Posted by: cindystephenson | November 24, 2009

How to manage your social media time effectively

One question that often comes up when people get involved with social media is, “Where should I spend my time?” Like anything new, it can seem rather daunting at first, just trying to get up to speed.

Rest assured, many of us are in the same boat. And as popular as social media is, those of us involved are still the early adopters.Yes, there’s lots to learn, but it’s also a great time to jump in and get involved.

In a recent post Chris Brogan came up with a handy formula on how to divide your time:

  • 1/4 for listening: This involves setting aside time to read other blogs and find out what others in your niche or line of business are saying. This is how you find out what’s on the horizon, and get inspiration for your own posts.
  • 1/2 for connecting: This involves leaving comments on other blogs, tweeting links to articles you like, and sharing items on sites such as Digg, Delicious, Stumble Upon and Friend Feed.
  • 1/4 for creating: Creating content is every bit as important as connecting. This can involve anything from setting up a blog, posting photos about a recent event to Flickr, or posting something funny you’ve read on Tumblr.

I think Chris is spot on in terms of his suggestions for allocating time.

My personal strategy is to try to read 25 blog posts a day (through my Google Reader account), participate in Twitter and leave comments on 2-3 blog posts a day, and post to this blog twice a week.

What about you – where do you spend your time? do you feel there are places within social media NOT worth spending your time on?

Photo credit: moriza

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This is the third of three posts based on my presentation at WordCamp Victoria. You can view all of the slides on Slide Share here.

How to get your message out effectively:

Writing effectively with a clear message will help signal to your readers what your blog is about. If you peak their interest with an enticing headline and offer them something of value, they are more likely to read your post. No mean feat given how hard it is to catch someone’s attention these days.

Here are some suggestions to make sure you get read:

Focus on your reader: Ask yourself, before each and every post, “Will this appeal to my readers? Why should they care? How will they benefit?”

Know what you want to say: Rather than sitting down at the keyboard to immediately craft your post, take a few moments to think about what it is you want to say. That will help you focus and narrow down your topic. Personally I like to put pen to paper and do up a very rough draft long hand. Once I’m at the computer it goes very quickly, since its almost like a second draft. That’s my style – do what works best for you.  I admire those who can just sit down at the computer and write.

Write a good headline: According to Brian Clark of Copyblogger, eight out of ten people will read your headline, but only two out of ten will read your post. He has put together an awesome series of posts on writing killer headlines over on his blog.

Keep it short and simple:  Follow the KISS principle – keeping your posts short and simple, with one idea per post. There’s nothng wrong with a 200 word post, particularly when you’re trying to build up the content on your site.

Be your own editor: Use simple everyday words, and cut out unnecessary words. Instead of “accomplish” use the word “do”; instead of “endeavour”, use “do”; and instead of “utilize”, consider replacing that with “use”

Appearance matters: Layout and white space is just as important online as it is in print publications. Images add interest. Subheadings and highlighted text help readers quickly scan your post.

More resources: I highly recommend checking out Brian Clark of Copyblogger. You’ll find some great posts on plain writing, landing pages, keywords, and headlines. Another resource is Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen. He focuses on – of all things – presentations. The info there will help you with your blog. One example is his post on photo sources.

Photo credit: Unhindered by Talent

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This is the second of three posts based on my presentation at WordCamp Victoria. You can view my slides on Slide Share here.

How to identify your niche and find success within it:

Becoming known in your niche gives you what all of us really want: traffic, links, fans, authority, opportunities and contacts. And for some, it’ll even pay the bills!

According to Sonia Simone, Technorati indexes 133 million blogs. By their stats, about 900,000 blog posts get made every 24 hours. Every topic, every theme, and every subject has been exhaustively covered by hundreds of blogs.

So what’s the secret?  One is to specialize. Everyone’s good at something today – why not you? What are your interests? What is your passion? Choose a topic that you’re interested in, and that you can talk about in a unique way.  That’ll give you your angle.

