Marketing vs. PR vs. Advertising vs. Branding

June 9th, 2012 6 comments
Categories: Strategy

Digital Marketing conference

May 24th, 2012 Comments off

I was recently a speaker at the Digital Marketing for Financial Services conference. I gave a one hour presentation on “Effective Social Media in a Regulated Environment.”

The presentation went very well. I also had the chance to connect with some very smart people in the field.

The amazing folks at wrote a great article about the conference, with several references to the presentation I gave. If you get a chance, give it a read.

Categories: Press, social-media, Strategy

Digital Sharecropping

May 15th, 2012 Comments off

j12EG-928AJeff Atwood writes a great article on Digital Sharecropping. That’s the concept that built many of the Social Networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Flickr. Those sites just provide the foundation, but the content on the sites is provided by the users. The reason the users provide all of the content is…

Well, that’s a good question. Why do the users provide free content (and essentially, labour) someone else’s site? Generally a site that makes a profit off that content? Why would they so often be willing to give up their intellectual rights to that content?

That’s something to keep in mind when formulating your plan. If your Digital Strategy includes building a community around your brand, you have to ask yourself very early on, why would someone want to take the time to be part of this community and provide free content. What am I going to give them in return?

It has to be a two-way street. There has to be an added value or benefit for your community to be part of your community. Or as Jeff put it so well, the user will ask themselves, “What do I get out of the time and effort you’ve invested in this website? Personally? Professionally? Tangibly? Intangibly?”

If you don’t have a good answer to that question, you might want to take a closer look at the rest of your Digital Strategy.

Categories: Strategy

What success looks like

May 6th, 2012 Comments off
Categories: Strategy

There’s Always a Better Way

April 22nd, 2012 1 comment

troll-webI was out with a friend the other day and I was reminded of a “creative” solution we implemented to an age-old problem. We had set up an online community for a client, and as is too common in communities, there were a couple of users that trolled the community annoying the remaining 99%.

We tried all of the usual methods to resolve it. Sending warnings to the offenders, manually editing and filtering, and finally banning the offenders. Of course, with the ease of getting a new email address and re-registering, the trolls kept coming back and it turned into a kind of “whack-a-mole” game.

Finally, I took a page from Philip Greenspun (author of the classic “Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing“) and got creative with the situation. Instead of trying to ban the users, we decided to just frustrate them into leaving on their own accord… without them knowing.

When a troll was identified, they were flagged in our database and we flagged the account. The next time the user logged in, they had a 1 in 3 chance of actually being able to log in, or getting a “Server Timeout” error message. If they did actually manage to log in, every page refresh had a random delay of 5-30 seconds, and even then, they would occasionally get a timeout message. The flagged users generally just got frustrated with the “poor quality” of our site and moved on.

One of our developers actually took it a step further. Trolls live for stirring the pot. They post abusive and over-the-top posts and wait for the firestorm. What if the firestorm never arrived and the other users just ignored their posts? The developer set the database so that when a flagged user posted a message, he would see his post in the thread, but no other users would see it. He would sit back and wait for his comments to start a flame war, but the other users would just carry on with their own discussions, unaware of the flame-bait posted.

The number of trolls dropped dramatically. Users were thrilled that their conversations continued without disruption and there were no more warnings issued by the moderators. And, of course, no one was aware of what was going on behind the scenes to clean out the disruptors.

It just goes to show… the tried and true methods sometimes don’t work. Looking for a creative solution based on the habits and motivations of your users often yields far better results than going with the textbook approach.

Categories: Strategy

It ain’t free…

December 15th, 2011 Comments off

I wrote something similar a few months back, but I just loved this image. I have no idea where it came from (if it’s yours, please let me know!). It was emailed to me. For everyone that thinks Facebook is free:

Categories: social-media

Novices vs. Experts

December 6th, 2011 Comments off

I’ve been doing digital strategy for a long time now (over 15 years!). I seem to have found a pretty good niche recently, specializing in digital strategy for the Canadian financial services industry. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I feel confident to call myself an expert. However, it wasn’t until recently that I got an inkling of what it means to be an expert in a particular field.

