Calgary flood 2013

Twitter: is it still optional in communications?

You seem to like Twitter a lot. Should it be part of our communications strategy?

It was a question posed to me during a recent job interview. Many of my friends should be surprised to hear I responded ‘not really.’

The company for which I was interviewing is based in a smaller city, one where social media — at least Twitter — hasn’t really taken off as a business communication tool.

Sure, I said, the competition is using it and that means we should be listening and posting when necessary. Twitter should be a bit player in the overall strategy, I said, but our key communications tools should be traditional media.

It made sense at the time.

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beer cans

Getting the cold shoulder on Twitter

Imagine for a moment that you’re looking for a specific item.

You approach the salesperson in your favourite store or boutique and ask, “Do you have any navy pencil skirts?”

The salesperson responds: “All of our skirts are on the second floor. Just go up those stairs.”

That doesn’t feel very helpful, does it? You were probably hoping she might lead you to the correct spot and even say “Can I help you find something in your size?”

The helpful reaction isn’t just what I might expect while out shopping. It’s a reaction I have gotten, which made me happy to spend hard-earned money in that store.

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A Walk on the River 041
Kamloops Lake

Separate lives

I’ve been told I’m a paradox all wrapped up in one.

I can be knee-deep in mud in the afternoon and dressed up in heels for a networking event that night.

I thought I could keep it all the facets of my life funneled into one website.

But a friend recently told me I might be muddying the waters, confusing potential clients about what they should be looking for when they need a writer or a community manager.

Shep and That Angela

She thought it might even help me find travel-related clients (yes, please!) if I build a website that’s dedicated to the weekend adventures I take with my trusty best friend at my side.

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hands texting on smartphone

A time to Tweet … a time not to Tweet

I Tweet. A lot. Often. About almost anything.

My friends know this. Many of them love me for it.

After all, I first ‘met’ most of them on Twitter.

I Tweet about my workouts, my dog walks, my shopping, hockey games, whatever pops into my head.

I support live Tweeting events. I promoted live Tweeting TV shows to my former employer when I was its social media strategist.

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Twitter bird at Christmas time

Just one day

In 2009, I started a Christmas tradition for myself.

Some might call it “quirky.”

Others might call it “old-fashioned.”

You might even want to tell me to get with it, because “social media doesn’t take a day off.”

All I ask is that for one day — Christmas Day to be exact — I don’t have to read your advertising bullshit on my Twitter feed. I remember the first account that started it all … a realtor was pimping out his repossession listings.

Ugh, I thought, that’s in bad taste.

And I unfollowed that account. In years since, whenever I see a business Tweeting anything advertising-ish, anything outside of “Merry Christmas to all our followers,” I ditch ’em like a hot potato.

Because, you see, that’s the beauty of Twitter. If I don’t like what you’re Tweeting about, I can unfollow you. The same goes if you don’t like my posts.

I did, however, mention it to one of the accounts I stopped following, knowing that I “engaged” with the account in the past and I knew who was behind the Tweeting. I simply said, “Take a day off, eh?”

Two days later — today — I received a reply. Social media doesn’t take a day off.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t take even a second off, unless we’re faced with the mighty Fail Whale (which makes several people I know suffer panic attacks). But it’s up to us to use our accounts wisely and responsibly.

“Sometimes entrepreneurs don’t get a day off, xmas or otherwise. You were there reading the tweets!”

Yes, yes, I was. But on Christmas Day, I wasn’t working. I wasn’t Tweeting links. And I wasn’t trying to convince my followers to hire me for my writing, editing or community management skills. I also wasn’t Tweeting on behalf of any of my clients, giving their followers a day off from the chit-chat (even the Australians who were already done and done with Christmas).

Yet amid the joy of following along with friends and acquaintances as they tweeted their gift openings, I got blasted with: Blog it up for you (sic) business! We will set up your WordPress blog for free!

OK, sure, the grammatical error irked me wildly. The slammers (news room speak for exclamation marks) made me wince. But come on, we can’t take one day off?

We can’t give our followers a break, maybe just wish them merry Christmas and good tidings of the season?

It just seems like a Christmas-y thing to do.

We’re blasted by Christmas from the second the Halloween decorations come down (in some stores, it’s even before that!) and Santa barfs all over everything for at least two months, leading up to Dec. 25.

I’m no religious zealot. I don’t even believe in organized religion, so Christmas isn’t a Christian pursuit for me.

I do believe Christmas is a wonderful time for love and family and joy and sharing … even sharing on social media.

But not for pimping your business.

Just give us one day off.

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Social media gives us a case of The Stupid

I hate lecturing people.

More than that, I hate taking things too seriously.

But, folks, some things are going too far.