Here are a couple of examples:

Five years ago there were any number of blogs about – you guessed it – blogging.  Darren Rowse launched one as well, and chose as his angle how to make money blogging. He called it Problogger. A few years later Brian Clark launched Copyblogger – a blog he dedicated to producing interesting copy for your blog and online marketing efforts. Both are highly successful blogs, that satisfy different niches.

How do you narrow down your niche? Brian Clark makes a compelling case for doing this through keyword research.

Once you’ve done that you need to work at getting noticed – by the right people. You can do that by:

Keep your reader in mind – ensure that what you write is relevant to your reader. Are you solving a problem, sharing an interesting idea, or offering tips on how they can get something done? Each and every time you post, focus on your reader and ask whether it will be meaningful to them.

Leave comments on other blogs – engage with other bloggers in your niche. Offer your comments and insights in a way that extends the conversation. Most comment systems will prompt you to include your blog or website URL, and that enables others reading your comment to click on your name and visit your blog.

Link to other people’s blogs – a good way to introduce yourself to a fellow blogger is by linking to their blog, and giving them some traffic.  If they track referral sources, they’ll notice you and many will comment back.

Post original content -You don’t have to post regular content all the time, but try to do so on a regular basis. There are lots of ways you can do this. Here’s a good example from Steve Rubel, using Google Trends.

Post as often as you can -The more content you have on your site, the more traffic you’ll get. You can also post links to “popular” and “recent” posts in your sidebar to entice first time visitors to stay and look around.  And because popular post titles tend not to change, if you have posts that you’d like to begin featuring, you can try a variation on this and put up a text widget in your sidebar called “favourite” posts and include links to your favourites. (Thanks for that suggestion to Raincoaster!)

Write for your readers – not for Google – You know the drill. Based on your knowledge of popular keywords, you make sure to include these keywords in your post title, lead sentence, metatags, and several times throughout your post. It’s great for achieving high rankings on Google, but I think you sacrifice the quality of your content, your writing style, and your unique voice. In effect, everything that helps get you noticed by influencers within your niche. Comments and links are also what give you authority.

Enjoy yourself and have fun – If you’re engaged, enthusiastic and excited about your blog, your readers will pick up on that. If you’ve lost interest, they’ll sense that as well. Events such as WordCamp are a great way to meet fellow bloggers and become re-enthused.

Want more inspiration? Two wonderful sources of inspiration for me have been Chris Brogan and Lorelle Van Fossen.

Photo credit: isayx3

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Posted by: cindystephenson | November 19, 2009

Tips on researching content – from my presentation at WordCamp

Here’s the first of three posts based on the presentation I gave at WordCamp Victoria. You can  view my slides on SlideShare here.

This visual by Mark Smiciklas depicts the challenge we have in making sense of what is going on within the social media space. It points to the need for research strategies that enable us to listen and act on relevant signals in the sea of social media noise.

How to find material that will interest your readers, and organize it so you can access it when you need it:

Read, read, and read. Read posts by other writers who are interested in the same subject as you – whether that be urbanism, productivity, photography  or social media – whatever it is you’re blogging about. Read comments people have submitted. And also seek out different points of view.

You can find other blogs in your subject area through sites such as Alltop, Technorati, Google Blog Search and Loaded Web. (Tip: Some of these sites, such as Alltop and Loaded Web, will list your blog. Not automatic with Alltop, but make them a pitch.)

Subscribe to those blogs you like through a service such as Google Reader. The folks at Google make it super easy to add a subscription, find others you might like, star items, and share items you like with others. Other items such as Google Alerts and Flickr updates can come through your Google Reader account as well, so it’s all in one handy place.

Now that you’re reading your feeds each day, you’ll soon start accumulating some fabulous ideas for future posts. How to store them in a way that’s easy to access later? Set up an account with a social booking site such as Delicious.

Want to dig a bit deeper in the area of research? Check out KD Paine, Charlene Li and Angela Sinickas.  They are all tremendous reseachers and thought leaders.

