Archive for May, 2008

Good stuff coming, sneak preview!

Hi Everyone! This is a quick post to give you an update on some of the exciting things that are coming up on The Foush!


I’ve just finished working with Don Tapscott on “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing the World” which is set to be published in November 2008.  I’ll be posting more information as we approach the release date!

I’m currently working the second edition of a book called “Everything I needed to know about business I learned from a Canadian” with authors Leonard Brody and David Raffa. The book includes interviews with people like Jeff Skoll, Moshe Safdie, Bonnie Fuller and many more! I’ve been researching what some of these business people have been up to since the first edition, and I’m going to be posting what I’ve found because I find it really interesting!

The second edition will also include interviews with Canadian Up and Comers Garrett Camp (Founder, StumbleUpon), Stewart Butterfield (Founder, FlickR) and Debbie Landa (CEO, Deal Maker Media). I’ll be posting some of our interview highlights here. There are also some really cool people we’re going to interview, but I can’t reveal any more just yet.


I’m also in the process of taping more episodes of The Foush Reports. So check back in the next few days for some fresh content. I’ll be commenting on interesting people, news and events in the New Media space.


I’ll be liveblogging the Toronto Search Engine Strategy Conference in mid June, and will have the chance to sit down and chat with some of the leading edge SEO strategists.

There is lots more coming, so be sure to check back often!

Viral Controversy: Rachael Ray is a Terrorist, Michelle Malkin is an Idiot

I read the news yesterday that Dunkin’ Donuts has pulled an online advertisement where day time TV personality Rachael Ray was wearing a black-and-white paisley scarf after conservative Fox host Michelle Malkin claimed that it looks like a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men.

I can’t believe I just typed that. But, as you may guess, the internet is buzzing with discussion. As of this writing, there are over 1,200 blog posts (in the last 24 hours) discussing the topic.

The Associated Press interviewed Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in media matters related the Middle East, who had this to say

“I think that a right-wing blogger making an association between a kaffiyeh and terrorism is just an example of how so much of the complexity of Arab culture has been reduced to a very narrow vision of the Arab world on the part of some people in the U.S.,” Bishara said in a phone interview. “Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East — by people going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, and just trying to keep warm.”

Already there is a Facebook group that says:

Recently, Dunkin’ Donuts aired an ad featuring Rachael Ray in which she wore a scarf. The scarf looks pretty good; it’s black and white, symbolizing the uniting qualities of colors. And STYLISTIC ELEMENTS!!!!!!!!! The scarf did not have a voice, but now it does. Dunkin’ Donuts almost gave the scarf a voice, but then they decided to falter under the American power of neckties. They are a corporate sham.

I can’t believe Dunkin’ Donuts would take feedback from the person who authored books with titles like:

Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores (Regnery 2002)

In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror (Regnery 2004)

I spoke with Dunkin’ Donuts who sent me this statement:

As of this past weekend, we are no longer using the online ad featuring Rachael Ray wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. Our decision was based solely on the fact that the possibility of misperception detracted from the intent of the ad, which was to promote iced coffee — nothing more, nothing less.

At Dunkin’ Donuts, we value all our customers and are committed to making your experiences with us memorable and pleasant.

Dunkin’ Donuts: PR Dilemma

Unfortunately for Dunkin’ Donuts they have found themselves backed into a corner. The irony is that it was the action of pulling the Ad that started this entire debate in the first place. In fact, when I originally heard Ms. Malkin’s comments, I laughed, I thought it was so ridiculous I was sure no one would pay attention. No one usually takes crazy ranting from any side that seriously, and I was happy to chalk it up to conservative idiocy, until the company pulled the Ads.

It’s preposterous to speculate about Dunkin Donut’s or Rachael Ray’s political or religious allegiances based on a stupid scarf. If that’s the measure, then anyone who uses red and white picnic cloths are probably terrorists too. In addition, they insulted a large community of Arab-Americans (and Canadians!) who are offended a company would stereotype an entire culture based on the actions of an extremist minority.

In addition, it’s not the conservative boycotts they have to worry about now, but the bad press and boycotts from other communities.

So now we wait and watch to see if there are any huge fall outs from this campaign. It has already shed some disturbing insights on the deep-seeded prejudice and fear that lies below the surface of people like Malkin.

