Looking ahead to the top social media, PR and marketing conferences of 2008

NewComm ForumI’m planning my 2008 conference schedule. And as I do so, I’d like to share my assessment of the conferences that are worth attending.

So, starting this week, I’ll publish a series of posts looking ahead to the conferences I plan to attend and the reasons I’d recommend each of them.

Over the past year, my interest in social media and its impact on communication and marketing has taken me to some great conferences. The very best of these conferences have Bob Goyetcheincluded the SNCR New Comm Forum, Mesh, Gnomedex, Podcasters Across Borders, the Canadian Institute’s Social Media Conference, Enterprise 2.0, and BlogOrlando as well as more traditional gatherings like the IABC International Conference, and the PRSA Annual Conference.

Of course, no one person can attend all of the best conferences. I know that there are other great conferences that I haven’t attended.

What are the best conferences you have attended that you would recommend to others?

Social Media Measurement Roundtable: What number of participants and format makes for the best discussion

Yesterday I proposed that we organize a roundtable on social media measurement and metrics. The response I’ve received via comments on the blog post and email has been overwhelmingly positive.

So, let’s move forward with this.

Number of participants 

As a first question, what do you think is the maximum ideal size for a productive discussion? Is it 15, 20, 25, 30?

In choosing the ideal size, I think we need to balance opportunity to participate with the quality of the experience for the participants. The group should be small enough that individuals are able to exchange points of view. On the other hand, if it is too small, we risk excluding participants with valuable perspectives to share.


How about format? My initial thought is that we should have one discussion table for the entire session? Is this a good idea? Or would another format work better? Perhaps a common session to open the day followed by breakout groups on specific topics before reconvening for a general discussion?

Your opinion? 

What do you think is the best size for a discussion of this sort? The best format?

Community Project: Roundtable on Social Media Measurement

How do we measure the value of social media to an organization? What should we be measuring? What are the metrics that accurately capture the things we want to measure?

Over the past year, people like Jeremiah Owyang, Kami Huyse, Scott Karp, Christopher Carfi, Mike Manuel, the Research Fellows at the Society for New Communications Research, John Bell, Flemming Madsen, Geoff Livingston, Katie Paine, David Brain, Brendan Cooper, Brian Solis and Jeff Jarvis have made valuable contributions to our emerging understanding of social media measurement and metrics.

Third Tuesday Vancouver organizersThe online discussion is great. But sometimes, it’s even better to sit down face to face and talk things through.

This is what I’d like to do. Let’s bring together a group of experts for a roundtable discussion of social media measurement and metrics.

Participants could be drawn from three groups:

  • Social media thought leaders who have been writing about these issues.
  • Corporate and organization executives who have been attempting to apply social media measurement and metrics.
  • Companies that are developing measurement and metrics solutions.

Let’s engage a moderator or group of moderators who would frame the questions and then attempt to draw out major issues, points of agreement, and lines of additional discussion. The roundtable format should enable participants to have a full discussion of each topic, with free exchanges of opinion, and hopefully the development of consensus on principal issues.

The product of the roundtable could be a white paper that will follow on the Jeremiah Owyang-authored white paper, Tracking the Influence of Conversations.

Third TuesdayWe’d also organize a special Third Tuesday social media meetup at the conclusion of the roundtable to enable the broader social media community to discuss these issues with a panel of the roundtable participants.

It looks like 2008 Mesh Conference will be held the third week of May. If we could organize the roundtable the day before or after Mesh, that would enable participants who travel to the roundtable to attend Mesh. The fourth week of May is the U.S. Memorial Day holiday week. Holding the conference the Memorial Day week would give U.S. attendees a chance to spend a long weekend in Toronto. Either way, May is a great time to visit Toronto. The leaves have emerged and the flowers are in bloom. The patios are open. And the streets are alive with Torontonians rediscovering after a long winter just how great their city is.

What do you think about the concept of a roundtable on social media measurement and metrics?

If we organize it, will you come?

Colin McKay gives us a behind the scenes look at Canada's Privacy Commissioner Blog

CanuckflackColin McKay is one smart guy and as experienced as they come in social media. He’s been blogging as Canuckflack since 2003. Earlier this year, he launched a second blog, SoSaidtheOrganization, focusing on government communications and social media.

Colin also has a day job as the Acting Director of Communications at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. And he’s used that position to launch what is arguably the most successful example of a government blog so far in Canada – the Privacy Commissioner’s Blog.

