Hello! (An Update)

18 April 2012

I’ve spent today copying + pasting some of my previous blog posts for MatrixMediaFX to this site, which has been languishing since September and my life got a little more than carried away with the commitments of writing a thesis and TAing upper year English courses. Re-reading some of my older work reminded me just how much fun writing (not just reading!) blogs can be and I sincerely intend to keep this blog active over the coming months.

In case you’re wondering what has become of me, as of right now I’m on the job hunt! I’ve had a few promising interviews in the last couple of weeks, one of which led to me an exciting internship with the Peel Children and Youth Initiative, a non-profit based out of Mississauga. It’s a short-term, part-time volunteer commitment and I’m very excited to be on board. I’ve given a number of presentations to non-profit organizations over the last year or so on the virtues of social media and it will be lovely to put theory into practice. I’m looking forward to sharing more about my experiences on this blog as things develop. At the moment, I’m strategizing ways PCYI can increase their reach using social media, especially to promote the Enrolled By 6 program. As a professional student and lover of all things educational, I’m obviously stoked to be part of an initiative to increase the accessibility of post-secondary education to all children!

In closing, I’d like to plug an interesting course I hope to be taking in the next few months at the University of Waterloo. Social Media for Business Performance is a professional development course taught by Dr. Peter Carr. It’s much more than a marketing/branding course (which is my area of expertise) — rather, it seeks to give participants the knowledge and skills needed to exploit social media tools to improve the performance of their organizations. If you’re interested in learning more about what social media can do to improve the day-to-day functioning of your business, I suggest you check out the course website — and maybe I’ll meet you in the [virtual] classroom!

This post was originally published to MatrixMediaFX on August 20, 2010.

Earlier this year, a mere two months ago in fact, I graduated from university with an honours degree in English and history.

And so did thousands of other 22-year-olds all across Canada.

To say my outlook on the job market was bleak would be an understatement. Society is still in the throes of a global recession and unemployment is a reality for eight percent of the Canadian population. Standing out from the crowd of other recent grads would be a mighty feat, but common sense and guidance counsellors have always told me that in order to get ahead in the job market, you need to have the right skills set to offer potential employers.

I doubt anyone would be shocked to hear me say that the Internet is officially a fixture in our modern world, so it should come as no surprise to hear me say that my generation, Generation Y, should be honing a very specific set of skills to meet the demand for an increasingly digital world of work. We have an advantage in that, for many of us, there has never been a world without the World Wide Web at our fingertips – but digital literacy is so much more than knowing how to run a Google search.

Digital literacy is code. Digital literacy is design. Digital literacy is critical thinking.

Digital literacy is original content and collaborative creation.

Digital literacy is knowing where the real world and the digital world meet, and being able to traverse the border between them with the greatest of ease.

But how is someone like me, a university student in a non-digitized field of study, supposed to keep up with the standards of a tech savvy society if none of the necessary training factors into my program’s curriculum?

I think, in the long run, the solution is to alter traditional modes of learning to reflect the shift from pen and paper to Twitter and Wikis. This will, of course, take time – probably a lot of time – to figure out. The content of curriculum for university-level programs need not change – social media doesn’t make Shakespeare or the Pythagorean Theorem obsolete – but the methods of teaching and learning information will need to adapt to the prevailing digital culture.

And what about life after school? The old adage is experience makes the best teacher, and every inexperienced job seeker knows experience is what employers are looking for. Clearly learning and work experience ought to go hand-in-hand. Another option I propose universities consider (and I single out universities because most college programs seem to have figured this out years ago) is an exploration of mentorships and/or work opportunities for students.

I will use my own experience this summer as a case study for my argument. In my second year of university I flirted with the idea of pursuing a career in PR after graduation, and in my quest for more information on the field, I happened across a new online phenomenon: social media. It had probably been around for at least a little while, but it was really gaining momentum in 2008 and I was completely absorbed by its possibilities. Fast forward two years and I find myself accepting a graduate fellowship to study online communities and social media, in particular blogging. At this point, I have had no formal training in social media, digital literacy, or tech research of any kind. I had never cited Wikipedia in an essay for any of my English courses, but I had also never considered writing and essay about Wikipedia, either.

