Header photo by Hamish Grant. Used with permission.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Time Travel and Public Relations

If you could ask future you three questions, what would you ask?  What would you want to know? Would you take your own advice?

Yesterday was the last day of the semester in PR school at Humber.  To mark the occasion, social media instructor, and all-around insightful guy, Micheal Cayley turned the class over to us to discuss the future.

Jenna Stothers and I took the lead, and organized Future Camp - an event designed to stimulate discussion around maintaining social capital and staying connected as a network of public relations professionals.  It was casual, interactive and a whole lot of fun.

The day focused on three aspects:
  1. The Future: Together
  2. The creation of a digital time capsule
  3. The Google Doc Shuffle

Overall, Future Camp was inspiring.  I was impressed to see the class come together, recognizing the value of maintaining our real-life and digital networks.  Though we still have four months of PR school ahead of us, Future Camp was helpful in proactively nurturing relationships to ensure a robust network.

After all, the interconnectedness of social media is incredible, but it will never replace good-ol'-fashioned face-to-face social capital.

Happy future.

For more on Future Camp, check out the blogs of:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did I Just Sell Out?

Two weeks ago, I attended a presentation about social media and search engine optimization by Rob Campbell from SMOJoe.  Rob uses a lot of different social sites and tools to create "information funnels" and "buckstops," building "keyword sandwiches" to win Google results.  Google eats them all up.  Fascinating stuff.

In his presentation, Rob encouraged the class put grass cutting in a blog post which would link to http://thegrasscutters.ca.

Key word: grass cutting.  Not grass cutters, not lawn mowing.  Grass cutting. Why?  Well, that particular company is a client of Rob's.  This link on my little blog is just one aspect of Rob's story funnel which ultimately leads to the buckstop: the Grasscutters' website. He wants his client to be number one on a Google search on the matter of "grass cutting."

So I've blogged it.  There it is, Rob.

Now what?  Has my blog become a billboard?  Has my personal brand taken a turn for the commercial?  Am I  *gasp*  ...  a"sell-out?"

I've been thinking about this for a while.  Blogging continues to grow as an important marketing and PR strategy.  It's not a secret.  Companies are realizing the strategic potential of getting well-read bloggers on board with brands, products and ideas.   It's pretty straightforward: a company gives me a snazzy new product and encourages me to blog, tweet and facebook about it.  I create some buzz and before you know it, my social media community wants one too. 

Brain Alkerton, a classmate from the highschool days, argues that "personal sponsorship is personal censorship."  Of social media sponsorship he writes,
These are the thoughts that go through the heads of the people holding the pursestrings, and it’s simple enough math. They don’t have to demand that you restrain negative opinions because you know the gravy train stops when you start criticizing too strongly. So you temper your words, and you tell yourself that because you’ve got a “blog with integrity” badge on your page you’re doing things right, as if disclosing that you’re on the take makes it okay.
Brian's point is well-taken.  If company X is paying me to blog or tweet about something, it's possible (likely?) that I will take it easy on them - even if I have an axe to grind.  But then again, maybe not.

Many bloggers are well-liked and widely-read exactly because they are outspoken and unpredictable.  If they're making a buck from a corporation that does something to piss them off, this brand of blogger had no qualms about saying it, even at the risk of losing that sponsor.

But is it "selling out?"  Is it making a compromise in integrity?

I don't think so.  It's all about how you do it.  If the corporately-sponsored blogging is annoying and alienates his or her community with relentless ads and commercial pandering, then it is possible that he or she may lose readers and the blog posts will be less valuable to the sponsoring corporation.  However, if it's done in a dynamic way that continues to add value and appeals the the audience, it can work.

Besides, isn't that the dream?  To get paid to do something you love, something that other people enjoy (hopefully) and something you would do anyway?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stepping up for clean air in Toronto

I like my air clean and my transit accessible.  How do you like them?

Let me tell you little story about Metrolinx: Metrolinx (formally known as the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) is the public authority that manages transportation planning throughout the GTA. It operates GO Transit, and is responsible for planning and implementing the growth of transit in the region.

Transit = good

One of the projects that Metrolinx is involved with is an expansion of the rail corridor between Georgetown and Union Station.  Currently, about 45 trains run through that corridor each day.  After the expansion, that number will rise to between 200 and 450.

More transit = more good (right?)

Maybe.  Problem # 1 is that all this new rail infrastructure is being built to increase diesel train capacity. Four hundred more diesel trains running through the west end of Toronto daily?  That's a lot of diesel.

"Toronto is the new L.A." has a nice ring to it if we're talking about famous people. It's less appealing if referring to smog.

Here's what I'm thinking: If we're spending all kinds of money expanding the rail service through this corridor, why not invest in sustainable transit?  Why not make it electric?  With the PanAm games coming to this city, wouldn't a modern, clean, electric rail system be something that we would want to proudly showcase, rather than a smoke-spewing diesel behemoth?

Problem #2: These trains aren't going to be stopping in the communities they run through; they will be going straight from Union Station to Pearson International Airport.

It doesn't seem like a well-thought out plan.  Shouldn't these trains running through these west-Toronto communities at least serve them?  That's what I think.

The GOOD NEWS is that it's not a done deal yet.
But the cause needs further support.  You can: