Friday, March 29, 2013

Mental Map of Online Participation

I was going through my files and came across a mental map I did a few months ago about factors involved in online participation and social media, particularly related to participation in politics and government.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Digital Playground/School in Toronto

The educational benefits of digital and interactive media are well established. Even considering this, I am surprised how seldom my young daughter has had the chance to use educational technology. Her schools have made spartan and prosaic use of computers. Even with me working in digital media, I haven't exposed my kid to that much tech beyond online and console games.

So when I got an invitation to visit TIFF's digital and creative media playground,digiPlaySpace, with my daughter, we were both excited.

For those unfamiliar with TIFF, it's the Toronto International Film Festival. Since moving into their new downtown building, the Bell Lightbox, in 2010, TIFF operates year-round with events, screenings, and exhibits about cinema and new media. I was last at TIFF for a locative media conference, but I used to be on the site regularly as I shortcutted through the parking lot that used to occupy the site to get to my first Internet-industry job.

So I know a thing or two about this field, but whenever I try to talk to my kid about this (or anything educational) she instantly tunes out. (Is it just mine or are other kids like this?) Anyway, it's great to have places like digiPlaySpace for parents to interact with their kids in a fun and educational environment.

An international group of artists and developers created apps and installations. TIFF lists all the activities there, but our highlights are below. Photos are by me and the captions are by my daughter.

Making a dramatic entrance is important, so it's great that the first activity is Body Paint. It uses a huge screen and sensors to respond to kids' movements to enable them to create dynamic performance art.
"It's really cool because you're making a painting with your own body.
I loves how it changes colour and splashes!" 
Each station has facilitators and the staff were incredible - very friendly, knowledgeable, and accessible to children. A facilitator turned my kid into a stop-motion film at "The Puppet Powered Mega-Pixilation Dream Engine" below.

"I've done claymation before, but I've never done human-mation! It's really fun!"
They also had a section for tech making and DIY, Touch Circuits and Micro Makers' Space.

"It's really cool with the potatoes that just by connecting these wires
it plays music by tapping the potato while holding the controller."

We had a lot of fun with green-screens at Be In the Scene, including having my daughter become King Kong's next victim.

"It's really cool how green screens work. They take away all the green and then you can put the image of something on top of another. I learned that a lot of movies use green screens for special effects."

Another green screen activity is Weather Worlds. This one enables kids to interact and change an on-screen world, as my kid describes, "The Weather one is my favourite because you make tornadoes, mountains, sandstorms, snowballs, and umbrellas by doing specials actions on a green screen. It was really fun to control the world's weather!"

They also have an Appcade, with a variety of educational apps and tablets. We loved Pitch Painter, Bloom HD, and Gesundheit. We don't have a tablet, so it was the first time we encountered such touch-based, interactive apps. My kid wants a tablet now. (Santa are you listening?) She also got to make her own animation using the software Scratch. I was surprised how easy it was to use (and that it's free thanks to MIT), so that kids can create games or animations without having to master complicated coding. One of the professors from my faculty helped choose the apps. TIFF has posted online their favourite apps and online resources.

Overall, the exhibit helped my daughter (and me) learn about how movies are created, motion sensors, composing music, circuits, robotics, and 3D printing - not to mention how to use various digital media.

As if all this wasn't enough of a geek fest for me, we finished our day by checking out TIFF's free exhibit, X-Men Master: Gordon Smith. The exhibit includes incredible displays of the make-up and prosthetics from the X-Men movies. Mystique's body coverings and Wolverines claws are a fanboy's holy grail, but sadly one can view these relics only until this Sunday.

The exhibit combined really well with digiPlaySpace as my daughter is really into performing arts. So she got to see and practice first hand how the real and virtual and old and new tech combine to make movies possible.

digiPlaySpace is open until April 21, 2013. Their target age is 3-13, but parents were having as much fun as the kids. Admission is $8.

It's the second year for digiPlaySpace, but I wish it was a permanent. It's a great idea for school field trips, but I would love for technology and environment like this to be incorporated into all Ontario curriculum.  As Ontario strives to transition to a knowledge and creative economy, it's essential to get kids interested and experienced in this. As my daughter put it, "I love how you learn while you play. It's a great way to learn about technology."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Digital Media Summit ReView

Yesterday was the second and final day of the Digital Media Summit conference in Toronto. I recapped my highlights from the first day of the conference on Webslinger and the Twitter feed has useful highlights as well.

