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23 March, 2011 at 7:52 am Leave a comment

rain and charcoal

3 January, 2011 at 8:23 am Leave a comment

Blogging for Poverty

15 October 2008 is Blog Action Day, an annual event in the blogosphere that’s aimed at getting bloggers around the world to discuss one topic of global concern. This year’s topic is poverty.

We invite bloggers to examine poverty from their own blog topics and perspectives, to look at it from the macro and micro, as a global condition and a local issue, and to bring their own ideas, views and opinions on the subject.” – The Blog Action Day Blog

Seeing as how 45-55% of South Africans live in poverty, here’s our chance to do some digital good and raise awareness and discussion around poverty through blog posts, podcasts and videos. 

To participate in this event, you can do one or all of these 3 things:
– Register to participate on the Blog Action Day site.  You’ll be given a bit of HTML code to add to your blog post so that it can be tracked on October 15.
– If you earn income from your blog through ads or product sales, you can also donate a day of your earnings to a poverty-related charity in your area or one supported by B.A.D.
– Promote the event by spreading the word or adding a promotional banner or video to your site.

Mass support

Since its inception in 2007, Blog Action Day has received huge support in the blogosphere and from organisations like the United Nations, Opera, Change.org and BlogTV Inc.  This year, there are currently 4770 sites participating in the event, with more than 9.5 million RSS readers.  

To follow the latest developments, you can check out the Blog Action Day Twitter feed, or Flickr, Facebook  and MySpace groups.

Conversation

It would, ofcourse, be silly to believe that Blog Action Day is going to decrease or put an end to poverty.  What it will do though, is get us thinking and talking about an issue of global importance that doesn’t get enough attention in the blogosphere.  I think this event is also crucial in changing the narrow mindset that social change and awareness is only possible by “real” activists or organisations in “real life”.

We all – activists, bloggers, geeks, social media addicts – should play a part.

And just for a day, it will be interesting to see if we bloggers can resist our narcissism for a bit of altruism. If we can talk about real issues instead of the iPhone 3G or the parties we went to on the weekend. Just for a day. And then, maybe another, and another.

29 September, 2008 at 9:48 am Leave a comment

Big Brother 2.0

Whenever I receive a Google Alert in my inbox for a search conducted on me, I get a little concerned. Who wants to know more about me? Why? And did they find anything incriminating?

This may seem rather silly or vain, but I bet I’m not the only social media user who’s wondered about their online privacy – if such a thing exists.

We’re the so-called Google Generation that lives a large portion of our social lives online.  Thanks to web 2.0 technology, we’re part of an infinite social web through which we construct our digital identities and connect with friends and family via blogging, facebooking, plurking or instant messaging. 

This type of communication is immediate, cheap and convenient.  It enables us to be users and producers, and share information on an unprecedented scale.  It satisfies the exhibitionists and voyeurs in us all. Our past and present is digitally archived for the world to find, ogle, admire or exploit. But along with this blurring of the traditional private/public boundary comes a barrage of threats to our privacy.

Watch out
IT Security Strategist Herbert Thompson has demonstrated just how easy it is to break into a person’s online banking account using the information they provide about themselves on the Net, via their blog or online CV.  Even little nuggets of your personal information make you vulnerable to exploitation.  His advice is to “think first, post later”, as most of the data we put online cannot be deleted.

Privacy
Danah Boyd of Harvard University aptly points out that the current generation of social media users – i.e us – embrace a new conception of privacy.  Instead of regarding it as a secret to be concealed, we consider it more an issue of accessibility to information. 

Hence the mass protests and petitions against Facebook’s Beacon and Social Ads systems which were introduced last year. With the Beacon application, Facebook struck data-sharing deals with various e-commerce sites.  If, for example, a user bought a product online, that information would appear on the user’s Facebook profile.

Facebook’s social ads system went a step further – or too far.  If a user posted a positive comment about a movie or book, Facebook would include his/her name and photo in an advertisement for that product, and display it to his/her friends.

Following protests and petitions from users, Zuckerburg and co. have reformed their privacy settings but not enough to leave the privacy-phobes satisfied.

