Category Archives: Social Media

Connection: Don’t forget the social in social media

Originally posted on the MaRS blog

“Connection is the outcome of art.” — The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

As an entrepreneur, you’ve done your homework: you’ve listened to the excellent advice from the Entrepreneurship 101 speakers, you’ve gone through all of the workbooks and are able to speak to the market for your startup, the viability of your business plan and your go-to-market strategy.

But have you stopped to consider and measure the impact of your connections as part of the health and wealth of your startup?

The MaRS website is full of advice and guidance on how to find a mentor, build your board, invest in talent and conduct sales. All of these discussions involve connections to you and your business, but we rarely talk about the intrinsic value of these connections.

Can you valuate the invaluable?

The social graph as described by Paul Butler of Facebook clearly shows the potential reach of one’s social network. By now I think we can all readily agree that social is the new norm and that its impact is already massive, especially when you look at the economic benefits as outlined in the McKinsey Global Institute report on the social economy.

Across four industries alone (consumer packaged goods, consumer financial services, professional services and advanced manufacturing), they have determined that the potential financial impact of enterprises engaging in social technologies is in the range of $900 billion to $1.3 trillion dollars. The consumer-supported activity in supporting enterprises reached $40 billion in 2010 and is projected to be as much as $76 billion by 2015.

These are powerful and impressive numbers and, as an entrepreneur, you need to know how to build and sustain your business by engaging in and using social technologies. Those who choose not to integrate social into their businesses will surely fail. Analyzing the value of efforts, energies and resources when you’re building your social presence is a responsible position to take. And it is right to be able to articulate the value of a “like” and what that brings to your business overall.

What I want to remind you of here, though, is the holistic impact of your connections, the social of social technologies. Connection is far more than your online community. It envelops, but also goes beyond, your team of advisors, mentors and investors.

Connection is what feeds your soul, fills your brain with ideas and inspiration, and buoys you as a human being. It is why your businesses are built, why research and discovery continue, and why social enterprises and B Corps have finally found their time.

Your art shows in your fellowship

While social technologies have changed many aspects of how we manage our businesses from day to day, something that hasn’t changed and that is still fundamental to making a business successful is that people still want to do business with people: people who they know and people who they believe in. This, of course, is entirely critical for startups.

What we know is that this network of connections is more important than ever in realizing those successes. Again, as noted by the McKinsey Global Institute, “people derive great personal satisfaction from the relationships they are able to maintain, the information they can glean, and the communities they form in their use of social technologies.”

Never before has the collective “we” had such immediate access to the “they.”

A few years ago, after New York Times journalists and authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman released their book NurtureShock, I was hugely impressed by their work and I went online to share just that. The authors then reached back and responded to me. It was a small act, that communication between us, but what it said was that they were interested in my excitement and my feedback just as much I was interested in sharing their work. We talked about bringing them to my local community for them to share their work at a grassroots level with parents and community members. Connection.

In many ways, we’re all still just a bunch of “Joes,” and everybody wants to be a part of something. Social technologies may create that warm handshake, but it’s equally as important to engage your connections directly. Talk with them, meet with them, invite them in.

Po and Ashley have become a reference for me now, and while we may not be friends in real life, they are a part of my experience—and that connection, no matter how fleeting, helped form and shape my engagement and embrace of social technologies.

So, how do ensure that you receive the greatest value from your connections? The answer is simple, really.

Aron Solomon, a MaRS advisor and one of the new leads on the MaRS education technology front, shared this message with the young leaders that he met with recently at i.c.stars in Chicago: Be a mensch.

When you are a mensch, you draw those to you that proffer advocacy, word-of-mouth support, influence and goodwill; all those things that are invaluable and immeasurable, but likely have the greatest impact on your early success.


Have you hugged your community manager today?

originally posted on the MaRSdd blog, January 28, 2013


“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” — Rollo May

This Monday, January 28, is the fourth annual Community Manager Appreciation Day. I didn’t make this up. Really. It’s a thing.

Started by Jeremiah Owyang, #CMAD is intended to be a day on which organizations and brands recognize the impact that their community managers have on the success of their businesses, as well as the impact that they have on their community of stakeholders.