Some speakers on the second day overlapped with material covered on the first day. But this helped drive home key themes raised in various sessions. Overall, however, it was an excellent conference. Here are my favourite take-aways:
  1. Consider mobile first
  2. Create social objects
  3. Context is crucial 
  4. Recruit your customers to work for you
  5. Identity matters
1) Consider mobile first
With the exponential global adoption of smartphones, more people are accessing digital content predominantly through mobiles and this is expected to increase.  There will be a role for desktop computers (as one speaker noted "who has ever created, let alone used, a spreadsheet on their mobile?" - no one had). But more people are using their mobiles to access company's content - several properties represented at the conference are already receiving more traffic from mobiles than PCs.

Yet accessing content via mobiles is often difficult, messy, or impossible to access via mobiles. Several speakers advised that instead of trying to retrofit all web content to mobiles, which is what most companies do, consider building for mobiles first.

To do this effectively, Erik Qualman, pointed out the 80/20 rule applies to mobile - so 80% of a company's value will come from 20% of their online content, so "scale down your offerings to the essentials" to optimize the mobile experience (and likely the web too)/

2) Create brand awareness and engagement with social objects
Although no one used the term "social objects" the concept came up several times. Social objects are pieces of online content - videos, articles, photos, games - upon which people are drawn to, organically share and discuss. Think of the latest kitten video featured on YouTube's homepage and you got a social object.

Mark McKay presented Ford's Zombie Escape commercial, which is an excellent example of this. Of course zombie videos are going to go viral like well a zombie epidemic, but what I liked about this campaign is it actually tied into the product features it was promoting. As McKay urged it's important with such campaigns to be "relevant and differentiated" in addition to "shareable".

3) Context is crucial
As the ability to customize digital media continues to become easier and cheaper to produce, it's crucial to consider the context of your audience and deliver content and experiences relevant to their habits and motivations.

As Nicola Smith advises, "context should drive execution" and to demonstrate this Smith used the example of a German pet food company that placed poster dispensers by parks where people walked their dogs with instructions to check-in via Foursquare. They then got a free sample of a new pet food. I find this campaigns works on a few levels - obviously, it's a fun and memorable campaign. But more importantly, it delivers the brand engagement and sampling where and when it is most relevant to people.

Context is also important not only in content but in media form - whether tablet, PCs, mobile, etc. Katrina Klier urged that it is crucial to get "the right modality and the right time".

4) Recruit your customers to work for you
I'm not sure if blogger relations and "brand ambassadors" campaigns are the topic-du-jour for marketers but this came up a lot at the conference. This isn't something particularly relevant to my work, but I did find one tip on this particularly interesting.

For companies wanting to reach a global audience, tapping into people's social networks offers an opportunity.  Katrina Klier noted that most people have at least one of a few international friends on social networks sites, so whether people know it or not they have a global footprint.  She also mentioned that the average Facebook user has 359 friends - so tapping into this extends one's reach incredibly. (But is that statistic true? If so, I'm clearly a real loner.)

5) Identity matters - know your audience and help them know themselves
Although I only heard the issue of identity raised once, by Alfredo Tan of Facebook, I think it is a vital issue.

First, there's the aspect of knowing the true identities of your online audience. Tan raised the famous comic of the dog at a computer saying to another dog "on the Internet no one knows your a dog". Well, not true anymore says Tan due to Facebook - as they have the true identity of 1 billion people. This is a significant marketing opportunity.

Tan also talked about how social objects give people the opportunity to shape their identity around digital content. They like products/things to project an image of themselves to their friends. So learn about your customers and consider "why they care and why they share".

Final review
I mentioned yesterday how much I appreciated how well run the conference was and the choice of venue.  I forgot to mention that I really liked the staging of the conference.  The main conference room, which housed the keynotes, had the best stage and audio-visual set-up I have ever encountered.  The use of multi-screens allowed for the speakers and their slides to be displayed, which is great for big conference - but rarely done.

The set and lighting also looked great!  It's great to to not always have Toronto tech conferences seeming low rent - which I think projects poorly on the vitality and maturity of our industry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

View from the Digital Media Summit

I haven’t been to an industry conference in a long while, so it was refreshing to move from (generally stuffy) academic conferences to hear about the invigorating realm of digital media in the real world at today's Digital Media Summit in Toronto.

