Social Media

Toronto Police on Twitter Would Rather That You Picked Up a Phone

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"Reminder: Don't use Twitter to report crimes," noted Sgt. Tim Burrows on the @TorontoPolice feed last Sunday, accompanied by a ping to reformed gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

The social media officer cleverly referenced an incident that surely faded in the brains of anyone concerned with the MuchMusic Video Awards. Three years earlier, when Twitter was just catching on, Mr. Hilton used the service to tell police to come to his aid at the hotel where he was staying after an entourage with a member of the entourage of the Black Eyed Peas.

Perez has moved on to hosting nightclub parties put on with the hopes that other nominally famous folk will show up for a hug.

Concurrently, the Toronto Police Service launched a social media strategy and a related training program. But the emphasis has been squarely placed on putting a face on its community relations.

Toronto City Council Social Media: The Plastic Bag Effect

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During his conversation at our Campaign School last month, Toronto city councillor Paul Ainslie outlined his communication strategy with his Scarborough East constituents — along with how he tries to reach out to city as a whole. Becoming chair of the Government Management Committee supplied Ainslie with further motivation to use social media to stay in contact with a wider-range of #TOpoli-watchers. As a result, he arguably emerged as the most accessible ally of Mayor Rob Ford, at least when it comes to leveraging some of the tools at his fingertips.

By contrast, Willowdale councillor David Shiner — a 15-year fixture of the downtown Clamshell whose tenure predates amalgamation — is among those local politicians who have never sought an online presence beyond their their for re-election, if at all. Shiner’s own website is now only helpful in the sense that it indicates that you are better off calling or emailing than looking there for any indication of what he does, let alone what he stands for.

Waterloo Startup Looks to Connect the Children of the Digital Age With Their Analogue Grandparents

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A small startup in Waterloo is testing the waters with an online service that aims to bridge the digital-analogue divide by turning the weekly checkins, photos, tweets and blogs of social media savvy parents into a printed story sheet delivered by mail to their children's grandparents.

The service, dubbed Flockwire, is Inflolabs second attempt to closing this particular gap. The company won a number of awards with their debut offering photoflo which allowed users to send digital images directly from their computers to their grandparent's TV by deploying an interesting an inexpensive piece of equipment called Raspberry Pi. But despite testing well, the group ran into some trouble during deployment with their core demographic. Many retirement residences are still slow to adopt WiFi — the backbone delivery mechanism for the service — into their operations. The availability of WiFi, the reliability of onsite technical support and installing the hardware ultimately forced the group to rethink their offering.

Metaviews Presents Hacking Reality at the Academy of the Impossible

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Live events were our primary form of interface in January and February as we established operations at the Academy of the Impossible at 231 Wallace Ave. in downtown Toronto, under the umbrella of Hacking Reality, which has covered a range of topics related to social media and tactical technology.

Campaign School has proven to be a draw on Sunday afternoons — with MPs Andrew Cash and Carolyn Bennett and city councillor Shelley Carroll joining new and returning students to discuss what was involved in their successful bids for public office. Bill Fox, who was at the forefront behind the scenes for Brian Mulroney throughout the 1980s, will drop by on March 11. Future sessions will alternate between special guests and participatory forums.

YouTube School is another Sunday afternoon fixture, in which we look into how the evolving online video platform serves both consumers and producers of media, through browsing on a screen rather than a retail store. The new channel-focused strategy, Super Bowl commercials and other forms of advertising, the evolution of viral videos and the role of music videos have been starting points for sessions, at which anyone can have a say in what is shown.

Open Government Risks Being Run by Cap'n Crunch

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The potential for Twitter integration on all revamped Government of Canada websites made for an intriguing Globe and Mail online headline this week — even if the actual news could be encapsulated in the form of a tweet.

Certainly, the item did its job of riling up the commenters, who are mostly blind to the fact that a social media platform supplies more freedom to rage about Treasury Board of Canada president Tony Clement than a newspaper website does. But who would be paying attention?

Bureaucrats being reliably reached in the future via 140-character rants would be a leap indeed. Customer service departments of service industries have fielded Twitter-based feedback with mixed results. No doubt, any reports of a smooth conflict resolution via social media is seen as good publicity.

Whether civil servants are really prepared to have their interactions aired is one of the challenges of Open Government. Frustration would ensue if much of the bureaucracy used Twitter in the vein of Cap'n Crunch — whose account @RealCapnCrunch depicts a breakfast mascot who is too eager to acknowledge every mention.

Robot Politicians May Be Required for Open Government to Work

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The inaugural PS Engage learning and networking event in Ottawa on Monday provided a stage for the Canadian government to announce formal guidelines for playing the social media game.

Yet the lukewarm reception to the idea that layers of bureaucracy must continue to be involved in the most elementary interactions with the public served as a reminder that the future of communications can't be left to career policymakers alone.

