Getting into civic tech + Code for Canada’s Toronto open house

What positive impact can technology make on small communities across Canada?

That’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how local Canadian communities like the Kawarthas can use technology to stay economically strong and culturally vibrant.

I brought this up with my buddy Lucas Cherkewsi at WordCamp Montreal in August. He told me about the civic tech movement, and how it’s focused on these kinds of questions.

How can technology improve the public good?

After chatting with Lucas, I made a mental note to check out the Civic Tech Toronto group, then I attended my first Civic Tech Toronto meetup last week.

It was great. There were lots of people and lots of projects going on.

And those groups weren’t just sitting around pontificating. They were getting stuff done. (And this isn’t a once-a-month thing, either. This group gets together every Tuesday evening.)

As a new attendee, I had to sit in on the Civic Tech 101 orientation. That’s where I heard about Code for Canada.

Coincidentally, Code for Canada was doing an open house just a couple of days later. I went, and this is what I learned.

Keep reading…Getting into civic tech + Code for Canada’s Toronto open house

Tips for online advertising (Growth Hacking Toronto)

Search & Gather, a small digital marketing agency in Toronto, led yesterday’s Growth Hacking Toronto session about running paid search and social campaigns. These are my notes from their presentation.


Choosing the right platform means understanding the product (or service) you’re promoting and the audience you’re promoting it to.

You may have some assumptions about the audience — who they are, what they want, where they hang out, and what platforms would be the most effective — but those are only assumptions.

What does the data say? We’ll come back to this in a moment.

The type of CTA you use — the call to action, e.g. “sign up” or “buy now” or “learn more” — will also affect your platform choice. Some CTAs are better suited to certain platforms.

Ditto for when the conversions — the action of clicking on the CTA — actually happen.

Targeting an evening behaviour (e.g. finding a place to grab a drink with friends) may be better served on a different platform than targeting a daytime behaviour (e.g. scheduling a business meeting).

You’ll have assumptions about the target audience. You’ll have assumptions about the CTAs. You’ll have assumptions about timing.

Test your assumptions. Run trial campaigns and see what the data tells you.

Start with a small budget and iterate your tests across 3-4 platforms. As you get comfortable and grow your confidence, gradually increase your spend.

If you have a tight budget, use fewer platforms so you’re pulling in statistically significant data. (Search & Gather recommended a minimum of $1k per campaign.)

So, which platforms should you use?

LinkedIn is good for targeting industries and professions. Unfortunately it has a bad algorithm.

Bing is like “AdWords little brother”. It has lower CPC and higher ROAS. (I think they mentioned 2x to 3x return.)

WeChat is a great way to reach the Asian market.

Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences, and Remarketing are all underutilized on Facebook.

An additional point on Lookalike Audiences: Base your audiences on different levels of your marketing + sales funnel. Start with 1% lookalike and “work out from there”. To reduce the budget, layer on geographic and demographic filters.

Call Campaigns (advertising a phone number – mobile only), negative keywords, and key positioning with better creative (e.g. targeting 2nd or 3rd placement but having a better offer) are underutilized on Google.

Sticking with Google: Dynamic search ads can get bring in traffic from longtail keywords, and perform well with a lower CPA. Google Display Network offers advanced targeting. Start with responsive ads.

Twitter is high maintenance. (Yes, that’s the only note I have about it – conversation was mostly focused on FB and Google.)

Audience fatigue is real

Audience fatigue/frequency fatigue happens when the same audience is exposed to the same advertisements and messaging over and over and over.

To get around it, rotate your audiences. Segment your “big audience” into smaller groups. Alternate your spend on-and-off to target the different segments at different times.

You can also test new audiences and add them to your rotation.

Bottom line? Don’t waste your budget on a tired audience.

Let’s talk ad creative

There’s still a ripe opportunity for good, interesting creative in online advertising. Channel your inner Don Draper.

If you’re not sure which direction to go in with your creative, start simple. “Keep it vanilla.”

From there, experiment and iterate with your creative, the same way you iterate with your targeting.