I took a chance and tried a little social media networking of my own to help me find a summer job that would both pay the bills and give me some insight (I hoped) into the world of post-graduate academia that was looming somewhere in my not-so-distant future. I tweeted a professor I knew shared some of my research interests and hoped for the best.

The best turned out to be a summer internship that allowed me not only the opportunity to learn how to conduct research on digital culture, but one that also immersed me completely in the digital workplace. I learned how to use Google properly. I learned how to read information posted online with a more critical eye. I also learned how the Internet can make research more efficient, and why Twitter exists – a question my non-social media junkie friends ask me all the time. At the moment, I suppose I’m still in the minority in terms of adopters of social media and individuals interested in digital culture – at least within my personal network. But my research this summer also revealed to me that this is changing, and quickly, and if my friends and I want to be employable in the future, we need to keep up with what is now known as the Social Media Revolution.

My career aspirations are academic at the moment, so it was an added bonus that the person in charge of my crash course in digital media is a noted researcher in the field. The skills I acquired working under Sidneyeve Matrix will continue to serve me in any number of jobs as the workplace as a whole becomes increasingly digitized, but working with someone in my field of interest, in an occupation that appeals to me, has proven to be even more valuable. This summer I was given my dream job: work and research experience in a field of study I care about, but the cherry on top was my boss – a living example of where my interests can potentially take me.

I’m one of the lucky ones, and I know that, but I think that should change. A more digital-friendly learning environment paired with mentoring opportunities for students is the way of the future. I sincerely hope universities take note, and soon, because the world isn’t waiting, and it needs a digitally savvy workforce now.

This post was originally published to MatrixMediaFX on August 13, 2010.

Marketers are spying on Internet users – or so the Wall Street Journal would have you believe. The recently launched “What They Know” series is dedicated to uncovering the truth about Internet-tracking technology and its implications for the privacy of all Internet users, which is currently estimated to be between 15 and 22 percent of the global population. But in an age where social media has officially overtaken pornography as the #1 activity on the web, is it really any surprise that online marketers are seeking new ways to make advertising more social – and as such, more personal?

In theory, targeted advertising should be a win-win situation for both the marketer and the consumer. Instead of experiencing a barrage of promotions for irrelevant products, the consumer’s exposure to advertising is tailored to his or her specific needs and interests. Likewise, a company’s investment in advertising is better utilized because promotions for products are guaranteed to reach a collective of the right consumers.

The complicating factor is, as always, privacy. How much access is too much access to your personal data?

Facebook, it would seem, is the poster child for privacy breaches. In 2007 the social networking site came under fire after it was revealed that its Beacon ad system was tracking users’ off-Facebook activities, with or without their consent. More recently, the introduction of  the “Like” button on third party siteswas cause for concern because it allows Facebook to assemble a vast amount of data about Internet users’ browsing habits.

Apple is now facing its own privacy controversy, having taken the data collection issue offline and into the very real world location tracking. Apple’s privacy policy states that Apple and its partners and licensees “may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location” of any Apple computer or device. This tracking is part of Apple’s new iAd advertising program, which delivers highly targeted mobile ads to Apple product users. While opting out of the iAd program is possible, it won’t decrease the number of mobile ads those users see – but it will decrease the relevancy of the advertising to that user’s personal interests.

The conundrum is clear: highly targeted, personalized advertising is attractive, but the trade-off appears to be your privacy on a silver platter. It’s a leap most consumers aren’t willing to make – yet.

In a TED Talk delivered in December of 2007, Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine, made a number of predictions about the subsequent 5,000 days in the development of the Internet, the next 13 years – or the period of time we as a wired society now inhabit. Looking specifically at the increasingly targeted nature of online and mobile advertising, it’s difficult not to make links between some of Kelly’s predictions and advertising models like Apple’s iAd. Kelly predicted that the Internet will become increasingly tied to things in reality, to the point that every person will be recognizable online based on their unique data. Tracking your clicks online and your location in the real world were steps in that direction, but let’s not forget about the recent introduction of facial tracking and recognition technology to serve targeted ads in Japan. Now it’s possible to tailor advertising based on a consumer’s appearance, not just their search history – but what kind of threat does this pose to privacy?