Update: One of my favorite snark blogs, The Superficial, joined in the fun by making this hilarious comment:

The only jihad that scarf makes me want to commit is against my hangover – with sweet caffeine. And if that’s not American, shit, I don’t know what is. That said, I’ll assume for their next commercial Rachael Ray, clad in the Stars and Stripes, will fire an AK at a Boston Creme – then dump scalding hot lattes on a gay wedding. Wow, I should work in advertising. I would sell stuff’s face off.

PR Companies face Backlash from Bloggers

It started out with a post I read on Chris Brogan’s blog a few weeks ago entitled “What Tom could learn about Facebook.”

Note: Chris is one of the most respected Social Media bloggers out there and has an awesome blog filled with tons of useful information. Seriously, I never miss a blog post. I would highly recommend subscribing to his blog and his newsletter if you’re interested in what’s going on in this space.

Anyway, according to Chris, “Tom” had the bad tact to send out a mass PR press release about something or other in a really impersonal way, with no effort to understand Chris’ audience or the topic he usually blogs about. Anyway it started a conversation on the web about the appropriate way for PR people to approach and interact with bloggers.

A vocal contributor to this conversation has been Wired Editor, Chris Anderson who publicly outed several PR firms guilty of spamming him with random press releases. He created the now infamous blacklist. This was quickly followed by a similar list from Gina Trapani of Lifehacker. She created a wiki with her own blacklist including a handy gmail filter you can copy and paste!

Now everyone is getting into the fray with PR execs like Brian Solis are sharing their side of the story and issuing heartfelt apologies.

So it’s clear to me that the issue is that each party has different expectations and that new rules need to be forged in order for new relationships to be created. So what can PR companies do ensure that their names don’t get on similar lists, and more importantly that they build meaningful relationships with people who will find their news relevant?

1) Buying an Email list does not a relationship make! I can tell you this right off the bat, sending mass emails to bloggers you’ve never met, let alone whose sites you’ve never visited is just wasting your time. That’s the fastest way to get on a blacklist. Most blogs that I know of deal with a particular topic and often have certain people who address a particular issue or preferences on what they would like to be contacted about. Unless you are 100% sure that all the people on your list would welcome your email, I wouldn’t risk it.

2) Let’s get to know each other. If you find a blogger who would be a good fit, do yourself a favor and read previous posts. Get a feel for their style and what they like to cover. Leave some comments and share your opinion.

3) Send an introduction email. Send us an email letting us know who you work for and what type of information you would like to share. Most importantly, let us know why we will care about this information.

4) Provide Access. Nothing is more annoying then getting a press release about a product or service that isn’t available.Or a conference that costs $1,000 to go. What do you expect me to do about this? I can’t recommend it without trying it, and I’m not a newswire service who will just parrot information that you give me. There’s a bit of schmoozing involved here, send an early beta invite, or a gadget to try out. Even a few passes would go a long way. Give me access to people within the company who I could interview or talk to. One of the most exciting things I love about blogging is able to share new discoveries with readers.

5) Have a thick skin. Just because we agree to review your product doesn’t mean it will be a good review. Be open to the possibility that as bloggers, are audience depends on us to give them a realistic and unbiased view of your product or service. Warts and all. Take is as valuable feedback and pass along any information to your client.

6) Follow up. Following up is one of the most effective ways of building relationships, because so few people do it. After you’ve sent the same bloggers a few items, send them an email and ask them if they’re finding your information useful. Ask if there is anything you can do to make it easier for them to use the information your provide. (Maybe you can provide embedded links for easy pasting in blog posts for example or links to images that can be used) Get their preferences and stick to it.

I feel for PR people I really do, but I think the era of spinning something is coming to an end. People like transparency and aren’t afraid of calling people out who don’t follow the new set of rules.

Mesh08 – Building a Brand

The Panel:

As the reach and efficiency of traditional media for marketing purposes continues to decline, companies and marketers alike are questioning how they can build a brand identity without any of the usual tools. What strategies make sense for brands when they move online, and how should they be structured to take advantage of the medium? What are some of the pitfalls of trying to use social media to do so? Join a discussion about these and other issues with Rohit Bhargava, author of the new book “Personality Not Included”, Maggie Fox of The Social Media Group and Michael Garrity of CommunityLend, with Mark Evans, moderator.

What Happened:

On Evolving a “Messaging” Philosophy:

Mod: How are organizations structured from a branding/marketing perspective?

