Advice to social media mavens…from media pros

We’re just back from two days in Houston as the guests of ttweak, a marketing, communications and design firm that shares our belief that authentic, original voices are the best way to convey a message. ttweak’s best-known work is probably their Houston It’s Worth It campaign, but their extensive and varied experience also includes a number of video projects that let interview subjects, rather than narrators, tell the story. ttweak principals Randy Twaddle and Dave Thompson proved to us that Houston is indeed worth it, not only for the food (mmm, bbq. I mean mmm, Mexican. I mean, mmm, Cajun.) but even more notably for the almost unbelievably friendly people.

While we were in Houston we had the opportunity to meet with a number of ttweak’s clients, all of whom reinforced our impression that Randy and Dave have mastered the art of bottom-up marketing campaigns — and did so long before us johnny-come-latelys in the Web 2.0 world started yakking on about user-generated content. Here’s some of the wisdom we gleaned from their example and their advice:

  • Let participants speak for themselves. Don’t drown out original voices with heavy-handed narration or moderation.
  • Remain tool agnostic. If your goal is to convey a message, you’ll need to choose a different medium depending on the message you’re delivering.
  • Production values matter. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that people will see past your barebones interface to appreciate the depth or brilliant of your feature set. Appearance counts.
  • Invest in your local community. Even if your business has a national or international reach, a solid reputation with clients in your own city provides a bedrock for growth.
  • Build relationships with your client’s entire team. During one client visit, we saw how ttweak’s introduction counted with the CEO — but we also saw Dave on hugging terms with the parking valet. We got a warm reception in the boardroom — and a warm car waiting outside when we were done.
  • Client service is the surest way to grow a business. Resist the temptation to cash in by focusing on a single hot product, or cash out by selling your company to the highest bidder.
  • Do what you’re great at. Over-reaching is the surest way to burn your client — and your brand.

We’re excited to work with a company that realizes Web 2.0 values of user engagement in all of its work. And thanks again to Randy and Dave for introducing us to their wonderful city!

Welcome aboard, Catherine Winters… as Social Signal takes on Second Life

A few months ago, Rob and I decided that Social Signal was ready to expand its development team with another web services consultant; Aaron Pettigrew has had such a transformative impact on our business that we realized another Aaron (as though there could be such a thing) would allow us to serve that many more clients that much more effectively.

And we decided that while we were adding another web geek to the team, we might look for someone who knows a little about Second Life — a virtual world that is the Internet's hottest new home to online community. (Find out more about Second Life here.) So I sent an e-mail to a leading Second Life blogger who blew my mind when we met at last year's SXSW. Here's what I asked him:

since I keep hoping that our business may eventually involve doing some Second Life projects for folks, I have the idea that our ideal next hire would be someone who's an experienced Second LIfer – probably not someone who's doing Second LIfe stuff professionally yet (though possibly) but the kind of person who'd be thrilled to make that part of their work. Basically we're just looking for a bright, energetic, progressive and tech-impassioned person who would enjoy bringing their social commitments and tech passions together. Do you happen to know any SL types in Vancouver who'd fit that description?

Lucky for us, he had an inspiration: a Vancouverite whose SL name is Catherine Omega. He pointed us to Catherine's bio on the Second Life wiki, and that was enough to convince us to get together with her.

A couple of weeks later, we met up with Catherine (known in real life as Catherine Winters) in a local Vancouver restaurant. Over the course of a lively lunch we covered everything from how she first got into Second Life (on a computer she built herself from scavenged parts) to the larger significance of Second Life and other virtual worlds (as a way of bridging social differences and disparities).

That was the first of a series of meetings in which Catherine coached us out of our SL newbieness and started talking with us about how Second Life could support a socially sustainable business approach. We were dazzled by Catherine's brilliant and thought-provoking take on Second Life's social significance, by her strategic insights into how organizations could make innovative and effective use of an SL presence, and by her exceptional clarity and good humor in making Second Life accessible to new users. And we suspected that as one of the co-authors of the new Official Guide to Second Life, she was in a position to take a leadership role in bringing more people to the platform.

Today, we're delighted to announce that Catherine Winters is joining Social Signal as our Manager of Virtual Worlds. Catherine will be leading a new Second Life practice to help businesses, non-profits and government agencies establish innovative, effective presences "in world". This practice will focus on working with organizations that want to create a profoundly interactive presence that stands out in Second Life's every-expanding world, that want an SL presence that integrates with a web-based online community, or that want their SL presence to advance a sustainability or social change agenda.

We'll have more news to share in the coming months about our plans for Second Life, including the forthcoming launch of our own island. Catherine's creative ideas and scripting powers will be put to good use as we introduce new opportunities for organizations to make compelling use of Second Life as a new medium for strategic communication.

Meanwhile our web site can tell you more about Catherine and our new Second Life practice. We also hope you'll join us for an open house to introduce Catherine to our clients, colleagues and friends, and to introduce Social Signal to the Second Life community. The open house will be held from 2-4 pm Second Life time (aka Pacific time) on Wednesday, January 3 at TechSoup's space on Info Island. (Many thanks to CompuMentor for lending their space to us for this event) If you've yet to visit Second Life, this is a great excuse to download their software and try it out (it's free to download and free to register) for yourself.

If you'd like to learn more about Second Life, or about how Social Signal's new practice can help your organization establish an effective Second Life presence, please call (778.371.5445) or e-mail Catherine (catherine [at] socialsignal [dot] com), me (alex [at] socialsignal [dot] com) or Rob (rob [at] socialsignal [dot] com).

We owe that blogger a huge thank-you for making this inspired connection. And yes, this does mean we're still looking for that web services consultant.