Then I stumbled across this excellent post from Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree. The line that tweaked with me was:

…novices sought and responded to positive feedback, and experts sought and responded to negative feedback…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have an ego as big as the next person’s (well… maybe a little bigger). I still like it when I’ve been told that something I’ve done has been helpful / useful / profitable . However, I get more juice from someone teaching me something or guiding my thinking into a direction I haven’t been. I’d like to say I like getting pulled out of my comfort zone, but like most people I get that little feeling in my stomach that resists the move initially. But I’ve gotten to where I am because I’ve been able to take the chance to do something I’ve never done before and figure out how to do it.

Of course, it reminds me of a post I saw recently on Joey deVilla’s Accordion Guy blog:

Categories: Basics, Management, Strategy

The 4 digtal laws

November 18th, 2011 Comments off

I recently read a great post by amazing folks at Digital Tonto talking about the 3 fundamental laws of digital technology and a 4th that has nothing to do with technology. The laws are:

1. Kryder’s law which states that storage capacity doubles every year

2. Moore’s law which states that processor speed doubles every 18-24 months

3. Nielsen’s law which states that bandwidth will double every 2 years (in practice, longer)

The fourth law is what they call the Caveman Law. This article doesn’t have a great explanation of it, but in my opinion, it states that no matter how big or powerful the technology is, if it can’t fullfil a person’s primitive desires, it’s useless.

The article goes on to eulogize Steve Jobs, but this is one of the few I agree with. Apple rarely talks about the first three laws. When they launch a product, you don’t often see specs on processor speed or storage. It’s all about how it fulfills your desires. Apple did a lot of things right, but this is probably the most important.

Categories: Strategy

Now smartphone friendly

November 11th, 2011 Comments off

I’ve recently started using the WPTouch theme for my blog. If you haven’t seen my blog on your smartphone, please check it out using your mobile browser. It’s pretty amazing and almost zero configuration!

Categories: Strategy


November 5th, 2011 Comments off

At my day job, one of the questions I get asked quite often is “How do I get my site to the front page of Google?” I usually have the same answer and it’s not one that everyone likes to hear.

“Write great content… regularly and consistently”

For the most part, it really is that ‘simple’. SEO techniques will only get you so far if you don’t have good, current content.

… Which is why when I came across this Salt and Pepper post from Chris Brogan, it really struck a chord with me:

Executing cleanly on simple efforts is far more valuable than pulling off something clever that gets you attention briefly, but has no lasting change.

Much of what I do is actually quite simple. It just stems from years of experience and learning from my (many, many) mistakes. What separates the wheat from the chaff in my line of work is this: The good ones can take something that looks complex and turn it into a series of simple steps. Or as Chris puts it:

And truly, if you want to know just one more secret, I’ll share it: complex is usually just a lot of simple things played out in a smart sequence.


Categories: Strategy

Social media in 2011

October 30th, 2011 1 comment

Steven van Belleghem has posted a great presentation on Slideshare showing the state of social media worldwide in 2011. Warning up front that this slideshow is well over 160 slides!

There are a few stats in this that surprised me (both positively and negatively). For example:
  • The awareness of Facebook is close to 100%
  • Facebook is used by over 400,000,000 people daily (almost half of all accounts!) with the average session lasting 37 minutes
  • Positive experiences lead to more social posts than negative experiences. I would have thought the opposite, but sadly, when I think about it, positive experiences are more unique and post-worthy than negative experiences.
  • People have on average 25 apps on their smartphones, but use only 12 apps regularly (I know that’s the case with me… I have close to 100, but most are never or rarely used)


Categories: social-media

Free online services

July 9th, 2011 Comments off

As I was going through my Evernote files (did I mention I LOVE Evernote?), I came across this image that I had saved from some website. Unfortunately, I didn’t save the original site this came from. If you know where it came from (or if it’s yours), please let me know.