And for fun, check out CEO Merrill Dubrow’s blog. Dubrow is president and CEO of MARC Research, a 100-person market research firm in Irving, Texas. In addition to standard web metrics, his staff measure the average length of comments (106 words), the total number of comments (1,700 in 18 months), and the number of people who have contributed more than four (115).

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Posted by: cindystephenson | October 29, 2009

Liking Google Reader’s new ‘sort by magic’ feature


I confess to having 1000+ items in my Google Reader feed right now. It’s been like that for awhile, and not surprising given how much time I’m spending on Twitter lately.  And to be honest I’ll never actually get to them all.  Which is too bad, because there’s some amazing content on the web these days.

So I was really happy when Google introduced ‘sort by magic’ as an option for presenting the items in my feed.

Of course it’s not actually ‘magic’, but based on an algorithm calculated from the articles I ‘star’ and ‘share’. According to Google, this sorting will get better the more I use it. Based on my experience with it so far, it’s pretty good. (I’ve ended up starring many of the posts I’ve read in the last few days.)

I’ve written about Google Reader before. If you don’t have an account, I’d encourage you to set one up. Then once you have an account, whenever you come across a blog you like, you can go to Google Reader, type the name of the blog into the *add subscription* box, and – PRESTO – you’re subscribed. It’s easier than RSS.

Then as the number of items in your feed increases, you can select ‘sort by magic’ and see what comes to the top. Guaranteed, you’ll see some pretty interesting stuff.

Curious to know what you think and welcome your comments.

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Posted by: cindystephenson | October 28, 2009

Following conferences using Twitter hashtags

Sarah Wurrey - SNCR 2007

This tweet popped up in my Twitter stream today from Joe Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis ( @thornley):

I’m going to be at the #SNCR Research Symposium in Boston next week. Let me know if you’re attending.

Earlier this month, Joe was posting updates to Twitter and his blog from the Managing Social Media Conference using the #CdnInst Twitter hashtag. Searching on that hashtag today, the following popped up from Jason Stobbe (who goes by @ZackLi):

ZackLi “Managing Social Media” Conference archive complete! #CdnInst

I also noticed Eden Spodek tweeting about PodCamp Montreal in September and using the #pcmtl hashtag. I thought she was at the conference in Montreal. It turns out she was in Toronto but following the livestream. She tweeted me the link, and I watched a great presentation by Kim Vallee on her top tips for bloggers.

So what’s my point?

With concerns over budget and our carbon footprint, it’s getting harder to travel to conferences. That’s not likely to change in the short term. But through the magic of Twitter, you can find out about them and get a good sense of what’s going on by following the hashtags.

How does it work?

Everyone at the conference, or in Joe’s case anyone who is planning to attend, and tweets about it, includes the hashtag with their post.  #SNCR is the hashtag for Society for New Communication Research. I’m not able to go, but given my interest in the topic, I’ll be following his and others tweets with interest.

Photo credit: Doug Haslam took this photo of Sarah Wurrey of Media Bullseye at SNCR 2007

Posted by: cindystephenson | October 23, 2009

Why invest in arts and culture?


I’m a passionate supporter and patron of the arts. For years I’ve supported our local symphony and opera company as a subscriber. I’ve also attended many dance and voice recitals, live theatre, photography and art exhibits.

Arts and culture greatly enriches our society, supports critical thinking, provides us with social opportunities and like sports, keeps young people active and engaged.

It’s also a powerful economic force – creating jobs and supporting other sectors. A BC government report on the socioeconomic impact of the arts found that:

  • every dollar the province invests in the BC Arts Council returns up to $1.36 in tax revenue, and that
  • for every three jobs in the arts, one additional job is created in another sector.

In BC, the amount spent on arts and culture is relatively small – an estimated one-twentieth of one percent of the total provincial budget. Others have described it as the lowest per capita of any province in the country.

Yet this funding goes a tremendous way:

  • Arts organizations use it as “seed money” to leverage federal funding, foundation grants, and private donations.
  • This funding also helps to ensure access to arts and culture continues to be available and remains affordable.

