Pros & Cons: Responsive Web Design (RWD Part 2 of 2)

Sunday, 17 November 2013 § 0

Last week I talked about what RWD is and why m-dot sites suck. Here’s a pros and cons list to show why RWD is becoming the new best practice, and what challenges firms will face along the way.


One code to rule them all
Having one code means having one site, which means you avoid having to maintain, test, and re-write separate desktop and m-dot sites. This also means that you’ll have one team working on your one site, instead of possibly having two teams.

SEO won’t be spread thin
Your desktop and m-dot site won’t be competing against each other for the top ranking.

Consistent UX
As mentioned in the last RWD post, different screens and devices should be considered facets of the same experience, not an experience composed of disjointed ones.  

Google says you should do it
Google prefers you only have one URL. You should probably listen to Google.

Optimizes presentation of content and navigation
The way your website looks to the user is consistent across all platforms, and is completely in your control. Companies won’t have to worry about whether or not their navigation menus or images will be rendered properly when viewed on a small screen or when the browser is resized.

Not as risky for small companies or websites with few pages
The fewer the pages, the less rewriting, testing, and maintaining developers will have to do.

Advertising can be streamlined
Ads were normally sold based on the desktop or m-dot sites, with m-dot ad space as an “add on.” Now, ads can be packaged as a “single booking” with a mobile/tablet opt-out. But given the fact that so many people are using their mobile devices to browse the web, advertisers would be hard-pressed to find a reason why they would want to opt out of reaching so many people.


It’s complex
A lot of people don’t fully understand what RWD is, they see it as a big scary new technology, when it’s really just a new way of designing websites. Because of this, there has been relatively low adoption from anyone outside of tech blogs, web design firms, and early adopters like The Boston Globe. Despite these skewed perceptions, there is still a lot of work involved in rewriting the front-end code:

  • Breakpoints, the screen size at which a piece of code will be triggered to resize or reconfigure the components of the page, need to be determined for different screen sizes.
  • Graceful degradation needs to be considered. Your site might collapse to a single-column mobile site from a three-column desktop site. You’ll need to consider the ease of navigation and the user experience.

It’s costly and time-consuming
As mentioned, there’s a lot of rewriting to do, and it may require specialised web developers and a large initial investment.

RWD isn’t supported by older browsers
Although, this shouldn’t be a huge problem given that the majority of users are using up-to-date browsers.

Load times may be slow on mobile
When a website uploads a picture onto their page, they’re uploading an image that is the best resolution for a desktop computer. So when a user is loading the page on their phone, they’re downloading the full image, it’s just being resized to fit your 4.7-inch screen. 

Risky for large companies or websites with a lot of pages
Given the amount of rewriting, testing, and maintaining involved, the RWD facelift is a huge investment both in time, cost, and expertise. 

Existing web servers are not compatible for RWD
Desktop servers simply require the user to fetch the information. This requires a lot of work from the browser, but it’s not a huge deal since most people have relatively fast Internet speeds and don’t have to worry about data usage. Mobile ad servers, on the other hand, have to worry about speed and data usage but also have to work with slower Internet speeds. RWD websites will need both a desktop and mobile ad server to host ads since there are no existing web servers that are optimised for both.

Advertising can also get complex
Marketers may not be able to tailor their ads to different user environments or contexts. In a previous blog, I discuss playing a “catch me if you can” game with consumers, where consumers engage in multi-device web browsing. Ads that target those on their phones on the bus will be different from those on their tablets at home or sitting in the office in front of their desktop computer. If a website is selling ad spots on their RWD website, how will the website determine which spots will be designated to mobile-targeted ads? It could be based on pre-set parameters such as breakpoints, but…

Ad tags make things even more complicated

An ad tag is a tag that helps Google determine whether or not an ad is appropriate for any given online ad space. As mentioned, marketers want to target consumers based on context and device. As a result, ad tags tend to differ between mobile and desktop sites. This means that developers will have to decide which ad tags will be appropriate for which break points.

In some cases, RWD may not be attainable, especially given the substantial initial investment (both in terms of time and money) involved. However, RWD seems to be the new "best practice" for web design. What are your thoughts? 


