Facebook by the numbers

15 June 2007

By: Jennifer Drogell

Returning to talk about my favourite topic of late – Facebook.  I recently attended Strategy Magazine’s Understanding Youth Conference in Toronto. Mike Murphy, Vice President of Facebook, did the morning keynote and his story of Facebook’s growth from a university networking site to a world-wide social phenomenon was fascinating.

Murphy described Facebook as the place where people are interpreting the world through their friends. Facebookers use their social circle’s recommendations to shape their perceptions and to help them determine what’s relevant to them – whether it be a product or an experience.

This cycle of influence and recommendation translates into excellent opportunities for marketers to get their foot in the door when it comes to finding their target markets. Murphy discussed the viral potential of Facebook to get a company’s message out there and have it spread like wildfire. For instance, Murphy says that it isn’t unusual for companies marketing on the site to garner 262 viral connections from every connection they as a marketer make on the site. The click through rate on those referrals to friends is 12 – 18 per cent. That’s pretty amazing.

And marketers in Canada should stand up and take notice. Murphy said Canada was Facebook’s fastest growing geography along with the UK, with 2 million users in Canada presently. And those Canadians are spending 30 minutes per day on Facebook. Perhaps the Government of Ontario was in attendance? On any given day 60 per cent of Facebook users globally will log into the site. In Canada – it’s closer to 75 per cent.

Guess it’s time to realize Facebook is a force to be reckoned with… Particularly for Canadian marketers.

Jennifer Drogell is an Account Director with Hill & Knowlton Toronto’s Technology Communications Practice.

 

Lessons to learn from music industry innovations

13 June 2007

By: Meghan Warby 

Being a rabid music geek and frequent music blogger, I tend to make (somewhat tenuous) links between the tech sector and the music scene.  Despite my bias, there are some legitimately interesting early-social-media-technology-adopters in the music industry that are worth keeping an eye on for the entire public relations practice. 

Not only did these two cases stand out from my music+tech perspective, they also reinforced some of the main themes covered in this year’s MESH conference

First, throughout the MESH conference, pundits and indies were frequently asked to predict future trends.  Consistently, keynotes and attendees discussed the huge potential for Virtual Reality & Avatars.

This week’s report from Billboard Magazine demonstrates the power of avatars for use in a branded capacity.  Both 50 Cent & Kelly Clarkson – two polar opposite ‘brands’ in the music world – have inked deals with a company called Gizmoz

In my opinion, this resonates far beyond American Apparel’s creation of a store in Second Life – this is giving users an opportunity to email greetings, custom-made videos, jokes and Mp3s to their friends via celebs’ cartoonified talking heads   – which could have massive viral payback.  (Link to the Billboard Article can be found here)

Second, also from Billboard via BBC, a recent write-up demonstrates the power of social media sites, which was a central theme of the MESH conference. 

The exponential growth of widget tools, which are applications enhancing the experience and personalizing user pages on services such as Facebook, boggles the mind. 

So far, the most popular widgets are inter-mingled and crossbred from other social media sites, such as MOG and iLike’s music sharing/quizzing/concert tracking additions to the Facebook interface. 

It is worth noting that a simple, quirky and catchy widget can spread rapidly over a social media site – it has the potential to make a brand ubiquitous to an entire set of users, almost by osmosis.  (Link to BBC Article from Billboard archive can be found here)

Please post freely about your predictions for the widget’s future and the avatar’s role outside of ‘traditional’ VR settings.  I’m eager to read some differing views…

Meghan Warby is a Consultant with the Public Affairs Practice at H&K Toronto.

Resisting technology: futile or practical?

13 June 2007

By: Syma Kharal 

It is ironic that as someone who often resisted technology, I entered the world of public relations in the technology communications practice here at H&K. My resistance was in part due to a general sense of intimidation of tech terminology and keeping up with the latest gadget, device or software.

On a more personal level, however, the reason for my resistance was rooted in fear. I feared that embracing technology in all its forms might mean losing some things I’m not quite ready to let go of. One of these is a sense of connection that comes from interacting with people in flesh and blood.

According to a study by UCLA, 93 per cent of our communication effectiveness is nonverbal. Although email and social media have transformed the way we communicate, have they necessary advanced it? If so much of our communication is nonverbal, how much is then lost in cyberspace? For me, the sensory richness and emotional response to a “real life” interaction with someone is incomparable to an online interaction. That being said, I can still appreciate the convenience, feasibility and fun technological means of communication provide. 

Another reason I hesitated from keeping up with technological devices like blackberries and laptops has to do with this fear that if I were to possess all the cool toys, they would somehow invade my life. In particular, they would blur the boundaries between work, school, family, friends, etc. For instance, while completing my graduate certificate at Sheridan College, my life literally revolved around having internet access at all times. Due to the nature of team work, it was imperative that we (classmates) be accessible essentially 24/7. So even after leaving the school building, there was really no such as actually leaving school. 