Podcast: From Org Charts to Sitemaps — How organizational structure affects web strategy and implementation

Does your organizational structure support web innovation or inhibit it? Social Signal's first podcast will help you learn how to make the most of your own team's structure from the web strategists at two very different nonprofits: Corrie Frasier,  Online Communications Manager for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jed Miller, Director of Internet programs for the American Civil Liberties Union. Corrie a

PODCAST: From Org Charts to Sitemaps: How organizational structure affects web strategy and implementation

Does your organizational structure support web innovation or inhibit it? Learn how to make the most of your own team's structure from the web strategists at two very different nonprofits: Corrie Frasier,  Online Communications Manager for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jed Miller, Director of Internet programs for the American Civil Liberties Union. In this, the first edition of the Social Signal podcast, Corrie and Jed talk about everything from how to get senior buy-in to your web strategy, to how interdepartmental cooperation helped the ACLU respond effectively to NSA spying.

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Social Signal is hiring a Business and Project Manager

Social Signal is offering an unusual opportunity to come in on the ground floor of a business with the experience, reputation and credentials to go sky-high. If your enthusiasm for technology is matched only by your passion for social change, you'll find that the joy of working with kindred spirits can be matched by the thrill of helping communities use the Internet in ways they never imagined.

WHO WE ARE: Social Signal puts the web to work for social change, helping organizations turn online communities into a powerful force for progress. We have extensive experience in the non-profit, public and private sectors, and a large network of local, national and international colleagues and clients that you'll be working with on a regular basis. While you expand your professional network and skills, we also hope you'll enjoy being part of our personal network of technology leaders and community advocates in Vancouver and abroad.

WHO WE NEED: We're looking for a organized, progressive, tech-friendly person whose project management skills can make our work even more effective.  This fourth member of our team isn't just there to justify taking a four-person table during our meetings in the local Internet cafe. We need a boss: someone who can manage our business affairs, major projects and our team itself so that we make the most of our resources. The right person will enjoy our company's informal, friendly vibe but will help us balance friendliness with professionalism and efficiency.

WHAT YOU'LL DO: You'll business manage our business, project manage our projects, and prioritize our priorities. Your primary responsibility will be to manage our work priorities — everything from client work to business development to financial and legal affairs — to ensure that everything is getting done. You'll also help structure our client engagements by consulting on project scope, breaking down tasks, and assigning responsibilities. You'll know you're doing your job if everyone else on the team is clear about theirs.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • managing business operations including h.r., finance and legal affairs
  • project managing web development projects
  • writing or editing project proposals
  • identifying work priorities and assigning tasks
  • maintaining friendly, productive relations with our clients (including non-profit organizations, governments and socially-minded businesses) and suppliers (including designers, web developers and hosting companies)

WHO YOU ARE: You're the person who gets things done: organized and detail-oriented while keeping your eye on the big picture. You're confident, diplomatic and a born problem-solver, with a gift for getting along with people even when deadlines are looming or computers are crashing. You like knowing that the work you've done each day has made a real difference – to your colleagues, your clients, and the world.

You're passionate about social change, and your community or activist history shows it. And while you're not a programmer, you're as psyched as we are about the web's ability to make that change happen: your idea of excitement is mastering a great new online task management tool, discovering a smart progressive web site or writing a particularly sharp blog post.

Your real-world and computer desktops are as simple and uncluttered as a Zen rock garden. You're able to point to projects you've guided to completion, chaos you've turned into order, and cats you've herded into neat little rows and columns.

This is a full-time mid-level position. You've already demonstrated your capacity to plan, organize and manage complex projects; now you want to put that capacity to work in a role that will engage and challenge you.

HOW TO APPLY: Please e-mail a résumé, cover letter and salary expectations to by September 15th, 2006. Tell us why you’d like to work for Social Signal, and please describe your relevant skills and professional or volunteer experiences. We want to hear about your community, advocacy or public service experiences as much as about your project management and organizational skills and experience. We're particularly interested in hearing about your:


  • project planning and management
  • personal organization and time management
  • solid writing and communication skills
  • attention to detail
  • tech skills (Mac/Windows/Linux, software programs you know, web tools you use)


  • projects where you've been responsible for planning and coordinating (examples might include event planning, office management or web site development)
  • writing for work or fun, on a regular basis; proposal/grant-writing
  • situations where you've worked independently with minimal supervision
  • work that has involved client relations or working with the public
  • jobs that have required you to organize not only your own work but also to keep track of other people's responsibilities and deadlines
  • volunteer work for community organizations or causes
  • situations where you've gone the extra mile to get the job done


  • commmunity groups, projects or issues you're involved in
  • web sites you like or web tools you're excited about

Bonus points for:

  • having your own blog
  • telling us your favourite tech tool for managing time or organizing tasks
  • a strong opinion (pro or con) about Getting Things Done

Compensation will be commensurate with skills and experience. Please note that this is a mid-level position.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Fido on a Treo

I called Fido — that’s my Canadian cell phone carrier — today to ask about GPRS settings for my new unlocked Treo 650. Since the settings they gave me are a bit different from those I found on various discussion boards I thought I’d post them...

Tag my desktop — please

And the tagging obsession continues. Thanks to Travis Smith for pointing me towards Larry Borsato’s comments on why we don’t tag our desktop. His post is a response to Kevin Briody’s call to tag your desktop. Kevin asks:

Why can’t we tag documents? And file shares? And intranet sites? Then tag communications: emails, Messenger contacts, […]

Tag my desktop — please

And the tagging obsession continues. Thanks to Travis Smith for pointing me towards Larry Borsato’s comments on why we don’t tag our desktop. His post is a response to Kevin Briody’s call to tag your desktop. Kevin asks: Why can’t we tag documents?...