Many jurisdictions are reeling as a result of the current economic crisis.  Yet I was shocked to learn that BC is the only province to cut investment in the arts – all other provinces, along with the Federal and US governments, have at least maintained, and in many cases increased, funding as a stimulus measure.

And the latest budget update shows funding for the arts in BC will be cut by 85% next year.

However, it’s not too late to urge the government to reconsider this move and restore some stability to British Columbia’s vital arts and culture community.

If you believe, as I do, that we all benefit when government invests in arts and culture, please join me in helping to keep this issue front and centre.

Share your views with community leaders, contact your MLA, and seek out opportunities to speak to local media.

Photo credit: restoncharlie

Blog Action Day 2009:

Each year Blog Action Day chooses a compelling issue and encourages bloggers worldwide to write on that topic. Their goal is to help focus everyone’s attention on that issue.

This year’s issue is Climate Change.

I’ve chosen to profile ten popular and notable environmental sites that you may want to check out: is an international grassroots movement focussing on the number 350 – as in parts per million. That’s the level scientists have set as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.

In order to unite the public, media, and our political leaders behind the 350 goal, they’re harnessing the power of the internet to coordinate a planetary day of action on October 24, 2009. Find out what they’ve got underway.

Green Tweets

Mashable has compiled a list of 75+ environmentalists to follow on Twitter, via Cameron Chapman.  In addition,  Twitter’s #EcoMonday hashtag — the environmental equivalent of #FollowFriday, in which Twitter users suggest “green” tweeters to follow and share green news and info — has grown into a regular trending topic every Monday.

Climate Debate Daily

Climate Debate Daily collects news and stories from both sides of the global warming debate – juxtaposed – plus a host of other useful resources, links and information.

Skeptical Science

Skeptical Science

A blog by former Australian physicist John Cook, devoted to debunking the arguments of globalwarming skeptics.

DeSmog Blog

DeSmogBlog exists to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change – to shine the light on techniques and tactics that reflect badly on the PR industry and are, ultimately, bad for the planet. It’s led by Jim Hoggan, founder of the Vancouver PR firm, James Hoggan and Associates.  He’s also recently released Climate Cover-up: the Crusade to Deny Global Warming:

climate cover up

EcoGeek: Technology for the Environment

This news site, founded by Hank Green, explores the symbiosis between nature and technology.

Worldchanging: Change your Thinking

worldchanging is a nonprofit media organization headquartered in Seattle, WA, that comprises a global network of independent journalists, designers and thinkers. They cover the world’s most innovative solutions to the planet’s problems, and inspire readers with ideas for building a bright green future.

Inhabitat is a blog devoted to the future of design. It tracks innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

Find out, for example, about eco-friendly batteries that derive energy from naturally occurring bacteria in soil. If the product takes off, these batteries could provide power for people in Africa who lack access to electricity.

Time Lapse Videos of Massive Changes on Earth

From, here are a few time lapse videos, compiled from images posted on NASA’s Earth Observatory, of some of the most impressive conquests of man over environment.


Grist serves up environmental news and commentary tongue-in-cheek.  Run by a nonprofit group based in Seattle, they take their work seriously, but not themselves. Their clever writing and wit makes for an interesting read.

So there you have it. Climate change is a very pressing issue and each one of these sites helps draw attention to it and shape discussion in a positive way. I hope I’ve inspired you to check some of these out. Let me know what you think.

Posted by: cindystephenson | October 8, 2009

Stephen Harper performs with a little help from his friends

What did you think of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s surprise appearance at the recent National Arts Centre Fundraiser Gala?

While I disagree with his politics, I think it was a brilliant more. Made all the more so by the fact that it wasn’t the idea of his handlers, but the brainchild of his wife Laureen.

Here’s the YouTube clip if you haven’t seen it:

So what worked:

Two things worked in his favour. First, he sang a Beatles song that we all know the words to. Second, he was accompanied by well known classical musician Yo-Yo Ma.

Was he taking a risk:

I think so. Definitely.

Everyone in the audience would surely have remembered his disparaging remarks about arts galas during the last election campaign. The Harper government has also slashed $45 million to arts and culture programs.

