Canadians Like Their Social Networks

19 November 2010

I’ve just been looking at research firm Ipsos Reid’s 2010 Canadian Internet Fact Guide, which I think was released this summer but is based on 2009 data.

It’s a useful snapshot of Canadians’ internet behaviours, but a couple of facts jumped out at me (besides the fact that 84% of Canadians aged 18 to 34 have an online social network profile).

    • 86% of Canadians with online social networking profiles are aware of Twitter, although only 10% have a Twitter profile and 5% actively use it.” Of those, 90% have their profile on Facebook.

    Frankly, I don’t believe this. While I accept Twitter tends to be used by an older demographic with younger people favouring BBM and texting in general, I wonder whether this has changed over the past year. Maybe its purely anecdotal, but I think business usage of Twitter has increased significantly over the past year, which should influence this number.

        • “56% of Canadians with online social networking profiles visit social networking sites at least weekly; 31% visit daily.”

        This I think is true . . . In a presentation at Meshmarketing in Toronto, Janice Diner of Horizon Studios says there are 16 million Canadians on Facebook who spend an average of 411 minutes per month on it (noting as well that about 38% are more than 35 years old).

          • 17% of  smartphone owners who also have an online social networking profile have downloaded a Facebook application to their phone; 4% have downloaded a Twitter application.”

          I would have thought this would be a lot higher, although again it may be that a year makes a huge difference in people’s usage of social technologies. Diner’s presentation, for example, says that 200 million globally engage with Facebook on their mobile devices and they are twice as active users as others.

            Another Study on Social Media Usage by Business

            08 November 2010

            Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agent reports on another study from SmartBrief on the use being made by business of social media. I haven’t had a chance to look at the study itself, but Ms Maltoni does a quick-and-dirty summary of the study’s eight key themes.

            One of her conclusions surprises me:

            Despite their early presence in social media, communications and PR firms are not the chosen source of advice or consultation on social media for companies. Instead, the majority of companies are using internal resources for developing and implementing their social-media strategies.

            It may explain, though, why according to Ms Maltoni’s review of the the study most companies are focusing on what she labels “generic topics and mainstream tools” specifically Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and blogs.

            Which in turn raises the question whether the topics and tools are being chosen by internal teams as the outcome of a strategic assessment of the social web in the context of business objectives, or random experimentation driven by an executive itch for results that needs scratching.

            Gladwell on the Sidelines

            28 September 2010

            (The lovely image is from the article discussed below, but there is no credit identified.)

            Malcolm Gladwell tends to write about what exists and why, not what is coming into existence and what it means or how to advance it.

            In an article in the October 4th issue of The New Yorker called Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, he does it again with social media activism:

            . . . it is a form of organizing which favors weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have an impact.

            He is talking, of course, about ’slacktivism’ which is the pundit’s dismissive term for the way many people leave their militancy on the walls of Facebook pages:

            Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make real sacrifice.

            Contrasted to this is “high-risk activism” which is at the core of disruptive social change like that which started the civil rights movement in the US in the late 50s and early 60s . . . “Activism that challenges the status quo – that attacks deeply rooted problems – is not for the faint of heart.” It requires, as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (rendered in the picture above) and Gladwell agree, strategy, discipline and hierarchy. (That’s why the Bolsheviks led a revolution and anarchists could not.)

            No argument there. But to say this is not Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is short-sighted and something of a straw-man line of reasoning. Yes Facebook and Twitter are weak-tie networks and will never in themselves be platforms for sweeping systemic change. But they do a couple of things well: they create ties where there were none before; and they are a source of ideas. People making connections and debating ideas are fertile ground for social activism, just like the late night chats of the freshmen in Greensboro who courageously challenged racism at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, Gladwell’s apocryphal story (not in the facts, which are true, but in the significance Gladwell affords it) starting point for his article.

            I wish Gladwell had spent his awesome intellectual gifts thinking about what use of the social web could move weak-tie connections to the strong-tie relationships that are midwives to strategic and disciplined social activism. He should take a close look at successful online political and community organizing (such as the Obama election campaign about which he says nothing) and see how it converts loose networks into a campaign force. Or he should imagine a Facebook campaign which, at its inception, builds in mechanisms for organizing action, for gathering and unleashing committed high-risk activists.

