Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Toy Testing

My little volunteer is once again hard at work, although she has shifted her philanthropic focus from visiting seniors to monitoring toy quality.

This year we became members of the Canadian Toy Testing Council (CTTC), a non-profit organization that has been testing and reporting on toy quality for 60 years. As members, we get toys which Miya diligently tests over a 6-8 week period. It's hard work, but she selflessly gives of her time to evaluate the 'play value' of each toy we receive.

This weekend we were testing a cute little cupcake craft. Sorry, can't tell you the toy name, that's strictly confidential - but basically it's glorified play-doh in a cupcake theme. While there are some toys I have to encourage her to play with, there was no begging or pleading with this one. Squishing, pressing, mixing - then sorting into little paper cups - these are all activities my little 3 year-old loves. Luckily for me, she's too young to care that her 'cupcakes' look nothing like what's shown on the box

After making 13 little colourful treats, she hosted a cupcake party for 13 of her favourite stuffed animals. As she was setting up, she took Frog aside to tell him that now it was time to sit still and that he had to stop running and jumping around while he was eating. Now where would she have heard that before?

I used to worry that I was depriving my child, since the number of toys we have is woefully small compared to most of her friends in the Westboro 'hood. But now with a steady stream of new toys, I don't need to feel so bad. And my consumer-conscious side is still mollified since at the end of our testing period we get to take them back - something which is especially great for those big toys which she plays with for about 3 days and then ignores. 

At the end of the testing period, I answer the questions in the testing report, noting things like how well the toy stood up to regular play, whether or not anyone got hurt while playing with it, and how well it sustained my daughter's attention. I'm also one of the evaluators who compile reports from 5-6 families. And to top it off, I've also been hired by CTTC to write up the Toy Report this year. Toys, toys and more toys around here.

The next toy-testing season will begin in the spring of 2013 (testing season runs from about May-September so that evaluations can be compiled for a pre-Christmas release of the Toy Report). If you're a parent of kids under 16, perhaps you'd like to join?

And do you know of any other fun ways to get your kids involved in volunteering? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My top 5 lessons in social media from Social Capital Ottawa

If you happened to be at Algonquin College in Ottawa yesterday and noticed an inordinate amount of people tapping away on iPhones, tablets and other mobile devices, you might have spotted me in the crowd.

Yesterday was the 2nd annual Social Capital Ottawa conference - or #SoCapOtt as we trended on Twitter. This was an event where it wasn't bad manners to be typing away during a workshop or keynote address - you were just adding to the virtual conversation being held simultaneously. Wondering what you were missing in one of the other workshops? Just check the twitter feed for updates from people in that room.

I don't consider myself a newbie to social media. I've had this blog since 2005, been on Facebook for several years and Twitter a few less. But any knowledge and experience I have in social media paled in comparison to some of the people I met - like Andrea Tomkins, who's been writing her blog, a peek inside the fishbowl, since 1999 and has become Ottawa's most celebrated parent blogger - and who was also kind enough to find and return my indespensible phone which I'd set down to get some water and briefly forgot.

Since launching myself into full-time freelance writing and communications work, I've been networking like mad. So being at a conference aimed at connecting people and sharing wisdom on how to best use social media to connect even more, was fantastic. It didn't feel forced to just walk up to a stranger and start talking - everyone was doing it. And in addition to meeting some friendly and savvy folk, I happened to talk to someone who has hooked me up with precisely the resources I need for a contract I'm currently working on.

And in case you're wondering what are some of the tips I learned, here are the top 5 pieces of social media wisdom I took home yesterday.

#1. When using social media, don't think like a publicist - think like a publisher. The point is not to put everything out there, but to put out good, interesting content that people will respond to.

#2. Know what your goals and key messages are - especially if you are using social media for your business. Be strategic.

#3. Measure your impact. If you want to know if what you're doing is working, then use some of the tools out there - like Follower Wonk, Social Bro, and built-in tools in Facebook - to see how well people respond to you. If you get a lot of 'likes' but not much actual engagement (comments, RTs, etc.) then you might want to tweak what you're doing.

#4. Create an editorial calendar. Whether it's for a personal blog or for a business communications strategy, map out the next annual quarter. Chart the milestones (holidays and big events, product launches, etc) and the topics you plan to cover. Mapping everything out will relieve that common stumbling block of not knowing what to write about. (Wish I'd thought about that for my 365-year of blogging!)

#5. And finally - content is king. Even if you're writing from a basement cave 5 miles from nowhere, if you have good content, people will find you.

Have I missed anything? If you have any tips for making the most of social media, please add them as comments.