SMS Storytelling

How often do you find yourself working on a problem or a project that applies to the third world? In early June, Capulet had the opportunity to attend Mobile for Social Change, a two-day conference in Toronto at the MaRS Centre for Innovation. It was part of Net Change Week 2011, a weeklong conference for non-profits and tech enthusiasts.

We're hoping to write more about what we learned at this conference throughout the summer months. For now, we're going to focus on what was an obvious source of inspiration -- the Mobile for Social Change component which featured some of the mobile technology projects going on in developing countries.

Here in North America popular mobile devices include the iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry. Apps developed for these devices are designed to help us run our lives more efficiently. Often, they’re meant for our entertainment and enjoyment.

But most of the world doesn't use smart phones. Instead, feature phones -- simple flip phones that use SMS (short message service) instead of data plans -- are what people in developing countries are using to communicate with one another. The device itself is inexpensive and users can pay as they go, topping up their minutes when they need them. This has developers looking at ways for communities to connect with each other via SMS. The needs of a farmer using a mobile device in Guatemala are going to be radically different than the needs of a marketing professional with a data plan in Vancouver. Developers are exploring how that farmer can receive daily market prices via SMS, or get the weather forecast for the next week.

An extraordinary example presented at Mobile for Social Change was a story about a Japanese medical aid worker who used SMS to log her daily activities and to keep a diary during the Japanese earthquake crisis. She sent messages to her blog via SMS using her Nokia feature phone. The blog itself lacks the bells and whistles of an interactive website, but the writing and quality of storytelling is remarkable.

In Brazil, a global project called Wikimapa is taking off in Rio de Janaero. Citizens are using SMS to log and send information about unmapped roads and bottom-up infrastructure. Organizers collecting this data are then building maps with it. People living in homes previously without an address can now locate themselves on a wikimap. In turn, the civic government can now account for families and households. This data informs civic policy, laws and emergency needs. And all of it is being done without data plans.

If you're interested in these projects and mobile technology developments taking place in countries like Brazil, you can follow sites like Mobile Without Borders, 49 Pixels and -- all offer examples of online communities interested in programs, wikis and campaigns that leverage citizen engagement in some of the poorest countries on the planet.

Facebook, Now More Page-Friendly Than Ever

Last month Facebook introduced some big changes for fan pages. If you manage your organizations’ Facebook page then this is essential reading! Find out what’s new and learn how the fan page upgrade can help make Facebook marketing more effective for your organization. Here’s our rundown of the top three changes: 1. I’m a Fan Page, Hallelujah! Here’s a fantastic upgrade to fan pages. You can now log in to Facebook and interact with other pages as your brand, not an individual. Your brand can follow other pages, comment on their walls and interact in the same way individuals do on profile pages. Note that this functionality only works on other pages, not on personal profiles. And that’s a good thing. Who wants Coke or Walmart leaving posts on their personal Facebook profile?

2. Where the Heck are My Tabs!? The content in the tabs that used to line the top of your fan page hasn’t gone away, it’s just less prominently featured below your profile picture on the left side of your page. Don’t worry, even though tabs have disappeared, you can still access tab functionality, like setting a custom landing page as your Facebook “home” page.

A great example of this is the World Wildlife Fund fan page. It features an online giving catalogue and makes it easy for users to donate through a custom-built HTML tab, within Facebook. What a great way to embed calls to action from your website inside Facebook! The Body Shop also extends website functionality and branding into Facebook. We have iFrames to thank for this custom approach. Originally, developers depended on FBML when it came to custom tabs and functions. Now, anyone can place a page within a Facebook page, all thanks to iFrames.

3. Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words Which is why photos are far more prominent in the new fan page layout. Just like on a personal profile, fan page admins can control which photos appear at the top of their fan page. We like how these prominent photos add a personal touch, encourage users to browse through albums, and generally makes a page more interesting and interactive.

We think all of these are positive changes and encourage you to get your hands dirty with new fan page capabilities.

Who Clicks Your Shortened URLs?

About 18 months ago, I did a pretty unscientific analysis on Mashable regarding the clickthrough rate for Twitter accounts. That is, when you share a link on Twitter, how many of your followers click it? I arrived at a clickthrough rate (CTR) of 1.7%. Looking at a couple of other sources, that seems quite accurate. It's safe, I think, to estimate a CTR of 1% to 2% for Twitter for a small to medium Twitter account (say, up to 10,000 followers).

It's worth considering Anil Dash's great analysis of being on the famed (and now deprecated, I think) Suggested Users list. As he notes, he acquired hundreds of thousands of new followers, but "being on Twitter's suggested user list makes no appreciable difference in the amount of retweets, replies, or clicks that I get."

As with all forms of marketing, quality of audience matters far more than quantity.

That's all a bit of a long introduction to this observation, which reminded me of a phenomenon on Twitter and other corners of the social web.