According to Owyang, there are four tenets of the community manager.

Community managers:

  • are community advocates;
  • are brand evangelists;
  • have savvy communications skills and shape editorial; and
  • gather community input for future products and services.

While some of those words make me cringe a little, semantics aside, having the right person in this role for your startup is going to be critical to your success.

Why? Because your community actually gets the word out about you, your company, your product and the potential impact of your solution. Your community is your greatest brand ambassador, your greatest advocate. And your community is engaged, informed and hopefully inspired through your community manager.

Word of warning though: this is no job for an intern or the high school kid who lives down the street.

The number one trait that inspires a community, whether online or in real life, is authenticity, so the best people to build a startup’s community are the founders themselves. They are the most knowledgeable, most passionate and most responsive. It’s usually people’s response to a founder that warrants the follow or the like, especially in the early days.

As the company grows, investsments rise and the constraints on the founders become more overwhelming, that’s the time to hire smartly and invest in talent that will help you make those important critical first impressions.

I’m often asked to work my “social media magic” when it comes to supporting events, programs, projects and campaigns within MaRS. The reality is that there’s very little “magic” to it. It’s a difficult role to encapsulate in one sentence, but basically, I help get the story out about MaRS, our clients and our ecosystem.

Community manager skillset

In practical terms, to succeed in this role requires many skills, including marketing and communications, brand management, strategic planning, sales, project management, customer management, professional and staff development, business planning, analysis and operations management. These are all practical skills that come from years of work experience.

There are also softer skills that are required to succeed in this role, including motivation, leadership, conflict resolution, authenticity, emotional intelligence, collaboration and, most importantly, a good sense of humour. These are also skills that one acquires through experience, not necessarily in terms of years, but by actually doing.

You can see that you need a pretty robust resumé not only to be able to succeed in this type of role, but also to properly support the dialogue between an organization and all of its disparate stakeholders, whether users, customers, investors or partners.

Whether you call it your tribe, chosen kin, audience, association, city, neighbourhood or company, being a part of a community is a fundamental part of the human condition. Surely this won’t come as a shock to many, but I am big on community. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been in the field of communications for the last 14 years. I thrive on engaging with a greater collective of people to exchange information and ideas.

This world of online communications continues to change and grow, seemingly almost exponentially, every year. Ten years ago my current role didn’t exist. While sysops roles existed in the ’90s, the role of “community manager” as it is understood today is only about five years old, and even in that timeframe the role itself has come a long way.

So take a moment today to consider how and why you engage online with the brands, companies and groups that you do, and if you’re not able to hug your community manager today, at least send ’em a virtual hug to celebrate all that they do. (Chocolates work too!)

You can learn more from the community of community managers in this collection of advice shared byMarketwire and The Community Manager.

Beware the echo chamber

This first appeared on the MaRS blog October 19, 2012.

There’s a black hole that we’re in danger of being sucked into, and it’s more treacherous than Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. The danger I’m talking about is the echo chamber.

Usually when I reference the “echo chamber,” I’m talking about social media. I’m in complete agreement with many of the contemporary thought leaders and pundits who have written and spoken at great length on the issue (see Eli PariserElizabeth LesserClay Johnson and Rebecca MacKinnon). They all warn us of the dangers of filtering out a variety of voices and listening to only one point of view. Social media and a curated web experience are enablers of this, but it’s not just social media that is responsible for that closed perspective. It’s us. And I want no part in it.

“echo chamber” used by permission @gapingvoid

While attending the Techtoberfest event at Communitech last week, I realized a number of things.

  1. I am so proud to have surrounded myself with friends and colleagues who are passionate about what they do and what they bring to the world.
  2. I know some incredibly talented people who work incredibly hard to build an ecosystem that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship, and to drive prosperity in Ontario.
  3. We’re all in danger of stagnating if we don’t pay close attention—and fast.

Out of Techtoberfest’s 15 breakout sessions, only two were facilitated by women.

Out of a total of 19 companies that pitched, only one team had women on the stage. One.

I sat in one of those breakout sessions, titled “Y Entrepreneurship,” and while it certainly intended to be a take on the Y generation, it could have been more representative of the gender in the audience. Besides my colleague and myself, the only other women I saw in the room were part of the hard-working team thatactually work for Communitech to make these events happen.

