The new networking: word of mouth is getting a new twist

New media have turned one of the oldest concepts in communication into today’s hottest marketing tool, wrote The Globe and Mail March 19 in a special report on MBA schools. Traditionally known as word of mouth, its powerful new channels are social networking Web sites and its might is being felt from the boardroom to the classroom.

"Friends telling friends about something they’ve experienced has always been around, but word of mouth and opinion leadership have become so front and centre because they are so technology enabled," says Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Within minutes or even seconds, online chatter can span continents, conveying positive spin or the kiss of death for a product or company. And in what Midddleton calls today’s fragmented world, MBA schools need to prepare students to meet new challenges as new technologies continue to emerge.

"When I teach, I talk about the kinds of fragmentation that marketers have to cope with in today’s technological world," he says. Marketers have many choices to make with regard to where and how they put their message forth, he says, which is a long way from the days when one strategically placed television or newspaper ad was a typical campaign.

New media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and the vast array of blogs and interactive Web sites enable the kind of fragmentation Middleton talks about with his students. People self-identify as part of a group forming an online community that converses, shares information and creates opinion leaders. Reaching relevant networks and opinion leaders is key in the brave new world of social network marketing.

"In a marketing course we talk a lot more about how we make decisions, who people are influenced by," he says. "Now you can’t assume you’ll reach a target group, so we look at understanding them at a greater level."

Middleton acknowledges that, currently, new media and social marketing content is primarily found in marketing and communications courses at Schulich, "but it would also be touched on in strategy, ethics and information technology courses."

  • Figures released in early March by Nielsen Online show social networking is now the fourth-most-popular online activity, growing in both numbers and demographic groups, said The Globe and Mail March 19 in its special report on MBA schools.

Once the ink is dry on an MBA degree, professional development workshops are one of best ways to keep up with the fast pace of change.

One such program is the Schulich Executive Education Centre’s two-day seminar Leveraging Social Media and Online Marketing Networks. Livia Grujich, president of On Q Communications Inc., teaches the course to management-level students, many of whom already have MBA degrees.

"In my research for proposing this course, I saw that many programs don’t have courses that focus on social media," Grujich says. She says it’s partly because "it’s an ever-changing domain," including the definition of social media itself.

Seminar topics include: the fifth "P" of marketing (participation), understanding "citizen marketers" and strategic applications for social media in business.

One of Grujich’s clients, The MBA Tour, is a case study in success used in the seminar. A recruitment vehicle for prospective MBA students, The MBA Tour now promotes itself extensively through social media.

"We started a Facebook group using a company database and a few key influencers to launch. From a group of 20 we grew to 7,000 over the past year."

  • If the current economic crisis created the impression that even finance-industry leaders didn’t fully understand the tools they were using, the question arises: What happens next time?, asked The Globe and Mail March 19 in its special report on MBA schools.

As the smoke clears from the carnage left by the current generation’s mistakes, business schools are launching or revamping programs to improve the training of the next generation of financial workers.

At York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Professor Pauline Shum is launching a new Master of Finance (MF) Program in August. She, too, hopes to provide students with a background that is more focused and quantitative than an MBA, describing the program as a hybrid professional degree with a research component, appropriate for people who want to enter professions like portfolio management, private equity, venture capital or investment banking.

Unlike MBA programs where students cover courses in marketing, strategy and other topics, the new 12-month MF will differentiate itself by its in-depth focus on finance. "With an MBA, you have to take all types of courses, so you’re limited in terms of how many finance courses you can take," says Shum. Instead, the MF boasts course titles such as: Options, Futures and Other Derivatives; Analysis of Structured Products; and Financial Risk Management.

Shum says the current economic crisis has influenced the program’s development. "A distinguishing factor of our program, besides the research component, is to incorporate important aspects of finance in response to the current market environment: ethics in finance; securities law; and corporate governance."

Glendon celebrates all things French

York University’s Glendon campus will host the 12th annual Semaine de la Francophonie Thursday, March 19 to Monday, March 23 at 2275 Bayview Ave., as part of a worldwide celebration of French language and culture, reported the North York Mirror March 17.

The four-day campus event at Canada’s only bilingual liberal arts college will feature lectures, workshops, performances and experiences in literature, music, history and visual arts with a distinctly French signature.

Artist’s work projects terror and beauty of cityscapes

I didn’t “get” Janet Jones’ art at first, wrote columnist Scott Dunn in the Owen Sound Sun Times March 19 about the work of York’s Visual Arts Department chair.

The new exhibit which opened Friday night at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery is a celebration of ambiguity and artistic impressions which relies on a knack for mystic channelling which I haven’t fully developed, Dunn wrote. But Jones’ themes, sparsely stated on the wall at the entrance to one of the gallery rooms, are easily recognized by anyone who has visited downtown Toronto by night, or walked the passageways below ground there.

They’re sterile, large-scale, inhuman public spaces filled with people going about their daily business en masse. Bereft of humanity and passion, they inspire in Jones both distaste and awe at their intrinsic beauty.

They’re two sides of the same big-city “techno-sublime” experience, she said – terrifying and beautiful. Her art doesn’t condemn those spaces, nor does it celebrate them. It just suggests them.

