Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘social media’

After the Web

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

July 18, 2010

“You people,” sighed the Silicon Scout, shaking his head. “You and your web-sites. The web is like, so over.”

We sit on a non-profit board of directors together, the Scout and I. He’s one of the guys known to technology marketers as “early adopters.” The first guy with a cell phone, a fax machine, an MP3 player. The first guy with an infra-red mouse for his computer. The first guy to send you photos that he took on his phone. (On his phone?)

The Scout is considerably younger than most of us — well, he would be, wouldn’t he? — and during the breaks in the meetings he would be texting and surfing on his iPhone. If we needed to know the price of a doughnut in Dacca, the Scout could find out in a wink.

So there we were, trying to figure out what was needed on our organization’s web site, and here was the Scout, heaving youthful sighs and saying, “You people. You and your web-sites. The web is like, so over.”

Over? The internet is over? I was utterly bewildered.

Well, no. The internet is not over. But the World Wide Web is not the internet. The Web lies on the internet like a quilt on a bed and, like a quilt, it makes the internet much more comfortable and attractive. And the Web remains — but the action has moved to “social media” like Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and, above all, Facebook.

I wrote about social media in 2008, when Facebook had only been accessible to the general public for two years, and already had 100,000,000 users. Twitter, even younger, made me quite crotchety, with its ceaseless drizzle of 140-character “tweets” about users going for coffee, praying for rain and scratching themselves privily. What, I asked, “ is the point of this torrent of narcissistic nonsense?”

Good question. But it missed the larger issue, which is that the Web is relatively static and passive, and the social media are dynamic. A web site is like a brochure or a billboard, providing information to people who come looking. A social media site is a conversation, a buzz, an instantaneous international grapevine. Your Facebook or Tumblr or YouTube page is a busker’s performance. You put your stuff out there, and passersby look at it, engage you in conversation or walk on by. If they like it, they tweet to the grapevine and the world comes to watch.

So, for example, during the nine days after Susan Boyle did that electrifying performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in April, 2009, her videos were watched more than 100 million times. Think of that: a hundred million times!! When her album came out in November, it sold nine million copies in six weeks, becoming the best-selling album of the year. Barack Obama largely owes his presidency to his ability to galvanize people and generate huge streams of cash by using social media. During the World Cup, reporters were tweeting furiously on their smartphones while the action was still unfolding — reporting not to their editors, but directly to the hordes following them on Twitter.

Social media allow smart entrepreneurs to create great instant businesses, and to reach customers they could never reach before.The trick is to pick a niche, create great content within that niche, and give a lot of it away.

Natalie MacLean, for example, a Cape Bretoner with a spectacularly successful wine site, gives away tons of information about wine and food. She’ll even provide you with a little program for your smartphone that allows you to browse her recommendations as you cruise the aisles of the liquor store.

But if you want her reviews of specific wines, complete with matched food recipes, you have to subscribe to her paid, premium service. It’s only $2.10 a month, though, so untold thousands have subscribed.

Facebook was cooked up in a Harvard dorm in 2004 by a couple of undergraduates. Today it’s an $11.5 billion company with 400 million users. Entertainment Weekly summed it up thus: “How on earth did we stalk our exes, remember our co-workers’ birthdays, bug our friends, and play a rousing game of Scrabulous before Facebook?” How indeed?

– 30 —

The Education of Susan Sweeney

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

March 7, 2010

“When you were a girl in Newfoundland,” I said, “did you dream about being a search engine optimizer when you grew up?”

Susan Sweeney laughed.

“That job didn’t exist,” she said. “Mind you, that’s not exactly what I do now, either.”

No, but it’s included in what she does, and she does it extremely well. Search engine optimization – or SEO, as it’s known in the beeping, blinking world of online commerce – is the fine art of helping Google to find your web-site when potential customers are looking for what you sell. When a consumer asks Google about maple syrup, you want Google to lead her directly to your Scrumptious Scotian Syrup. SEO makes your web site stand up and wave at Google. Yoo, hoo! Over here!

What Susan Sweeney did do when she grew up was accounting, winning both her CA and her CGA designations. When she started, accounting was done with pencils and paper. “We were still adding up columns of figures in longhand,” she remembers. “We didn’t even have calculators.”

When big, costly mainframe computers began moving into the mainstream of the economy, Susan was working for Thorne Riddell, a national accounting firm. At first, accounting firms provided computerized services to their clients, who couldn’t dream of buying their own equipment. In the 1980s, however, the IBM personal computer made the technology accessible to small businesses, and accounting firms had to re-think their strategy. After working on that issue, Susan moved from Toronto to Halifax and joined the federal government, becoming an International Trade Commissioner helping software and hardware companies export their products.

And then came the World Wide Web, which revolutionized the world of marketing. Even small companies could now market their products and services globally – and do it inexpensively and effectively. But they needed tools – web sites, electronic mailing lists, credit card processing. With two partners, Susan set up one of Nova Scotia’s first web development companies.

“We built the first Bank of Nova Scotia web site, before head office built one,” she remembers. “We developed Maritime Marlin Travel, and a number of others. We had some really interesting projects. We built a portal before the term ‘portal’ was ever coined.”

Along the way, she discovered that she had an ability to “take the technical things and explain them in plain English.” That discovery opened up a very successful career as a speaker and writer. She now has eight books in print. Her first, 101 Ways to Promote Your Web Site, is in its eighth edition. It has sold 70,000 copies, and it has been translated into German, Spanish and Chinese.

Today, Susan Sweeney is an internationally-recognized internet marketing expert operating from a home base in Waverley. She delivers keynote speeches, leads seminars and workshops and provides advice, training and web development services to businesses all across the continent, chiefly in travel and tourism. Golf courses in California, beach resorts in the Bahamas, hotel chains, travel agencies. She shows them how to lure traffic to their web sites, how to get the most from their electronic marketing budgets, how to convert casual visitors into customers.

The web is constantly changing and shifting, Susan notes, and “it’s hard to keep up with all the tools.” Today’s fad is marketing through social media – Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and all. But is that what your company needs? If so, how should you use it? Susan’s job is to figure that out.

When I hear people talking about labour force development, growing the economy, educating children today for the jobs of tomorrow, I think of people like Susan Sweeney. How would her teachers in Newfoundland have gone about educating her for the jobs in her future? Such jobs were unimaginable. And when we talk about growing the economy, are we talking about the shrinking economy of mills, mines and manufacturing – or are we talking about people like Susan, who live in a world of explosively expanding opportunities?

What the young Susan Sweeney needed from her education was not information or even skills, but support for her courage, imagination and curiosity. That’s what we need to nurture in all our children. And in our co-workers. And in ourselves.

– 30 –