Wake up!
Privacy is not a privilege online. We should quit playing Victim and start taking responsibility for our digital identities in this networked world. These are my three simple rules of thumb:

1. Value your personal information. Most social networks require only your name, email address and birth date on registration. Everything else you provide is voluntary (and can come back to bite you in the rear end).
2. By using a social networking site like Facebook, you agree to its Terms and Conditions. Read it!
3. Do not share information that you don’t want others to know about you.  It’s that clear cut.

For the odd narcissists who demand their online privacy while still posting sordid details and images of their sex lives, I suggest you revert to web 0.0 and keep a journal. Unless the current legislation on privacy is amended, our online identities will continue to be fair game for companies, governments, employers, journalists and stalkers alike.

We’ve got to live with it. Responsibly.

1 September, 2008 at 2:07 pm 2 comments

Making money with $ocial media

A local company is a case in point of the potential power of social media for businesses.  Stormhoek, a Western Cape winery, has been making waves on the web since 2005, when it turned to the blogosphere to promote its brand.  Stormhoek’s first campaign was simply to hand out 100 free bottles of wine to bloggers in the UK, France and Ireland, who were not obligated to promote the product.

Nevertheless, the campaign paid off and yielded exposure for Stormhoek. More importantly, it helped bring in the bucks:  in less than two years, the company’s UK branch was enjoying a five-fold increase in sales – a feat that it attributes to blogging.

Web 2.0 to the rescue

In February this year, Stormhoek found itself faced with a crisis when its UK partner, Orbital declared bankruptcy.  But instead of asking FNB for a loan, the company asked its customers.  (Yes, you read right.)

For a loan of R2000, a Stormhoek supporter would be allocated a vine in the company’s vineyards with his/her name and location on it.  The supporter would also receive a photograph of the vine and a bottle of wine sourced from that vineyard’s crop. 

Stormhoek would pay back the loan with interest, by allotting 5% of its production costs to a loan-repayment fund.

The Own-a-Vine-Save-a-Job campaign quickly went viral once it was posted on the company’s blog. To date, Stormhoek has received R572 000 from the campaign and is on track with loan repayments. 

I’m impressed by Graham Knox’s creative thinking, but even more amazed that it worked.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be though, because their social media strategy is simple, effective and based on trust.  Stormhoek’s success story is due to the honest and transparent relationship it maintains with its supporters through the Stormhoek blog, Facebook group, Twitter feed and Zoopy video channel

The lesson from this for other South African businesses is this: social media can help you meet your goals if it’s used consistently and creatively.

Frome one newbie to the other, here are some interesting resources that further explain how social media can benefit businesses:

Next Generation Social Marketing

Fundamental Truths about Social Media Marketing

Using Social Media in the Workplace

28 August, 2008 at 2:48 pm 1 comment

The customer could be King again

I recently lost my Edgars Cash Card and trudged to the local store to get a new one.  The cashier, however, could not track my old card on the system and said it was impossible to transfer my accumulated purchase points to my new card. (Apparently, the card registration form I filled in years ago was not properly captured on their system).

But hell hath no fury like a shopaholic who doesn’t get her money’s worth.

I drove home, logged on to HelloPeter.com, and made this not-so-polite complaint.

Within 12 minutes, Vanessa from their Customer Services Centre responded to it, assuring me that the local store manager would contact me to resolve the problem.  She did, the very next day. We met, talked briefly, she apologised for her staff’s blunder, and I received a R150 voucher for the “inconvenience” caused to me.

Don’t you just love how empowering social media can be? Now we don’t have to grumble quietly about inefficient customer service.  Tell it to millions of people around the world instead, and see how quickly companies sit up and take notice.