Maggie: We are working with a company that decided that they are going to talk with one voice, so all messaging has to have one point. But they’re yelling, because if I want to engage with them I might not get what they’re saying if it’s only one thing. If they’re not listening to me then they are missing out on my role in their brand creation. It goes to people, who within the organization owns that messaging. People communicate with these org across multiple silos, so who is talking to your consumer about the product? They aren’t talking with one voice they are talking about what people want to talk about.

Mod: traditionally we talk about using a handbook, so how to companies adjust and restructure themselves?

Rohit: Is your brand one message that everyone needs to sing to or is your brand what you stand for and then everyone can sing to it in their own way? Innovation is a good example that can be adapted. So we are used to thinking about b to c and b to b and now people are talking about e-c- employee to a consumer. It’s now individuals within corporations who are building the relationships, not to mention your best customers who are evangelists. So it’s really an evolution of being ok of having different messaging, that doesn’t mean there’s no voice or brand.

On Silos as Barriers, and Sucky Products

MIchael: I think it relates to this question of how to organize. I’m personally frustrated of being in a marketing company with a budget and not being able to engage with customer care because they are in a different department. Then you have the tech guys who are trying to figure out how to make people move through the site, and that’s online branding, which is silo’d in technology. It’s the marketing departments that need to lead this revolution, in order to bring all of that together. If your product sucks, so you need to figure out how to get the feedback of what isn’t working and realize the solutions to making it more profitable. It took us a while.

Maggie: if your product sucks nothing is going to save you. You have to live up to your brand promise. If you’re listening people will tell you if it sucks. The other thing is brand advocacy. It’s outside and inside, so you have this 1% outside that is very influential, but internally you also have a 1%, it’s really important to find those people internally and enable them. Don’t forget the people inside because they are your best ambassadors.

On Choosing Ambassadors and Reacting to Feedback:

Mod: Now those ambassadors who are in can now access the outside? How about listening to your customers as you’re building your brand, whether it’s resonating with them or not, and it’s more then just sales. You can associate a great marketing campaign with sales, etc. How can we listen effectively?

Rohit: One thing that companies are starting to do more effectively is using social media on a mass scale. In the old days, you would hear from someone that there’s a problem and then you might feed back it, and if you were lucky it might get back to those who can do a difference. Now it’s instantaneous. The window of suckiness is shrinking. Now we can only suck for 30seconds and then you’ll now. So yes as companies we can listen, the challenge is to roll that information into an actionable item. So for example, companies that do have people who are listening and doing something about it. Two challenges: 1) listen effectively, and for smart companies is how do you scale that to be more then just one or more people doing that. It seems like the biggest challenge in the world. How do you release a product and then offer warrantee support to everyone who bought it? Companies are doing it though: There is an 800 number, or website. There are ways of doing this to scale, those only challenge is that social media hasn’t found their way into social media as of yet.

On the effectiveness of Focus Groups (or lack thereof)

Michael: And this is true for big companies because if you quantify how much money they spend trying to listen traditionally. Like focus groups, which are such of wasting of time. Companies spend millions and millions of dollars, when really if you have a good web analytics programs, forums, you participate etc, you can hear pretty loud and clear what people are saying. The conversation is happening, and if it’s not then you really suck, because if no one cares at all then you’re in trouble.

On the tools to use and Google Alerts:

Mod: tools, listening tools you can use. Google Analytics, make sure your tool is indexing what eve rhas impact, any platform that has mass. So first we find that 1% of influencers. Not all blog posts are created equal so you have to be able to weight the relative influence and reach.

Rohit: In addition to that, there are a couple of essential truths. If we’re marketing tools we want to listen but we’re lazy about it. And the other truth there that goes in spikes. If you set up a tool where you need to go and spend time getting into it, then you’re going to do it when you have time and you might not always have time. The easiest thing right, set up a Google alert for whatever your brand is. It’s a push way. The idea is that you’re setting up a way of listening that fits your work usage.

Selected Audience Questions:

Great examples of stuff:

Megan: Zappos, shoes who use social media. They have lost any sort of employee silencing policies. Culture book that is created by employees, and they put control. They use smart social media use, they are using twitter and monitoring blogs. The CEO is living it

Finding Influencers:

Megan: It’s early days for Ford, we’re in a position where the work we’re doing is finding the influencers and doing very basic blogger outreach stuff.