I’ve used this quote several dozen times in the past several months when I hear someone complain about a free service they subscribe to. They often complain about why that product or service doesn’t care more about their customers. People are generally a little shocked when they realize that *they* are not the customers.

Categories: Strategy

Creating a Digital Strategy (repost)

July 4th, 2011 6 comments

I’ve been asked several times how to create a Digital Strategy from scratch. I always point people to my digital strategy blog, but I’ve been getting the feedback that the original post is hard to find as it was written a while ago and has fallen off the main page.

As I’m on vacation this week, I thought it would be a good idea to repost the original article in it’s entirety here so that it comes back to the top of the list.



The most difficult part of formulating your Digital Strategy is staring at that blank screen and blinking cursor, trying to figure out where to start. What helps is starting with a “Cheat Sheet.” The basics that need to be flushed out before you can even call it a Digital Strategy. I’ve put together several Digital Strategies for various different brands. Through lots of trial and error, Google searches, and standing on the shoulders of giants, I’ve finally put together a basic template I use when I start. It consists of six headings with the questions I have to have answered before I can even claim to have a basic strategy.

When this Digital Strategy is completed and executed successfully, what will be the outcome? What are you trying to achieve? Increased brand awareness? A 5% reduction in calls to the call centre? A 2% increase in sales in your North East market? Or as simple as getting 10,000 followers on Twitter? Perhaps it’s a better connection with your audience by answering 100 questions per month via online channels? You have to know why you are putting together the strategy and how you will know if you’ve executed is successfully.

Another part of the objectives is the constraints. As much as we’d all love to hear, “Take as much time and money you need to reach the objectives,” chances are you have constraints. This is where you also lay out the timelines and budget as you understand them, as well as any assumptions you are making in the rest of the strategy

Who is your audience? What are their demographics? Are they even digital people? If so, where do they congregate? Are they primarily email users only? Do they read blogs, or do they only read “real” news sites like CNN or New York Times? Are they actively engaged in social media sites? Are they Facebook / Twitter users? Would they actually subscribe to Fan Pages? You have to have a very good idea of where your audience is, how they interact in the digital world, and what they would find relevant and engaging.

OK, so now you know where your audience is and what you want to achieve. Where are you starting? Start with an audit of the digital assets you already have on hand. Domain names, logos, videos, websites (active and old “cobweb-sites”), social media profiles, etc. What are your building blocks?

Next phase of the audit is to understand how your brand is already perceived and being talked about in the digital world. Start with Google searches on your brand names, your product or service sphere and your competitors’. Set up Google Alerts to notify you when you are mentioned. Look at your existing web properties and analyse the incoming links. Where are your visitors coming from? Monitor your search engine logs to see what they’re looking for. Consider using a free or paid social media monitoring tool to dig even deeper. I’ve used Trendrr and YackTrack on the free side with varying degrees of success, though your mileage may vary. On the paid side, you could look at VoxTrot, BuzzMetrics or Cymfony.

Now is also a great time to do a competitive audit. What are you competitors doing? What’s working for them? What sort of commitment are they putting into their Digital Strategy? Do all of the above for your competitors and gauge where you stack up in your market.

The $1,000,000 question. Now that you know what you hope to acheive, what’s already out there, what assets you have on hand, and what your audience wants, what are you going to do? In your audit, you may have found some low hanging fruit. Quick executions to start building some momentum with low cost and quick wins to put the wind in everyone’s sails.

First, look at your existing websites. Are they relevant? Do they even provide the basics? Do they speak to your targetted audience? Or to your shareholders? Or to new recruits? Maybe you want to look at a complete overhaul in one fell swoop, but often time, the existing brand sites may benefit from a phased execution. Do you need special sites  targetted to special segments of your audience or specific campaigns (also know as micro-sites). Is the content on your sites current? Are they optimized for Search Engines?

