around your core story, idea, or message and who are mobilized to act in ways that serve your core story, idea, or message.
  • These tools can be used for other purposes, for example, broadcasting your story or cocktail party socializing, but it’s the real time engagement and organizing that makes these tools unique. Ask President Obama.


Why Would I Or My Organization Want To Create Such A Network?

  • Ultimately, the answer to that question will depend on the strategic goals of your organization, but here are some broad concepts to get you started.
  • There is no value without valuers. If you can organize valuers and direct their valuing, you can create value. Social media can help you organize valuers.
  • Social and political power is ultimately measured by a person’s or organization’s ability to motivate others to act to achieve some particular end. Social media can help you organize people to achieve particular ends.
  • To create demand when there is none, people must be convinced of a need they did not know existed and most people rely on the opinions and judgements of their peers to decide if a need exists or not. Social media can help you organize and direct the opinions and judgments of people who influence their peers.

Why Is Social Media Important?

  • Right now, there are something like 15 million monthly Facebook users in Canada and 9 million use it daily. About 3.2 million Canadians are on Twitter and about 654,000 of them tweet more than ten times a day. There are about 25 million mobile phones in Canada and about 45% of them are smart phones. The wireless network required for smartphones and wireless broadband access is available to 97% of Canadians.
  • According to the CRTC, in 2015, 14 million Canadians will be accessing the internet through mobile devices. That is to say, in 2015, 14 million Canadians will have the power to communicate instantly with each other at any time of the day from anywhere that is served by a wireless network.
  • By 2016, it has been estimated that there will be 1.4 mobile devices for every person on the planet. In other words, by 2016, every person on the planet will be able to interact with every other person on the planet — instantly.
  • In effect, social media and mobile technology is creating a whole new world and, like the discovery of the previous new world, the first people to colonize this new world will reap the greatest gains.
  • In this new world, however, the resources to be developed are people.
  • The printing press, the radio, the telephone, television, and computers each transformed human society in ways that were unimaginable to the people alive at the time of their introduction. Social media and mobile technology will change human society in ways we can’t yet even conceive.
  • Will you and your organization be ready?

Thoughts or feedback?

Taking Stock of Social Media 2009 – 2012: Social Media Is Dead, Long Live Social Media.

Recently, a friend wrote to ask me how I was feeling about social media these days.

As it happens, I’ve been thinking about social media a lot recently, in part, because we are, I think, at a bit of a crossroads. My friend’s question presented the perfect opportunity to articulate my thoughts.

Here’s a revised version of my reply:

On the one hand, I can’t help but assess social media from the perspective of my experience of undergraduate life.

For a while there, for those of us who jumped on board in a big way in late 2008 and early 2009, the experience of social media was a lot like my experience of first year university and residence life.

In the beginning, everyone was a fish out of water, everyone was looking for new friends, and everyone was ready to be friends with everyone else. We were all open to possibility of the possible. We left the doors to our social media rooms open all the time. Our social media campus was intimate enough that we could easily talk to the professors, tutors, and senior students and take on a leadership role.

Then, eventually, a year or maybe a year and a half later — just like the end of my first year at university — tribes and smaller closed communities began to coalesce. Social media became less about finding new friends and more about nurturing the friends people already had. People started dropping out because they realized that our social media campus really wasn’t for them after all.

I think the trend for closed, inward-looking communities will continue and social media for many people will primarily be tools for managing and nurturing the relationships they already have. For a lot of people, I think these tools will only ever serve that function, particularly because so many people are now jumping onboard only because so many of their friends are already using the tools. Why create a new network, when my familiar network is right here already?

For someone like me, who thinks the real value of these tools is their ability to create new and unexpected community, that conclusion/prediction/outcome is more than a little bit depressing, in large part because it’s just to admit that humans always tend to form closed inward looking communities.

There is, nevertheless, good news.

Out there on social media, it’s always first year for some people. It’s just a matter of finding them and connecting. It will be a little tougher, as the campus gets crowded, but, as more people becomes less willing to engage beyond a certain circle of friends, those who are willing to engage beyond those circles in a meaningful way will have an even greater impact.