This is the second year of the conference, which runs in collaboration with Canadian Music Week. This was my first time attending the Digital Media Summit, which bills itself as "Canada's social media and iterative conference".  Well, Mesh has some claim to that title and over the years there are have been more such events here in Toronto.  But one day into the conference and it seems to me that the organizers of this event have arranged the best keynote speakers and implemented an effective format.

First off, the format of the conference is much more effective than most – very short speaker intros, short speeches, and a short time for Q&As. And no death by PowerPoint!

The facilities were great too. Too many conference organizers think this doesn't matte, but comfy chairs, enough seating for everyone, and free Wifi are vital to successful conference. The only thing missing was swag! Having been to a ton of conferences I also appreciate how well run things were as sessions started and ended mostly on time (no easy accomplishment).

The speakers were for the most part excellent. Yes, there were a few times when speakers would rehash old  and well-known platitudes and cases (e.g. I'm REALLY tired about hearing the "United Breaks Guitars" example). But there were many provocative, insightful, and invigorating  points made. I can't do justice to everything covered without writing a tome of a blog post that would have me writing it until tomorrow morning as when the conference resumes

So instead, I'll summarize the main points I found particularly interesting.

A Panorama of the Ten Best Views:

1. Amber Mac – ABCs of social media – Adapt Quickly, Be Responsive, and Create Value (here's her presentation).

2. Bryan Segal - Need to move away from Click Through Rate to “viewable impressions” which is reach X frequency that offers “opportunity to see”.

3. Erik Qualman - All companies should write a “Listening Report” that is 1-2 pages long that analyzes what is being said about companies and competition on social media. Can draw from automated metrics but must be hand-written to contextualize the stats.

4. Erik Qualman – organizations need to be aware of their Digital Legacy.  This is their Digital Footprints (what you post about yourself) plus your Digital Shadow (what others people post about you) – both live a long time (forever) online.

5. David Reis - when one of his clients had a image crisis situation, they issued their comments on this in one place, their Facebook page. Rather than respond everywhere on the web, they directed people to Facebook page and allowed people to comment there.  This gave some measure of control and allowed them after a few weeks as the hubbub calmed down to remove the content.

5. Sarah Dawley - the key to generating user-generated content for an organization is to find out what your customers/audience are already doing, and get them to do it on your behalf  - not in a controlling way, but offer amplification, shine your spotlight back on them.

6. Cindy Gallop - on noting that essentially people go online for "little pellets of love" - that is an indication of some sort of appreciation, admiration, acknowledgement, etc. But although I agree with this (and would add people go online for little pellets of self-love too) it seems that when companies try to offer this they are insincere so I asked her how companies can offer sincere, personal and scalable love pellets. She replied that the only way to do this is for organizations to become high-trust companies (most are low-trust) that work with employees and trust them to respond accordingly.

7. Lana Gay - You need to respond to issues that arise online but it is essential to "think twice, tweet once". She advises that although digital is real-time, it's a good idea often to wait maybe 20 minutes before posting something. Lana also commented on the biggest problems with recruiting brand ambassadors to blog about your company is what made them appealing in the first place - their topic focus, their style - get's lost as people begin to shill for dollars, Too many influencer campaigns result in bloggers saying "I love shoes" and then they switch to  "Now I love eggs"!  It's  insincere and ineffective.

8. Jennifer Dunn - her session on hyperlocal targetted advertising was my favourite - not only is her work up my alley, but her campaigns are among the few geo-targetted ad campaigns that I have had heard of that have been successful.  I believe her success lies in that Dunn learned that in geo-targetted marketing proximity is not the only, paramount, or possibly any consideration.  Location of the user does matter, but so do other factors such as environment, time, and demographics. People's wants and needs change throughout the day, based on their contexts, time, and place. Dunn presentation was loaded with so much novel, inspiring work that I plan to devote a full blog post to it at a later date (stay tuned).

9. Ryan Holiday - it's not a good idea to outsource social media interaction as delivering an organization's message to customers is the most important aspect of business. No agency will do a better job - or care as much - about this as you!

10. Ryan Holiday - too many English Canadian websites try to appeal to an American audience (no doubt to broaden their audience as our domestic audience is so comparatively small). Yet, from an advertiser's perspective they have not uniquely captured and segmented the Canadian market, which is what they want. There are a ton of competitors for the U.S. space, but if can't distinguish your Canadian audience then your site is actually worth less.

As lengthy as this post is, it is a small snapshot of the genuinely useful and novel information shared today.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow...