Why social media saved the day during the #TOflood

One of the funnier pictures from last night

One of the funnier pictures from last night

Last night was a tough commuting evening for Torontonians and GTA suburbanites, after Toronto experienced its worst rainfall in history. A lot of us even got home only to realize the power was out, and that it was widespread. But you know what made it all better? Being connected to everything that was happening and getting to-the-second updates on my BlackBerry.* There are 3 reasons why social media took the gold yesterday: it kept us informed, it kept us connected and it kept us entertained.

Information at the speed of light

As the skies darkened, the weather-related tweets started popping up on my feed, and soon enough a few hashtags were trending: #TOflood, #TOstorm #ONflood and #ONstorm were the most prominent ones. With Facebook now enabling the use of hashtags, the same was seen on people’s walls. As I prepared to leave work, go to class and then commute home, I had the latest updates from every source possible: my friends, the media, bloggers, official city and transit accounts, random strangers, etc. Knowing exactly what was happening that could potentially impact me kept me very calm. Knowledge is power, they say, and yesterday I felt in control because I could safely get home (even though it took a lot longer than usual).

Is everyone ok?

Being connected to everyone I care about was another advantage: in a matter of a few hours, I had talked to many of my friends who informed me that the power in my building was out and certain streets were flooded. Then I got offered dinner by one and a free ride by another. Again, what’s the result of all this connectedness?** I felt safe, and therefore calm throughout the chaos that was downtown last night.

A rainstorm walks into a bar…

To lighten the mood, there were enough jokes about the storm and Mayor Ford’s inability to do anything right to put a smile on a lot of faces. Some might say this isn’t a laughing matter, but when the picture of the snake on the GO train went viral, I have to confess I was laughing      at the clever comments that accompanied the picture. Humour really does help us cope with stress better. And, once again, because of social media I have access to everything I needed to, you guessed it, stay calm.

* Yes, mock away, I still own a BlackBerry. But I really do love having a keyboard AND I’m a huge supporter of Canadian businesses, so I’ll stick to my Torch 2 for now…

** I always feel like I’m using a made up word when I say “connectedness” but apparently it exists?


Using Twitter’s paid services for PR

As a PR practitioner, you need to ensure your client is connected to as many social media platforms as necessary to reach their audience. This includes, of course, Twitter. Twitter is a great vehicle that allows us to reach our goals: whether you are seeking conversions (retweets, replies, clickthroughs, favouriting, following, etc.) or trying to raise awareness, there are ways to target specific audiences in Twitter even if they don’t follow you yet by using promoted tweets, promoted trends and promoted accounts.

What are promoted tweets, trends and accounts

Here is a quick explanation of what each means. Click on the hyperlinks to read more about them on the actual Twitter page:

Promoted Tweets are ordinary Tweets purchased by advertisers who want to reach a wider group of users or to spark engagement from their existing followers.

Promoted Tweets are clearly labeled as Promoted when an advertiser is paying for their placement on Twitter. In every other respect, Promoted Tweets act just like regular Tweets and can be retweeted, replied to, favorited and more.

Promoted Accounts are part of Who to Follow, which suggests accounts that people don’t currently follow and may find interesting. Promoted Accounts help introduce an even wider variety of accounts people may enjoy.

Promoted Trends began as an extension of Promoted Tweets platform, and are now a full-fledged product in their own right. With Promoted Trends, users see time-, context-, and event-sensitive trends promoted by our advertising partners. These paid Promoted Trends appear at the top of the Trending Topics list on Twitter and are clearly marked as “Promoted.”

Planning your social media budget

The most important part of any social media campaign is to plan, plan, plan. Create a matrix with all your social media channels, include free and paid content as separate items and spread out your messages, tailored to each medium and audience. Then you need to allocate your budget across the different channels for the campaign (be it a promoted tweet, a sponsored story, a Google ad, etc.), based on the priorities you have identified in your project plan. Remember you also need to set maximum daily budgets as well, but more on social media budgeting will come in a future post. Creating this matrix will allow you to benchmark your efforts and then evaluate how successful your campaign was.

Paid Twitter content and audience targeting

In terms of targeting, Twitter is far behind Facebook, partly because there is very little information Twitter collects from its users. For example, you can only go so far as targeting by province, gender, search terms and @usernames. There’s no functionality to target age at the moment, and you can’t really target by interests either because I find the interest categories that Twitter provides are too broad.

How do I target by interest, then?

As with everything we do, Google is your best friend. Find articles and info online that compile lists of influential Twitter users matching your specific theme/interest/audience. That way, the more @usernames you target, the bigger the potential audience. Twitter can then target people who are similar to the followers of these users.

Let’s talk dollars and cents now

For all 3 tools, you need to set a daily budget. This will determine how much money you want to spend daily and, once the daily budget is reached, the promoted content will no longer show.

Promoted tweets use a pricing model called “cost-per-click.” This means every time someone interacts with your tweet, you pay up. Interactions include expanding your tweet, clicking on a link, favouriting, retweeting, etc. For this, Twitter recommends spending anywhere between $.50 to $1.50.

Promoted accounts are priced on a cost-per-follower basis, and you only pay for every new follower. Here you’re looking at spending $.50 to $2.50 per follower.

Finally, the cost for a promoted trend on Twitter is prohibitive (in the US it’s at $200,000 a day!!!) so I won’t get too much into it. A promoted trend lets you insert your own message on top the “trends” list on Twitter, and Twitter only sells a single message a day, per territory. So, if you’re Coca-Cola or IBM, you’ll have the budget for this (but probably wouldn’t be reading this blog to find out more about promoted content on Twitter).

I still don’t know how much I will spend…

Here is the problem with promoted content on Twitter: it’s hard to gauge how much you should/will spend because it depends on a million different factors. So my recommendation is to talk to your online marketing team (if your company has one) or go through a PR agency to help you, at least the first time around. Pay attention and ask a lot of questions so that you can do it yourself next time.

Is promoted content on Twitter worth it? Yes it is, but only as part of a bigger social media strategy. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure all your efforts are tracked and look at the metrics at the end of your campaign to see which part of your strategy worked the best.

A PR practitioner’s reality

A PR practitioner's reality

These “what I do/what others think I do” memes are nothing new, but they still capture the complete mis-characterization of certain jobs.
As a PR practitioner at a national health charity, I often get mistrusting looks, sly comments and rude jokes my way. I’m either hiding or spinning the truth, or I’m taking advantage of someone/something.
While I personally believe the “PR spin” language is something that belongs to cheesy ’90s movies, there is still a lot of confusion as to what PR practitioners do, which is why I’m currently working on a post about PR in the non-profit world.
So stay tuned for that!

More Than Half (52%) of Canadians Are ‘Engaged’ With Politics, Public Policy, and Social Issues Online | Ipsos

Last week, Ipsos Reid published a study examining how Canadians use social media for “the greater good” which reminded me of a conversation my social media instructor, Boyd Neil, had with our class last Monday. Boyd mentioned that the term “slacktivism” was an erroneous one, and now we have proof to back up that claim. If anything, Canadians are at the top of the list of countries who, instead of taking to the streets to get heard, take to the social web to change public policy. The entire release can be read here: More Than Half (52%) of Canadians Are ‘Engaged’ With Politics, Public Policy, and Social Issues Online | Ipsos. There is also a link to the complete study at the bottom of the release.

This is a fascinating study, I find. As more and more people go online everyday and use social media, they are defining the issues we discuss and making their voices heard. That’s how we end up with trends on Twitter, for example, of phrases related to the uprisings in Turkey and Brazil. We’re not simply reconnecting with our childhood friends anymore, we’re changing our society and reshaping the world around us.

So, next time your friend sends you that change.org petition or asks you to share their posts, consider doing it. If you agree with the cause, be part of the change being proposed.

Being a social butterfly in the 21st Century


I was a true social butterfly while in university which, in those days, meant being known by everyone. I was constantly greeted by students, faculty and staff when walking on campus. It helped that I put myself “out there” as well: While attending class full-time, I also worked and volunteered for my alma mater and was part of several social clubs, meeting people from many different tribes. Amazingly enough, I kept connected with everyone, even though I didn’t own a cell phone, no one was on Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist yet (wow, I feel old…)

Fast forward 8 years since graduation and my connections have all moved online. Between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs, Google+, LinkedIn and whatever else you’d like to throw into the mix, the new web 3.0 has really upped the stakes for us social butterflies.  But there are many, many tools and gadgets that make it possible to manage your virtual life without having to spend every waking moment glued to a screen. Here are some of my favourite ones:


I almost had a heart attack when Google announced the death of Google Reader. Until today I don’t understand their decision, and I let them know about my dissatisfaction, but I digress. I eventually seamlessly exported all my feeds from one reader to the next and am loving Feedly. You can sort your feeds into categories, set your preferences on how to display and read them, and customize your homepage. What’s also amazing about Feedly is that you can easily pin any image from it directly to Pinterest or share any article directly with your G+, LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook accounts. Bonus points: if you’re a Google Chrome user, Feedly installs a nifty app directly on your browser window.


My favourite of all dashboards, Hootsuite is what I use to manage Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Following more than, say, 10 people on Twitter renders their website pretty useless. Hootsuite lets you follow specific lists, hashtags, search terms, etc. and displays it neatly into tabs and streams. You can schedule content to get published at specific times, create reports to analyse your social media activities and, if you upgrade to the pro version, be part of organizations on Hootsuite (I don’t have that feature, so let’s skip over it). The great thing about the tabs and streams is that you can add and delete them as your interests change or, in my case, as you’re following specific trends or conversations on social media for work.

Google Chrome

Ok, so Chrome is technically just a browser, but calling it “just” a browser is a gross understatement. Chrome is the king of browsers: it allows you to log in with your Google account (if you are still using Yahoo or Hotmail as your email provider, I am secretly judging you) and customize it so that you have specific tabs that open every time and all your apps built in. The Chrome web store has thousands of apps and extensions for the browser that make everything in life easier. For example, I have a workout app directly built into Chrome that I use every morning (ok, maybe once a month) and another app that takes me directly to my news reader. I have a million extensions that do everything from blocking ads and pop ups to shortening URLs, and I love that I can open a Chrome browser on any computer, log in as myself and have it set up exactly the way I like it, every time.

Alright, this is it for today!  Stay tuned for more on my opinions and thoughts soon…