One of the facilitators asked the audience to participate in the conversation regarding “Why entrepreneurship?”—and he encouraged us all to participate. He asked about six audience members (who he all knew by name) why they were drawn to entrepreneurship. Those six people were all male, all (seemingly) in their 20s and all Caucasian. All of the panellists were also Caucasian and male. I took the opportunity to share an observation.

Do you see the danger?

The point I made to our facilitator was thus: literature exists ad naseam stating that businesses that have women in roles of leadership perform better. They have more longevity and they realize more financial success. Whether we’re talking about entrepreneurs, the whole startup ecosystem in Ontario or each one of us as individuals, the threat is the same. When you don’t have the diversity of views and experience that come from people of different ages, different races and different genders, you’re living in that echo chamber of “Aren’t we great? Aren’t we great? Aren’t we great?.” You may be great, but without a broader scope of input and ideas, you’re about to stagnate. Thankfully, there were a lot of nodding heads in the room in support of this discussion.

There are definitely two parts to this. I tweeted my observation about the lack of women represented, and author, speaker and columnist Julia Moulden and I had a great dialogue online about the need for women to be invited into the discussion, but also about how many women don’t ask to participate or don’t say “yes” to opportunities to speak.

From that, we’ve started a new hashtag campaign. It’s time for women to stop wondering if they have something important to say or share. It’s time for them to take the mic and #BeAYesWoman.

This experience is certainly not limited to the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I see it in Toronto and, quite literally, in every startup community—both online and in real life. The startup community needs to include more women as speakers, it needs to draw more women into the entrepreneurship fold and it needs more women as leaders in their businesses if they want to succeed.

If there is anyone who can realize this, it’s the community of people I’ve met at our fellow Regional Innovation Centres and universities, and in our extended startup communities. We’re the ones changing things because we’re talking about it, we’re calling it out and we’re reaching out to do something about it, too. But this will not change through and by women alone. And it shouldn’t—because that would just be an echo chamber of a different kind.

We need everyone involved in this conversation. Everyone calling for change. Everyone striving for something more for each and every Ontarian.

Tips from the Social Media Idol that can help build your business online

Click to read my blog for TELUS Talks Business on how small businesses can use social media to grow their businesses…

What will it take?

Last night, Stratford’s Avonova group hosted a panel discussing “Doing Tech in Stratford: Why or Why not?” The guest panelists spoke to the merits and challenges of establishing a technology business or career in Stratford, Ontario versus other centres like Kitchener-Waterloo, London or Toronto.

Our panelists were:

  • Gary Wreford, VP, Central Processing Technology, Scotiabank, heads the bank’s worldwide IT services from Stratford.
  • Tim Ellis, Chief Operating Officer of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, a world-renowned, award-winning centre for cultivation of technology entrepreneurship, and
  • Jason Clarke, a Web and Social Media Content Creator (videographer) for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and recent émigré from London, Ontario where he founded the Short Film Showcase.

Moderated by yours truly, our panelists brought their very diverse perspectives to the conversation, yet overwhelmingly they agreed on the following most salient points:


  • Strength of our brand: Stratford’s brand is very strong and evokes awareness of creativity, culture and arts. This distinguishes the city from other centres (i.e. K-W is noted for being a high tech hub and London is noted for its impact on the Life Sciences).
  • Creative & Content: Stratford is in a unique position to highlight its talent base and its ability to generate world-renowned content. We should focus on what makes us different from other centres and not try to duplicate what’s going on elsewhere.
  • University of Waterloo Stratford Campus and the Stratford Institute: the presence of these two institutions fares incredibly well for Stratford, bringing a global focus to our city and shoring up our image as a world-class city where anything is possible.
  • Relationships: Stratford’s champions range from our Governor-General, corporate leaders (OpenText, RIM), and provincial and federal political representatives. Those relationships are not only based on goodwill, but on well versed strategic planning and investment in ideas that will put us on the global stage in yet another realm.
  • History: We have a history of being innovative; the Stratford Shakespeare Festival started in a tent…and grew. The same is expected of our push to be considered one of Canada’s premier digital media hubs for innovation and entrepreneurialism.
  • Leadership: Our municipal leadership is responsible for putting Stratford in the enviable position that it is in currently. Our ability to present smart leadership to our closest communities and the world at large will continue to bring opportunities to the city.
  • Our Digital Renaissance and Infrastructure: We have the technology in place to support new businesses; that’s the easy part. Pushing forward on our bid for the world’s most Intelligent Community continues to put Stratford on the global map and reinforces our commitment to the ideals of what constitutes an intelligent city.