Run multivariate tests. Try different messaging and images. “It’s not set it and forget it.”


Continuity & relevance between ads and landing pages

So a prospective customer clicks your ad. What now? What do they see on the landing page?

Should the creative be the exact same as the ad? Should it be different? Does it matter?

“It’s situational.” Sometimes the creative doesn’t need to match 100%. But the tone and messaging should be consistent.

What about video?

“Video is hard and expensive.”

Traditional brands are doing it well because they have the cash to spend on production.

Small businesses and startups don’t have that kind of money. So they go static. It’s easier to test and iterate and “fail fast” on images and text.

…and that’s it! Thanks to Search & Gather for sharing their knowledge with the group and putting up with the inconveniently-timed fire alarm tests.

Spontaneity leads to opportunity.

Spontaneity will open you up to more potential opportunities and adventures. Falling into the same drab fixed routine is going to yield less unexpected opportunities and fewer possible big gains.

Source: How to Make Your Own Luck | Mark Manson

A few weeks ago I was unexpectedly invited to spend an afternoon on a sailboat.

A few things went through my mind: Is this a good idea? What about the my planned activities for the afternoon? I wasn’t dressed for hitting the water – would that be a problem?

So on and so on.

I hesitated for a moment but ultimately decided to join in. It was great! It was my first time on a sailboat, and I even managed to get some work done while on board.

Never would’ve happened if I didn’t say yes.

(Note: Featured image for illustrative purposes. We only sailed around Toronto Harbour. 😉 )

Takeaways from 1% Better Every Day (James Clear)

Success comes from incremental growth. Incremental growth happens with intentional habits.

You can build your intentional habits by creating an environment that triggers and supports the habits – for example, a visual cue to go and do something.

Make time for these habits by putting them in your calendar and protecting that time. More habits, more repetitions, more incremental growth, more success.

Every milestone or achievement is just another notch on the continuum of progress. Your habits and repetitions keep you going. The repetitions matter.

Put your energy into starting. Don’t focus on the finish line or the outcome or where you want to get to. Focus on where you’ll start. Make it easy to start.

Reward your repetitions. “Change long-term behaviour with short-term feedback.” (Hat tip to Seth Godin on this one.) One tactic: Don’t break the chain. Repeat the same exercise every single day. Don’t break the streak twice. If you fall off once, not a problem. Just don’t fall off two days in a row. Never miss twice.

(I’m sure I missed something, but there you go. Watch the talk just to be safe.)

Content, Community, Commerce, and Code

Back in early August I wrote a blog post about finding focus in my 30s. In that post, I decided that Content and Community would continue to be fundamental to what I do. Commerce and Code would add to it. Together, these four topics would form the “pillars” of my work.

This is how I look at it:

Content refers to the information that we present online. This could be something as simple as a Facebook update, or something as complex as an interactive hybrid AR/VR narrative. (Kinda like a movie, but not a movie.)

Community refers to the groups of people that we interact with. It could be a group that we lead or facilitate; it could be a group of peers that we collaborate with and learn from; it could be a group of people that we want to reach, like a target demographic or regional market. (Community is like Soylent Green. It’s made of people.)

Commerce refers to methods of making our work self-sustainable. How do you cover the costs of the work you’re doing online? I think it’s really, really important to understand the options here. Even if what you’re doing is a personal hobby, and you’re not interested in commercializing it, you should still know what’s available.

Code refers to the technology that supports and enables all the rest. Code is like language. With it we can create things and solve problems. Specific languages — HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Python, SQL, and others — all have different use cases, from building websites to grokking data. I want to learn more so I can do more.

So these are the topics that I want to develop more expertise around through learning and experimentation. And in the spirit of the Open Web, I’m documenting what I learn through this site.

I’ve published four new pages, aptly named after the four above topics, where you’ll find an ever-evolving dumping ground of notes and thoughts and resources:

Let the sharing begin!

P.S. If you’re interested in keeping up with resources and notes as I add them, I’m launching a weekly email digest in the coming weeks called Read This. Sign up right here:

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