Well, if the Internet turns out the way Kelly thinks it will, privacy will be a moot issue. Kelly thinks total personalization in the new world will require total transparency. Why remember your phone number when you can Google it? Of course, the prospect of putting everything about yourself online is a daunting one, but Kelly thinks that if we want a smarter, more personalized, more ubiquitous web, we have to be open to having our data shared.

It would appear that online and mobile marketers are already on board, but what about their consumers? Only time will tell.

The future [of advertising] is friendly, and it’s waiting to meet you.

Viva Social Media!

18 April 2012

This is the third in a series of case-studies about local professionals using social media marketing and communications for their small and medium businesses. We’re interviewing some early adopters who are using free or low-cost tools to positively impact their bottom lines. It was originally published to MatrixMediaFX on June 18, 2010. 

If you ask Anthony Agostino, he would say social media should be an integral part of any successful business. Anthony is the President and CEO of Viva Productions, a television and video production company in Kingston, Ontario. Founded in 2004, the company specializes in video production for corporate, TV and online use. Anthony began using social media out of personal interest and now Viva Productions has an online presence that spans Facebook, Twitter, and of course, YouTube. “Networking is essential in any business,” says Anthony. “Over time I realized the value of how many people you can get in touch with using social media.”

For Anthony, the best part about social media is it allows small businesses to market themselves for free. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with former and potential clients and showcase the company’s work. Anthony says that Viva Production’s largest following can be found on Facebook, but YouTube is another fantastic asset. “We can put work out there and get people to see it.” YouTube has been a key networking tool for Anthony, who says he often meets people after they’ve seen his content online.

In the future, Anthony hopes Viva Productions will expand its online presence and link up with newcomers on the social media scene like FourSquare. “We’re always looking to expand, so the more exposure, the better.”

Anthony encourages other businesses to take the leap and start using social media immediately. “Do it,” he says, “First and foremost, any way you can brand yourself is critical, but if you can do it for free, why not? For me it’s a no brainer. This isn’t a trend; this is a new way to do business.”

You can learn more about Viva Productions by visiting their website, Facebook fan page, and by following Anthony on Twitter @vivaproductions.

Please note: The businesses profiled in this series are not our clients—they are local innovators and initiatives we admire and are learning from. Would you like us to profile how your business is using social media tools? Hope you’ll get in touch!

Interview by Alexandra Macgregor (@apvmacgregor)

This is the second in a series of case-studies about local professionals using social media marketing and communications for their small and medium businesses. We’re interviewing some early adopters who are using free or low-cost tools to positively impact their bottom lines. It was originally published to MatrixMediaFX on June 18, 2010. 

“Often people know what they want, but they call me when they can’t finish it.” This is how Sue Varty describes the service she provides through her online content writing business, Wordtree Consulting. Founded by Sue in 2006 as a part-time business, Wordtree is designed to help people finish online writing projects. In the beginning, Sue didn’t have a big marketing budget, but she did have eight years of private blogging experience, and after founding Wordtree she decided to go public with her blogging.

Sue considers herself a “Twitter blogger”, and micro-blogging has long been an important component of her social media strategy. When she first started Wordtree, Twitter allowed Sue to add her voice to industry conversations without a major time or financial commitment. Twitter also allows Wordtree to compete fairly with larger businesses, and Sue credits the micro-blogging service for its ability to communicate directly with her target market.

Twitter has also been a great referral service for Sue. “My Twitter followers are referrals,” says Sue, who once landed a client in California thanks to a re-tweet from a mutual follower. “I always ask people how they found me, and they always go back to Twitter.”

For Sue, the basic principle of business marketing is simple. “People do business with people they know, like, and trust, and social media allows that relationship to happen.”

