Social Media Business Council President Bob Pearson at Third Tuesday Toronto

BobPearsonPhoto3You may know him as Dell‘s Vice President of Communities and Conversations, where he headed Dell’s social media team. But since April, he’s Bob Pearson, President of the Social Media Business Council, which brings together large companies to understand social media and how they can adopt it in an intelligent, effective way.

The members of the Social Media Business Council are the heads of social media at Fortune 1000 companies, including Molson,  Dell, Coca-Cola, Allstate, Cisco, Ford, General Electric, H&R Block, Home Depot, Intel, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Petro-Canada, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, UPS and Walmart.

ThirdTuesdayTorontoBob has run one of the most successful social media outreach programs during his time at Dell. Today, he rubs shoulders with the senior executives who are trying to the do the same at other big companies. At Third Tuesday Toronto, he will share his unique perspective on the right way for corporations to engage with social media. What are the largest companies hoping to achieve through social media? What are the biggest challenges they have to adopting it effectively? What works well and what doesn’t seem to work?

You can register online to attend Third Tuesday Toronto with Social Media Business Council President Bob Pearson.

Thank you to our sponsors

There’s a lot that goes into putting together Third Tuesdays. And we couldn’t do it without the support of our sponsors. Sponsors for this month’s event include Molson CanadaFerg Devins thought of us when he heard Bob was coming to Toronto and arranged for him to speak to us; CNW Group, our founding sponsor; and the Berkeley Event Venue, who provide us with a fabulous and friendly place to meet.

Third Tuesday Admission Charges: I'm always learning and willing to change

Charging for admission to Third Tuesday? Boy, did you ever give me a piece of your mind. I received some thoughtful advice on my blog, on Twitter and in person.

Third TuesdayAnd, based on your responses, I’m going to modify our approach to admissions to Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa. But that will come at the end of the post. First, I want to review what we did, what people told me, what actually happened at the event. Then I’ll outline the new approach I hope to test at the next Third Tuesday. And finally, I’ll talk about what I learned through this experience.

What I did

When I announced the June Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa, I introduced a $10 admission charge.

In my blog post explaining the new admission fee, I pointed to the fact that, as Third Tuesdays became more popular, the number of people who registered to attend and then failed to show up at the event was sometimes in excess of 40%. This is a huge problem for people organizing a free event. We couldn’t be sure what level of staff the venue organizers should have on hand, which is unfair to them. Even more important, other people who wanted to attend were sitting on a waiting list while people who had no intention of attending had taken all the available spots.

The folks at Meetup counsel event organizers to charge an admission fee. Looking at the experience of meetup organizers who use the site, they realized that even a small admission fee cut down dramatically on the number of no-shows.

So, I decided to implement a $10 admission fee.

What did people tell me?

The admission fee turned out to be a big deal for some people. And the discussion showed it was about much more than money.

Yes, some wondered if this is a cash grab. What would I do with the money?

  • Joe Boughner, for example, commented: “I’m also left wondering where the money is going; will there be a kitty to cover travel costs for out of town speakers or something?”

Several talked about the need to provide a break for students.

  • Malcolm Bastien argued: “One thing I hope groups of any size and industry take into consideration is the doors that the events open up to students. I couldn’t be where I was today if Third Tuesday, Refresh, and Web Analytics Wednesday were not free. I probably would still be unemployed, would have made a lot fewer connections and friends, and they would not have been able to help my education. … So for students I hope all events keep it free, at 3+ events a month, at $10 a pop potentially, then it just becomes unfeasible for students to participate.”
  • Eden Spodek commented: “Most people won’t miss $10 if it turns out they can’t make it in the end. Perhaps there’s a way TTT can still provide some free spots (or sponsorship) for students, recent grads and unemployed members of the community.”
  • Bonnie Dean echoed that sentiment: “I think Eden Spodek makes an excellent suggestion re: free spots to students, grads and those who are unemployed. If part of my $10 pays for someone else to attend who may not be able to afford it, I would have no problem with that.”
  • David commented: “I think (in Ottawa) some of the best conversation are started by students, or “newly employed.” I also think that part of the charm of the night is having a drink. Now our free or one drink night is now $15 to $20, which might not seem like a lot to some, but is a deal breaker to many.”