            Instead, Gladwell plays to the myopic crowd who find it easier to talk about limits than about opportunties.

            Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Literacies

            25 September 2010

            Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs among other writings on technology and culture, spoke (inspirationally) last Thursday at Toronto’s Ryerson University about the use of social media in education. That’s him below . . .

            One of his themes is the need for educational institutions, instructional designers and teachers to recognize the new ‘literacies’ required of graduates, and the implications of them on how and what is taught.

            The ‘literacies’ in Rheingold’s lexicon are attention, participation, collaboration and critical consumption, all of which make sense given the ubiquity of information, ease of search and value of networks in invention and ideation. Critical consumption – or crap detection – is especially important in a culture in which even barely educated Hollywood celebrities and 16-year-old pop singers have political and social opinions they think worthy of tweeting. And I would also add visual mindfulness to the list given the increasingly dominant place of images in online narratives.

            I did wonder, though, about how much Rheingold values what he called ‘alphabetic’ literacy and the role it plays in his collaborative model of learning. As the final assignment in his course at Stanford, Rheingold asks his students, reluctantly I sense, to create (not ‘write’) an essay drawing together the words or concepts defined throughout the course. But the chronicle seems secondary to the process of connecting and interacting to develop the understanding, which now that I think of it is true . . . to a point.

            My experience teaching at two urban Canadian universities and as a communications consultant in a large firm, makes me sensitive to any devaluation of the act of writing and what it requires in logical structuring and presentation of ideas. I see a lot of sloppy writing, from essays to news releases. And by sloppy I don’t mean the creative manipulation of language to make a point or give birth to a feeling, which can be artful.

            Writing in Wired a few months ago, Clive Thomson reported that:

            In interviews, they (students) defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it’s over something as quotidian as what movie to go see.
            Nothing wrong with that. But persuading, organizing and debating, especially persuading and debating, without the rigor of expression is ineffective and usually boring. Not that I think Rheingold undervalues rhetoric. He is too much the master of language and reasoned argument himself. But I do think he and others should be careful not to turn a blind eye to how untutored many people are these days, and the fault is only ours when we don’t ask for high standards in expression even if people are attentive, participatory, and collaborative and exhibit effective bullshit detection.
            Critic and scholar Jacques Barzun justifies why in the preface to his 1986 book A Word or Two Before You Go:

            The fact is that great ideas and deep feelings cannot be fully known or enjoyed, rightly valued or reported, unless they are closely scanned in the only way open to us – matching the experience with the right words.

            CSR & the Capital Markets

            16 September 2010

            Discussions about the relevance and influence of corporate social responsibility usually don’t take into account the significance of corporate conduct on capital market decisions, perhaps because it is thought this is the arcane domain of financial analysts and academics.

            However, if those of us who believe responsible conduct is an imperative and not just an afterthought to a business strategy, then we should get better at finding and defending the evidence that the capital markets will react to social and environmental behaviour if only to manage risk.

            Fortunately, we’ve been given an advantage with two academic papers appearing over the past couple of months which look at the repercussions of CSR on cost of capital and investment strategies. (Thanks Tara, a colleague, for sending them my way!)

            Having not read the full studies yet, I can’t tell you whether the findings are  definitive. But the abstracts offered here suggest they may provide some materiel for engagement with the Freidmanites.

            The first Does Corporate Social Responsibility Affect the Cost of Capital? jointly authored by four academics, three of whom are based at Canadian universities:

            We examine the effect of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the cost of equity capital for a large sample of U.S. firms. Using several approaches to estimate firms’ ex ante cost of equity, we find that firms with better CSR scores exhibit cheaper equity financing. In particular, our findings suggest that investment in improving responsible employee relations, environmental policies, and product strategies contributes substantially to reducing firms’ cost of equity. Our results also show that participation in two “sin” industries, namely, tobacco and nuclear power, increases firms’ cost of equity. These findings support arguments in the literature that firms with socially responsible practices have higher valuation and lower risk.