Second, look at your audience profile to help determine if and how you want to engage your audience. Does the CEO need a blog? Or the heads of various business or product units? What information will you share? Who will write the blogs? Your PR or Marketing group? Or the person in charge? What Legal sign-offs are required? How often will the blogs be updated? Do you need a support forum? Do you have Frequently Asked Questions that could be found in an FAQ on your site? What about connecting via Social Media platforms? Is your audience active there? Do you want to have one (or many) Twitter accounts? What about front-line employees? How engaged do you want them to be in your connections with your audience? These are just a few of the questions that come from the audience profile.

Third, look outside your own assets. Should you be getting engaged on other sites? Sites that specialize in your product or service area. Will you monitor the forums and respond to questions about topics about your product or brand? Will you comment on other blogs about topics in your area? In short, how engaged will you be in the so-called blogosphere?

And the final question… what can you accomplish in the time and budget you have, and what part of the roadmap is for future consideration for the elusive Phase II.

(I will write further about the execution of the strategy when I post about 2MCE)

Wouldn’t it be nice if you put together a plan, executed it, and then were done? Sadly, it’s just the beginning. The Digital Strategy needs to outline what the ongoing commitment to the strategy will entail. If you are relaunching your main sites, who’s responsible for making sure that content is fresh, updated and relevant? Who’s responsible for answering email queries about products and services? Who is responsible for monitoring the web and tracking mentions of your company, your brand and your key people? What will they do with that information? Who will be monitoring the blogs for mentions of your sphere and be able to answer questions, complaint and concerns in the comments in a professional manner? Who will monitor your own Social Media properties and put a human, social “face” behind your brand? This is an on-going operational cost, not a project cost. If you can’t get a commitment on the commitment, it’s time to rethink your Digital Strategy.

How will you know if you succeded? There is a post coming soon about how to measure ROI on the web, but suffice for now to say that it’s not easy to find quanititive measures. What are your measures of success? Is it site visitors? Press mentions? Blog mentions? Followers on Twitter? Fans on your Facebook page? Or something more subtle such as level of engagement by your evangelistic base? Blog mentions vs. your baseline? Google PageRank? Revenue in the North East territory? Call volumes? Go back to your Objectives and bring it full circle by showing how what you measure will prove (or disprove) your success against your objectives.

There you have it. The 6 basic pillars of a Digital Strategy. Of course, you could have more (lots more), and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll elaborate on the Digital Strategy and discuss other pillars to a strong Strategy. But if you think through these basics, you’ll be well on your way to online success!

Categories: Strategy

25 Guys to avoid on Bay St.

June 28th, 2011 1 comment

Not much to add to this one… I renamed it a little bit. The original article is 25 guys to avoid on Wall St.

I’ve been heading up Digital Strategy at a few financial services firms in Canada for the better part of a decade now. My current employer excluded (everyone there really is amazing!), I’ve run across quite of few of these types in my day… and not just in my Bay St. jobs.

Particularly the following:

  • Avoid the guy who calls you ‘Chief’.  He doesn’t remember your name.
  • Avoid the dim-witted back-slapping managing director. He’s not as smart as you are—but he’s been throwing guys like you under the bus since you were in grade school.
  • Avoid the girl who cries at her desk. (You can ignore my advice on this one—but either way, you won’t make that mistake twice.)
  • Avoid anyone who tells you to ‘take one for the team’. He got where he is by convincing dopes like you to jump in front of an oncoming train.
  • Avoid anyone who is ten years older than you are—and is still more junior in the reporting structure. He hates you more than you could ever imagine.

Especially the one about ‘Taking one for the team…” Learned that lesson the hard way.

Categories: Strategy

Reasons stop mattering

June 18th, 2011 1 comment

I’m proud to say that I worked my way through the ranks to get to the position I’m in today (VP, Digital). I started as a junior programmer for McGill Multimedia back when there was no such thing as .com (or more accurately, almost nobody had heard of it).

A long time ago, I made the transition from individual contributor to manager. That transition was difficult. I was no longer responsible for just my own work, but for the work of several others. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. As I reacquaint myself with people that used to report to me or that I used to report to, I always feel like I should apologize for some of the things I said or did while I was learning to be a manager.

