Friday, March 28, 2008

You've been Dooced

Dooce (Heather Armstrong) is an American blogger who was recently chosen as one of the world's 50 most powerful blogs by the British newspaper The Guardian. Dooce came in at #5 and the accomplishment boggled the mind of even Dooce - "Do the people who write The Guardian drop mushrooms on a regular basis?" - Dooce.

The 'phenomenon' of online journals/Blogging continues to evolve, but Dooce is a great example of the power of social media. Many Bloggers are now able to make a living off the advertising revenues from their blogs, which although is quite a feat in itself, seems to pale in comparison when you realize that "Dooce" is a personal journal.

Dooce's blog started in 2001 when she moved to L.A. to work at a webdesign company and began to blog about her job and her coworkers. Unfortunately, most of those blogs were made up of comments that weren't exactly positive. Somehow, a fellow coworker stumbled upon this and all hell broke loose. Dooce was fired from her job because of the blog .

Dooce is a social media pioneer in the sense that she was one of the first Bloggers to be fired from their jobs because of its contents. The term "Dooce" has even been coined, with an entry in Urban Dictionary

Dooce -

To be fired from you job because of the contents of your weblog.

Dude, did you hear what happened to Mary? she got dooced.

Fortunately, Dooce was able to make lemonade out of lemons, and after losing her job, the popularity of Dooce skyrocketed. She continued to write about the struggles with her depression, Mormon past, and motherhood, and less serious but still popular topics such as constipation, Britney Spears, and of course everyday life. My friend is an avid reader of Dooce and has been for a few years now, but is still amazed at the popularity of Dooce. Not surprisingly, my friend is also immersed in many other aspects of online social media and follows a variety of blogs ranging from politics, technology, to music, but Dooce is the only blog that she reads on a daily basis. She has no idea what makes people come back to Dooce's blog, but feels that her honesty, humour, and great writing (Dooce graduated as an English major) is what keeps people interested.

Regardless of the phenomenon that is Dooce's popularity, the fact remains that through the rise of social media as a routine part of everyday life, Dooce is now able to support her family through advertising revenues, and just recently finished the manuscript for her first major book deal.

As for advice to fellow Bloggers who are tempted to vent out their workplace frustration online? Dooce says "BE YE NOT SO STUPID".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Body of Facebook

Now that Chris Avenir's academic fate has now been decided, his 15 minutes of fame is close to over. He's the first-year Ryerson engineering student that ran the risk of expulsion after creating a Facebook group for a chemistry assignment, that was supposed to be done individually. He wasn't expelled, which is a win, but received a mark of zero on the assignment and had his passing grade restored.

In a nutshell, "Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you." It has only been around for four years and was first limited to connecting Harvard University students. Then they expanded to university students, high school students, and finally to any one over the age of 13.

If anything it might have given Ryerson some bad publicity and PR; why would you condemn a student for something he would have done anyway? What's the difference between having a group discussion on an online space or in person? My once professor, James Norrie has made numerous statements since the beginning. I heard him this morning on 680 News, saying that Ryerson doesn't discourage the use of technology, but rather have it used in the right manner.

The difference is now we can track it.

Events such as Chris Avenir's case isn't uncommon in today's social media world. We constantly hear social media tools being called to the forefront due to alleged 'misuse' - anything from the personal journal of a mass murderer, to racially charged social groups on the internet - the tool can vary, but social media is here to stay, and this can affect PR in two ways:

Facebook's PR (and other social media sites) must learn to deal with the publicity of its high profile effect on social media - from monitoring how users use the tool, to dealing and reacting to controversies regarding member usage.

Facebook itself is having PR issues: not banning pro-anorexia groups, but forcing a mother to pull pictures of her breast-feeding her child off the site. Sites like Facebook will need to learn how to balance the ability to network anyone and everyone by being smart about its terms of use and excluding the right people. Monitoring on a case by case basis will be essential, where as general, wide sweeping restrictions will negatively affect its popularity amongst users.

As PR people, we have to understand the beast that social media is and what it means. As we've learned, we couldn't control the media then and we definitely can't control social media now. A case like Avenir's re-enforces Facebook's popularity and its continual growth. Another social media tool that the PR person has to handle.

We need to incorporate social media in our communication plans. We need to recognize the power of social media sites such as Facebook and learn to adapt to situations where our client or industry maybe "called out."

The goal here is not to develop a game plan to deal with when we need to react to a PR crisis related specifically to Facebook, or MySpace - but to be able to recognize social media and its long term effects on PR, regardless if Facebook eventually bites the dust as the "Friendster" of 2008. The tools may come and go and users will be quick to jump on the next big social media craze, whatever that may be.

The point is that the vision of social media and it's ability to network the entire world is here to stay.

What's your FTYG?

Here's a quick evolution of social network utilities, all of which I'm a part of. This is not an exclusive list and doesn't include any professional networking tools.
  1. Asianavenue – where all Asians united. It was my first taste of simple html code, which then led to my extreme annoyance of thousands of "Angel.Music.Baby" names.
  2. Friendster – expanded my network because not only did I get to connect with my Asian friends but all of my other friends as well.
  3. Hi5 – which is more popular with Central Americans.
  4. MySpace – which everyone thought would be the "kicker-sticker." The one and only online friends networking website that would be here to stay. Was I ever wrong.
  5. Facebook flooded the online networking-sphere with a ferocity to behold no others before it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Informational Interviews

Maybe I haven’t been in the working world for too long, but the idea of an informational interview was new to me. So you’re telling me that you go into a company and you interview them, too see if YOU like it?

Well, that’s what I did a couple of weeks ago. I went to National PR, one of the largest PR agencies in North America, with clients such as TD Canada Trust to Becel.

I spent the day acquiring an abundance of knowledge and seeing how challenging agency life can be; mostly for the comprehensive experience and diverse clientèle. I met with 10 employees and spoke with each one of them for about 15 minutes each. However, with each person I met, I found it difficult to keep track of time. They all had so much to say and offer me. I appreciate them taking the time out to speak with me. I guess that's what happens when you’re trying to cram so much knowledge into a short 15 minutes.

I must say I lucked out being chosen for this mentorship. I always wanted to do non-for-profit. But as I did the interviews from each practice, it’s like I saw myself liking each practice for a different reason.

When I spoke with Nina, in the Corporate practice, she explained that every practice has their own little sub-culture, from what they wear to how they socialize. I definitely observed it as I was there. Marketing was described as a more laid-back, casual bunch, while the Clinical Research practice was a totally different from the rest of the firm; in terms of what they did and how they accomplished it. But still, no one would work as effectively as they do without help from other practices.

This interview has shown me the importance of an informational interview; even though you are interested, you still have to fit. I guess what’s most impressive is that every one there has found a place that works for them, because there’s so much variety.

Two reasons for an informational interview; see if you fit and to substantiate your interests.