Colin was our guest at Third Tuesday Ottawa last month. During his presentation and in a lengthy question and answer session, he offered a candid view of how he managed to obtain the support to initiate the Privacy Commissioner’s blog and how he sustains it.

How has Colin been successful in introducing blogging and other social media tactics into a government environment that has been slow to embrace social media? His Third Tuesday discussion provided some practical tips and observations based on his experience.
Build a business case

“I’d been spending four years slamming my head against a wall bringing up social media and building some sort of conversation within a much larger department. And I think everyone who’s worked in a bureaucracy realizes at some point or another that there are institutional barriers to social media – fairly strong ones. But what I realized coming into a smaller organization like the Privacy Commissioner … if you enter an organization that has at least one or two people who recognize the benefits of social media, if you build a strong business case … something that drives along a business case model that identifies risk and how you will mitigate risk, you can convince … people to try something new…”

Don’t deny risk. Tackle it head on.

“At the Privacy Commissioner, I don’t have a Minister or a Deputy Minister. I have an Agent of Parliament. That means that my description of risk and my expression of the way that I would mitigate that risk and deal with crises as they evolved did not have to reach the same level of sophistication they would with a normal government department, with a department with far more people, far more issues and the possibility of many more things, either on a policy or a program level, going wrong.”

“What you have to be able to do is to say that we’re going to limit our experiment to this environment, to this particular policy, to this particular program and here are the five ways it could go wrong and here are the ways we’re going to kill this experiment if it does go wrong.”

Social media isn’t a stand alone. It’s part of a coherent strategy.

“The first thing I did when I arrived [at the Privacy Commissioner’s Office] was I took a look at what we were doing in terms of communications and marketing and what we doing to reach out to specific audiences and whether we were missing audiences. It seemed to me that we had our stakeholder relations program down pat … and we were speaking to them through our traditional programs. … But we didn’t have any popular aspect and we didn’t have any techniques that would approach people who thought of privacy from a different point of view. …That was my access point to suggest that there are some fairly easy to deploy technologies that will let us communicate with these people in an experimental way.”

Help IT to understand that social software won’t punch holes in security.

“… communicators have to stop taking IT people’s denials and the assertion that the infrastructure needs to remain secure as gospel. … There’s no reason why a department couldn’t host a blog externally and link it to their internally hosted server. There’s no reason why the software can’t be deployed. It’s so easy there are twelve year old Russian boys doing it. If there’s a thirty-five year old man or woman telling you that the IT policies state that you can’t do it because of the integrity of your network, then they’ve got some worries about their network that relate to really poor construction and serious structural weaknesses. In which case, you have to work through your business case with the IT management to make them understand the options available and not depend on your IT people to sell it for you.”

Good things happen.

“I was surprised from the first day we were getting positive comments. We haven’t gotten a lot of comment SPAM. … What has appeared are a lot of supportive messages and a lot of comments like, “I was giving a presentation to my children’s grade school today and I saw your video and I’m going to pass it along to the teacher to show to the class. Which is exactly the sort of ‘home run’ I was hoping for.”

Colin and Third Tuesday host Ian Ketcheson talk about these and other issues in the following highlights audio clip.

Social media means opportunity for public relations practitioners

I frequently am asked the question, “Where does social media belong – with advertising or public relations?” My answer invariably is that it resides with those people who have the imagination and intelligence to explore and understand social media’s potential.

Off the gridSome of those people may come from advertising backgrounds, some from public relations, some from journalism, some from technology, some from other places. My own social media community reflects this blend. My feedreader includes social media opinion leaders who started out in advertising, public relations, journalism, design, marketing, government, and other diverse places. Their backgrounds are disparate. But they all share in common an intellectual curiosity and willingness to take risks.

Having said this, I do feel that social media presents an unprecedented opportunity for public relations practitioners who embrace it.

The driving force of social media is people’s desire to connect with others. Public relations’ focus on conversation and relationships attunes PR practitioners to social media and its potential for community building and long term relationships between organizations and communities of interest.

Social media require skills that public relations practitioners have – listening, analysis, clear writing and speaking and, above all, a sensitivity to the interests and needs of the community. Defining and understanding the interests and predispositions of “target audiences” has long been a mainstay of public relations.We should be able to master the shift in perspective from “audience” to “community of interest” and from mediated communication to conversational communications.

