Blogging, metrics, roi, social networks

The blogging contest that almost killed my Christmas

I recently competed in an international blogging contest in Dec 2009.  Truth be told… by entering an international blogging contest during year end with the Community Marketing Blog – called Blog Off II or #blogoff ,  I wasn’t aiming for gold so much as I wanted to gain greater insight into what makes for a better blog and how people would determine a best of breed blogger.   And as  I’ve never blogged as a competitive sport,  I did gain a lot of great learning on what to put in a blog post, blog title to maximize readership and interaction.

I submitted four original stories in twelve days, all well researched, carefully crafted posts.  And spent other days just reading the mass blog posting from other contestants, relishing in quality content.  I was judged to be among the top ten bloggers at contest end though I am always skeptical on measurement.  The contest held in twelve days in December seriously threatened my ability to shop before Christmas but it was important for me. With today’s focus on social networking, I find the very powerful world of blogging somewhat neglected.  I wanted to advance my skills here and blogging in an international contest was just the ticket.

The contest itself had an impressive setup – 25 approved candidates, six countries all using Typepad (oh god.. not my choice publisher) and supported by 1 official writer (Conrad Hall from Technorati) and the caveat that some blog posts would make it to the Huffington Post for publishing during the contest.

I captured a number of lessons worthy of sharing here:

1. Blogging is definitely a competitive sport – title choice, image use, linking, seeding has become more intensive, more commercial that I  realized.  My blogging experience is in personal blogs since 2006 and corporate blogs since 2007, aimed at mostly post purchase customers.  Both environments are not competitive per se.  But with the noise of the blogosphere, blog posts are fighting hard with National Enquirer title ferocity.

I gained this insight with my first post called Sex, Statistics and Social Media – a cheeky jest because I know from that popular tags can result in a lot of enduring traffic (not necessarily quality traffic) but this was more of a jest.  Jesting was perhaps inappropriate but I was trying to figure out how to compete when my focus in social media has been on collaboration.   Fortunate for me I received some quality comments from Conrad Hall, a professional writer and technorati writer.

“You can quickly give this article added interest and value by showing readers 2 or 3 ways for managing the time they spend on social media. Thanks Laurie. You have a good post with a solid foundation. Looking at it from the reader’s perspective – what’s in it for them – will make it stronger.” he opines

I countered that I don’t always want to suggest the 10 ways to improve something.. as I get quite sick of commercialized tweets and posts.   And so Conrad responded with a beautiful blog post demonstrating what he was suggesting in his comments.  The title?  On social media, prostitution and bartending.

Which leads to lesson no. 2. Groom the post for those who enter the site by the site door – directly to the post itself and not the blog.  [This is an important web design strategy as well as side door entry is prominent for well connected or linked content]

I really liked Conrad Hall’s personalized photo and short bio in the closing.  A great idea for a multiple author blog.

3.  Your blog post is easily buried and fast.

I worked hard on creating original content for my second post – Keeping the Personal Private. using Facebook Limited Profiles Upon posting it, another contestant added EIGHT consecutive posts.  The contest had a maximum of 12 post entries but no mention of adding eight posts in a row.  I was mildly tiffed at what couldn’t have been original, on the spot created eight posts but then – how is this not like real life?   Of course a day later Facebook announced new privacy rules which dominated the blogsphere on my tags.   I did get a number of great comments.. Ah this is real life.

4.  To spam or not to spam in efforts of securing greater traffic & comments in a contest.

One of the key metrics in evaluating bloggers was the amount of traffic and engagement -as measured by visits and comments – a post generated.   In my mindseye – I saw this as the clever use a tagging, digging, linking, tweeting to broaden the blog post touchpoints.  What I didn’t realize was how much other bloggers would rely on their personal networks to jam up their own posts with comments and traffic.

I’m rather opposed to spamming my network – linkedin, twitter, facebook – with explicit requests to comment on a blog due to a contest.  I value my network greatly and though I announced being in a contest and then tweets my blog posts, I didn’t spam my network.   I just was very nervous about making a request that would affect my fans, friends, followers.  And I wanted to reserve my assertive requests for charitable interests.   So when I received the following linkedin message from one of the winners of the contest, I started to debate blog post measurement.


I also would ask that you forward this message to anyone that you can think of, as of now I think I am still in 3rd place. You know how competitive I am and I really would love to win this contest it will certainly help my career and status in my field. I have already been asked to do seminars and workshops both in regards to Product Development and also Advertising/Marketing so all the help you have done for me already has brought me to a whole new level and for that I cannot thank you enough. Once again THANK YOU. If you have any social media Follow Me the links are under my signature line!