But it seems to me that puzzling over her towering shapes and vague technological images and missing her point, represents a missed opportunity both for me and the artist. Better to spoon-feed the masses a little more background about the pieces first, than to rely mainly on their patient contemplation of the work to catch the “psychological feel”.

But I don’t know much about art, while Jones’ credentials are intimidating on paper. She has a PhD in art theory and criticism, is chair of the Visual Arts Department at York University, is a working artist and an occasional art critic. She has won teaching awards.

She said she’s not too troubled if people leave her show and have created their own interpretation of it. "Personally, I don’t want to make a statement that is so overt that it can only be kind of interpreted in one way."

Yet she also said she will have failed as an artist if people haven’t a clue what they’ve been looking at. So what’s more important, producing interesting images or conveying a message? "The interesting image. That’s what art is about. It’s not about the message. I’m not saying that art shouldn’t contain meaning. But essentially, it’s the piece out there. Not the message."

Now I get it, concluded Dunn.

Subway boring machines ready to tunnel into York Region

Shovels are not yet in the ground, but a lot is happening with York Region’s two planned subway extensions, reported March 18. First up is the Spadina subway, set to grow from its terminus at Downsview up to Highway 7. Design concepts for each of the extension’s six new stops are underway.

York Region’s stops – at Steeles Avenue, Highway 407 and Vaughan Corporate Centre – are being designed by world-class architects such as Grimshaw&Architects and Alsop Architects. The acquisition of four tunnel boring machines, as opposed to the planned three, is expected to shorten of the construction schedule.

The most complex station is Steeles West, which cuts through land, owned by the region and York University, at an acute angle. The station also affects numerous landowners including Hydro One, CN, UPS and the TRCA. Accordingly, planners must deal with how the project affects hydro towers, Black Creek, and a rail crossing.

The station will also have an additional platform so trains can short turn, creating difficulties for the integration of above-ground facilities. Options for the 407 station are being narrowed and the terminal station at Vaughan Corporate Centre, at Jane Street, needs to be integrated with the city’s vision for a compact downtown area. At the end of November, the project was on budget and on schedule to open in 2015.

The Yonge Subway extension’s going forward hinges on the March 26 provincial budget. Metrolinx has cited it as a priority project and shovels can go in the ground within a year if provincial funding is forthcoming.

York grad finalist for top immigrant award

From humble beginnings as a poor and homeless young immigrant from Guyana, North York resident Mark Persaud (LLB ’91, LLM ’01) turned his life around and has been using his talents to help other struggling immigrants succeed at life in a new country, wrote the North York Mirror March 17.

Now a successful lawyer, active in high levels of federal politics and a tireless leader at his charitable organization, the Canadian International Peace Project, Persaud, 47, has been nominated as a finalist (top 75) in Canadian Immigrant magazine’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2009 award, sponsored by RBC. The top 25 will be announced in May.

"It’s flattering," said Persaud. "They are immigrants that have made major contributions to this country and just to be considered with them is an honour."

After gaining legal permission to work in Canada, Persaud got himself an education in political science from York University and followed that with a degree in law from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the Mirror.

Singer headed to York for PhD

All of the songs at Glennis Houston’s upcoming cabaret show at the Canmore Community Cooperative Workshop revolve around the theme of hearing what we want to hear and believing what we want to believe, wrote the Banff Crag &  Canyon March 17.

“You see that all the time, everywhere,” the Calgary-based vocalist said. “I think every one of us has experienced that: we know something inside, but we try and steer it with our brains, or something, to the way that we think it should go. But it’s not going to go that way, because it is what it is.”

Houston will begin a PhD program at York University in September. She wants to look at the improvisation characteristics of jazz and contrast that with, and try to combine it with, the improvisation that is inherent in southern Indian ragas.

Ryerson has shot at stepping up to big leagues

For most university students, every nickel is precious in these tough economic times, noted the Toronto Star March 19 in its Sports section. What price, though, to put upon their own continuing health and welfare and that of future generations? Is $61 a year too little? Is $187 too much?

These are issues and numbers being kicked around this week by students at Ryerson University as they vote in a referendum that closes today and might either pave the way to a much-needed new athletic centre at the downtown Toronto institution or preserve its "loser" status – Ryerson teams are better known for losing than winning, sometimes to the point of being laughingstocks.

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy wants to build an additional centre at an estimated cost of $30 million, but nothing can be done without the student body’s legal approval via the referendum.

Key funding would come from an increase in mandatory fees to the $187 mentioned above – a jump of $126 per student (membership in the athletic centre would be automatic for all, as would all club and intramural fees, which are now separate). By comparison, the University of Toronto collects and allocates $252 per student to its recently upgraded, top-grade facilities, while York University is close behind at $244.

On air

  • Paul Delaney, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science & Engineering, talked about the latest space shuttle mission, on “CTV Newsnet Morning” March 18. 
  • David Noble, professor of social and political thought in York’s Faculty of Arts, commented on the controversy over University of Ottawa Professor Denis Rancourt’s opposition to grading, on CBC Radio’s “The Current” March 18. 
  • Ronald Burke, professor emeritus in organizational behaviour and industrial relations at York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about layoffs at Saskatchewan’s PotashCorp on radio news programs broadcast in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yorkton, Sask., March 18.