Have your sayThe new realm of public relations is in defining and understanding communities of interest. Who are they? What brings them together? How can you contribute? What do you have that they might value, want and appreciate? What is their culture? This requires the skills we’ve always had – to listen, to frame content in a way that is meaningful and responds to the interests of the person at the other end of the line; to communicate clearly; to respect others’ time and attention.

The rewards will be great for PR pros who embrace social media.

We will expand the scope of our practice, escaping the shackles of media relations by joining and contributing to communities of interest, without intermediaries, in our own voices. Let me say that again – in our own voices. No ghost writing wanted.

We will gain attention from key decision makers looking for strategic insight about what these new media mean for their organizations.The need for authenticity presents the opportunity to build a practice on the provision of solid strategic advice to forward looking clients who see the potential but seek expert guidance. No arms and legs work here.

52 facesOf course, we must do it right. Success in social media will come only if we open ourselves to new possibilities and explore them with energy and patience. And above all, if public relations professionals are to fully realize the potential that social media has for our practice, we must be open about sharing our experience and knowledge with one another.

The advantage of proprietary information is ephemeral in a world of open sourcing and peer creation. The successful practitioner will realize that we all rise on a common tide of understanding and expertise.

The true winners will be those who are seen to give more than they receive, who truly understand the gift economy and the culture of generosity. Success in social media starts with this understanding.

Cross posted on the blog of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms

UPDATE: Brendan Hodgson carries these thoughts further. It’s not just about “joining and contributing to communities of interest, but knowing the “hearts and minds” of those audiences we need to reach.”

Joe's Social Media Bookshelf

I subscribe to over 350 blog feeds. These are my window on the world for the news of the day and the current leading edge thinking on social media, public relations, marketing and technology.

This daily reading gives me bite sized chunks of information. But I still turn to books for the broader context and depth that only a longer form study of a topic can provide.

I’ve read some great books. And I’ve read some not-so-good books. To help you make the best of your reading time, here are my recommendations for your social media bookshelf.

Top Shelf

Cluetrain ManifestoThe Cluetrain Manifesto

This book was ahead of its time. It’s authors, Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searles and David Weinberger, laid out the vision for the Read/Write Web at a time when the ability to code html was essential for anyone wanting to enter the conversation. I would recommend this as a primary resource for anyone wanting to understand the spirit of social media. And if you read it, you’ll be able to participate in a conversation when someone is referred to as “clueful.”

Naked ConversationsNaked Conversations

Shel Israel and Robert Scoble‘s book celebrated and documented the popularization of blogging as a vehicle for online conversations among people with shared interests. The book captured the spirit of the blogosphere and lays out the essentials of good blogging. Transparency, authenticity, authority. The examples in this book are classics (e.g. Kryptonite locks, the English Tailor). The principles they illustrate are timeless.

The Long TailThe Long Tail

This book started as an article by Wired Magazine‘s Editor in Chief, Chris Anderson. Anderson explores the notion that the unlimited storage and global reach of the Internet make it possible for businesses to be built on a different model than the hit-driven model of the Hollywood studios and old line music labels. The Long Tail suggests that online businesses based on selling small quantities of a large number of products (witness iTunes, Amazon) can be just as lucrative as the blockbuster-driven businesses that are dependent upon massive sales of just a few titles. The same new economies apply to ideas as well as products. This realization comforts bloggers who set out to write about niches that will never have mass appeal, but will find a specialized audience.

The World is FlatThe World is Flat

Thomas Friedman explores the potential for the ubiquitous Internet to transcend geography and transform the global economy. My children are no longer in competition with the kids in their school or city. They now can look forward to a life in which they compete and share with people on the other side of the globe. Sweeping changes for North Americans and Europeans who have taken for granted an economic order that emerged in the mid-fifties.


Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams bundle up several themes from The World is Flat, Naked Conversations and Cluetrain and demonstrate how they are rippling through corporations. They illustrate how savvy organizations are opening themselves to outside ideas and incorporating notions such as peer creation and open source in order to accelerate innovation and increase their competitiveness.