Last week I was listening to a radio host talk about how it is now common practice for people to take their blackberries and laptops with them on vacation. On vacation! I thought the idea was to take a temporary retreat from our day-to-day tasks and routines. Again, I can certainly appreciate how being accessible during vacation can prove important in case of a work or family emergency.

Still, I find myself concerned with the notion of technology becoming such an integral part of our existence. Perhaps it is worth examining the extent to which we use technology to enhance or hinder the quality of lives.

These have been my previous fears. However, my recent immersion into the world of technology due to my position at H&K has taught me this: technology in itself is neither friend nor foe. Like most things in life, it’s what we choose to make of it.

Syma Kharal is an Assistant Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.

Snail mail revival with a twist

31 May 2007

By: Emilija Businskas

Last week my colleague Mary Warner posted her tribute to all things stolen by technology.  Like Mary, I miss the days of mix tapes and “real” letters and it seems like we’re not the only ones. 

After reading a recent post by Mark Evans, I learned of a neat Canadian start-up called Easypost.ca that is reviving snail mail, albeit with a twist. 

Now you can write your letters online and have them delivered via Canada Post to any mailbox in Canada…and it’s free!  It’s as simple as filling out the recipients mailing address, writing your letter and pressing send.

As an avid letter writer when I was younger I couldn’t resist trying out this neat little online letter writing tool.  I plugged-in my address, wrote a quick test note and within a few days my Easypost letter had arrived!

Could this finally be the tool that connects everyday e-mail users with those who don’t have e-mail?  I know sometimes we think that everyone in the world has e-mail, but that’s not always the reality.  I know that I can think of a few people who would love getting a real letter in their mailbox! 

Emilija Businskas is an Assistant Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.

A tribute to all things stolen by technology

11 May 2007

By: Mary Warner

I like technology. I work with technology every day. I don’t know how I survived without e-mail, Google and online newspapers. But sometimes I feel like technology has robbed me of some very awesome things. Below is a short tribute.

Pen Pals: I think there was a point in elementary school when I had five different pen pals. They were from all over: Europe, Asia, the US and across Canada. I would rush home to check my mailbox every day after school. [These days, the only mail I get is bills.] Then I would write back on my special stationary. I am sure the letters were exceptionally interesting.

How are you?
I am fine.
What do you like?
I like stuff.
Me too.

But it was still more exciting than a Facebook wallpost. There was anticipation involved, you never knew when a letter would arrive. Now elementary school kids use e-mail and social networking sites – it’s all about instant gratification. With pen pals, there was the feeling that someone took the time to sit down and write out a letter by hand. How long does it take to type:

how ru i am ok ttyl lol

Mix Tapes: Now mix tapes haven’t been around in awhile and I think there might even be an imminent threat against the mix tapes’ successor, the burnt CD – thanks to mp3 players, but I am STILL missing the mix tape. You always knew if someone made you a mix tape, they sat down and MADE it.

They listened to the songs, one by one, in real time. Then they hand wrote the song titles on the cassette case. It took effort. It took patience. It took very neat penmanship. Every once in awhile you would hear a few seconds of a radio announcer’s voice and you knew that someone sat and listened to the radio for hours, waiting for that song to come on so they could record it and put it on a mix tape JUST FOR YOU! I am sure a burnt CD might be a meaningful gift to some, but there just isn’t the same amount of love.

Photo Albums: I know some of you out there MAY print your photos but you are few and far between. Photos now seem to live on hard drives, rarely to be seen outside of the digital form.

However, there are solutions that are gaining popularity with photobooks and more digital photo printing options. But I always have loved going over to people’s houses and looking at photo albums. And I like sharing my albums with people who come to my house (their choice of course, I TRY not to push my albums on unsuspecting guests).

Hopefully, we are beginning to see a comeback for the photo album. But the whole
digital photography form is instant gratification: Take picture. Look at picture. Way less fun than: Take picture. Wait a long time. Bring film to be developed. Wait more time. Pay money. Look at picture. It’s the anticipation that’s the best part.

Books?: I think my sudden wave of nostalgia comes from an article I read in Time Magazine about the Sony Read. It’s an mp3 player for books and can hold up to 80 novels. An electronic book? Say it ain’t so!

So, this is my list but it is far from complete. The irony of using new technology to complain about technology has not been lost on me… but we may as well take advantage.

Do any of you out there in the blogosphere have a tribute to something ‘stolen’ by technology? Please add to my list.

Mary Warner is an Assistant Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto and works regularly on the Hewlett-Packard account.