We have these amazing tools at our hands. We use them to communicate with others, check in with old friends, meet new ones, promote our products and services … and sometimes troll the hell out of each other.

Last night, while I was laying out the inside city pages of today’s Kamloops Daily News, I noticed a trend. And it’s not the kind of trend that makes me happy. No, no … not like motorcycle boots or skinny jeans.

It’s our flagrant use of social media and the internet.

In three different stories — count ’em, THREE — we have people using social media in ways that adversely affects the lives of those around us. And that’s just in Kamloops.

It’s like we log on and catch a case of The Stupid.

First, girls gang up on another girl on Twitter, then bitch her out at her locker, record it and put the video on YouTube … because we haven’t had enough stories from across Canada and the United States of The Stupid getting caught by airing their exploits for all to see.

Just recently, there was The Stupid girl who robbed a bank and then posted a video about it. Cops saw it, now she’s looking at jail time.

Second, we have the bus passengers who accused the B.C. Transit driver of not letting them off at their stop and kidnapping them. When I initially saw the video on YouTube, I thought, ‘Man, why are these people acting so hysterically. The bus driver seems like a sweet old fella.’

Guess what? Other passengers have come forward and who’s to blame? The passengers. Yeah, it seems the guy who recorded the confrontation kicked the bus driver, causing him to fall into the bus door and smash the glass.

Cool, pal. You have your 15 minute of fame now.

For The Stupid.

Third, a young girl and her friend try to organize a dance to raise funds for diabetes research. There was some confusion about booze, they cancelled the beer garden but things kept spiralling out of hand on the internet.

It’s kind of like that old Vidal Sassoon commercial from the 70s (dating myself here). She’ll tell two friends and she’ll tell two friends and she’ll tell two friends and so on and so on and so on and … well, you get the picture.

The trouble with ‘so on and so on’ is the facts get lost in the tale-telling. What was supposed to be a non-alcoholic party turned into a ‘rave’ and a beer bash and good-grief-knows-what-else.

The girls had to cancel the dance after selling 400 tickets.

In light of my Google+ plea to the world last weekend for us all to be nicer to each other, here’s another one: be smarter.

These are incredible days. We can reach out and say hi to someone on the other side of the country (or the world) and have a reply in seconds. We can Skype (or Face Time if you’re one of those <shudder> Apple people) and talk face to face with our loved ones.

We follow breaking news minute by minute, second by second, reading updates from people on the scene.

But like Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker in Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.

There’s an onus upon us to use these tools responsibly … and to teach our children how to be good citizens, not just of the internet but of the world.

Let’s stop looking for those GOTCHA! moments and rushing to put it on YouTube. Let’s stop patting ourselves on the backs for bringing another person down. Let’s lift each other up and help girls like Olivia Hughes and Amanda Sullivan hold their dances and teach them that trying to help is a good thing.

Let’s stop being stupid.

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Kamloops Fire Rescue needs your Facebook love

They’re so close.

So close.

Kamloops Fire Rescue needs — at the time I hit Publish — just 33 Likes to hit 1,315 Likes on its Facebook page by New Year’s Eve.

What’s the big deal?

KFR is in a race to get 1,000 new Likes, meeting a challenge by the Kamloops McDonald’s franchises. In exchange, McDonald’s will hand over $1 for every new Like up to $1,000. It all goes toward KFR’s new inflatable safety house.

The story goes back a few years, says KFR’s fire safety educator, Capt. Shel Guertin. (Sidebar: his email says Sheldon but he called himself Shel in our Facebook message exchange, so that’s what I’m going with.)

KFR had this clunky old trailer they carted around from school to school, teaching the local kids about fire safety. But you know, Kamloops is all hilly and twisty and turny and stuff. The bloody thing became a right old pain in the ass to get places. KFR pulled it off the road in 2003.

“When I became Fire Safety Educator in 2009, I was asked to do something about it,” Shel says. “What could I do? I thought about putting the trailer on a permanent mount but then who would pay for the kids’ bus rides to the trailer? And what school is going to let them be out of class for four hours, including bus rides and the two hours of learning?

“We had to take the education to them.”

What else was there to do? Enter the internet.

Shel did a search and came up with an inflatable fire safety house. I don’t know if this the right one but it sounds an awful lot like the one Shel described:

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Cool, huh?

Shel says he went for the Binford model (insert Tim Allen grunt here) that’s about 7,000 square feet and has a second floor with a slide. Throughout the house are fire safety messages about candle safety, cooking safety and more. The kids get to the top floor and slide out. If they want to go back in and learn more, they have to tell Shel one thing they learned while they were inside.

“It’s fun, it’s safe and it’s interactive,” he says. “It’s a great place for the kids to learn how to stop, drop and roll, or how to crawl under the smoke. It’s one thing to have a truck and talk to kids about fire safety, but who wants to stand around and listen to me the whole time.”