Everything is MiscellaneousEverything is Miscellaneous

Cluetrain co-author David Weinberger makes a second appearance on my bookshelf with this exploration of a new way of organizing information that has been made possible by the combination of digitization of information with powerful search engines. Weinberger points out that tradtional organizing schemes such as the Dewey Decimal System are rooted in the physical world’s requirement that each object must be in only one place. The place assigned to each object or piece of information reflects the social and cultural perspective of the schema’s author. Meaning and context are shaped and limited by decisions taken by that author. Digitization and search engines instead enable individuals and groups of individuals to assign meaning and order to information as we need it. The same information can have different meaning for different people depending on their context and reference points. This gives rise to tools like del.icio.us and the concept of folksonomies. Individuals sorting, categorizing and sharing information in multiple ways as they need it. A powerful concept.

The New Rules of Marketing and PRThe New Rules of Marketing and PR

David Meerman Scott has written my current favourite practical book for applying social media concepts to communication and marketing. This book is chock of hands-on advice that will help online communicators transform their static sites through a focus on great content and social media fundamentals.

Second shelf down

Other great reads that occupy space on my social media bookshelf include Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, along with Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing. Each is a good read that provides insight into the sociology that underpins social media.

On Deck

New books about social media are published every month. My next read will be Now is Gone by Geoff Livingston. (The only problem is that it’s tough to get in Canada. Chapters doesn’t even list it and Amazon lists it as out of stock. Hnnh. Was it ever in stock?) Once I’ve read it, I’ll decide whether to add it to this list.


Chris Thilk has published his own list of the books he turns to for inspiration and support. His list reminded me of Joseph Jaffe’s Life After the 30 Second Spot. I also keep this one on my top shelf.

Geoff Livingston, author of Now is Gone, offers his own list. Guess which book is his first choice?

Andrew Careaga compiled a list of his readers’ recommendations for books which deal with the intersection of public relations and social media.
Your Turn

Do you agree with my assessment of these books? What other books are you reading that you’d recommend I add to my social media bookshelf?

We have passed the tipping point for social media in corporate Canada

I believe that we have reached passed a tipping point for social media in corporate Canada. Social media has gone from being something about which a small group of evangelists proselytized to something which a broad range of companies are incorporating in their communication, marketing, stakeholder relations and community outreach programs.

Canadian Institute  Conference on Social MediaThis really came home to me when I chaired the Canadian Institute’s Social Media Conference in Toronto earlier this week. The presentations at this year’s event were different from the presentations at last year’s event in one important way. Last year, the conference program was dominated by speakers who were making the case for why corporations and organizations should embrace social media. This year, every speaker on the program talked about case studies of programs that they had run.

We heard from representatives of ScotiaBank, Cognos, Dell, BMW Canada, BMO Financial Group, IBM Canada, Microsoft Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Yahoo!, Iotum, Tucows and the Art Gallery of Ontario. All have used social media in the past year. All have successes with real results that have been measured against clearly stated goals.

Canada is not alone in this. The Society for New Communications Research‘s Symposium and Awards Gala, held in Boston, the day after the Canadian Institute’s conference, handed out dozens of awards for social media programs that had demonstrated excellence in the past year. And the symposium attendees heard a lineup of companies like Coca-Cola, Dell and GM present their social media successes.

Real examples of real successes in social media by corporations, organizations, not for profits and even government.

Truly, in one year, we went from social media as something of unrealized potential to social media as an essential element of any corporate communication, marketing and community outreach program.

Make Toronto's Mesh Conference08 the best ever

Mesh Toronto 2006The organizers of Toronto’s Mesh Conference are asking for input on the sessions you would like to attend and the speakers you’d like to hear from.

I’ve offered a few suggestions:

Social media metrics and measurement

I think that THE pressing issue is metrics and measurement for social media. We cannot duck the ROI questions any longer. Corporations and other organizations have dived into social media with vigour. Now, we must find ways to assess the results of the social media programs. Do we measure results by conversions? By engagement? By something else? And what algorithms can we agree on?

Advertising and PR: Will they converge or fight to the death in social media?

When I attend events like CaseCamp (advertiser driven), I hear people talking about programs that assemble databases and drive conversions. When I attend events like Third Tuesday (PR driven), I hear people talking about longterm relationships, trust and community.

I think that advertising and PR start out from very different perspectives. Will they converge in the social media space? Can we agree that participation is marketing?

Introducing the Social Media Culture into the Corporation

The culture clash between social media and organizations. Social media is about peer creation and sharing. Organizations are about hierarchy and control. How can organizations manage the tension between these different mindsets in order to realize the benefits of social media while maintaining the discipline and focus necessary to be effective?

These are my suggestions. What do you think? What sessions would you like to see at Mesh 2008?