            The second is a working paper called The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Investment Recommendations by Ioannis Ioannou of London Business School and George Serafeim of Harvard Business School.

            Using a large sample of publicly traded US firms over 16 years, we investigate the impact of corporate socially responsible (CSR) strategies on security analysts’ recommendations. Socially responsible firms receive more favorable recommendations in recent years relative to earlier ones, documenting a changing perception of the value of such strategies by the analysts. Moreover, we find that firms with higher visibility receive more favorable recommendations for their CSR strategies and that analysts with more experience, broader CSR awareness or those with more resources at their disposal, are more likely to perceive the value of CSR strategies more favorably. Our results document how CSR strategies can affect value creation in public equity markets through analyst recommendations.

            Non-Twitter Social Web Updates

            13 July 2010

            There is an argument that blog posts about interesting or instructive social web links have been made superfluous by the immediacy of Twitter tweets.

            To a certain extent this is true, although I do wonder how many tweets with links to blog posts about social web trends have in fact been read by the tweeter before forwarding.

            To be honest, I am guilty sometimes of only skimming posts before sending them on to Twitter followers. The posts below from the past two weeks, however, I have read and can recommend for their insight and sensible point of view.

            ON FOURSQUARE:



            Forget Foursquare? Not yet.

            05 July 2010

            Time magazine not too long ago rated Foursquare as among The 50 Worst Inventions (along with Crocs, DDT and subprime mortgages). When I talk to friends about the social web tools I use regularly, Foursquare is the one that comes in for the most derision (although the same happened two years ago when I started to use Twitter).

            I’ve given it a few months. I have a variety of badges and am now mayor of the Starbucks in the Longo’s Food Market, of my favorite Toronto restaurant Pangaea, a Chapters bookstore,  my whole office building in Toronto, and my home office. I just started following Mashable on foursquare. And it is fun knowing what connections or business associates are up to you.

            But so far the “rewards” have been non-existent, although according to Mashable we will be able to start wearing Foursquare gear and apparently Foursquare will be coming out with badge rewards. There is the guilty and somewhat narcissistic pleasure of being ‘mayor’ of somewhere. But no specials have been offered. No frequent-visitor “miles” from Starbucks. Only two friends have used the tips feature (thanks Ed Lee and Collin Douma). And I have annoyed many with frequent updates of my location by connecting Foursquare to Twitter and Facebook, a function I’ve now disabled.

            Still, being a contrarian I think I’ll mount a defence, although I’m sure these ideas have been mentioned by others.

            There are obvious reasons for retailers and tourism groups and associations to take a close look at geo-tagging services like Foursquare. Site-specific communications for cities and historic/art sites are also a possibility. I think I read somewhere that the Philadelphia tourism bureau has made an arrangement with Foursquare to ‘tag’ historic sites with background  information. When you check-in at a historic monument or attraction, the ‘tip’ accompanying the tag a short burst of background or a recommendation for another site close by.

            Foursquare is also uniquely suited to small, local businesses who serve a broad but regular clientele. Knowing that specific and identifiable customers frequent your restaurant, coffee shop, or clothing store means you can potentially reward their loyalty or recommend other products or services. I could see how companies with large sales staff could use Foursquare as a means of staff checking in.

            People give a lot individual reasons for using Fousquare . . . arranging meetups at conferences, picking out local pubs, gathering nearby ‘friends’ for an impromptu party. Rae Hoffman at Outspoken Media used Foursquare ‘tips’ to avoid long line-ups at the airport in Orland Florida.

            But what about for managing a company or organization’s reputation or dealing with an issue? I’m hard-pressed to think of anything more applicable than these two ideas:

            1. Build some identity capital simply by ensuring your company name appears in the list of ‘places’ when someone checks in in your vicinity, and add a tip the points out your vision and values.
            2. Provide contact information for a community manager in your company so that Foursquare users nearby recognize that you value connection

            I dont’ know where Foursquare is at with respect to building out any of these evident strengths. But we Foursquare users are a patient bunch of folks. While standing by for more substantive applications, I am happy just to wait it out and build my geo-power base.