Importantly, these are not new thoughts.  I shared these thoughts with my fellow contestants, including the one above, and we had a lively debate which managed to move the needle on my skepticism dial a bit.  {not all the way but the needle did move].

Andrew Ballenthin, the organizer of this blogging contest, discussed active vs passive loyalty of people’s networks.  He considered the open solicitation for network loyalty (action) as a desirable action.  That this comment/traffic spike is something natural expected from bloggers.  Certainly, if one looks at the top ten retweets words – you will find ‘my blog post’ as one of them.  Andrew carries and important message here.

I did debate whether or not spike traffic would be sustainable traffic – likely not if there is little value in the spike.  Nonetheless, Andrew put a lot of time into considering the angles I put forth and came up with a recipe on measuring bloggers and their posts tactics should be evaluated.

5. It must be nearly impossible to control for a contest in a blogging environment. [ or anything goes..]

Okay so during the actual contest, Conrad promoted several blog posts and a specific blogger .   I challenged this in the comments:

I can’t help wondering how traffic can be used objectively as a measure of success in this contest when this post is now promoting some posts and not others. I say this more out of curiosity than anything else – given my nod to other deserving posts. – Laurie

and it sparked a very good debate with Conrad and Sam, one of the winning bloggers, on blogging metrics – which I’d recommend people to read the comments.

At heavy risk of sounding like a sore loser here and god, who wants to pick a fight with someone as eloquent and sharp witted as Conrad, the professional writer – I don’t really get the promotion of blog posts during the contest by a judge of the contest, during the contest.  More importantly, I think it very important to debate metrics – to make sure what measured truly matters.

6. There is wonderful community found in competition

I’ve made some wonderful contacts and blogging among some greats who do, in all their deserved colours of the win, get traffic that shames a website.  I enjoyed the contest and look forward to seeing Andrew Ballenthin and his Community Marketing Blog release a third contest.

Incidentily – my third and fourth posts were

Six visualization sources you should know about

Using twitter? Then you’d better understand the twitter list.

Laurie Dillon-Schalk is the Chief Marketing Strategist and founder of Social Wisdom – a Toronto based digital marketing agency that helps firms and individuals use social media and the web wisely.

You can find Laurie on Twitter at or on her blog at

Text ‘HAITI’ to #’90999′ to donate $10 to the Red Cross relief fund and/or text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti earthquake fund
Blogging, dunbar, social networks, stats

Sex, statistics and social media — the tough job of keeping up on emerging tech.

“Social is like sex… you can’t truly comprehend unless you do it”.

Okay so starting off the #blogoff2 blogging contest talking about sex is possibly a cheap shot for getting comments. And sex talk is not how I typically sell the need for professionals to get on board with social personal adoption to lead their corporate adoption.

But it comes from a still favorite post of mine from George Colony, founder and CEO of Forrester.  As one of few CEOs that twitters [well about 134 tweets anyways] and blogs, George shares his thoughts and quest getting other CEOs on board with personally using social media.

It’s a tough sell for those business owners and executives daunted by the learning curve and time investment for social media.  I know as I coach some reluctant learners on the value of social media.  Does an executive need to be on facebook?

Well.. last time I checked, you can’t see a corporate Facebook fan page without having a personal profile.  Nor can you update a wall and really engage.  But I can appreciate business owners and executives don’t see this as a starting point but it is an easy place to learn.  I hashed some of this out in an earlier post about the tough questions I get on the value social networking.

But what George hasn’t shared yet in his blog is his personal woes of keeping up with what’s happening out there for those CEOs who are social.   I’m not talking about the secrets of using twitter and adding alerts but how much our brains can retain and reaching our maximum manageable network size.   Case in point, George only follows 41 people [albeit Jeremiah O, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff included].

A worthy example.  George’s CEO audience, being early or late baby boomer generation, potentially lags in social networking adoption.   Check out Pew Internet and American Life’s generational differences in social media adoption – modified so that we can just look at social networking site profiles.
Generational differences in usages

Of course, this old chart dated late 2008, which I love, flies in the face of the +55 age group is growing enormously on Facebook – istrategylabs say up 513% in six months ending July 2009, not to mention Facebook across all age groups – up 50 million new users in the last 2.5 months to 350 million active users as of Dec 1st, 2009.
This points out the challenge with any social networking statistics; the exponential growth of social networking sites means the charts are out of date in a couple months.  Just as Mashable points out for E*marketer struggles putting out a forecast of active Twitter users at 12 million by 2009 year end but had to revise to 18 million [and now forecasts 26 million in 2010].