When asked what kind of advice she might give to other small businesses starting to use social media, Sue emphasizes the importance of understanding your target market. “Keep an open mind and find out where your customers are,” she says. “If your target audience is on Facebook, go there.”

You can find out more about Wordtree Consulting by visiting their official website or by following Sue on Twitter @wordtree.

Please note: The businesses profiled in this series are not our clients—they are local innovators and initiatives we admire and are learning from. Would you like us to profile how your business is using social media tools? Hope you’ll get in touch!

Interview by Alexandra Macgregor (@apvmacgregor)

Running on Social Media

18 April 2012

This is the first in a series of case-studies about local professionals using social media marketing and communications for their small and medium businesses. We’re interviewing some early adopters who are using free or low-cost tools to positively impact their bottom lines. It was originally published to MatrixMediaFX on June 16, 2010.

James Young is the retail systems administrator and social media manager for Runners’ Choice, a running specialty store that provides technical running apparel to elite athletes and recreational runners in Kingston, Ontario. In its infancy, the Runners’ Choice social media strategy took the form of a website that posted updates about new products and running events in Kingston, but James has since expanded the store’s online presence to Twitter and Facebook.

Initially, James was skeptical about the marketing power of social media. “I sort of halfheartedly established a Facebook page for the store, and it wasn’t until Facebook sent me a snail mail, real life ‘Welcome to Facebook’ package with a voucher for free advertising that I really started to think, ‘This is probably a good idea and I could get on board with this.'”

James says that Facebook has shown the greatest results in terms of raising awareness about the store, and although he is unsure of how the store’s social media strategy will translate into bodies through the door, his outlook is optimistic. “Within about a week of having the Facebook page up we had over one hundred fans, so that’s pretty good.”

So far, Runners’ Choice has committed between forty and sixty hours and zero dollars to its social media strategy, although James would like to establish a formal budget in the future, saying, “Facebook ads are going to be critical in establishing ourselves in the Queen’s University student community. The demographic of the store is definitely older and I feel like we haven’t really tapped into the market at the university yet.”

For James, the greatest advantage of social media is that it levels the marketing playing field for small businesses. He points to Twitter as an example of social media that gives stores like Runners’ Choice an opportunity to stand out from the pack. “The thing I like about Twitter is that it forces you to be creative so you can fit as much pertinent information in 140 characters as possible. It’s fun to see bigger companies post their tweets, but I don’t like auto-posts. I find that lazy.” In addition to communicating a message about the Runners’ Choice brand, James thinks that social media has proven to be a valuable tool for keeping tabs on industry trends, suppliers, innovators, and competitors.

James has big plans for the future of Runners’ Choice. “Ideally I want to get to the point where all of our regular customers at the store are a part of at least one of our online networks. I want to make it so that the younger generation, people aged 18-25, who are hyper-engaged, are engaged with us.” Ultimately, however, his goal is to turn RunnersChoiceKingston.com into a sort of Gizmodo for running tech.

“I want to turn our site into a go-to blog for runners not just from Kingston, but nationally. Globally might be a little ambitious, but I want to be the go-to blog for people who are interested in running tech and gadgets.”

You can learn more about Runners’ Choice by visiting their website, Facebook fan page, and by following the store on Twitter @runnerschoice.

Please note: The businesses profiled in this series are not our clients—they are local innovators and initiatives we admire and are learning from. Would you like us to profile how your business is using social media tools? Hope you’ll get in touch!

Interview by Alexandra Macgregor (@apvmacgregor)

Wow, this blog has been seriously neglected. I blame my busy schedule! I’ll also admit that I’m still fairly uneasy about posting my ideas online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty confident person “in real life”, but nonetheless, blogging is intimidating.

Intimidation factor aside, I’d like to take a few minutes now to discuss some research and writing “best practices” that I’ve developed over the last six months since my first (and nearly last!) blog post. I wouldn’t accomplish anything without these tips and techniques and I hope you find them useful as well!