            A Model of Trust

            18 May 2010

            Trust is one of those things companies want and stakeholders give sparingly. And trust is being granted even more sporadically today given ample evidence, for example, of a cavernous spin-reality gap in the social performance of some companies.

            For companies wanting to assess how likely it is they will win trust, here is a simple graphic against which to chart their performance on the actions and values that are the simple building blocks of trust, credibility and belief.

            ‘Managing’ Negative Perception

            27 January 2010

            The slides below are from a presentation I gave today at a conference on renewable energy infrastructure. I am not sure how useful the presentation will be without my narrative, but if you have any questions post a comment and I promise to answer.

            Social Media and Civic Engagement

            18 January 2010

            The British magazine Prospect featured a debate this month between Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky about the advantage — or danger — the Web brings to global politics, civic life and the pursuit of such values as freedom, liberty and democracy.

            These two examples capture the differing points of view of the two debaters:

            First to Clay Shirky:

            Nevertheless, I want to defend the notion—which Morozov goes after in the “man most responsible for intellectual confusion” section of his essay—that social media improves political information cascades, as outlined by the political scientist Susanne Lohmann. It also represents a new dynamic within political protest, which will alter the struggle between insurrectionists and the state, even if the state wins in any given clash. Where this will lead to a net advantage for popular uprisings in authoritarian regimes is an open question—and a point on which Morozov and I still disagree on—but the new circumstances of coordinated public action, I believe, marks an essential change in the civilian part of the “arms race.”

            Now for Mr. Morozov’s rebuttal:

            One possible reading of the current situation on the ground in Tehran is that, despite all the political mobilisation facilitated by social media, the Iranian government has not only survived, but has, in fact, become even more authoritarian. The changes currently taking place in Iran are far from positive: a catastrophic brain drain triggered by the recent political repressions, a series of violent crackdowns on politically active university students who have chosen to remain in the country, the persecution of critical bloggers, journalists and editors, the appointment of more conservative ministers to the government, and mounting pressure on dissident politicians. From this perspective, the last six months could be taken to reveal the impotence of decentralised movements in the face of a ruthless authoritarian state—even when those movements are armed with modern protest tools.

            I am on Mr. Shirky’s side in this debate; as, I suspect, would be New York Times journalist, and Iranian exile, Nazila Fathi who wrote yesterday that “Protest was not about to die in Iran. Neither was news about it, nor our part in telling the story. Three things have made all the difference: the global reach of the Internet; the networking skills of exiled journalists and our sources; and the resourcefulness of Iran’s dissidents in sending information and images out.”

            Shirky’s premise is that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in what he calls civic life. The demos is choosing more and more to play out civic life, and to participate in communities and the politics of their nations, through social media — Twitter, Facebook, blogs, mobile chats and hundreds of social networks. The effectiveness of these social media today in toppling regimes, or the fascist backlash that sometimes result as Morozov points out, from this digital engagement, is not the crux of the matter.

            The question should be: Is the existence of social media changing what we mean by civic life, and how we discuss politics, organize civic action and combat despotic regimes? The answer is yes, and political thugs and petty autocrats should be taking note.

            In Canada where the government prorogued parliament for what some felt were cynical and partisan reasons, civic opposition took the form initially in the creation of an anti-prorogation Facebook group. The group offered no suggestions for effective action, just a way to express outrage at what they apparently felt was a haughty political manoeuvre.

            But almost 200,000 people have taken the time to identify themselves as opposing what some called a “sad day for Canadian democracy“.  ‘Question authority’ as the slogan from the 1960s urged of us, and they are. Is it enough to change the governing party’s mind? Not likely given it’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, for being opaque and distant and proud of it .

            However, to continue with the 1960’s metaphor, ’somethin’s happening here and what it is is EXACTLY clear’ (Buffalo Springfield song for those who weren’t around). Nearly 200,000 people have taken a step to make their feelings known . . . and in a public way that six or seven years ago would have been impossible.

            People in democracies and those suffering under authoritarian regimes are channeling their impatience, indignation and anger through social networks. They are coalescing their opposition in groups mediated through these networks.

            And both are just a step away from direct civic engagement and action.