Some people seemed to have decided to take a pass on Third Tuesday now that there is an admission fee.

  • Dan Hocking wrote in a post on his blog: “I’ll be frank; this $10 fee that TTT is charging will ensure that unless the speaker is someone absolutely spectacular, I likely will not attend any future TTT events. This isn’t a bad thing; I’m not the direct target market for these events, so maybe by not attending I’ll help them get who they’d like.”
  • Others expressed their opposition to the move in tweets (e.g. @dbast, @tariqalexander, and @rebeccablake.)

Some organizers of other community-based events chimed in saying they understood the move to an admission.

  • Justin Kozuch wrote a post about his experience mounting the Refresh Events, saying “Like Third Tuesday, we are seeing a large number (40-50%) of attendees registering for our events, and then not attending. While we certainly don’t want to discourage people from coming out to our events, we also feel that those who register and then don’t show up are preventing those who WANT to attend, but cannot because tickets are “sold out”. It also causes us to spend additional money on refreshments based on attendee registration numbers, only to have those refreshments left over or consumed in great amounts by those attending.”
  • Maggie Fox commented: “Very interesting that we’ve all come to the same conclusion at the same time; we’re having the very same issue with the Toronto Girl Geek Dinners – when there’s a speaker it tends to be better, but our last meetup was a simple mixer and only about 1/3 of those who registered showed up. … We’re contemplating exactly the same move – and I think your logic is dead on.”

Some people suggested alternatives to charging an admission fee.

  • Phil Barrett suggested: “Industry best practice for events is to allow 2.5 times the capacity for guest list. Every event has no shows… so if you only allow capacity to register, you will never fill each venue – even with a fee or a stellar lineup.”
  • Susan Murphy offered: “Might I suggest that at least a part of people’s contribution go to a charity? Further emphasizes the ‘community’ aspect and then it looks less like a cash grab.” Stephen Clarke wondered, “why not introduce a “No-Show” policy which only charges those people who don’t show?”
  • Max Cameron suggested: “How about, you reward people that show up consistently with a free-entry membership card, and if you register and no-show three times, you lose your free-attendance privileges. Sounds complex, but there’s got to be a way to include a Carrot as well as a Stick.”
  • Peter Childs suggested a similar approach: “An alternative approach would be to charge no-shows and to prevent them from registering at another event until the fee was paid. …Of course that approach requires more overhead – both at the event and in back end systems – but much of that could be automated through the same web technology we love so well.”

Finally, some people tweeted or commented their understanding of, willingness to accept or support for the introduction of an admission fee. (e.g. @citymark, @jenmyhuynh, @rhh, @alexbrasil, and @shannonboudjema.)

What happened at the event?

The bottom line is that the introduction of an admission fee was very effective in reducing no-shows.

In Ottawa, we had only 5 no-shows. In Toronto, the number was higher. About 30 people who booked a place didn’t show up. Still, that was a substantial reduction over the number of no-shows at last month’s event (over 100 people who said they’d attend and then didn’t bother to show up or cancel.)

And here’s the telling point: Virtually every one of the no-shows this month in both cities were people who registered to attend but failed to pay in advance. Almost every single person who paid the $10 admission fee in advance actually attended.

So, what happens now? A break for students.

Community shouldn’t be about majority rules. It should be about respecting and trying to accommodate everyone’s point of view. So, while I take some comfort from the people who understood and supported the move, I’m also very sensitive to the views of those who don’t agree with what I’ve done.

So, I’m going to make a change to the way we charge the admission fee.

We will provide a refund of the admission fee to any student who attends. (All they have to do is show us their student card and they’ll get an instant refund.)