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In Ten-ant more days, Whovians are going to take over social media.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 § 0

The Doctor Who 50th anniversary is coming up. The event needs little promotion, given the massive fanbase who have been eagerly awaiting The Day of the Doctor. The fans have been instructed by the Doctor himself to use the hashtag #SavetheDay for any Who-related content.

The BBC has compiled all the Whovian Generated Content on their website. The more UGC – or WGC – that is created, the more golden “nodes” of the TARDIS appear, and the more nodes that appear reveals more exclusive 50th content, such as clips of the special and behind the scenes photos.

The #SavetheDay campaign highlights the benefits of user-generated content:

  • It provides an outlet to share and read consumer opinions. Whovians around the world can speculate how The Doctor could possibly cross his own timeline to save the world from the Zygons on social media, forums like Reddit, even on Youtube comments.
  • The content is authentic. When seeking information, users trust peers more than they trust companies. Moffat lied to us about Paul McGann. Rule #1: Moffat lies.
  • Virality of positive WOM. The response to any and all new content that is released to the public is immediate sharing, especially on the social media Big Three (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Brand advocates provide free advertising and increased brand awareness. Whovians are the best at putting the spotlight The Doctor.
  • Fresh content and back-linking can help SEO. Whovians can spend hours perusing the BBC Doctor Who website. In response to this, the BBC is constantly posting new Who content. 
  • Reveals insights and allows better engagement with community. The BBC caught onto how Whovians react to Who-related content (through fangirling and spamming the Big Three). The BBC has essentially created a vicious cycle of fangirling. They’ve developed a website that is powered by these natural reactions to uncover new content that will in turn, cause more fangirling. Amazing. 
There are, however, a few disadvantages of UGC:

  • Poor moderation of content on website can drive traffic away. I’m assuming this isn’t the case since I haven’t seen any non-Who related content on the site yet. But perhaps a couple instagram shots of wedding invites could be hidden in those nodes somewhere. I highly doubt that a couple unrelated images would deter a die-hard Whovian from leaving the site. 
  • No control. While the BBC rarely has any issues with Whovians posting content to their detriment, sometimes you really just don’t want to see weird Who fanfiction. 
  • Virality of negative WOM. Just as Whovians can quickly spread the word about positive news, they can do the same with negative news. When Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, criticized Moffat for not contacting any of the pre-reboot Doctors to appear in the 50th, claiming to be regarded as “surplus baggage,” the news was everywhere from social media to Canadian Sci Fi talkshow InnerSPACE.

And if you weren’t convinced of how confident I feel in the Whovian social media domination on the 23rd, we’ll also be competing against Miley Cyrus’s birthday and “One Direction Day.” ALLONS-Y!
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Post-Concert Depression is an Extreme Form of Brand Loyalty

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October is prime time for gigs and shows. It’s why it’s been aptly referred to as Rocktober (by me [and at least other person, come on!]). If you’ve ever been to a really memorable show, you’ve probably experienced Post-Concert Depression, or PCD. PCD involves going home elated and then waking up the next day sulking and listening to the band’s album on repeat for a week (or six). I equate PCD to an extreme form of brand loyalty (and also withdrawal).

Despite the masses of brooding fans, bands get a lot out of PCD:

  • Bands often see a growth in social media followers consisting of fans who just discovered them. This is especially true for new or smaller bands that open for headliners.
  •  A live event re/ignites a fan’s loyalty to the band. PCD may result in sharing (or spamming) one’s facebook/twitter page with videos, tracks, or recommending (or forcing) your friends to listen to the band’s music.
  • Bands get a peak in their social media engagement after every show. From people saying “Thanks for coming to Vancouver! You guys killed it tonight!” to Instagram photos of their performance, every show puts them in the social media spotlight.
  • Posting customized content about each city before and/or after a show is extremely powerful. We all know the importance of customizing content to different social mediums and audiences, but bands have been customizing their between-song banter to different cities for years! “Hellllooooooooo WISCONSIN!” But now, with social media, bands can further customize messages so that the PCD really hits home: “That was fun Vancouver"

But the process of becoming a brand advocate and being a fan of a band isn’t exactly the same. Finding a band and listening to them is a more organic process. You fall into a soundcloud discovery hole and then two years later the band finally makes it big enough to go on tour and play your city. So how can brands generate something close to PCD?
A recent study done by Momentum Worldwide looked at the positive WOM generated from the most common types of brand interactions, from simply visiting their Facebook page to going to a branded event. What they found was that attending a live, branded event was the most effective means of driving (65% of) people to recommend brands and driving (59% of) them to buy the brand at a retail store. A branded live event even trumped a friend’s and a trusted influencer’s recommendation – the traditional drivers of WOM.