Ford Blogger Relation Person: First you listen, if you find someone who is appropriate you watch their blog. You engage them like a friend, they are not their blog they are their friend.

On the benefits of getting and using Media:

Michael: For, social lending, we wanted to claim the space, so we put together enough of our story visually that we could reach out to media. So public relations for start up is the best thing you can do. The media also gives feedback because they ask for expert opinions. So you can get a better idea of the viability of your idea.

Mesh ’08 – Building Communities

Update: Thanks to George for correcting one of the comments!

Despite being really busy with some very cool projects (that I’ll talk about later) I managed to swing by Mesh ’08 for the afternoon and caught some of their excellent presentations. Here are some notes from the Building Communities Panel.
Note: These are not transcripts, I just followed the flow of the conversation and tried to pick out people’s ideas.

Panel Description:

Communities are powerful things, and online communities that form around a company, product or service can use their power in a positive or a negative way. How do online communities form, and what can companies do to try and ensure that their effects are mainly positive? Is it possible to build or create a community, or do they emerge organically and resist cultivation? What are some of the successful strategies companies have used? Join a discussion with George Tsiolis of Agoracom, an online investment community for small cap companies, Derek Szeto of RedFlagDeals, ‘Canada’s Bargain Hunting Community’, and Christopher Jackson of Epitome Pictures, which runs an online community for fans of the TV show Degrassi – The Next Generation, moderated by Jen Evans.

The Panel

On Moderating Community Content:

Jen Evans: [to George] How would you say that Agora com had escaped the “tyranny of the vocal?”

George: Two tier. First we understood that in the short term you have to allow all of that to happen to get the benefit of page views and selling ads. But in the long term you’re running into diminishing return because the end user is becoming unhappy. Since you have a limited amount of time to interact with a community, and you don’t want to do that. We also got a way from the ad model by building a community for business instead of you guys, the end user. But the way we’re able to provide the great content is that we have 90 communities who pay us to host micro communities.

Jen: In terms of how you attract that niche audience, how did you attract the right people from the outset?

George: What we did at the outset, was we built a community that was a better model and then we reached out to weaker competitiors and we poached the best members. We told them we would give them a better community, without spam and filters, and hopefully they’ll tell all their followers to follow them. You attract one person they bring a hundred people with them. Business is business and community is community.

Jen: It’s the law of attraction, if you get the right mix of content and community the right people will come.

Derek, how did you deal with the governance issue?

Derek: We use community moderator, we use really active members of community who have a consistent view with what we try to do, and we’re really open, we like accepting feedback from anyone who has an opinion, so we can spot the issues that are bubbling up and we catch them before they explode. They’re part of the community. They don’t get paid, but we’ll give them a Christmas gift. If there’s too much to handle internally then we’ll hand pick community members. We’ve tried asking them to apply but that didn’t work as well. A lot of people really love doing that. They get the reputation and recognition for that so they’re happy for us.
Jen: Chris, how do you deal with moderating comments. You need to have a safe community.

Chris: No community can be 100% safe, but we make our best effort to come close, of the 210,000 registrants [on the], an overwhelming, 85% are females aged 10-18 so we have to make sure that our environment isn’t a fertile poaching ground for dirty old men. We have a team of five moderators, there is a three minute delay in posting, our mods (even if on the road) are able to see and judge the quality of the post. We call our environment semi –moderated, we depend on the community to police themselves. We have a show that pushes a good set of social value without being preachy, we have kids to take great pride that ti’s a safe and happy community and we differ from a lot of other bigger social communities. So we’re very fortunate that we have a user base that takes pride on how they conduct themselves at We don’t evangelize super-user, andy user can flag content if it’s passed by our mods.

On Developing Moderating Policies:

Jen: [to all] How to you develop those rules, are they created top down or co-created within the community?

Derek: Originally we weren’t that concered about rules, we just wanted people to participate. As we drove more traffic, issues came up we had to go back and draft more rules. It’s a bit different for us because we’re about shopping but also about other things. So because we’re focused on a lot of things so we don’t want to have too many rules but we have to address problems.

George: Two levels. Firstly, on the front line we made up six rules of use, but what’s really important are not the rules but the enforcement that matters. If you want to run a successful community, whatever the rules are you should stick to them. If you’re not consistent you creat confusion and then that leads anarachy.