One of the key lessons I learned as I worked my way up the managerial ranks was that excuses don’t exist. I’m given goals to achieve and my job is to achieve them. If they are not achieved, I cannot go back and say that “X didn’t do what he was supposed to do.” There is no X… it’s just me and I hold all accountability for anyone that didn’t deliver on my initiative.

When I ran across this article from Business Insider about Steve Jobs and the speech he gives to new managers, it struck a chord. I wish someone had given me this speech several years ago. It would have saved me from stepping on a lot of land mines and driving my bosses crazy as I figured out the lesson above.


Jobs tells the VP that if the garbage in his office is not being emptied regularly for some reason, he would ask the janitor what the problem is. The janitor could reasonably respond by saying, “Well, the lock on the door was changed, and I couldn’t get a key.”

An irritation for Jobs, for an understandable excuse for why the janitor couldn’t do his job. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses.

“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs tells newly minted VPs, according to Lashinsky.

“Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is “crossed when you become a VP.”

Remember that as you climb the ranks, at a certain level there are no more excuses. Only success or failure.

Categories: Management

IETV Interview

March 16th, 2011 Comments off

After my interview with Investment Executive, they invited me in to an on-camera interview about social media and the new guidelines for investment advisors.

Click on the image below to go to the video interview:

Categories: social-media

Investment Executive article

March 12th, 2011 Comments off

Forgive a little ego stroking, but I was recently featured on the front page of Investment Executive magazine. I gave an interview regarding the social media efforts at the company I work for.

Click on the image to read the article

Categories: social-media

Life Lists

January 30th, 2011 Comments off

<WARNING: This post has absolutely nothing to do with Digital Strategy.>

Today is my birthday. Approaching my birthday, I started thinking about making a list of things I still want to do, but haven’t for whatever reason.

I came across several sites that had sample lists, but the one that really caught my eye was from Esquire from some time back. The post is called “75 Things Every Man Should Do” However, I think that most of them would equally apply to both sexes.

I strongly suggest reading the entire thing, but there were a few that stood out for me and are now on my list of things to do in the coming few years:

No. 6: Fast for three days.
Drink water. Not talking about a juice fast. Not an induction diet. Just a pure nothing-in-your-mouth fast.
No. 7: Drive the Great Ocean Road in southern Australia.
Or the Pacific Coast Highway. Or the Ring Road in Iceland. It doesn’t even matter if you stop. A two-day-long drive next to an open body of water is among the twentieth century’s most meditative gifts to travel.
No. 11: Do a flip off a diving board. Nail it.
No. 12: Leave yourself a letter in a library book.
Look for it twenty years later. Pick an obscure biography in a college library, since no one there wants to insult obscurity by decataloging a book, and the library will most likely always be there. One page. Be discreet. Type it on erasable bond, tuck it in the back, and hope that no one ever notices. As for content, skip the hopes and dreams. Mention the weather, tell yourself what you ate that morning, make a list of your friends, note how much you weigh and whether you feel fat, remind yourself of a secret you want to keep.
No. 22: Carry a totem in your pocket.
A watch, a badge, a medal, a poker chip, a silver certificate — for one year. Then give it away. My dad, whose brothers were tailors, carried a thimble on his key ring for forty years. In our house, where keys were constantly interchanged and lost, it marked the set as his. Several years ago, he gave the thimble to me. He’d had several strokes by then, and he was afraid he was going to lose it. I told him to put it away instead, to leave it on his dresser. He shrugged and asked me why. “I can’t remember anything,” he told me. “And you can. That’s the point of a thing like that.”
No. 26: Throw a real party.
Memorable for something other than cake, party favors, or strippers.
No. 28: Start something that scares you.
Deal with your most gnawing fears, the kind that have been present inside you so long that you deal with them mostly by avoiding them. Public speaking, that gut, the drinking thing, money. Make a plan.
No. 54: Give a panhandler all of your money.
Most of us spend the early years of our adult lives walking straight by the people standing on street corners or at freeway exits asking for money. Probably with good reason. There’s a cautionary tale for every moment of real charity. Now clean out your pockets. Do it when you have some money on you. Empty the wallet. Pick it clean. Just give it. Make no demands. Expect nothing. Not even a thank-you. Then you’ll understand that you may not even deserve that much.
Hopefully you’ll find one or two that you want to try. Onwards to the next phase of my life!
Categories: Strategy

Managing vs. Running a project

December 6th, 2010 Comments off

I keep an online notebook with quotes and articles I want to hang on to (thank you Evernote!)