The Pomodoro Technique 
I’m sure you’ve heard of this one by now. The Pomodoro Technique, a.k.a. the Tomato Timer, is one of the most straight-forward strategies for getting sh!t done. Simply set a timer for twenty-five minutes, get to work, and when the timer goes off take a 5 minute break. At the end of your break, reset the timer for 25 minutes and repeat until you’ve reached your productivity goal for that particular work session. I find it’s best to get up and move around during my breaks. I work in a tiny, windowless office in my university’s library (fondly referred to by myself and friends as my “closet on the 8th floor”), which is great if you want to work distraction-free, but walking around the library for a few minutes every once and a while is critical for maintaining my sanity. I find I burn out after 4-5 hours of this cycle, but on especially good days I can sometimes manage a full day of research and writing. Try it and out and see what works best for you.

Forgive me if this idea seems like an obvious one, because for me it was not. At least not at first anyway. I’m one of those lucky people who made it through my undergraduate years without ever reviewing my notes before tests and exams, mainly because I didn’t keep very detailed notes in the first place. In grad school, however, that nonsense just doesn’t sit well, and I had to learn quickly that rigourous note-taking is an absolute must in order for me to succeed. This is my note-taking routine:

– read and highlight/underline key ideas and phrases
– re-read and identify 3-4 key ideas
– summarize these 3-4 key ideas, in full-sentences, in own words  (especially useful when writing lit reviews – you can just plug your notes into your review and modify as necessary)
– re-read your notes to make sure they articulate the most important ideas correctly

Yes, it takes awhile to get the hang of, and sometimes you end up taking detailed notes on something you ultimately won’t end up using in your research project at all, but it certainly helps affirm comprehension. I’ve also found that I’m now accumulating a handy custom cultural theory reader that I’ll likely refer to for years to come.

Manageable Goals & Deadlines
Again, this may sound obvious, but as the sticky note on my computer monitor reminds me, a goal without a deadline is just a dream. I’m an expert planner — I’ve carried a compulsively updated daytimer since the first grade — but deadlines have never been my strong suit given that I’m also an expert procrastinator. The current goal I’m working on is to increase my thesis word count by 3000 words by Monday, July 25th. That may not sound like a difficult task to some, but for me it’s positively daunting. Three thousand words is a mouthful to say, let alone to write, especially when 3000 words constitutes only slightly more than 10% of the overall project (my thesis needs to be around 25,000 words in length). That’s why I can’t stress manageable goals and deadlines enough. For me, a manageable deadline is two weeks from yesterday and every day I’ve committed myself to producing at least 500 words per day, 5 days a week (I take two days off a week — more on this in a minute). This goal should ultimately produce too many words rather than too few and I often find the paring down process easier than the initial writing process.  (Knock on wood!) For some people, 100 words per day may be a more manageable goal, and I may end up modifying my goal as the next two weeks press on. The bottom line is I have a concrete goal in mind (+3000 words), with a deadline (July 25th), and I’ve figured out a manageable way to reach it (500 words/day x 10 work days).

Take Breaks and Reward Yourself
I’ve already stressed the importance of taking short breaks during long periods of concentrated research and writing, but it’s also important to take longer breaks as well. I’ve experimented with what seems like a million different work weeks, starting with the tried and true 40 hour work week. That didn’t last and I found myself less productive and more discouraged in terms of my thesis progress. I’ve found the greatest success (in terms of productivity and mental well-being) working on my thesis for 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week, taking two days off to relax my brain and enjoy the beautiful summer weather and the company of my friends and a pile of good novels. My two days off aren’t necessarily always consecutive — in fact, I find it really hard to return to work after two days off, so I try to avoid doing this — but they are always completely detached from my thesis. Non-academics may not appreciate how hard writing a thesis is, but trust me, it’s tough and I wouldn’t survive without taking a break now and then.  I’ve found it’s also important to reinforce productivity whenever possible. I’m a poor student, so my personal rewards often take the form of a day trip to Toronto to visit friends, or an afternoon with Netflix, but it works for me. What doesn’t work for me, I’ve found, is rewarding myself prematurely. I’ve had to learn the hard way how to be really, really hard on myself in terms of earning rewards. As of yet, I don’t have any concrete strategies for how to go about doing this, but I’m working on it. Perhaps I’ll have something to report in another blog post.