  • Attracting and Keeping Talent: Stratford needs to find a way to keep the 25-35 year old demographic here, rather than watching the brain drain to our larger centres. Providing life experiences (“there’s nothing to do”) and social outlets is paramount here.
  • Ambassadors: “Stratford is a friendly town, but it’s hard to make a friend.” Finding ways to connect new residents to the city life and enable social connections is essential to ensuring that new residents don’t feel ostracized and isolated.
  • Incubator Centre: creation of an Incubator Centre will support entrepreneurs, instill loyalty and set the foundation for future innovation and business opportunities that stay here in Stratford.

Many of our audience members shared their stories as to why they chose Stratford and what has kept them here, growing their businesses and establishing family roots here. The clear message from last night was that our success will come from looking at the city experience holistically. Providing support and opportunities for businesses directly related to technology, as well as providing outlets for socializing and community engagement will take a concerted effort. Achieving this state will come from the collaborative effort of all parts of our city, and not just city leaders.

Our sincerest thanks to Gary, Tim and Jason, for sharing their perspectives and ideas with our audience. 

Like Finds Like

On Monday, September 19, 2001, I attended The Marketplace Conference hosted by the Small Business Community Network at The Museum in Kitchener, Ontario. I was participating as an audience member, but I was also vying for the title of Social Media Idol. During the competition segment of the day, all contestants were asked one question and the question that came to me was “how has social media impacted your every day?”

Although I express myself easily on Twitter in those 140 character limits, to share just what kind of impact Twitter has had on my life, I want to take the time here to explain just how important this medium is to me. So, to paraphrase my own answer (somewhat), I share this…

Social media, Twitter especially, has had a profound impact on my life. I don’t use that word lightly. It has been tangible, positive and hugely influential, on both a personal and a professional level.

When my family and I first moved to Stratford, Ontario, I tried many of the traditional routes to engage more in the community. I joined a book club, a writing circle, participated in photography classes at the Gallery Stratford, joined political groups, invited couples over for dinner; but ingratiating ourselves into our new community was a slow and not very successful process. Stratford’s a small town in many ways and it seemed that everybody had enough friends already. I was flummoxed. I mean, my husband and I are nice people; we’re pretty engaging and have a wide range of interests. Surely people would want to make the time to get to know us better? It was hard not to take it personally.

Slowly, very slowly, our social circle did grow, and some of our friends from those early years have grown into being good friends to us still, but it wasn’t until I started to engage heavily in Twitter did mine and my family’s whole experience in Stratford change, dramatically.

Feeling passionate about the city we adopted as our hometown, I was eager to share all of the amazing things happening in the city with a greater audience, so I tweeted and retweeted everything and anything to do with Stratford, and I did it a lot. After a few months, I received one of my first #FollowFriday recommendations from a London, Ontario local called @late2game. It resonated so deeply with me that I remember it almost word for word: “If you want to know anything about Stratford, you should follow @karensd”.

Wow! I was SO honoured! I realized just then how powerful Twitter was for me. I was influencing people in London and my online reputation was growing.

My relationships in Stratford were growing and changing, almost exponentially too. I was meeting people from right across the city and the county that were interested in and moved by the same things I was; foodies, arts and culture, activism, politics, community building and of course, social media. The people that I call friends now I would not have been able to know on such an intimate level had it not been for Twitter opening up the avenues of dialogue and giving us the opportunity to find our “likeness” and to get to know one another better. Neither the Ignite Stratford or Social Media Breakfast Stratford events would be anywhere near as successful as they have been had it not been for Twitter and it the outreach that it enables.