We will continue to charge a modest fee. The $10 fee did reduce the number of no-shows dramatically. And while several interesting alternatives were suggested, they all add a degree of complexity to the work of what is, after all, a volunteer-driven organization. The $10 fee is simple and effective. So, we’ll keep it in place for now.

My pledge to keep Third Tuesday a not for profit community-based event

But, some ask, where is the money going?

Third Tuesday was conceived as a non-profit community-based event and I intend to keep it just that.

You have my pledge that every penny from admission fees will be reinvested in the Third Tuesday program – to help us bring in speakers, to pay for the cost of the venue, to ensure we have WiFi at the events.

Back to you

I’ll keep reviewing this policy on an active basis. And if it’s not serving its purpose, we’ll change it.

Don’t stop talking at me and with me. I want Third Tuesday to be our community. So, if I still don’t have it right, let me know. And if I do have it right, don’t hesitate to say so. These discussions are good. They show me that you care. And if you care, then Third Tuesday must be worth caring about.

Why a registration fee for Third Tuesday?

Several people in both Toronto and Ottawa emailed me to ask why I’ve introduced a $10 registration fee for Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa.

That’s a fair question. And I thought I’d answer it here for everyone to read instead of responding only to those who asked.

The reason is simple: We’re searching for a way to reduce the number of “no-shows,” people who say they will attend and then don’t show up on the night of the event.

Third TuesdayThe Third Tuesday community has grown substantially since Shel Israel appeared at the first Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa in September 2006. In fact, the Third Tuesday Toronto membership now exceeds 2,000. On any given night between 150 and 250 people will come out to meet and hear the speakers, to talk about social media and to network with others who share their interests.

The problem is that, as the events have grown and become better known, the number of people who actually show up can vary substantially from the number who indicate on the Third Tuesday site that they intend to attend. Our no-show rate has on some nights exceeded 40% of the expected attendees. This makes it extremely hard to plan the events. We have to lock into a larger hall than we may need. The venue will overstaff, driving up their costs and making them more reluctant to have us return again.

No-shows have another even more serious impact. We’ve sold out several of the Third Tuesdays in Toronto and Ottawa this year. And when you have people on a wait list, every no-show deprives someone else of an opportunity to participate. That’s not good. And we have to find a way to reduce the no-shows.

We have experimented with charging for Third Tuesdays in the past when we scheduled them over dinner. In the case where we charged a $20 admission fee, the number of people who reserved a spot but didn’t show up dropped to virtually zero.

The simple fact is: If you charge people a small amount, they’ll place a higher value on their commitment to attend. So, by introducing a modest admission fee, I’m hoping to reduce the number of no-shows and make every seat in the house available to people who actually will come out and participate.

Ultimately, the quality of the event is determined by the participants. One of the ways that we’ve been able to attract such great speakers is that they know that Third Tuesday is a great community of people and they want to plug into that community and talk about their ideas with us.

I want to keep the Third Tuesday community vibrant. I hope that introducing an admission fee will help to do this.

The City of Ottawa gets into social media: Third Tuesday Ottawa

cityofottawalogo-090615Over the past year, Chris Wightman (@cwightman), the City of Ottawa‘s Manager of eMedia, and his team have explored how the city could use social media to improve information sharing among employees and to bring the city closer to citizens.

Chris will be talking at the next Third Tuesday Ottawa about his experience with social media at the city. Chris will describe the hightlights of the city’s exploration of social media, what has worked, what hasn’t worked yet and what comes next.

Third Tuesday Ottawa

I think you’ll find that this is a classic case with lessons that anyone in a public service environment can use. From making a business case for each tool being explored through to making the case for open source software, Chris and his team have been there. They’ve also tackled the challenge of educating their colleagues about social media and its potential to help them do their jobs. And they’ve faced the expected corporate concerns of IT system security, privacy, accessibility and, of course, resources.