I’m usually pretty good with keeping the source, but in this case I lost it. However, the quote is so insightful that I wanted to post about it anyway.

If you choose to manage a project, it’s pretty safe. As the manager, you report. You report on what’s happening, you chronicle the results, you are the middleman.

If you choose to run a project, on the other hand, you’re on the hook. It’s an active engagement, bending the status quo to your will, ensuring that you ship.

Running a project requires a level of commitment that’s absent from someone who is managing one.

We’ve all worked with ‘project managers,’ but very few of us have had the pleasure to work with ‘project runners.’ I like to consider myself a runner. If I’m responsible for delivering, I own it all and find every avenue to ensure the project delivers.

Which one are you?

P.S. If this is your quote, or you know where it came from, please ping me and I’ll make sure to give you the proper attribution.

Categories: Management

Congratulations! You’re in charge!… Now what? (Part 2)

June 12th, 2010 Comments off

In part 1, I discussed the initial tasks when taking over the digital strategy for a company. As you start getting the analytics, interview your stakeholders and devise a plan for the quick wins, it’s time to start assessing the overall infrastructure. So, what’s next?

1. Get a list of all domains:
Chances are high that your company owns more domains than your main website’s name. Go to your IT group or your hosting provider to find out which other domains you own. There were probably several campaigns that had URLs purchased and are currently sitting unused or have outdated content. Also find out if you have any micro-sites or vanity redirects (i.e. that are still live and have outdated content. In many instances, you’ll find sites that people have long forgotten about that have old prices, old logos and are still crawled by search engines.

If you don’t already own them, try to purchase as many mis-spellings of your main company name, as well as defensive names (

2. Internal Assessment:
Find out how the sites get updated. Who has to approve the content? Who writes it? Who creates the artwork? How long does it take the change a comma on the live site? To update a graphic? To create a new page? To create a new vanity redirect? Is it all done in-house? Do you rely on external people? Are you beholden to just one or two? The best way to do this is not to ask what the process is, but to live through the process. Make sure you have actually updated all of the above on your website(s) within the first two weeks to truly understand the processes. Chances are, the real processes are slightly different than what you’ve been told they are.

You also need to understand the reliability of your websites. What has the uptime for your site been for the last 12 months? What is the escalation process? When the sites go down, who finds out and how? Is there an automatic notification? Who’s on pager support? Do you get called? Do you have to take action, or is it automatic to get them back up?

3. Budget and ROI
How much money do you have to play with? What are your monthly costs for hosting? For resources? Do you have internal billing for IT help? For Legal sign-off? What is the process for justifying more budget? How will the executive level determine if you are making good use of your budget? What level of sign-off authority do you have? Can you pick your contractors and vendors, or is there a preferred list?

4. What is the importance of Online?
Finally, you need to determine how important the online properties are in the overall strategy. When new products are launched, is the online group part of the planning process? Or are they brought in when the strategy is already determined? Or worse yet, are you just given the collateral and asked to put it online with no input? Do the sites generate revenue (directly or indirectly)? Or are they just seen as a cost centre with no impact? If they are not seen as important, is that because of historical issues? If you show value, is there an appetite to change perceptions.

If the answers to question 4 are not encouraging, then your tenure may be frustrating and short-lived. However, if you sense there is an appetite to make the digital strategy an important facet of company strategy, you’re well on your way to making a significant and measurable impact to your company!

Categories: Management, Strategy