Access denied…

10 May 2007

By: Terra Pobuda

I was inspired to write a short post on the recent spate of Facebook bans overtaking our city. First the popular social networking site was deemed off-limits for provincial legislators, and now it’s the city itself that has joined in with its own prohibition.

The debate is a simple one, the province and city say that Facebook has “no role to play” in the work its employees do on a daily basis, as such access is no longer available.  Others, Facebook included, feel this ban is short-sighted and taking an important tool out of the hands of users.

How important? Though still an emerging force, Facebook has a lot to offer in terms of ‘community’ creation. These communities can be action or cause-oriented, topic-centric or simply socially-focused. As a member of a community, you can derive more than just a feeling of belonging, but also critical insights into the issues that are resonating with your peers, not to mention having a convenient, widely-accessible forum for dialogue and debate.

Look no further than south of the border to see the potential Facebook has to connect with the voting public. Presidential hopeful, Barack Obama is using the tool to connect with, and update, supporters and it just may be a very powerful piece of his election arsenal.

Back home and something to keep in mind, according to the CTV, Canada is the fastest growing market for Facebook with more than two million users. In Toronto, there are more than 500,000 registered users. That translates into a fair number of votes…

Terra Pobuda is a Senior Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto. Terra has been with the company for over six years.

Baby Conundrums… Technology Questions to Last a Lifetime

26 April 2007

Ultrasound

By: Leslie Whitelaw

As I’m expecting my first child in August, I’ve recently found myself fascinated with all things baby. At the Today’s Parent BabyTime Show last week-end, I saw everything from the expected strollers and cribs to the unexpected 3D ultrasound pictures and stem cell storage options.

I soon realized that choosing patterns and colours for the nursery will be child’s play. It’s the role of science and technology in my child’s future that has created more questions then I expected.

I admit it – I’ve already started to think about the baby book – of pictures, stories, cards and mementos that will help give my child a glimpse of his or her beginnings.

With 3D Pregnancy Ultrasound Pictures I wouldn’t have to wait for my baby to be born to start this book, I could start it today. I love the idea and am so excited to see what my baby looks like. But can’t I wait 40 weeks? How far should I intrude on this private and growing life inside of me?

When I think of my baby I think of a healthy, smiling and adorable little person. I can’t even bring myself to think about a day when he or she might be sick and in need of stem cells. But I know the possibility is there.

Cells for Life collects and stores a baby’s stem cells in case they’re needed for the future. For me, a fanatical planner, it seems like a safe precaution. But weaving through stem cell research debate doesn’t make this an easy decision.

3D images and stem cell storage seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum. Should my baby book start with pictures in the womb? Should I prepare for the worst and have my baby’s stem cells cryopreserved? Science and technology have the power to enhance and empower my child’s life. As a soon-to-be parent, I need to start thinking about how I see them shaping not only my child’s, but my family’s future.

I thought the hard questions were supposed to start after the baby was born!

Leslie Whitelaw is a Senior Consultant with H&K Toronto’s Technology Communications Practice.

 

March Madness Indeed

18 April 2007

By: Mary Warner

There has been a lot of interest in Facebook, MySpace and other social networking tools and the implications and possibilities for the public relations professional, especially here on the TecHKnow blog. But it was an article on the last page of Sports Illustrated last month that really caught my eye.

How do social networking sites affect organized sports? It’s all in one word – CYBERHECKLING!

This term was unfamiliar to me but had all the makings of something that I would like, mostly because of the heckling part! As an Ottawa Senators fan living in Toronto for the past eight years, I have given and received my fair share. (Oh, did the Leafs disappoint you again this year? I’d figure you’d be used to it by now, it’s only been happening since 1968!) Anyways, as I read the creative ways in which students at rival schools used Facebook and MySpace to heckle opposing teams during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I was intrigued.

The best stunt may have happened during last year’s season when students at Colorado State created a fake Facebook page of an attractive female student and called her Jeanne. They used this page to contact and communicate with Cartier Martin of Kansas State. Eventually Cartier informed “her” that he would be in town that weekend for a game and to call him on his cell phone so they could meet up. Well the cyberhecklers called that poor player nonstop the night before his game. Then at the game, every time he was at the free throw line, the fans chanted Jeanne and his cell phone number.

My first reaction: HILARIOUS! Come on, it’s pretty funny!

My second reaction: Well, maybe it’s a little mean. But it’s college basketball so is it fair game?

My third and most mature reaction: Okay, so where is the line and did it get crossed?

Here at Hill & Knowlton we have established guidelines for using social networking tools for a client. There is the need to always be transparent and honest. But it is important to note, that while we as a public relations agency are following rules, many of the people that we will be dealing with online are not. There isn’t always a way to tell if the person you think you are communicating with is actually who they say they are.