I’ve found that, in order to feel successful at the end of a work day, I need to do more than log 4-5 hours of research and writing for my thesis, so I usually pair a half-day of thesis work with a half-day of some other kind of productive work. In my case, this usually means TA or RA work. Not only does this kind of work reinforce productivity while giving my brain a break from my own research, but it also constitutes professional training. Assisting more established academics with their research has been invaluable for shaping my own research practices, plus it’s gone a long way to preparing me for what my ultimate career goal (media studies expert — perhaps professor) might look and feel like. It’s often easy to lose sight of one’s long-term aspirations, but I’m fortunate in that my part-time jobs force me to stare my long-term goal in the face every single day, and I think it’s making me a better academic as a result. As I’ve written before, mentorships of any kind are great, but I find they’re especially critical in “solitary” fields like academia. If you’re a grad student and you’re looking for a part-time job to complement your research project, look first for a job within the university. Not only will your employer be far more understanding of the unique conditions of writing a thesis, but your interaction with someone more established in your field of interest will only further your own research.

To conclude, these are just a few strategies I’ve been toying with for the last little while. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments — I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my productivity. Finally, I’d like to leave you with a very short round-up of excellent blogs that deal with the topic of academic writing. They’ve all really helped me stay focused and I encourage you to check them out for yourself. Enjoy!

The Thesis Whisperer
To Do: Dissertation
Study Hacks 

P.S. This blog post is dedicated to Michael Carens-Nedelsky for chirping me about my lack of blog posts. Thank you. It worked.

My name is Alexandra and I am a 23-year-old cultural studies graduate student working in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. I am currently working my Master’s thesis, tentatively titled “The Commodification of Fame in the Digital Age: An Investigation of the Consumer Capitalist Underpinnings of Digital Celebrity”. My thesis isn’t due until December 2011, so while I doubt the general concepts I’m interested in researching will change, I’m absolutely positive the title will.

My primary research interests are Internet privacy, celebrity culture in the digital age, and social media. In writing my thesis, I intend to investigate the ways in which the concept of “celebrity” has been altered by Web 2.0, and in particular by the social media tools of blogging and micro-blogging. I have chosen to focus on how fame is commodified in the digital age because much of my research will be informed by two concepts which are uniquely manifest in social media: the first is the idea of “self-branding”, in which individuals create public personae in an attempt to “sell themselves” and acquire a following; and the second, which is closely tied to “self-branding”, is the idea of friending/following/subscribing to, or “buying into” another individual’s online persona, which can be both a public or private affirmation of another individual’s position as a celebrity figure.

The motivation behind my research is to better understand how individuals utilize the social media tools of blogging and micro-blogging to elevate themselves to the status of a celebrity; how these “micro-celebrities” differ from the conventional, or non-digital, definition of “celebrity”; and how social media complicates the relationship between consumer/producer and persona/product. Specifically I will be looking at individuals for whom their celebrity is a product of their own design. I am particularly interested in the ways in which power is negotiated in online spaces, and the social media landscape of personal branding provides an especially interesting case for study. My own relationship with the Internet has been both enhanced and complicated by my status as a woman, and as such I hope to employ a feminist theoretical approach in my research.

I have a number of reasons for blogging about my experience as a grad student:

1. I need to become more comfortable with sharing my ideas with people other than the professors who mark my papers.
2. I would like to keep interested parties (that’s you, Mom and Dad!) informed about my progress.
3. I would like this blog to be a forum for engagement with other scholars in my field.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly:

4. I won’t remember this year if I don’t write anything down, and I would like to live a life with as few regrets as possible.

In conclusion, this is a blog in progress. I really can’t stress that enough. I hope you find something that interests you in my writing and I welcome constructive criticism and other forms of positive feedback, so please feel to comment on my posts or contact me directly if you’re so inclined. And if you’re looking for other exemplary academic blogs to read, here are a few of my personal favourites that you should definitely check out:

Going Graduate

— Alexandra