But the real challenge for a social media expert [god I hate that term] is agile development.

I find I have to preface things with ‘last time I checked’ since many of the social networking sites are constantly tweaking and adding new features at the speed of real time.  Major web releases seem a thing of the past.  And if I don’t read my social network blog or page, I don’t know about a new feature.  Yesterday I tweeted about switching to Hootsuite because of its twitter list integration.  Today, tweetdeck has a new version catching up to the Hoote.

This is complicated by the beta blur.  I somehow by election or heavy usage have access to a variety of ‘beta’ features on some social networks.   But honestly, I can’t keep track of what is beta and what is not.  I recently was showing off the value of tagging your Linkedin contacts, a feature that I’ve had for months, until someone mentioned that the feature is not public.  Oh yeah.. a beta feature.

I’m not complaining here but I’d enjoy hearing about how other business owners, social media evangelists or executives are managing with the real time speed of information these days.   I INVITE your thoughts on this.

Blogging, Crowd Wisdom, customer experience, events 2.0, Facebook, fans / loyalty, How to, social networks, twitter

Lessons for live social media coverage; Scotiabank BuskerFest

Buskerfest_PassToronto’s Scotiabank BuskerFest is in full swing today – with three more full days left of the downtown Toronto festival.

As part of our social efforts – we are ‘live blogging’, for a lack of a better term, mostly on Facebook and Twitter with twitpics, tweets, posts, videos and more throughout the festival.   At the risk of sounding like I’m blowing my own horn, Events 2.0 is bloody hard work making simple tweeting feel like a cookie next to a five tiered cake.

The obvious:

  • Live event coverage using social media is requires full 12 – 16 hr dedication as majority of tweets are noon to late evening.
  • Authors need strong freedom to engage and respond on a massive scale
  • Multiple contributors are needed
  • Authors need sleuthing skills to also find the conversations that are not following you.

The not so obvious:

  1. Its not just about tweeting upcoming events or the schedule (which is major enough for a static display that changes frequently – errr).   More importantly, the focus has to include making the overall conversation of others heard.  That means sharing the twitpics of the masses, etc.  Admittedly, I am conscious of not wanting a ‘big brother’ feeling to come across but play a fine line of attentiveness.
  2. Identifying communication bottlenecks and pushing the information out.  I believe this to be an advanced skill.  Looking at the operation of a business (in this case, an event) and figuring out how to apply the strengths of marketing vehicles against painful customer experiences.   For BuskerFest – the schedule is large, well managed and central in the festival – but there you have it.. it is not virtual.    I wish Social Wisdom (us) had been hired earlier so to have integrated our twitter addresses onto the physical signage at the event.
  3. Don’t force the hashtag.  We created #bfto thinking it would be shorter, taking fewer characters and make retweeting easy.  But I can’t promote #BFTO enough.  The audience is naturally choosing the brand name of the festival – buskerfest – as its #buskerfest.    I actually tried to inform the first #buskerfest user but then I realized that is the collective – the wisdom of the crowd emerging.  Pretty cool actually.
  4. Keep the thick skin.  We [the festival] got called ‘jackasses’  and given a #fail by @rjstewart as the website isn’t iphone compatible.  [i didn’t do the site, the site has a lot of positives and honestly, as webby as I am – I wouldn’t have thought about making it iphone compatible before April – when I got my own itouch]  [note to self – look up the penetration rates of various devices]  So @rjstewart – your tweet is fair enough and true – albeit a bit harsh.  But I do understand that very geek passion as I too love to pick at slow adoption and I know it is a comment that likely represents the frustration of more people.

I truly believe that the online behaviours and expectations of Canadians (and North Americans)  are on fire right now and firms are finding it very difficult to catch up.   As indication, Social Wisdom has been contacted by several different agencies who are suddenly seeing ‘social media’ as a key skill and experience needed in RFPs – it is a talent hole in many agencies.

As a last comment – the very ironic thing today was me sitting in Starbucks doing live event coverage while also sitting next to Epilepsy Toronto’s PR person.    First off, the PR person is a fantastic person – well connected and, quite clearly, managing a full load of traditional press coverage.   And she was busy writing up a press release for the world record that we facebooked about an hour earlier.   She was very pleasant about it  – asking if I could share some twitpics on the deal.   I then pulled up tweetdeck and was showing the stream of tweets and follower responses.  DW is great to work with – she was really embracing the social media and also thinking about how we could collaborate and integrate together.