The lamentable human tendency towards closed inward looking communities also represents a real opportunity. For example, at the end of my first year in university, I ended up in charge of a bunch of clubs simply because no one else wanted to do it and that lead to all kinds of opportunities down the road. When no one else even knows where the plate is, stepping to it becomes even more valuable.

Moreover, in every closed community, there will always be a few people thinking, “man, there’s got to be something more than this” and social media can connect those people, even as they hang out with their “real” friends. They don’t need to abandon their friends or risk ostracization simply because they are showing interest in a new social group. With a global organizing tool now at your finger tips, if you organize only 1% of the people who share your interests, you are looking at a sizable group of people.

Less allegorically but in a similar vein, the fact that the big old institutions are now taking a serious interest in social media presents a serious threat to the vitality of these tools. A lot of people who made it to the top of those institutions are going to try to make sense of these new tools in terms of the old practices that got them to the top.

Some will do this for Machiavellian reasons but for most people it will just be a matter of them making sense of new tools in terms that are familiar to them and have been successful up to this point. Because the tools are user driven and because users tend to follow the examples of recognized leaders, I wouldn’t be surprised if the dominant practices on social media look more and more like the mass media communication practices of the 80s and 90s.

The good news: unless the internet is somehow destroyed or dramatically hobbled, the social media mammals will always be able to play safely in the shadows of the dinosaurs. In fact, the more conservative the dominant practices become the more interesting the mammals will seem.

The reality check: mammals didn’t defeat the dinosaurs, a meteorite did. Mammals just happened to be able to adapt when the big rock fell.

Is there a big rock on the horizon? I’d say, yes.

The aging retiring population might be enough to count as a big rock. It’s certain that the financial piracy in the US and Europe is unsustainable. The massive shift from rural to urban living could do it. Our changing climate is a likely candidate. My personal favorite is the fact that it’s currently predicted that there will be 1.4 mobile devices for every human on the planet by 2016. For me, that kind of connectivity is mind blowing. From enough of a distance, we humans start to look like neurons in a new kind of brain.

Whatever the future holds, I think social media will play an important role and the social media environment, however crowded and banal it may at times seem, is filled with tremendous opportunity for people who are prepared to pursue it. The low hanging social media fruit is gone and, honestly, that’s probably a good thing. There’s now a much better chance that we will figure out that there’s something much more interesting than fruit out there to pick.

Conclusion/advice: stay nimble, keep learning, and be ready to seize the opportunities created by social media when the big rock falls.

I Like My Media Like I Like My Chaps: Social!

When I first got onboard social media in a serious way, back in November of 2008, I thought the expression “social media” was stupid.

Media, in this sense of the word, are always, by definition, social, if by “social” you mean something like “involving more than one person.” To transmit information, at least two people need to be involved. Indeed, in the age of mass media, information often flows from some people to many people and, for awhile there, to almost all people.

Clearly, like assless chaps, social media is a redundant expression.

Or so I thought.

As a matter of fact, the expression “assless chaps” refers to a particular use of chaps — that is, when chaps are worn over clothing that have no ass and, generally, for fetish purposes. Yes, all chaps are assless but only some chaps are worn with no pants for the purposes of sexual titillation.

As more and more people embrace the expression “digital media” rather than “social media,” as more and more people use these online tools to broadcast to already existing and familiar audiences, and after finally consulting a dictionary, I’m reminded that there are important and relevant meanings associated with the word “social” that are usefully added to the word “media.”

Yes, all online tools are digital but not all uses of those tools are social.

Newspapers, once upon a time, were social. TV too. Publishing houses, academic presses, theaters, and universities. Yes, they were all social and, at some point, the social dimension was abandoned. Arguably, the people who controlled these tools even started using them in an asocial fashion.

Social media isn’t killing old media. The people who control old media are killing old media because they forgot something our ancestors understood and acted on every time a fire was lit to draw a crowd.

