I had the pleasure of attending the Talk Is Cheap social media unconference for PR professionals back on November 15th here in Toronto.

Social media has been the big thing these days really because it’s been reported in the traditional media (newspapers, tv, magazines, etc.).

Sure, items on Digg’s homepage get widespread notice and buzz around the blogosphere can make or break a politician or corporation but for true maximum impact, the rest of the world needs to hear about it on the news.

I don’t think Lonelygirl15, that crazy bride, cyber bullying, YouTube, even online dating and Facebook wouldn’t have be as huge if they weren’t reported offline. Social media is still not truly widespread but it’s getting there.

Take for example, the carbon footprint campaign WWF Canada had in Toronto in November 2006. Long story short, they wanted to promote their saveourclimate.org website and show people what 3,000 of greenhouse gas looks like. 3,000 balloons were filled up (yes, they’re biodegradable) and were placed on the street during the morning rush to work.

The usual social media integration was done: blogosphere buzz before the event, live blogging on the day of the event as well as uploading videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr. I liked their idea of using del.icio.us as a media kit. Their media advisory used a catchy headline (“Huge black cloud invades Toronto”).

WWF Canada also had an on-site booth so they would be able to speak to the public directly. The mayor was invited (and videoed), the media reported it on the news, t-shirts and chalk drawings were made and to their advantage, CBC television personalities stumbled upon the event and included it on their shows (Rick Mercer did some funny stuff with the balloons and a bicycle while pretending to be Kim Jong-il).

That day, the event received 11 media impressions, 10,000 views on YouTube and1,600 hits on saveourclimate.org. Bloggers were blogging about it and the whole shbang was declared a success.

The surprise of the campaign is the huge demand for the t-shirt they made. The t-shirt had the words, “Hotter than I should be” and WWF Canada ended up selling them on their web shop. The shirts were such a success that they were given out to celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival.

You know you had a successful campaign when it creates a life of its own after the fact.