If you’re in government or a large organization, and you’re looking for inspiration and examples you can use in introducing social media in your work environment, you’ll find Chris’ presentation to be chock full of useful information.

You can register online to attend Third Tuesday Ottawa with the City of Ottawa’s Chris Wightman.

And once again, thank you to our founding sponsor, CNW Group, who have been with us from the outset. Your support enables us to continue to organize better and better Third Tuesdays.

Disclosure: We're on the Zoompass team

Thornley Fallis has been engaged to help EnStream launch the Zoompass mobile payment service. (Zoompass users can request and transfer money between one another directly from their smartphones. They can also transfer money directly to a prepaid touchless MasterCard to make purchases.)

zoompasslogoDuring the launch phase, Kerri Birtch (@kerribirtch), Dave Fleet (@davefleet), and I (@thornley) will be monitoring the online discussions about Zoompass and participating in them through the Zoompass Twitter ID and through posts on the Zoompass blog. We’ll be supporting Zoompass’ Vice President, Aran Hamilton (@aranh) in this effort.

It’s our hope that, working as a team, we’ll be able to be present in the conversation from early in the morning to late at night seven days a week.

If we refer to Zoompass on our own Twitter accounts, we’ll insert “(client)” into the tweet to be sure that the reader, whether they know us or not, is alerted to the fact that we have a relationship with Zoompass.

I’m really excited about being part of the launch. I’ve been playing with Zoompass for a couple months prior to the launch and I think it will add a whole new function to my cellphone.

If you are curious about Zoompass and how you could use it, click over to the Zoompass Website to sign up to try it out. And once you start to use it, follow the Zoompass Twitter stream. If you ask a question or offer a comment there, you can be sure that we’ll respond to it.

Nora Young adds some Spark to Third Tuesday

norayoungNora Young is fascinated by how people adopt and apply technology in their lives. And she share her passion every week on CBC Radio One’s Spark. In fact, the program has been so well received that the corporation recently announced that it will be lengthened to an hour in the autumn.

But Nora’s Spark isn’t just a radio program. It’s also a much listened-to podcast that can be listened to at any time. And it’s a blog which offers subscribers a chance to listen to complete undedited interviews that were shortened to fit into the broadcast program. Even more, it’s a blog where Nora and the Sparks production team solicit community input on story ideas that they are developing. And of course, it’s also a Twitter ID that Nora and her team use to tell people about what’s happening with Spark and to have conversations with them.

Nora is truly the new generation of broadcaster. As the traditional model tumbles down, as newspapers are closed, as television stations are closed and as radio budgets are cut, one thing is for sure. Nora Young will be using the media that her community has migrated to.

ThirdTuesdayTorontoSo, I’m really looking forward to Nora’s appearance at Third Tuesday Toronto on June 23. She’ll be sharing with us the lessons she’s learned from her journey into social media. What were the bumps? How did she overcome them? What has been most successful? Where does she see things going in the future?

If you’re interested in celebrating the potential of new media and talking with someone who is showing how to bridge traditional media and social media, I hope you’ll join us on June 23. You can register online to attend Third Tuesday with Nora Young.

As always, I’d like to give a shoutout to our sponsors: Our founding sponsor, CNW Group has been joined by the Berkeley Heritage Event Venue to help us make this event possible. Thank you to our sponsors. We couldn’t do Third Tuesday without you.

Leo Laporte Deep Sixes Michael Arrington on Gillmor Gang

I’ve been listening to and watching Leo Laporte on TV and the Web for years. He comes across as a truly nice guy. So, I was floored when he went nuclear on Michael Arrington. Swore at him. Threw him off TWiT and told Steve Gillmor to find another place to produce Gillmor Gang.

Shortly after, Michael Arrington wrote about the exchange in a post on TechCrunch. He apologized – and then added a short message from Leo Laporte apologizing for overreacting.

OK. So today’s contretemps is over. But …there must be a lot more history here to have triggered Leo’s angry outburst. Wow.