He risked coming across as a hypocrite.

Would it have worked for Jack Layton or Michael Ignatieff? All three of Canada’s political leaders have trouble resonating with the Canadian public. However, I don’t think either could have pulled it off as well.

The result:

Many pundits have speculated on just how much impact that had. I think Andrew Potter,  who writes a weekly public affairs column for MacLeans Magazine , nailed it when he said that the frame of Harper’s brand has been stretched and expanded in a very positive way. “All he had to do was expand his frame just enough to open it up to people who had never given him a look before, and there is no question that he did that,” said Potter.

What’s the key takeaway:

For every successful public relations event that goes off smoothly, invariably much work went on behind the scenes to make it so.

In this case, it was Laureen Harper who initially pitched the idea to Yo-Yo Ma. She then got the National Arts Centre onside. Then came choosing a song that was in her husband’s vocal range that she knew he could sing, and a suitable band. And they had to fit in a rehearsal.

When things go smoothly, the PR professional (or in this case his wife Laureen) is often working quietly in the background to make sure that is so. It may look spontaneous, but it’s usually not.

Posted by: cindystephenson | October 1, 2009

Joe Solomon: Using Online Connections to Address Offline Issues

Local and global community organizer Joe Solomon‘s message to Victoria BC’s Social Media Club:

Use your online connections to address big real-life offline issues.

He titled his presentation, Movement Building in a Connected Age. You can view a clip of it here, courtesy of fellow Victoria blogger, Mat Wright.

During Joe’s presentation, he shared numerous examples of people coming together across boundaries, to use the web for social change. A true community organizer and facilitator, he encouraged members of the audience to share local successes as well.

Here are three examples of global movements that Joe shared with us:



Net Squared works by mobilizing individuals and communities, providing web based tools, and awarding financial support to leverage social action. The result? Local chapters in 50+ cities around the globe, and hundreds of social action projects.

Joe talked about how easy it was to start up the Vancouver chapter, largely because of the support from the global  NetSquared group – something he also emphasized was “critical to success”.

Every movement has a champion, and NetSquared’s is Amy Sample Ward. Based in London, Amy’s title is Global Community Builder. She blogs at Nonprofit Tech. Follow her on Twitter at @amyrsward.

350 [dot] org

On Oct 24, 2009, hundreds of organizations around the world will host events to focus attention on the need for a global climate movement. Scientists say that if we want to avoid runaway climate change, CO2 levels in the atmosphere should not go above 350 parts per million – yet we’re already at 385.92 and climbing.  Thus the urgency.

To help build the hype and focus conversation on the web around this topic, bloggers are also invited to blog about climate change on October 15 – Blog Action Day ’09 – I’ll be doing that and invite you to as well.

Change Camp

change camp

ChangeCamp brings together citizens, policy-makers, technologists, design-thinkers, change agents and members of the media face-to-face to answer one question: “How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?”

Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver have hosted Change Camps. Two more are slated this fall: Edmonton (October 17/09) and Halifax (December 5/09).

What about Victoria?  Joe asked me that question when several of us met at a tweetup the morning following his presentation (I know – we’re keen!) And yes, there’s definitely interest in doing one here, so you may hear more on that front.

Joe’s key message: The issues of our time need movements – Join a Movement or Start a Movement.

Panel Discussion:

We ended our session with a panel discussion on how local nonprofits are using social media to advance their cause:


SocialMediaClub-EngageJoe 028a

One of the event organizers Janis La Couvee (@lacouvee) and Joe Solomon (@engageJoe)

Panel members:

SocialMediaClub-EngageJoe 018a

Janis La Couvee, Mat Wright (@matvic) , Joe Solomon, Deb Morse, Lori Elder (@volvicbc)

Next meeting of Social Media Club:

Christopher Trotier is coming from Vancouver to speak on “Social Bookmarking Concepts” and “Digg”.

  • Tuesday October 27, 2009,
  • Ambrosia Conference and Event Centre, 638 Fisgard Street

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