Fortuitously, that evening, a second Metaviews salon in the capital city picked up where the October event left off, by asking the question "Will There Ever Be Open Government?"

This question wasn't going to be definitively answered in one night, of course, but a mixture of insiders and outsiders — all of whom have wondered about a more effective evolution of online public service — seized the opportunity to swap thoughts.

Disruption was the central theme of one conversation — as everyone in the room has closely observed the transformation of all media industries over the past decade. Open Government can similarly provide a breakthrough for the younger generation of civil servants. Currently, the way most of them interact on the job compared to in their personal lives remains a century apart.

The First Day of the Tim Hortons Twitter Account

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When it comes to the Canadian economy, Tim Hortons is like the Beatles — to the point of being able to adopt new systems of information delivery in its own sweet time.

Case in point, the chain's Facebook page was up to 1.7 million followers before it committed to Twitter. The easy ride Tim's has received in the national media no doubt contributed to the lack of hurry.

Yet the recent corporate turmoil — which led to the cushioned exit in May of chief executive Don Schroeder — also reflected a lack of success at interacting with customers. After all, they were counting on more Roll Up the Rim to Win prizes to offset any social media backlash. A profit slip was subsequently blamed on the giveaways.

While Tim Hortons could still count on a steady flow of stories for opening in Dubai or introducing lasagna, it faced a potential public relations snag last month when it was learned that a reverend apparently had an overly amorous lesbian couple ejected from a location in Blenheim, Ont. The company seemed to let the outcry run its course — by saying as little about the incident as it could.

Stepping into the public arena of Twitter, though, might also be an invitation to blunder. No doubt, given the effort to plant a Tim's or two in every neighbourhood in Canada, people will eventually expect responses about issues more complicated than a latte.

Sugar Crisp is Seeking Musicians to Circle the Cereal Bowl

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Does the Canadian music business need a spoonful of Sugar Crisp? Cereal company Post Foods has promised studio time, producer support and $5,000 for the most popular song submission to a contest called "The First15."

The official explanation for the venture, though, is a relatively nonsensical reflection of how cautious many are about stepping into this arena.

Presumably, the company was inspired to link itself to independent home recording artists after being approached by rapper Ish Morris to use the vintage 1960s "Can't get enough of that Sugar Crisp" jingle in a harmless ditty that itself sounds like a commercial that would air between Saturday morning cartoons circa 1989.

No doubt it would've been easier to just exploit the association with a viral video aimed at kids. So, why go through the hassle of trying lure musicians to upload their own tune?

The fact that Post has been forced to stop skewing its sugar cereal to children — while maintaining that 40 per cent of its eatership is over 18 — might have something to do with it.

"The track is allowed to incorporate the Sugar Bear jingle," stipulate the rules, "but this isn't required."

Zellers is Killing Itself to Live on Social Media

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Big box discount stores are generally glum places by nature. The more aesthetically pleasing the environment, after all, the more it feeds the perception that the cost is being handed down.

Walmart just pushed this cheap philosophy so far that it provided room in the U.S. for a fashion-conscious alternative.

The positioning of Target was further validated when it secured its first 105 locations across Canada. No longer would the country be stuck with so many of those bleak Zellers stores that the Hudson's Bay Company never quite knew what to do with.

And, in the run-up to the $1.8 billion handover of about half of its 273 stores from one U.S.-based owner to another — Walmart will get 39 of them, actually — Zellers has seized permission to publicly admit that it became the last place Canadians wanted to shop at.

The lack of need for traditional advertising in the two-year transition period has reportedly helped HBC make more money off the dying stores. Now, the company has accelerated its use of social media to entice customers through irony.

Fake is the New Real is the New Fake

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Those looking to catch a break in the self-expression business would have it easier if they were attached to a corporate sponsor ahead of time. Why wait to be discovered as a conduit for advertising if a sell-out is inevitable?

Still, we remain attached to the idea that credibility has to be earned — that an authentic voice requires a trial en route to a payoff, even if no one would voluntarily submit to that hassle.

YouTube has provided a glimpse into universe in which far-out ideas can reap commercial rewards if they get enough clicks: Epic Meal Time might be the most financially successful Canadian television show, ever. So, time will tell if YouTube's strategy for pre-capitalized celebrities will come at the expense of outsiders.

Brand names would obviously rather attach themselves to a proven commodity, after all. Mindshare, the media buying agency for the Ford Motor Company of Canada, didn't need to look any further for a social media-friendly voice than one Amber MacArthur.

When Does the Movember Backlash Begin?

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Movember has served as a case study of how to ping with the modern monoculture — a fundraiser for prostate cancer awareness flecked with just enough ironic entertainment value. Moustache maintenance might as well replace breakfast auditing as status update fodder for a month.