Now he just had to figure out how to come up with the $33,000 to get it — that includes the dolly, a generator, some tables and some other stuff.

It’s Kamloops. People are naturally generous. Interior Savings Centre came up with $10,000. Other organizations dropped off amounts of $5,000 and $2,000. Along with the impending McDonald’s donation, KFR has enough money pledged and they’ve ordered the house. It will be here the first week of January.

The idea for the Facebook challenge came from Aleece Laird of Fresh Ink Marketing. She’s done work with Shel before and she proposed the  idea.

Shel had already recognized the power of social media — we’ll get to that in a minute — but, boy, is he having fun with it now.

Especially as he watches the Facebook Likes climb towards the 1,315 milestone for the full McDonald’s donation.

“You know, I took all these courses about social media and the two big rules I learned was ‘never self-promote’ and ‘never hijack other brand pages,” Shel says. “I break both those rules all the time.”

Whaaaaaat? Breaking rules? Perish the thought, I says!

Negative. Rules are made to be broken. In fact, I’ve long believed there are few — if any — rules to using social media.

Shel agrees.

“I’m all about shameless promotion and I’ve gone on the Blazers page, TRU and others asking for support,” he says. “Our Likes go up every time.”

Oh, the power

Yep, we owe Tim Taylor a prop here.

Shel didn’t just go for the Binford model of the fire safety house. He knows there’s power (if I knew how to type out a Tim-esque grunt here, I would) in online networking.

He uses Facebook and Twitter to talk about fire safety.

“Facebook is a great way to reach people and promote our safety programs,” he says. “We get people thinking about fire safety.”

And more power?

The numbers.

“Oh, I love tracking the stats … male vs. female, age groups … the insight is incredible,” Shel says. “It tells me what posts people like and any negative feedback seems to come from our popularity and showing up on everyone’s walls as a Like or a comment.”

His audience skews heavily female (63%) and young adult (25 to 34). Since his programs typically reach young kids and senior citizens, Facebook is letting him hit one of the ‘holes in the middle,’ he calls the demographic.

The analytics also let him prove the value to a once-reluctant management level. (Don’t worry, Shel. We’ve all been there.)

And then there’s Twitter. The KFR account, @KamFire, 756 followers.

Shel uses it to post quick, newsy messages. He likes that the media can follow him, so he’s not constantly answering phone calls when there’s a fire. The reporters can just check his feed — he even posts pictures and videos — and give him a shout when it’s out.

And, since he’s right on the scene, we’re guaranteed to get the most accurate news.

“It allows me to correct a lot of misinformation that gets out there,” he says. “Some people Tweet from the (police) scanner, so they don’t really know what’s going on. That happened a lot for the Glenview fire.

“But I’m on the scene. You can get a picture of what’s really happening from me.”

More, please

The more Shel uses social media, the more he wants to use it.

It would be hard for me to disagree with him. Facebook and Twitter are addictive tools and, when you’re doing it for professional reasons, you get so driven by the numbers and the engagement, always wanting more.

“The more I use it, the more I wonder what I can do with it,” he says. “It’s great that if I’m at home at night watching Duck Dynasty, my phone will buzz and I know that someone is asking a question that needs answering … like your Facebook message for this interview.

“It’s just a fun way to do my job.”

Now, since Shel only needs 33 more Likes to get to the goal, I’m wondering what you’re still doing here. Go click a button, eh? Let’s get them there. Today.

And … if you’re in the Kamloops and B.C. Interior area and want to promote your social media campaign, hit me up with an email.

At Westsyde Centennial Park

A Christmas Tweetup for #Kamloops

Hello, Kamloops. I am in you.

Or rather, back for another round of action.

Some of you may recognize my face or my name. I spent six years as your friendly neighbourhood sports writer at Kamloops This Week, then jumped ship for some time at the Daily News.

And that’s where I hang my hat now.

It feels like a lifetime since I left. I got beaten up pretty bad by the mean streets of Calgary, laid off from three jobs over the course of six years (twice in five months!), but such is the life of a writer. I even had my heart broken twice.

But everything is coming up roses now. I’m back for another stint at the Daily and my mended heart belongs to two men, a 10-year-old Maremma sheepdog and an American fellow, who loves me and the aforementioned dog.

Anyway, enough about me … one of the things I miss about Calgary is the unified spirit surrounding social media. The crowd in Cowtown is a community in and of itself.

And I’d like to see that happen here.