At the same time, my community was also growing in Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph. I was learning about events like Ignite Waterloo and being introduced to people that I would never have known of otherwise. Facebook was still rather insular a few years ago, not nearly as open as it is now with the advent of Fan Pages and Events being so well integrated into calendars and news streams. Twitter was my conduit to these amazing people that were doing things I was interested in and who were creating them, actually making them happen.


I’ve been calling Twitter “the warmest handshake you’ll ever experience”. It’s a reference to my old sales days, when you’re looking for a “warm referral”; someone that knows you, likes you and is willing to introduce you to another potential customer.

I realized the power of Twitter when I attended that first Ignite Waterloo event. I was early and planted myself in the seats at The Museum and started tweeting. The organizers had one of the first Twitter walls I had seen up to that point, so when I tweeted that I was excited for the night to begin, a few moments later, I heard someone say out loud, “Ya, me too Karen!” I turned to see this guy that looked familiar to me; he smiled broadly and that’s when I met one of my favourite KW tweeps IRL (in real life), @renjie. We chatted for a while that night, about the event and the speakers. At the end of the evening, we shook hands and our engagement on Twitter continued.

A few weeks later, I was in KW again to attend a SIG hosted event at The Seagram Museum in support of Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love. It was of little surprise to me that @renjie was one of the organizers. We DM’d to find one another in a room of hundreds, and as we walked towards one another, we naturally greeted each other with a hug. I tell this story often to share how in no time at all, Renjie Butalid went from being this figure on Twitter to being someone I considered a friend. We could not have come from more diverse backgrounds, communities and environments, but through Twitter, I met this someone that I shared a huge amount of energy and “likeness” with.


On Thursday, September 15, 2011, I spent the day at the first 140 Character Conference in Canada held at The Tannery in Kitchener. Created by Jeff Pulver, the conference is described as:

“The #140conf events provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.”

A dedicated team of volunteers in Kitchener worked for months to bring this conference to fruition, and one only has to read through the #140ConfOnt hashtag stream on twitter to realize the effect that the speakers had on the audience.

Most of the people that spoke that day were sharing their stories of how Twitter has impacted their lives. Some of them has us in tears, like Heather Hamilton who spoke of how her twitter community rallied to raise $41,000, blowing pas the $25,000 goal to help build a room at York Central Hospital in honour of her son Zack, whom she lost earlier this year. Jodi Sonoda showed true bravery in being vulnerable by sharing how she turned to her Twitter community in times of great despair, now calling Twitter “her place to fall in case I fall again”. Or Matt Scobel, who spoke of bringing his love of marketing, technology and doing something together under Project Macfrica, giving new life to used Macs and creating computer labs in Africa.

I spent the entire day of the #140ConfOnt conversing in real life with some of the most amazing people that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. These are people, that if it hadn’t been for Twitter, I never would’ve met otherwise, and because of Twitter, I’m able to learn more about and help support them and their passions. Whether we met at events organized and announced on Twitter, or they recognized me at the #IronChefUptown events held at Nick & Nat’s Uptown21, or at the #SMBWR breakfasts, or the Slow Food Perth County market, these are the kinds of people that I want to know. We’re all amazingly diverse, but fundamentally, these are the kind of people that I need in my life to help me feel fulfilled, engaged and connected. They are passionate, active visionaries and they inspire me each and every single day.

Twitter has also shown me, quite clearly, where my real passion and “feed my soul work” is. It has shown me where I need to make changes in my professional life and it’s this online community that reinforces for me that where I’m heading is where I’m meant to be. It’s where I’m most passionate and most compelled. That realization is priceless, in anyone’s development and growth. This community has given me unfiltered feedback on companies and organizations that I’ve encountered, or have considered working with or for. They’ve provided me feedback on my profiles and online presence, without expecting anything back. They do, because they’re of that ilk.

It was while chatting with my friend @TheKarlTopia at dinner the other night (after winning Social Media Idol at the Marketplace Conference and who by the way, I met up with only because I saw his tweet that he was eating at The Bauer Kitchen and I was only a few blocks away), that I shared with him how much I love Twitter because it lets all of us, every single one of the users of this amazing outlet, find our chosen kin. “Like finds like,” I said.