The real power of these tools — old or digital — is to create, organize, and inspire new and unexpected community. If you can’t do that, if you can’t attract new people, new ideas, new directions, you’re community is already dying.

Online digital tools can help you avoid this slow death, but only if you’re ready to use them socially.

Belated Good News! Now Working With The Federation of Canadian Municipalities On #CutMyCommute

Some of you know; some of you have guessed; and some of you will now discover: I have a job!

I am the social media officer for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. FCM is a non-partisan organization that lobbies the federal government on behalf of over 2000 municipalities.

I’ve been brought in to help with the organization’s social media efforts over the course of the election and in the run up to their AGM in June. If municipal issues are a priority for you (and they should be), follow FCM_online on Twitter.

Needless to say, I love the work. More importantly, I’m also very impressed by the people and the organization. Check out the highlights of their election platform.

One of the main projects I’ve been working on right out of the gate is FCM’s #CutMyCommute campaign. Hopefully, you have caught wind of it already. If not, check out the site.

If you like the idea of the campaign, please tweet it up and add a comment on the site!

Also, I’d love to hear what you think of the campaign from a social media perspective (strategy, tactics, etc.). I’ve already learned a tonne and I am sure your comments, remarks, and/or reflections will help me learn even more.

All comments welcome!

An Essential Rule To Blog (And Live) By: Don’t Do As I Do!

One of the aspects I enjoy most about this blog is that the very same people who comment on a poem, a play, or a song often comment on one of my social and political posts or on a theatre review or on a post analyzing social media.

My mind wanders and, thankfully, there are more than a few people who like to wander with me. It’s very much appreciated!

Unfortunately, from a orthodox marketing communications perspective, my approach to blogging is unequivocally wrong. Don’t do as I do! Don’t do as I do!

In sharp contrast to the way I write and post around here, the most successful blogs identify a niche and then regularly produce quality content that fills that niche and that niche alone.

Take a look at the category headings with which I obsessively organize my posts. Each of those categories, at minimum, should be a blog onto itself. Arguably, even those categories are far too broad.

For instance, a blog about designer eye wear is to be preferred to a fashion blog that sometimes features posts about glasses. A blog that only critically discusses sex is to be preferred to a blog that critically discusses sex, love, and friendship. In fact, a blog devoted to one sex-act in particular might even be best. A weekly ode to cunnilingus might go over like dental dambusters!

I call attention to my willful disregard to communications orthodoxy because i) I don’t feel like I’m posting as regularly as I would otherwise like; and ii) I’ve discovered that my new girlfriend — I mean, my new Nexus 1 smartphone — has a great WordPress app.

I think my smart phone can help me address my concerns about infrequent posting because I really like the idea of creating shorter posts, more frequently, and on the fly out there in the world. Basically, I want to see what’s possible — what kind of story I can tell — if I exploit all of the technological possibilities of my mobile phone.

Yes, essentially, I want to blog like a fourteen year old girl. A fourteen year old girl with a mobile phone and an unlimited data plan.

More charitably, I want to try and capture the random, unpolished, and aphoristic feel of my notebooks and try to hold it all together with the overriding narrative of my on-going effort to live artfully. Fear not, I will also try to nail one extended and polished post a week, so we still have something to talk about around here.

On further reflection, maybe I want to blog like a certain twelve year old doctor.

Because this is such a radical shift, I seriously considered creating a new blog. Unfortunately, the Android apps for the other blogging services aren’t up to snuff yet, which is a bit of surprise, given the fact that Google is responsible for Blogger and Android. And I’m not inclined to start another WordPress blog because I’ve already got my vanity URL locked up with this blog.

At any rate, blog friends, consider yourself warned and remember not to do as I do. This blog will always be a random walk though the park of whatever happens to be holding my interest at the moment. A blog lab, if you will! A blogatory! A blogatorium!

Now that you are duly warned, I also want to take this opportunity to pick your brains. Please  vote for your favorite flavor of blog! I will post the results once I close the poll!

P.S. I can’t figure out how to center this poll. If you know how, please let me know. It’s left-alignment is driving me batty!

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