A branded live event can be anything from a concert, to a sports game, to a food festival. The more interactive and memorable the brand experience, the more buzz the brand creates for itself. 93% of people who attended branded events were likely to talk about the event.

 Furthermore, a live music event resulted in more positive affect about the brand. What this means is that brands can leverage the PCD or its sports- or (food- [I was like a Bieber fan at Eat! Vancouver watching Chuck Hughes do a demo on cooking with kale. So yes, it’s possible.]) equivalent by sponsoring live events. 

Not only will their brand be attached to a memorable event, but they gain a host of other benefits (using a concert example):

  • Musical tastes can be so subjective that they in themselves are psychographic measure. This can allow brands to tune into certain demographics and target these fans by attaching their brand image to the music they love most.
    Source: Forrester Research
    • Everybody likes music, and hosting free events can grow a brand’s target audience. I don’t drive, but a free You Say Party show hosted by Scion? Sure, why not.
    • Your brand can become embedded in the band’s existing culture, or at least gain some residual cool. Assuming you’ve done your research and the band’s brand image aligns with yours (or your ideal), by being attached to the band, you’ll inevitably earn some cool points. In essence, you get to say, “I’m with the band.”
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    Responsive Websites Aren’t Exactly New, so Why the Face? (Part 1 of 2)

    Saturday, 9 November 2013 § 0

    Before responsive web design (RWD) became a new best practice, there were two basic types of website designs:

    • Static design gives components of your website fixed dimensions.
    • Fluid design gives components of your website percentage dimensions. This means that your browser adjusts to changes in your window size.
    Responsive designs are similar to fluid in that they are adaptive to screen size, but are even more adaptive. The code involves CSS media queries, which basically say “if the screen size is less than this, then set the dimensions to this.”

    Source: Web Designer Wall
    There has been a lot of buzz about responsive design as of late, and the reason it’s been brought to the forefront is because of the increasing multi-device habits of consumers. Advertisers and content publishers alike have been playing a game of catch me if you can with their audience across their smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, and desktop computers.

    One challenge that many content publishers faced was the incompatability issues of their desktop website on mobile devices. The response to that was to create mobile websites (eg. There were many problems with this, however:

    • Double the Work: m-dot websites mean you have to maintain two separate sites. Every page on your website has to have an equivalent on the m-dot site.
    • SEO Disruption: m-dot websites spread out your SEO efforts. In order to rank your site, Google crawls the web to look for inbound links and relevant content to give you a quality score. If you’re on two separate sites, these two sites are competing against each other for your ranking.
    • Sharing is Hard: when m-dot sites are shared and opened on a desktop browser, the content is shrunken down since the site has been designed for a 4.7-inch screen.
    • Screen Sizes Differ: Not every mobile device screen is the same size. Screen sizes differ within mobile devices (eg. iPhone vs. Samsung Galaxy) and between them (eg. iPhone vs. iPad)
    M-Dot site on a desktop browser
    The solution to the m-dot problem is responsive web design (RWD). RWD means you have one website that users can access from any device. As Ethan Marcotte, the web designer credited for paving the RWD road, put it: 
    Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat [the devices] as facets of the same experience.”  
    Source: Web Designer Wall

    Stay tuned for Part 2, where I discuss the pros and cons of RWD and what it means for marketers and content creators.
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    I’m a Serial B(r)and Advocate

    Friday, 25 October 2013 § 0

    Discovering new bands and then professing my love for them on social media is one of my favourite pastimes. This is especially true if a band’s music is released for free, which seems biased. If I like a band’s music, I like their music. So why is it that the majority of the tracks I share on my social media trifecta (Facebook, Twitter, and sometimes Instagram) are free? There are two sides to this: The Penny Gap and Ownership.