I can only hope that I bring some of the same energy, knowledge, experience and authenticity to those that I consider my community, and although I couldn’t possibly name all of you here, if I follow you or list you, it’s because I consider you an essential part of my growth, development, realization and life experience.

Thank you, Twitter. Thank you, all…

Don’t Feed The Trolls

 Don’t try to win over haters. You’re not the Jackass Whisperer. ~Scott Stratten, @unmarketing

June 11, 2011, I spent a full day with some of the best of the best of London, Ontario at Podcamp London 11 held at The Research Park. For those of you that don’t know, a Podcamp is described as:

… an open community for new and social media enthusiasts and professionals including bloggers, podcasters, social networkers, and anyone curious about new media to share and learn.

Some of the folks that were running the event & attending, I have been twitter friends with for a while, and that day I met a number of other tweeple that I have been following for a while, but hadn’t yet had a chance to meet IRL. This was my first Podcamp and I had heard such great things from others that I wanted to ensure that I took the day to fully participate and I was not disappointed; well, mostly…

I loved learning about Podcasting 101 from @billdeys, watching the unbot in action, and I fully agree with @jclarkey about how you can Schedule for Good using Twitter (sorry @unmarketing, but there is a way to be authentic and efficient and effective). The talks were diverse, some fully polished, some not so, but the speakers that I listened to were earnest and open to sharing their knowledge and points of view.

And then, the trolls reared their ugly heads.

A group of four white, privileged, bigoted, misogynistic boys that called themselves “podcasters” (I guess  you can call yourself a podcaster when you have 11 followers…?) started their “radio show” of sorts, which was really just an excuse to showcase just how white, privileged, bigoted and misogynistic they were. They were no Daniel Tosh, who brilliantly touches and crosses those touchy lines. They weren’t irreverent, funny, smart or entertaining. They were just…trolls. And I for one, wasn’t going to sit in that environment and just let them spout their racism and go on about their “rape fantasy” without being held accountable, so I tweeted how boring they were, how untalented and then of course, these particular trolls showed themselves for what they really are…cowards and insecure little bullies.

One thing I’ve written about previously is how when you’re engaging in social media, you have to accept that you don’t own your message. As soon as you hit Enter or Upload, as soon as you publish your content, in whichever medium you choose, it’s your audience that owns that content and they can do whatever they want with it. Mashup, malign, masticate, once it’s out there, it’s out there.

These boys couldn’t handle the criticism or the gift of honest feedback, so of course, the trolls that they are, they started to attack me, personally. I’m a “stupid bitch”, telling me to “leave” because they just wanted to circle jerk with their white, privileged, young audience and not be held accountable.

Not a chance little men. You don’t get to tell me what to do, nor do you get to control how this audience member responds to your content.  You’ve obviously not gotten the point of social media.

Later, during the social part of the evening, I stopped one of the little trolls and looked him in the face and told him that he wasn’t allowed to call me a bitch or use me for fodder for his base attempt at holding an audience unless he had the balls to look me in the face and call me a bitch to my face.  Guess what? He couldn’t; well, not until he was backed up by two of his friends. He was dumbstruck, speechless and pathetically “out of his league” (as was tweeted by @late2game), as most bullies are. The best he could muster was that I was “fat”. He may have gone on and called me other things in the long email he sent me the next day, but I decided to listen to @jonpilon, as he was the one that reminded me to “Not Feed The Trolls” and delete that email without reading it. They’d already had enough of my energy.

The reason that I’m blogging about this experience now almost two months later is because I’ve experienced a few episodes in the last few weeks which has led me to realize that the world is FULL of trolls. Frauds, bullies, liars, gossips, toppers, energy vampires, whatever you call them, they’re everywhere. At work, in friendships, in your social, in your home and most dangerously, in yourself.

I’m strong enough to admit that I’ve been a troll and I still, some days, have troll tendencies. I judge, I  mock, I gossip, I bully. I won’t put up with others’ trollish behaviour, so why is it acceptable when it comes from within me?

Well, of course, it’s not.

What I’m trying to do though is be more aware of when I’m acting like a troll myself and I’m actively working to stop feeding any trolls that I encounter.

So, especially after just completing a 21 day cleanse, here’s to feeding that better part of my soul and my community, more presently and more mindfully.


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