Impressive Influence

Research conducted in April 2008 by a US social media think tank reveals how influential social media is on customers’ decisions and perceptions.  Here are some of the stats, taken from local marketing strategist Walter Pike’s article:

  • 59.1% of respondents use social media to “vent” about a customer care experience
  • 72.2% of respondents research companies’ customer care online prior to purchasing products and services at least sometimes
  • 84% of respondents consider the quality of customer care at least sometimes in their decision to do business with a company
  • 74% choose companies/brands based on others’ customer care experiences shared online
  • 81% believe that blogs, online rating systems and discussion forums can give consumers a greater voice regarding customer care, but less than 33% believe that businesses take customers’ opinions seriously.

I’m not an online marketing guru, but I do know that web users have a greater degree of influence as producers and co-creators of information.  It’s common knowledge that this has changed media-audience relationships, but it has also altered the company-customer dynamic.  

Customers now have a more powerful platform from which to voice their complaints and hold businesses accountable for shoddy service.  Consequently, companies’ PR staffs have their jobs cut out for them with regard to brand and image management, since all it takes is a Google search to find dirt on these ‘corportate culprits’.

However, social media does not only benefit customers.  It is also proving to be incredibly useful to local and global businesses, who are increasingly adopting it for advertising and marketing purposes.  More on this in my next post.

14 August, 2008 at 3:10 pm 3 comments

Blogging made oh-so-simple

Blogging these days is not rocket science:  you sign up to a blogging platform, log in, write, and publish. But a new blogging platform launched in June this year makes the likes of Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr look complicated and time consuming.

It’s called Posterous , it works through your email and it’s dead easy.  No registration is necessary: all you have to do to start a blog is send an e-mail to [post at posterous dot com] and within a few minutes you’ll receive a validation e-mail with the URL of your new blog. Here’s mine.  

Multimedia
To start blogging, simply e-mail your post to [post @ posterous dot com].  You can send attachments –pictures, audio or documents –  which will be published on your blog.  It accepts pdf, mp3, jpg, gif, doc and png files.  Unfortunately, Posterous hasn’t made allowance for video attachments yet but if you include a YouTube url, it will immediately imbed the video into your post.   Each user gets 1GB of free space, and there are plans to develop premium features soon.

Furthermore, Posterous lets you publish your podcasts via e-mail onto your blog.  It plays using the site’s flash player or iTunes.

Just remember that you do have the option of registering your Posterous blog and posting directly from the Posterous site.  This way, you can edit your posts with the site’s rich text editor.  

Looks
Posterous is aesthetically pleasing.  It has a uniform theme,  but the clean, neat interface looks better than the usual Blogger and WordPress themes.  Posterous automatically rescales your images and if you attach multiple pictures, it automatically creates a photo gallery, giving your blog an organised and de-cluttered look.

Another plus is that it allows viewers to download a single photo or an entire gallery (in .zip file) in their original sizes.  If your content is copyrighted, you can alter your settings to turn off the download option.

Social Media
Posterous has also dipped a toe into social media by allowing users to autopost updates to Twitter and pictures to Flickr from their site. E-mail your .jpg files and posterous will automatically add them to your Flickr stream.

It also has a social networking capability: users can search for and follow other posterous bloggers, or track posts on particular topics.  The automatically created RSS Feed is also a definite plus.

Cross posting
A revolutionary feature of Posterous is that it allows you to post to existing blogs.  Currently, the service supports WordPress, Blogger, Xanga, Live Journal, Tumblr, TypePad and Movable Type.  Now there’s no need to log onto multiple blogs to post – simply set up your autopost, send one e-mail to Posterous, and your post will be published on your multiple blogs.

Mobile blogging
The biggest advantage of this minimalist blogging platform is that it makes mobile blogging much easier it currently is.  Posterous allows you to blog on the go by simply sending an sms to them.  This service is currently available in the US only, but if they manage to extend it globally, it’s sure to be a hit.

 

Killer App? 
There are numerous blogging platforms that have a larger, established presence on the web but the simplicity of Posterous is what sets it apart from the rest.  It’s just a few months old but it has awesome functionality and potential. Ofcourse, that its developers roll out new features all the time is a definite plus.

My verdict?  Posterous has the makings of the next killer app. When the e-lluminati start raving about it, just remember that you read it here first 🙂

8 August, 2008 at 12:24 pm 9 comments

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