    Nothing highlights The Penny Gap – the psychological abyss that lies between a (digital) good that is free and one that costs a penny – better than free tunes. The Penny Gap is essentially that internal struggle you get when you’re deciding whether you want to spend your last iTunes dollar on that new Foals track or if you should just wait until your deluxe vinyl box set comes in two months . This decision-making process of evaluating and considering is probably best known as the conversion funnel (but I like “internal struggle” better).

    The best way for a new band to grow their audience is to release free singles. Why? Because freemium models eliminate the internal struggle by saying, “Hey, don’t worry about it Steph, just take it and enjoy!” Within minutes of discovering the band, their song is already on my phone and ready for me to listen to while aggressively shoulder-dancing on the bus.

    A closer look at all the tracks I’ve shared have a common thread: the band occupies space on my hard drive. Whether it’s an older album, photos from a show, or a free download, I’ve either invested in the band by paying for ownership of their tracks or a ticket to their show, or the band has given me permission to own their track for free.

    So what does this mean for everyone else? Getting over The Penny Gap by simply bypassing it is key for new bands and brands. If you’re asking consumers to pay for your good when they barely know who you are, you’re asking them to take a giant leap, even if you’re only asking for a penny. The difference between a penny and no penny is the associated risk and opportunity cost of that penny. Bypassing that risk and Nightcrawling consumers to the other side means they’ve got nothing to lose in sampling your product. And if fans and consumers are anything like me, their relationships with b(r)ands can shift from complete stranger to friend to brand advocate within the first 30 seconds of the song. 

    And just for good measure, here are some free tunes for you to aggressively shoulder-dance to on the bus:

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    Let's Talk About Search

    Monday, 14 October 2013 § 0

    Traditionally, search engine results were based on matching key words in the user’s search query to key words on a website. Now, with Google’s new Hummingbird (the first dramatic algorithm re-write since 2001), searches are “conversational.” This means that Google applies semantic meaning to your search queries and finds websites that have matching meanings, rather than matching keywords. Hummingbird was developed to ensure that users find the information they need even faster. So now, you can search “How old is Jerry Seinfeld?” and you’ll get his age.

    Another addition to the user experience is the information sidebar. In both semantic and basic search result pages, users are given basic information about Jerry Seinfeld. This is fantastic from a user point-of-view, but for businesses, this might mean decreased traffic.

    Businesses will have to amp up their website content to keep up with conversational search and compete with the basic information sidebar. Content has and always will be king, but when users have very specific search queries (more than 3 key words, dubbed “Long Tail Searches”), Google will only display websites that will answer their questions. A search for “Where to get ice cream” resulted in Vancity Buzz’s “10 Best Ice Cream Spots” post and a listing of local ice cream shops. With Hummingbird, websites such as Vancity Buzz will thrive because they are both semantically and locally relevant. Users end up at your website because you are providing exactly what they want, in their area. So how do businesses improve or preserve their rankings in a Google search? 

    • If you can answer a user’s question, you will earn quality traffic and potential customers. This means that your targeted audience will be staying on your page longer, instead of going back and clicking on your competition.
    • For those using Google AdWords, the key is to use specific, long-tailed keywords. The more specific the search query, the more likely your website will have a higher ranking among fewer competitor websites.
    • Google wants users to stay on their page. For websites with content that can easily be “scraped” by Google to display in the information sidebar (eg. Jerry Seinfeld’s age), they will have to provide content that is more enticing or to users to drive traffic.
    • For those whose business may rely on reviews (eg. Ice cream shops), encouraging customers to “rate” your business in Google will significantly help you in local searches, even if you don’t show up in the Top 100 search results for “Ice Cream Vancouver.”
    • Websites will have to reconsider the way they create content in order for it to be more useful to users. Editing past content may also be necessary for it to answer user questions.

    Much like an unfortunate segment of Instagram users who hashtag things like #fall #babe #love #girl #tattoos #girlswithtats under their Earlybird-filtered photo of a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you can’t just throw keywords (or hashtags) around and expect to gain a quality audience. You have to create #value.

    NO! NO Likes for you!
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    Neil DeGrasse Tyson saw “Gravity,” is a scientifically-correct Negative Nancy. Also, I read mom blogs.