Earlier this week, I had a (quite unremarkable) tweet retweeted a lot.

As you can see from this page for the shortened link, it was clicked 3872 times. I'd never actually checked out the top referrers for this page--that is, where people were when they actually clicked the link:


As a second data point, here's a recent tweeted link that was clicked about a thousand times.

So, that means that 52% of the clicks came from that first big category, and 38% of traffic comes from the Twitter site. It's too bad that can't further unravel that first category, eh? How much comes from HootSuite, how much from SMS, how much from chat and so forth.

In our workshops and talks I give, I often have to explain to people that they should think of Twitter and Facebook as services or utilities, as opposed to websites. As we can see here, Twitter is water that flows from a lot of different taps, not just from

A Facebook Page Isn’t Always the Answer

This post, written by Julie, first appeared as a guest post on Sage's Business Management Blog: “My boss says we need a Facebook page.”

As social media strategists we hear that a lot. Our response is often, “why?” Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean a Facebook page is the right choice for your business. Here are a few questions to ponder before diving head first into your corporate Facebook account.

Are your customers on Facebook? With 500 million people on Facebook, it’s likely your customers have Facebook accounts. But, are they using Facebook for business or as a personal networking tool? If you’re a very technical B2B business–maybe you sell circuit boards for solar panels–then it probably makes more sense to build a community in the more corporate LinkedIn.

Do you have internal resources for managing your Facebook page? This is a serious consideration and one that often gets overlooked. For Facebook to work as an engagement tool, you’ll need to create and run contests, offer giveaways, write useful articles and point fans to quality content elsewhere on the web. These marketing activities take time and effort. If no one in your organization takes ownership of the project, your Facebook page won’t succeed.

Is Facebook a PR liability? A corporate Facebook page provides the perfect public platform for people to vent their frustrations with your organization. If your business regularly endures public criticism–say you’re a sports team, an airline or an oil and gas company–then be aware that Facebook may create a PR burden for organization.

Will Facebook (and other social media channels) take away from current marketing activities? Social media can be a fruitful addition to your existing marketing programs, but shouldn’t come before old-school marketing activities that are working well. Time and again we see email marketing results out-perform Facebook and Twitter when it comes to sales and conversions. Though it can be tempting, don’t abandon existing programs for the shiny new bobble.

Is it imperative to get Facebook fans to your website? Converting fans to customers is easier said than done. One reason is because once people are in Facebook, then tend to stay there. They’re disinclined to click a link to your website that takes them out of Facebook. So, if you can’t replicate your website’s functionality in Facebook with a Facebook app–a widget that registers fans for your workshop, or enables them to sign a petition or buy products directly from your Facebook page–you may be disappointed by the number of fans that actually make it over to your corporate website.

There are hundreds of examples of successful Facebook pages that actively engage fans and reflect positively on an organization’s brand. Coca-Cola and Unicef, for example. But, for every success there are thousands of flops. Before you click “Create a Page”, be sure you have a clear understanding of how Facebook will complement your marketing goals and who in your organization will “tend the garden”.

Vancouver Bloggers Hit the Road with the BC Healthy Living Alliance

We recently helped to create an online marketing plan for the BC Healthy Living Alliance, an organization that focuses on British Columbians' health. One of their goals is to encourage politicians and citizens to recognize how social determinants affect the health of individuals and communities as a whole. With the BC provincial election coming up, the BCHLA is encouraging British Columbians to Live Healthy, Vote Healthy: voting for a commitment to improve conditions that impact our health:

Neighbourhoods need certain things to be in place in order for residents to live healthy. In particular, we need safe streets to walk or bike on, parks to play in, affordable recreation, and local stores stocked with affordable veggies and fruits.  Access to affordable housing, healthy food, a livable wage, education, early childhood education and recreational opportunities influence our physical and mental health as well as life expectancy.

One of the suggestions in our marketing plan was a "Blogger Walk". We thought it would be a fun way for the BCHLA to meet some of Vancouver's online influencers and to share information with them about how the neighbourhoods we live in affect our health. We were impressed with how they ran with the idea!

"The Politics of a Healthy Neighbourhood - A Media Walk" took place on April 28. The BCHLA and about 10 local bloggers met over coffee for a brief overview of factors that make a difference to the health of a neighborhood. Then we hit the street to see it all in action.

Rita Koutsodimos, Communications Manager of the BC Healthy Living Alliance led us through the quick guided jaunt of the Fairview area of Vancouver.

The walk was enlightening as there were many aspects of a neighbourhood--from green space to curb placement and opportunities for early childhood education--that we hadn't considered would influence health outcomes. Apparently, the bloggers were similarly inspired.

This fun little Google Map shows the route we followed.

Want to rate your neighbourhood? Check out this nifty rate-your-neighbourhood survey the BCHLA is running.