Chris: It was very much top down for us, the community went live in 2001 before the rise of many communities that were speaking to teens at that time. So we couldn’t really leave it to use. We have a Degrassi code of conduct and rather then hard and fast rules they are more philosphies. For example, don’t make someone make someone feel small. It was dictated from the top down. It’s a challenge, because other siets that go after our demographic permit all types of conduct that we don’t allow. With a huge influx of 400 users a week they come in from those sites, already knowing and acting in away that they are used to, they get flagged and that causes issues.

On scaling moderation efforts:

Jen: How did you scale the moderation?

Chris: From the outset we’ve only had five moderators. And they acquire knowledge as as uer base.

Derek: We’ve had to scale our moderators as users. Chris, how do you deal with gray area?

Chris: Our mods don’t really have a problem determining what is inappropriate. It’s like real life, a lot of stuff that goes on is like hair pulling, and we gently suggest to them that there is an alternative space to have their argument. Our biggest problem is context, since our mods see posts one at a time, but if we have one user who is hammering away at someone, action needs to be taken, always. We err on the side of caution.

George: we started off with moderators, but the communities started growing so fast that we introduced a reputation system, there are two things; what other members think of you and the amount of activity you have on the site. We have hundred of community monitors that are determined by a reputation score. It’s successful because they get to know the context of the conversations. Some communities are looser and more informal, so we want people who know the lay of the land who can figure out if something is offside or not . You have to have good developers.

On Community Interaction:

Jen: How does the community interact?

Chris: Primarily, it’s been an html discussion board has been the main component, we have alittle bit of a different focus because the show is “the thing”, so we revolve around the show. We created a strategy on the fly, so we know because of resource constraints, sometimes it is better for us to partner with other orgs who are like minded who have different technologies in play that can extend our communitiy activity.

Derek: we’ve used b-bolt, we use tools that other people know how to use and integrated into our own sites’ CMS. We like to bring it to other venues, like summer bbq, taking the online world and bringing it into real life. We actually had members create their own meetups that we weren’t involved in.

On Sustaining Interest

Jen: How do you continue to sustain interest?

George: First make sure that you are fully immersed in your community. Don’t just hover around the edges, immerse yourself into conversations with your community. It might have nothing to do with site operations, and what happens is that your communithy starts to see you as a real person, they’re just likeyou and me. I have a full profile on my site, so anytime I post people can see my fun facts, etc. That’s important.

Jen: Have you structured thew ay that you immerse yourself in your community?

George: our involvement isn’t structured, we jump in when it’s interesting. But we also have four our highest level karma pints, we actually have a separate forum just for them, so daily they’re posting ideas, suggestions, etc. And we always have an internal response to that who is reviewing ideas, etc. It’s a two tiered approach.

Jen: Content or functionality?

Derek: Content. We’re about shopping, and we want to help you do more of it while saving you money. The message is pretty easy, so the content piece is very powerful.

Community Business Models

Jen: Business models, how do you measure ROI, etc.

Derek: We monetize, one via the advertising of graphic and text ads. And second is the affiliate links in the discussions. We see it as content and ads are almost one thing, so the best ads on the ite are actually the best content.

Jen: George, you have a subscription model.

George: How do we build a community that is valuable to someone so that will pay to be a part of it. So if we eliminate garbage who will benefit from it? Yes the end consumer but they’re not likely to pay, so we said that public companies will have several investors, and right off the bat we had a b to b subscription. Think about how you can leverage your business. It’s still unfettered ground.

The Future of Community

Jen: future is hyper localized?

George: I think it is niche. I don’t necessarily agree with geography niche, but it’s idea niche. People are interested in specific things.

Derek: I think I agree, we are niche. You can’t get too niche but then you won’t have a model to support it.

Chris: I think the show is the unifying force, so because it touches about so many issues that it’s all about being a teen. Even we grow out of it we never forget it. It is a niche and our play is to stay a niche and I hope that the niche remains big.

On attracting new members

Question: once you had a better site you could lure visitors from other sites?

George: We reached out personally, but first we created a powerpoint video and presentation and we asked them to watch it. We found that they would take that video and send it out. We were catalysts and then we let it take off. We got push back from our competitor’s site, to the point they banned the term “agoracom” from the site because hundreds of people started posting links to us and joining the community. The individual members didn’t mind receiving the presentation because it wasn’t spam. Eventually, they started sending it around to other influencers. If you’re going to convince people to join your community, then you have to give them a reason.