Plus, it puts a fuzzy face on cause that used to never be spoken of in mixed company.

What happens, though, if the novelty value runs its course? The number of Canadian companies looking to align themselves with the campaign foreshadows an inevitable burnout.

For now, advertisers seem eager to attach themselves to something perceived as authentic. But this isn't as much about furthering the potential for social enterprise as trying to reach a demographic that much mass media has given up on.

This year, Movember Canada branding has been attached to Rickard's beer, Speed Stick deodorant, Schick razors, Bread & Butter skincare and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Basically, the campaign has swept in to provide a more ethical platform than a wet T-shirt contest would.

Occupy Twitter: Courting the Counterculture in 140 Characters

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The forthcoming MTV reality special about Occupy Wall Street is sure to raise curiosity — if not for the way it presents the movement, then at least for which corporations were willing to advertise on the show.

Twitter apparently has no problem accepting protest-friendly patronage, though. Progressives United, the group founded by Senator Russ Feingold to counter corporate influence in the U.S. political system, has planted its link at the top of searches for #OWS.

Yet for a service still challenged to figure out a sustainable business model, which would require dealing with a system that many protesters are rallying against, this kind of association may just reaffirm the perception that Twitter is too big to succeed.

Being associated with something more psychologically distant, like the Arab Spring, might be a whole lot less complicated as a sideshow to vanity media and sponsor accounts. Occupy, by contrast, risks hitting too close to home.

Deepening the Discourse Beyond That Which Is Shiny

"In the age of Gov 2.0, the public served by a government program expects to see “alignment” between the policy presented by their elected leaders, the architecture of the program, and, most importantly, the user experience.

The citizens of 2011 Canada who access a government program have the same expectations for quality service as they have come to expect from their favourite shopping outlet, bank, or service provider. Today’s “consumers” don’t think consciously about these expectations — it’s what they have been trained to expect.

It should be obvious to the political and public service leaders that this is the case. But scanning the newspaper, one can quickly identify any number of current events that highlight a “misalignment” within some government service."

-- Alcide DeGagné, in Strategic & Operational Reviews: We Can't Agree to Disagree

Four out of Five Social Media Surveys Say Whatever You Want To Say

When it has come to the adoption of online platforms, and the adjustment to the current information age, there is presumably no worse sin than not "getting it."

Most companies are still presumed by default to be out of touch. And mainstream media outlets continue to be similarly pilloried.

Yet, no one is going to sacrifice profit for the illusion of progress, just because a critic heckled them.

A safer tactic, then, has involved trumpeting a survey that doesn't name any names. SAS Canada, the analytics company seeking new customers for its software and services, has all but perfected this game.

The latest online survey of 1,000 "senior level business decision makers," conducted by Leger Marketing back in January, asserted that less than a fifth of companies are "getting it" when it comes to social media. Statistics showed that some of those executives have sloughed the job off to communications and marketing departments. And some just don't care.

Of course, it didn't take seven months to count up the multiple-choice clicks, given how SAS released numbers from the same survey in mid-May. The press release back then was "Information overload still dragging Canadian execs down."

Without fail, these numbers were promptly spun into a feature report for the Financial Post, then syndicated to local Postmedia Network affiliates across the country.

Last summer, though, the picture was different. SAS boasted that 90 per cent of organizations in the country were using the new tools — just sluggish about applying them.

Still, the statistics actually budged in a positive direction, since 10 per cent of respondents asserted social media was a waste of time in 2010, compared to 5 per cent this year.

Single Click Government

I've spent the better part of the last five years working at the confluence of public policy, people, and technology and can say with certainty that the experts in the field agree: the proliferation of digital communication technologies is fundamentally reshaping all sectors of society. While this may be most apparent in the newspaper, music, or television industries, to think that governments are somehow immune to the changing environment is irresponsible. Thus far governments have managed to operate under the radar, espousing collaboration as the new modus operandi of the public service while hiding in the murky rhetoric of ‘doing more with less'; but frankly it’s no longer a viable option for dealing with the coming change.

Digital is different, so let's do things differently

If you don't believe me, look at what is happening across the pond in the United Kingdom where budgets are being slashed on average of 20% but up to 35% in some cases. The harsh reality, as the Brits are learning, is that they can't even afford to do more with less. Being more collaborative isn't the same thing as being innovative. Similarly, all the collaboration in the world doesn't break you out of old mental models or help you re-imagine your role in a rapidly and ever changing society. We need to cut through the noise of ‘greater efficiency through greater collaboration’ and the rhetoric of ‘doing more with less’ and focus instead on doing things fundamentally differently. Given the profound impact of digital communication technologies on our society, I think that doing things differently starts with cultivating a better understanding of how digital is reshaping what citizens expect from their public institutions and how public institutions can best respond to those needs.