At the same time – my team had tweeted about an upcoming interview not yet occurred – to which she questioned if that was appropriate [being very honest about not yet figuring out where the new lines are with social media – what to tweet and not tweet].  I didn’t know either so I deleted the tweets and could see some learning on both ends around the integration of pr/social media/marketing communications.

Well.. I best get some sleep.  I am looking forward to Saturday when I finally attend the festival as a mother and not in a virtual social capacity.


Sleep gave me a few more thoughts:

* How to better price for social media and also how to price for live event coverage.

* Technology needs on same day for events.

Blogging, Charity / volunteer, social networks, web 2.0

New Client: Toronto’s Scotiabank BuskerFest 2009


I’m elated to have won Epilepsy Toronto as a new client.   My team and I  are responsible for the social media strategy, planning & execution for Scotiabank’s BuskerFest 2009 – planned for Thursday, August 27 thru to Sunday, August 30th at the St Lawrence Market neighbourhood in Toronto.   [Become a FAN on the Scotiabank BuskerFest Facebook Page or join our twitter @buskerfestTO and #BFTO]

Certainly, coming onboard in July for an August festival has a lot of challenges [and so technically, I call this a social networking marketing plan not social media due to what makes for a reasonable focus in a short time period] and yet, I really heartily applaud Epilepsy Toronto.   They are open minded, familiar with social media, time and resource crunched but willing and interested to barrel forth into new territory.  The leadership team also asks very good questions around our strategies and initiatives – which always makes for interesting work.

Being a time sensitive event – BuskerFest will provide a fast and furious window of learning and experience for an organization that is interested in adopting more social media corporately.   If it weren’t for a major event – social media/networking corporate adoption would plug along much slower.   As part of our path, we have acknowledged there will be collective learning internally, among partners, among all of us.  (It feels like early days web 1999!)  One of our marketing goals, afterall, is to set Epilepsy Toronto up for 2010.

I’m pretty pleased with our plans for creating excitement for social media with Epilepsy Toronto’s volunteers – detailed on the facebook fan pages.

Epilepsy Toronto is currently offering its Secondary School BuskerFest volunteers up to 34 hours of community involvement for those who train and work shifts at the BuskerFest event.

We are now offering an additional 6 hour credit (to get students to the full 40 hour requirement) by introducing social media volunteer assignments.

As a member of our social media team, you get:
• Mentorship from a leading social media industry expert
• Training on ‘writing for social media’
• Identification as an exclusive member of the BuskerFest official social team
• Community involvement meeting a team of other secondary student volunteers from across the city.
• Automatic entry into the BuskerFest citizen journalist contest recognizing the most influential social media marketers/journalists.

For me – I’m really excited about the mentorship opportunities.  I’m not talking about mentorship from myself – I’ll do my fair share, of course – but because I have a great social media network and its all about using the network, I’m hoping I can pair up students producing youtube videos with online video social media experts, or facebook enthusiasts with facebook gurus, etc.   The possibilities would just tickle a match maker.

Blogging, Charity / volunteer, How to, recruiting 2.0, small business, social networks, the 405 club, using social media in job search

For 405 club: Dodging the stigma of actively searching for work

yippeee kiyaaa mfff!  Here’s my first post to the 405 club.

I’ve been volunteering/consulting in social recruiting lately – a high demand and growing area – playing both sides of the fence between consulting with HR/recruiters & execs and volunteering with the painfully transitioned in Toronto.   I wanted to offer suggestions to those who choose not to open up their chest cavity and explain why they are out of work…  AND give a new blog post to the 405 club:  NYC’s official unemployment network who’ve just asked me to be a contributing blogger to the site. <blush>


Perception is Reality

Picture it – you’re sitting in the first interview you’ve managed to get in weeks, its a job that matches your working desires and the promise of pay is in line with your old self – the one that used to work.

The fumble you are trying to avoid is not whether or not you qualify for  the job.  NOOOO its whether or not to pretend that you are not the active job searcher you are.   Damn the stigma of being an active job seeker.

I touched on this in an earlier blog post – social recruiting 2.0.   Quickly – recruiters and hr managers break job searchers into three main groups –

  1. non-seekers – those who have a job who aren’t looking,
  2. passive job searchers – have a job and are mildly searching, and
  3. active job searchers – say no more.