    Sunday, 13 October 2013 § 0

    Ok, just to clarify, he “enjoyed Gravity very much.” And maybe peddling back, if you don’t know who NDGT is, he’s an astrophysicist, who is also a hilarious twitter user (1.4M followers!), and is also is the Enrique Iglesias of the nerd community. Just listen to him talk about time and space: *swoon* 

    Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s talk about NDGT’s night-long ramble. As a prominent figure in the science/nerd/sci-fi entertainment world, NDGT is an influencer. Did his “Mysteries of #Gravity” series affect the box office? Probably not, but that’s not the point. Influencers are influencers for a reason. They have formed trusted relationships with their communities because they are authentic human beings with an opinion and will tell you whether or not they like something.

    When firms approach influencers to promote their products, that’s a different story. If the product or service doesn’t align with the influencer’s brand identity, the authenticity of their voice is dampened. People don’t want to listen to a spokesperson who’s going to tell you everything is awesome. They want a pros and cons list. This is why the “Sponsor Approach” (as explained in the “How to Design Communities” article) is so important to consider when reaching out to influencers. The company takes the back seat in this approach and observes, responds to comments, and provides informational content and advice. But their brand presence is minimal.

    Take mom blogs, for example. I read mom blogs daily (weekends are the worst because mom blogs don’t get updated) and I’m not even a mom. Why? Because I trust their opinions. After all, (someone else’s) mom knows best.

    Mom blogs like A Cup of Jo often have discount codes for online clothing shops or contests for gift cards to small companies. The only thing readers have to do is comment about what they would buy from the store or what they like. And while they’re doing that, companies like ASOS, Everlane, and smaller companies like The Honest Company and Terrain get direct feedback from their target mom demographic (and not-mom 22 year-olds like me) about what they like. A symbiotic relationship with no in-your-face advertising!

    The opinions of influencers feel genuine because these relationships feel more like advice from a friend rather than a paid celebrity endorsement. However, this can also harm a brand if the influencer is posting negative content. Firms that don’t approach them to correct their negative content will end up having to deal with a festering brand wound. The way I see it, approaching (or improving relationships with) key influencers can be an excellent catalyst for generating meaningful conversations with consumers.

    And for the record, NDGT had a lot to say about the things “Gravity” got right.
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    Maslow's Hierarchy, Revised

    Friday, 11 October 2013 § 0

    (From my friend Trevor)

    If you’re like me, this is now how you function now. A couple weeks ago, I moved and I’ve only just been connected to the Internet. As an iPhone, iPad, smart TV, and Macbook owner, not being connected left me writhing in my shame cave and spending disgusting amounts of money on coffee for my wifi fix. Now that I’m connected, let’s talk about how great being connected is over some food, water, shelter, and warmth.

    A recent eMarketer report outlined the multi-device habits of tablet users. Essentially, tablet users are connected all the time, but across different web-enabled devices.

    The majority of tablet owners use them at home. Their pattern of usage is predominantly: smartphone in the morning, desktop at the office, and tablet at night. For tablet users, the device is a complement to household activities (like following #DoctorWho on Twitter while watching Doctor Who on your smart TV while texting your friend[s] about Doctor Who), rather than something you take with you when you go out.

    Despite the fact that marketers will now have to play a game of “catch me if you can” with their consumers, multi-screen exposure opens up a multitude of opportunities:

    • For brands with online communities (like BBC Doctor Who, for example), this increases the user’s ability to access, follow, and participate in online discussions. Additionally, consumers will always be up-to-date with brands they are interested in.
    • Tablet users are always “on the grid,” which means they’re highly accessible for most part of the day. eMarketer recommends targeting messages by device, time of day, and context of the user.
    • Brands can customize messages to the consumer’s context, time of day, and device. If a consumer is constantly switching between devices, it’s easy for brand messages to go unnoticed and become forgotten by the time another “switch” happens. With a customized message, brands can better capture the attention of the “habitual multitaskers” that are tablet owners.
    • Familiarity with a brand can generate interest, or at the very least, salience in the consumer’s mindset. eMarketer references a study in which
    “users who were exposed to an automotive brand’s messaging across two screens exhibited a 57% jump in regional dealer lookups and test drive requests as compared to users who saw the brand’s messaging on only one screen.” 