So as we enter the great, still somewhat unknown, digital communications world, we don’t only need to be aware of the technology, but also of the users. And next time you’re in the final four (an OBVIOUSLY common occurrence for all of us), be careful who you give your number to!

Mary Warner is an Assistant Consultant with the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.

 

Make me famous, MySpace, I deserve it

16 April 2007

By: Lindsay Bruce

In a recent H&K Connected Conversations podcast, Boyd Neil and Kadi Kaljuste discuss a topic appropriately called “The Death of Shame.” This is when your average Joe or Bertha do wacky, crazy and often dangerous stunts just to help ensure that their lives don’t pass them by without offering up at least 15 minutes of fame.

Although shows such as Canadian Idol get huge flack for being cheesy, watered down versions of entertainment, the fact is that the ultimate winner of a contest like this does have to be inherently good at something, in this case, singing. Meaning that they are worthy of this very limited and fleeting fame. Well, that was before spoil sports like Howard Stern got involved, anyway.

I think networking and entertainment sites including YouTube, MySpace and Facebook are great ways in which you can get a laugh on demand or find that person from your 12th grade math class that sat two rows in front of you (the one you could track down if you could just remember their last name…) but I think we need to take a step back and remember that there are true entertainers and artists available on our door steps and computer screens in Canada that we may be overlooking because we can’t filter the good from the bad in the mass of sense dulling material that we currently have access to.

MySpace was specifically designed to have two versions– one for the everyday Joe and one for musicians to post their songs. Because of this, musicians are able to find a broader fan base than they could have done through traditional methods because MySpace is, well, free. Since we do now have this affordable, constant and wide ranging form of entertainment at our fingertips, I think we risk becoming desensitized to what good entertainment actually is. If a fake bride cutting her fake hair is what passes as entertainment today, then what will become of the ‘real’ talented performers, actors and artists that are actually really good at something? Who deserves the glory? The true entertainers that have measurable real talent that they have spent years honing or your fool next door neighbour that spends his days taping himself falling off his skateboard time after time after time.

You be the judge. 

Lindsay Bruce is a Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.

 

Consolidation consternation?

13 April 2007

By: Carly Suppa

In the IT industry, convergence and consolidation are amongst those over-used buzzwords, often read as the catalyst descriptors for new technology deployments. But 2007’s consolidated convergence headline news has less to do with a bigger bang for the proverbial technological buck and more to do with aspiring media conglomerates gobbling up their competition in a virtual “Lord of the Flies” landscape swipe. 

This week’s news of Astral Media’s acquisition of Standard Radio’s 52 privately held AM and FM radio stations is the latest in a string of major Canadian media market consolidations.  In Canada we saw it begin with a bang last year when Bell Globemedia scooped up CHUM Ltd. So far this year, we have seen more big bang deals with the likes of CanWest acquiring AllianceAtlantis and the Rogers Communications buyout of the A-Channel group of stations.  The Canadian media market is taking a hit even at the trade magazine level. 

Last month, my own former employer IT World Canada Ltd., did the unimaginable: after several years of rumoured attempts, it successfully bought out its number one, decades-long Canadian competitor, Transcontinental Publishing’s IT Business Group, merging the two organizations into one monster publisher of enterprise technology publications.  Having written for ITWC-owned ComputerWorld Canada, Network World Canada and the itworldcanada.com daily news site, I held the Transcontinental (formerly Plessman Publishing) group of publications as revered foes, often attending industry events and interviews with the likes of my competitor counterparts, always holding a silent, understood “eyes-on-your-own-page” respect.  

Now the kimono has been opened with the merger, and as was to be expected, the deal has left a few casualties in its wake.  Having already said farewell to two of IT Business’ standalone publications, Communications and Networking and Government Purchasing Guide late last year, we will now bid adieu to both Computing Canada and the CIO-focused Edge Magazine. 

The new consolidated IT World Canada will keep its strategic focus, according to its editor in chief and publisher, Dan McLean, who visited the H&K offices last week to offer us rather stunned PR practitioners some insight into the move.  Its publications will remain dedicated to providing IT managers and C-level executives with the technological answers to some of businesses biggest issues.  And, most of the faces will stay the same, albeit tackling slightly different roles.

All is indicative of a changing landscape in Canada.  In an era where the World Wide Web is deemed more lucrative a marketplace than the printed word, it comes as no surprise to see less emphasis placed on traditional newsprint media from advertisers and newspaper management tiers than has been our traditional experience. 

So, the question is twofold:  who will be the next media mogul to be swallowed by a close competitor, and who has the staying power to keep the news in print?

Carly Suppa is at Consultant in the Technology Communications Practice at H&K Toronto.