Active job searchers are, at times, avoided under the belief they constitute the undesirable; the belief that they will jump at any job opportunity – qualified or not,  suitable or not and desert jobs when they find what they really want.   I’m sure this stigma is grounded in some reality and yet, in a great recession, employers should not ignore quality candidates regardless of situation.  [Excellent article on out of work stigma fading.]


  • Build your own website – not a online resume, a small business site.  Consider using free blog publishing to get up and running fast.
  • Invest in your own domain name.   I wouldn’t necessarily go with your personal name as a domain but if you can’t dream up something cheap and available as a .com, then go for it.  Some instructions in a previous “how to” blog post of mine using godaddy.
  • Volunteer in a relevant capacity and make an “in-kind” deal allowing yourself to claim the organization as a client, and get website or other exposure for your business.
  • Make the bloody most of every volunteer/contract experience – blog about it, status update it, twitter it if you are on twitter, talk about it.  Use popular tag words in your blog title post so that your post gets auto pulled into silly blogs that add posts based on key word terms rather than content.
  • Update all social networking sites to your new business – linkedin, etc.  [I’m assuming here you are on linkedin.. and you should be]
  • Use a powerful signature linking back to profiles, @twitters or blog posts.  Start commenting as the president and chief pipeline filler in relevant forums, questions & answers paying attention to well attended blogs, websites, facebook fan pages or linkedin discussions as they will feed back traffic through the comments you make.
  • Cross pollinate your social networks.  Add linkedin applications that display your blog in your linkedin e.g. wordpress app, then add linkedin badges to your blog.

At the end of the day – an hr mgr and recruiter will still ask you why you are applying for full time moving away from your business.    My response has always been about the opportunity.  Personally, its hard to fill a pipeline as a small business and work on it.  But being committed to playing in a field you love means that you may have to take on different roles to do it.  Some of those roles are full time – others are contract and others are volunteer work.

Good luck.

Blogging, Facebook, retail 2.0, social networks, Starbucks

“To all you silly, sad caffeine addicts” –Starbucks employees pollute FB fan pages

Wow.  There is an incredible rant by Veronica, a current Starbucks employee, on the Facebook “Fan” discussion board. 

To all of you silly, sad caffeine addicts who line up like lemmings for your overpriced lattes every morning: there are some things you should know.

1. We are not your friends. We are usually not your neighbors. In most cases, we absolutely loathe you,

[Added note:  15 hrs after this post, Starbucks removed Veronica’s comments.  But added no comment as if it didn’t exist, Added note:  I don’t think Starbucks removed the comments now.  I think the comment author did as other employee rants still exist.  Which would mean the board is still unmoderated.]

The absolute worst faux pas in employee communications that I’ve ever seen.  One that will likely cost her, her job or more.   Its damaging to the brand, its talking to over 1MM loyal Starbucks fans from around the world and it was posted over 15 hours ago with no response so far. 

I’m a fan of Starbucks, and I’ve written a few posts now about the Facebook Starbucks fan pages [1st post 1MM fans, go wild] and [2nd post Still ignored] .    But even I have to admit the Starbucks facebook pages are poorly run.   It is an example of a corporate communications effort rushing out to use social media but not putting in place the right resources, strategy plan nor risk mitigation plans for engaging in the conversation. 

Starbucks is a great example of what not to do on Facebook – chiefly, ignoring and not moderating the discussion board which has gone absolutely WILD with complaining employees, to unaddressed loyal customer complaints, to passionate feedback about pike place roasts and via instant coffee. I’ve been searching and I’ve only seen one moderator commnent (on a via discussion I think).

Moreover, I find the event pages very North American focused when I find the fan base is quite international.   Facebook with its continued global growth will require business to communicate using a global voice.  I suspect we will see some cottage industries emerge as loyal fan and employee moderators from around the global will be needed to support the pages.

At the moment, I dont’ really know a lot of examples of well run Facebook business pages – certainly, I’ve seen a lot of tweets  asking for FB business examples.

Want a great website example that incorporates loyal fans?  Go to Moleskine and mymoleskine pages.  Absolutely fantastic and all on the Moleskine website.

Blogging, twitter

Thinking in tweet or blog – a haunting thing

unrelated image that is visually more interesting than text...

I’m often plagued by thinking in 140 character length thoughts or, for larger thoughts, I find myself composing a perfect blog post.

I might be tuning out watching kids at the park, driving the car or waiting for dinner [my husband does all the cooking – its a lovely arrangement] and voila – another tweet formed. Of course, by the time I reach my device – the moment is gone. I don’t actually want to be plugged in all the time.

And so I must blog as homage to all the unpublished, random thoughts.

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