    By focusing efforts on tailored messages to always-on-the-grid consumers, marketers can effectively to reach their consumers in the "Awareness" and "Consideration" phases of the Consumer Decision Journey, much like the "Magician's Hat" Model.  

    What do you think? Is being connected all the time over multiple devices more of a threat for marketers than an opportunity?
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    Honda Starts Twitter War with Snack Brands

    Tuesday, 8 October 2013 § 0

    A good chunk of the people I follow on twitter are comedians. More often than not, especially sarcastic tweets are faced with backlash, but if you’re a celebrity or prominent twitter figure (or brand!), your public feuds can get blown out of proportion and entirely public to anyone with a wifi connection.

    Last week, Honda started series of “fun” twitter feuds with prominent snack brands, many of which responded with snarky replies.

    The feuds were started to promote the new in-car vacuum for the Honda Odyssey, and accompanied a series of TV spots, which featured actors Rainn Wilson and Neil Patrick Harris voicing snacks and other small forgottens on the floor of a Honda about to be vacuumed. Despite being “the first of its kind,” you have to admit that a mini-van with an in-car vacuum is nothing worth jump up and down about.

    But here’s why I think Honda’s marketing efforts are so exceptionally smart: The parents of today are pretty hip, but they’re not as interested in cars as their parents used to be, let alone mini-vans. Millenial parents don’t have the same financial security as their parents did, are more open about alternative transportation, and are simply less excited about owning a car. 


    Honda understands this and have used creative mediums to reach Millenial parents:

    •  The recognizable voices of Rainn Wilson and NPH are worth paying attention to. Just as when The Office’s John Krasinski narrated esurance’s ad which took a jab at Geiko customers for “trusting animal characters,” these hilarious men of primetime are young parents themselves (both IRL and on TV) and are recognized as trustworthy poster dads for the parents of today. 
    • Twitter feuds are something you jump at. Whether it’s your “No spoilers!” friend who thinks the entirety of the Internet is under his authority, or some celebrity getting mad at another celebrity, you can’t help but follow the conversation. Yes, the Honda vs. Snacks “feuds” aren’t real, but a corporate twitter account with an inkling of a personality is refreshing isn't it? 

    By leveraging the power of all these big food and snack brands, Honda created an interactive and social ecosystem around a product you wouldn't expect to be talking about. What are your thoughts? 
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    The Corporate Twitter Account Spectrum

    Sunday, 6 October 2013 § 0

    As marketing students, we know twitter as a medium for brands to connect with consumers and build communities, but as a twitter user, I know it as a Pokemon binder of entertainers making social commentary, having ridiculous insights, and complaining about internal struggles. In flipping through my twitter binder of 570 accounts, I noticed that the corporations I follow fall along a scale from “Meh” to “Doritos Ontario…” I should explain.

    The majority of corporate Twitter accounts I’ve come across are just that – corporate. Unless you’re a passionate brand advocate, it can get tiring following a corporate twitter account because their tweets feel more like advertisements than entertainment. As Brian Solis put it, social media is merely a tool. It is a platform to foster meaningful conversation between firms and consumers. In an AYTM survey, 63% of respondents followed corporate accounts and 26% of them preferred accounts with personality. So why are there still corporate twitter accounts out there that still fall under the “Meh” category?

    A couple months ago it was revealed (to nobody’s surprise, really) that the region-specific @DoritosOntario twitter account was a fake. The account poked fun at hokey corporate accounts that lacked personality by aggressively promoting Doritos (in Ontario) to its 2682 followers, but that’s not all! The account (now inactive) was self-deprecating, questioned its mortality, occasionally referenced rap lyrics, and gave the best/worst advice to its followers.

    And my personal favourite:

    I know, the account was a parody and there is no way a real corporate account could pull this off, but the point is that Doritos Ontario had a personality. It engaged with its “consumers” in a humanistic way. Doritos Ontario put out content you wanted on your Twitter stream, not just static sales pitches. Firms that use a structured and traditional approach to social media will not develop meaningful conversations because their relationships with their followers will feel shallow and inauthentic.
    And by the way, there are corporate accounts out there that are approaching the “Doritos Ontario” end of the spectrum:

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