When I think of how the Calgary social media community was built, I think of two key events as its foundation. The first was a small holiday gathering, organized by one of my forever besties, Camilla di Giuseppe, night anchor for CTV Calgary. She sent out a Tweet, hashtagged with #yyc, and brought about a hundred people together at a pub for a Christmas get-to-know-you gathering.  As a group, we raised a few hundred bucks in cash for the food bank in Calgary.

The next event happened only a few short weeks later. A devastating 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti and Camilla sent out a single Tweet that read something like ‘what can we do?’ I said I’d help. So did the beautiful Alex Ruiz, who then worked with the Calgary Flames and also quickly became one of my forever besties.

Together, we were a force. We assembled an awesome team of volunteers, worked our fingers to the bone for two weeks and gathered 1,500 people at Flames Central for a night of fun, hockey and fundraising. #YYC4HAITI had more than $30,000 in prizes donated by businesses and individuals — not just from Calgary, but from around the world — and raised $35,000. With the federal government match, that became $70,000 for the Canadian Red Cross.

Yep … I wore a Flames jersey

And we spread the word solely through online media — a website, a Twitter account and a Facebook page, all now defunct, sadly.

Fundraising activities through social media have taken on a life of their own in Calgary, such that Camilla, Alex and I were able to step back and have others take charge. But it’s amazing to see what the social media community in Calgary has become — a huge, connected family, a terrific group of people on whom many can rely for support, assistance and love when you need a little Twitter ego stroke.

I want to see that happen in Kamloops, to have a social media family that knows the community better than anyone and enriches the lives of others in it.

I’ve teamed up with Beth from Exploring Kamloops and we’re hosting a Tweetup (is it a Kamloops first?!?!? #squee) at Central Station Pub on Sunday, December 16, starting at 3 p.m. and lasting until … well … whenever. It’s just like that holiday Tweetup in 2009  — an informal gathering of folks, having a few beers or glasses of wine, getting to know each other and talking about Kamloops …. and probably Twitter.

I’ve talked to Judy at Central Station and she has set aside a spot for our very merry Twitmas party, assuring there are drink and food specials for the afternoon. Beth and I will also set up a Facebook event page so we can have a loose idea of how many people will be joining us.

Stay tuned to the #Loops4XMas hashtag as we try to generate some interest. And raid your pantry because we’re asking for everyone to bring at least one item of non-perishable food as a donation for the Kamloops Food Bank.

Come out and meet that person you talk to on Twitter … and let’s get something started.

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Instagram evolves again

Wasn’t it just a few months ago when Instagram turned smartphone photography on its head by opening the platform up to Android users?

Now they’re turning the social media sphere on its head again by moving to web-based profiles. Until this week, one could only access Instagram on the web with a very basic platform, unable to like or comment on the photos.

Some web-based viewers, like Webstagram, started to pop up but once Facebook bought the little photo startup, you had to know Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t take too kindly to someone drafting off his heat.

And mobile purists don’t like the move.

“The trouble is that Facebook is not understanding part of what made Instagram ‘cool’ in the first place,” says Forbes contributor Eric Jackson. “Web isn’t cool any more. Mobile is.”

OK, sure. Mobile is the way of the land. If you’re a business with the slightest bit of interactivity and you aren’t working on your mobile app, you’re about three years behind the times.

But maybe Jackson and his ilk have missed this niggling little fact: more than 40 per cent of brands surveyed by Simply Measured in August have adopted Instagram as part of their marketing plan.

Since the survey, brand adoption has jumped to 54% adoption rate as of Nov. 1.

Money talks.

Zuckerberg and Facebook will bow to what brands with deep pockets want. After all, the test profile page for Instagram’s web debut was Nike’s.

Me? I like it. After all, a lot of people still view Instagram photos on a web browser by finding them on our Twitter feeds. Why not make the experience pretty for them, too?

The photos on the bar at the top rotate, always giving a page visitor a fresh look at my most recent shots of Shep, beautiful scenery and — yawn — what I made for dinner.

If you’re logged into your Instagram account, you can like photos and comment on them, a convenient access route for people who burn through their mobile’s battery power in a few scant hours.

And it’s a much easier way to grab a shot and use its HTML code for embedding in blog posts. You know … like this:

Oh, now you’re shocked I didn’t use a picture of Shep. OK, wait …

Whew … there, that feels better.

Now don’t worry, mobile users, there’s no need to get too knotted up in your knickers.

While Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom says further web functionality is on its way, mobile remains the company’s priority.

“We’re not going to add web uploading, we’re still primarily mobile focused,” Systrom told TechCrunch. “This is doing what’s good for users. Right now Instagram is really contained to the mobile phone. We grew to 100 million users on mobile alone, so this is perfectly timed now that we’ve built a critical mass of users. Now it’s time to share Instagram with the broader world.”

After all, the more the merrier, right?

Hmmm … sometimes anyway.