March 2009

I had a good friend from Toronto staying with me this past weekend. She works at a credit union was explaining that she can’t access the Internet at work. It seems that many organizations are still living in the “dark ages” when it comes to allowing staff access to their Internet. There appears to be some concern that people will “waste” too much time online or perhaps say something they shouldn’t…

U.S. government employees are now able to access social media sites at the office. If the highest offices are allowing staff access, other organizations need to rethink why they are banning access to staff, and revise their policies to reflect this new and interactive world.

Most people are quite reasonable and won’t abuse the access, and putting policies in place provides staff with an understanding of what is expected. For many organizations that “block” the Internet, I often wonder if they realize that staff have other ways of going online – Blackberries, Internet wireless sticks, etc. There are more opportunities than ever before to get around rules and regulations that seem unreasonable.

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One of the challenges of working as a communicator in today’s world of Twitter, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, Facebook, YouTube and other social media tools is that some organizations haven’t kept pace with the new way of doing business and living life. Take, for example, the case of Toronto’s Mayor, David Miller. Mayor Miller is on Twitter, which is good for a politician. It allows him to reach out and be a part of an ongoing conversation with the good people of “Hog Town.” Unfortunately, depending what organization you work in—including the Mayor’s own office—you might not have access to Twitter. This means the Mayor isn’t reaching a large part of his stakeholder group.

The National Post has an article on the disconnect between Mayor Miller embracing the new opportunities to connect and the challenge that comes when employers block staff from accessing these new tools at work.

Times have changed and organizations need to realize that social media provides a great opportunity, rather than viewing it as a distraction or a fad that will go away. (News bulletin: It’s not going away!) Yes, there are some potential issues in providing staff with such freedoms, but there are ways to manage the risk involved (usage policy, for example).

Let’s just give a few examples (and I mean a few because there are lots) – The U.S. State Department, Homeland Security, The U.S. Airforce, The Office of the President, West Jet, RBC and The Hospital for Sick Children – are all on Twitter. Now, if these organizations can see the value, and manage the risk, don’t you think we should all be able to get past our misconceptions and fears?

Apparently though, the social media issue at Toronto’s City Hall goes deeper than who can use it. There is a discussion going about the value of social media. In fact Councillor Rob Ford even calls it “superficial.” Ford thinks social media is of no use in his or anyone on Council’s job and is quoted as saying, “I personally don’t know how [councillors’] staff has the time to be playing on Facebook.”

From the article, it seems that Ford’s is quite old fashioned. This head in the sand approach can be damaging to an organization. In the article, Ford is quoted as saying: “I don’t see how Facebook or Twitter can get your garbage picked up or your trees pruned or your potholes fixed.”  In fact, there are many applications of both Twitter and Facebook that could actually save the city time and money.

What if there was a Facebook page that showed the city’s potholes and offered a repair and maintenance schedule, and gave people the opportunity to let the city know of new potholes. Or perhaps Twitter could be used to listen—in real time—to the community. These tools could identify specific problems that could be dealt with immediately, giving the people of Toronto the sense that City Hall IS really working for them. Wouldn’t it be nice to have small issues easily and quickly dealt with BEFORE they turn into bigger problems.

If we look at social media within the context of how it can help our communications efforts and bring people together to discuss problems and challenges or to have a conversation about something specific, the value is clear. The challenge is getting people to open their minds to the potential. 

 

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There is a very interesting article in The Vancouver Sun today that cites a survey done by 6S Marketing. According to the survey, 61% of companies using social media are tracking what is being said about them while 39% don’t pay attention.

Social media is hitting critical mass – and as I mentioned in previous posts, one of the underlying themes at the Ragan Social Media Conference in Vegas last week was that social media is now a part of everyday life for the majority of people. My question is to that 39% not paying attention – why aren’t you? There may be conversations happening online at this very moment about your brand – don’t you want to know what is being said?

Every negative comment provides a chance to learn what your clients/customers/stakeholders/communities are thinking and saying about your organization and it allows you to understand their expectations and needs in an authentic way. There is so much to learn from what is being discussed openly and honestly online. It surprises me when I hear that some organizations and people aren’t listening. Active listening has always been one of the key tools in a communicator’s belt – so why not use this super powered tool that we have been given?  

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There is a great post on how Imedia Connection on how mothers are becoming more and more engaged and involved in social networks. It would appear, according to a recently released industry study, that year over year growth of women ages 25 to 54 with children in the household has gone up nearly 50% on Facebook since 2007. This post is worth reading. It has some very interesting stats and facts, such as: according to a recent MySpace study, the average MySpace mom spends more than 12 hours a week on the site. — That’s a lot of time!

One of the important points to note about social media is that it’s not just for teenagers anymore. I am reading Don Tapscott’s book Grown Up Digital right now and he calls them “screenagers,” which is a great description. However, it’s not just kids that are online. There is a wide range of individuals that are online and you can’t generalize or group them by age anymore. When we deliver our workshops to the senior team or the board of directors of an organization, we are always pleasantly surprised when at least one of the group tells us that they are really active online. Perhaps they are a gamer or they are immersed in communicating on Twitter or that they upload several videos a week to YouTube – and it’s never who you think it is. Times have changed and our perception of who is embracing social media needs to expand.

The Canadian Internet Project released a study last year that showed us that an older demographic is using social media in a variety of ways. I am active on Twitter, the microblogging site. While the people I am following tend to be involved in communications, social media or other areas that I am interested in, the demographic there is much older than you would expect.

A new report was issued by Nielsen – Social Networking’s Global Footprint. One of the interesting points in this report (and there are many) is Facebook’s jump in numbers of people aged 35-49 years of age (+24.1 million). According to the report, from December 2007 through December 2008, Facebook added almost twice as many 50-64 year old visitors (+13.6 million) than it has added under 18 year old visitors (+7.3 million). Pretty interesting stuff!

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