Social Media, Unrequited

I spent a very¬†educational evening tonight at the Talk Is Cheap “unconference” on Social Media, held at Centennial College‘s slightly inaccessible Carlaw campus, the Centre for Creative Communications. It was a free event that brought together around 200 people, mostly public relations and corporate communications practitioners. As such, it wasn’t directly related to my job, but for someone who’s desperately trying to advocate “social media” and “Web 2.0” stuff at PricewaterhouseCoopers, it was food for my soul. Not so much in terms of content, though, as I’d have to say I probably know more about these issues than most of the people in attendance. My problem is that I’ve never held a career position that allowed me to actually apply all this knowledge. And so my passion for blogs and the like has largely gone unrequited throughout the course of my professional career(s).

This became apparent as I listened to several very good speakers, like Joe Thornley and Michael O’Connor Clarke, both of Thornley Fallis (whose employees actually communicate with me regularly in their capacity as PR agents for ThinkFilm, whose films I review for Toronto Screen Shots. Small world sometimes.) Thornley Fallis is a small Canadian public relations firm who have made great use of social media and established a reputation as leaders in helping their clients apply that knowledge. I found myself envious of working in an environment like that, and thought, perhaps foolishly, that maybe I should be working in public relations instead. But I can clearly see that my apparent zigs and zags, career-wise, are attempts to find that ideal environment where I can apply my skills and passions to the fullest while still making a decent amount of money. While I’m not going to be hasty, maybe I should examine whether my skills and experience as a web-savvy writer might be better applied in a field that is embracing social media.

While I can foresee that PwC might call upon my experience in a limited way, it’s a large firm. So large that even after several months, I still feel like I’m learning what they do. It also feels very decentralized and finding the right person to talk to takes a fair amount of work. I haven’t been there long enough to have a truly informed opinion, but my initial impression is that they’re using cumbersome and limiting technology to publish their web site. As well, they’ve separated my job function from the actual coding of web pages, so that I’m working only in Microsoft Word, writing content that someone else will mark up. So it may be too soon to tell if PwC will be a long-term home for me, or if I just have a perennially roving eye. I’m trying to get some insight into myself, anyway, and tonight was useful.

Just Give Them Blogs and WiFi

From the November 2007 Harper’s magazine:

From a summary of recommendations in Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation, a 211-page report released in July by the RAND Corporation’s National Defense Research Institute, under a $400,000 contract with the United States Joint Forces Command.

HARNESS THE POWER OF INFLUENCERS: Businesses strive to harness the power of influencers and word of mouth in their marketing efforts. The U.S. military should harness the influencing power of indigenous government employees and security forces by having them blog about their views regarding coalition forces. The military might further consider enhancing the Internet access of indigenous populations via distribution of cheap and durable Wi-Fi-capable laptops and by sponsoring Wi-Fi clouds around U.S. operating bases.

There Goes The Neighbourhood

Something very odd happened in July. My site traffic slowed to a trickle. Admittedly, most of my “visitors” are people who arrive at some ancient entry through the magic of Google search. But my unique visitor count went from 4,430 in June to a measly 642 in July. August continues the trend. Does anyone out there know what happened? Has Google tightened up its algorithms? They have been criticized for ranking blogs too highly, but wow, that hurts! Of course, I’m asking a question that nobody out there will even read, based on recent traffic. Oh, the indignity…

Still Here! And There! And There!

The lack of posts around here has been on my mind lately. I’ve just come through an incredibly busy time and can finally relax. A bit. My company’s annual huge wine tasting event was yesterday and I’m hungover in every conceivable way. It’s been a lot of work, and it’s finally finished. But in case you think I’ve been completely absent from the web lately, well, you’d be wrong. Evidence:

  • Podcast of the panel I moderated (Ghost In The Machine: Spirituality Online) at this year’s SXSW is now available.
  • I was featured along with my friends Philip and Ian on an episode of Livebait.tv about Hot Docs.
  • Related to the Livebait.tv story, my new film blog Toronto Screen Shots has been going like gangbusters, and I’ve got a huge stack of great DVDs to review.

So, although there hasn’t been a lot of text here lately, you can see and hear me in a few different places.

SXSW 2007 Wrapup

I know this post is long overdue, but it’s actually taken me this long to recover physically and mentally and catch up a bit at work. This year’s SXSW was even bigger than last year, and despite the fears of my friends and I, it was actually somehow a bit more manageable. This was probably due to a few factors. First, I had a panel to prepare for and that allowed me to focus on that to the exclusion of almost everything else on the Saturday. Another sadder reality was that Brooke’s father passed away just a week before I was to fly to Austin. We spent almost the entire next week with her mum in Collingwood, about an hour and a half north of Toronto. That made it pretty impossible to think about or plan my week too carefully. For a few days, it wasn’t even clear I’d be able to make the trip at all. But in a strange way, it made me less anxious about the panel and about figuring out what I wanted to do every hour of every day. I was just happy to be there. And just so you know, Brooke was able to spend some quality time alone with her mum that week and sent me on my way with her blessing. She’s amazing like that.

I didn’t attend a lot of panels, or take a lot of photos or notes, so I thought I’d just give you a list of highlights and lowlights:

Highlights

  • My panel was great. It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet some very sharp people who also happen to be warm and genuine about their faith. I’m really hopeful that I can be involved in something like it again next year.
  • Sticking around a few days was a great idea. Although I didn’t buy a Music badge, there were heaps of free day shows. I got to see The Buzzocks(!), The Polyphonic Spree, Apples in Stereo, Peter Bjorn and John, Robyn Hitchcock with Peter Buck and Okkervil River. There was even free food and beer.
  • During one of the parties during Interactive, I was chatting with my friends Kevin and Baratunde when we were joined by a personable young guy talking about films. He introduced himself as Joe and said he was acting in a film that was at the Film festival. During our 40 minute conversation, it dawned on me that we were hanging out with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star of The Lookout. He turned out to be a great guy, smart and interesting but completely unpretentious.
  • As a panelist, I got a complimentary Gold badge which allowed me to attend both Interactive and Film events. I took the opportunity to see a few films (Reign Over Me, Exiled, and Eagle Versus Shark) and this was a great break from the intensity of hanging around with smart geeks or rocking out at concerts.
  • The panels and keynotes I did attend were almost all interesting and valuable.
  • I focussed more on my writing about film and made a number of useful contacts. My decision to launch Toronto Screen Shots was based on attending a great panel called “Blogging About Film.”

Lowlights

  • The weather in Austin this year was kind of crappy. It rained for several days, which made getting around fairly miserable.
  • Hotels were expensive and filled up really early. Despite sharing with my friends Neil and Kevin, which involved spending five of my eight nights on either an air mattress or a rollaway bed, it still cost me more than US$1,000. I’m going to book my room by July or August next time.
  • Almost everyone I know had some travel snafus on the way home. I wasn’t immune. I flew back Saturday from Austin to Detroit without incident, but my flight from Detroit to Toronto was cancelled for “unscheduled maintenance.” Despite the fact that it’s a one hour flight, there were no flights available until Monday or Tuesday, and the airline would only pay for one night’s accomodation. I banded together with a few other Torontonians and we took a taxi across the border to Windsor and jumped on the train. I got home about seven hours late, and it cost me more money, but there was no way I was staying two days in Detroit, especially at my own expense. Boo airlines!
  • As always, the week went by far too quickly and I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with people. There were a few people whom I’d wanted to meet for the first time, and didn’t get the chance. Ah well, I’ll be back next year!