Today I got to participate in a free seminar offered as part of a whole week of Vancouver Social Media Week events.
It was a sunny, crisp September morning and the view of Burrard Inlet from the West Coast Express was stunning. It was with some regret that I descended steps into the basement of the new W2 Media Cafe at 111 West Hastings, in the Downtown Eastside.
However, the welcoming people lifted my spirits as they handed me a small orange notebook and a pen (the event was sponsored by Langara College, which has branded itself orange.) I chatted with people in the seats beside me. Another middle-aged lady shared her reservations about social media with me–she dislikes the triviality of many posts, and the unabashed sharing of what our generation would consider personal information.
Marie Chatterton from Langara began the morning with an introduction to social media. She was very upbeat as she summarized its positive features. We have moved from Web 1.0, where people just viewed websites, to Web 2.0, where there is a huge amount of live human interaction. We can get live help, chat and create our own original content. Also, we are linking content amongst many platforms. Ordinary people are empowered; we don’t have to wait to get our information from traditional media sources. Chatterton gave examples of how individuals can gather together online in large numbers to battle even the largest corporations.
Chatterton briefly explained some useful social media tools and new features of familiar social media sites. For example, Facebook now offers good filters that allow users to easily determine which of their friends will see specific posts. She showed how easy it is to create a business page using the various categories on the Creating a Page section of Facebook. Hootsuite is good for managing multiple sites. She encouraged us to look at the website meetup.com, which allows people to get together with others who have similar interests and to find out something about these people online before the actual meetup.
Chatterton believes that one of social media’s great strengths is the opportunities for collaboration that it opens up. She showed a YouTube video that Langara used as part of its marketing campaign for its ReThink Scholarship. The video attracted entrants from 14 countries! She also gave some examples of companies that are doing an excellent job of interacting with their clientele: Black Sheep Clothing, which makes funky clothing for women ages 17–25, and Discovery Channel, which has over 70 different Facebook pages.
One of the most interesting aspects of Chatterton’s presentation, to me, was her philosophy about how social media has changed business communication. She commented that even in business, you don’t need to be serious all the time—in fact, people now want to see a personality behind the business talk. In the modern world, she believes there is more blending of our personal and business selves. She encouraged us to be experimental and playful with social media. She emphasized that though social media involves learning about technology, it is really about human interaction. Social media is often used for grassroots and personal purposes. It brings together people with similar interests.
After a coffee break, the session began again with a panel presentation. The four panel members were Doug Burgoyne, one of the founders of Frogbox, a company that makes plastic reusable moving boxes; Sylvia Tan, the communications officer for Langara; Dave Macdonald of Socialized!, a company that helps other organizations improve their use of social media; and Irvin Oostindie of W2 Community Media Arts. These four panel members offered a fascinating range of insights into the use of social media, because between them they covered questions and problems relevant to small businesses, institutions, large businesses and social activists.
Burgoyne outlined the many “stupid” mistakes that his company made with their initial use of social media as a marketing tool, way back in 2009. They’ve learned from their mistakes and Burgoyne had many helpful tips to pass along. In planning a social media campaign, he says you need to give a good deal of thought to the following three subjects:
- Objectives. What do you want to achieve with your marketing campaign? Who is your audience? You need to create content that engages them and is beneficial to them.
- Resources and Channels. A strength of social media is that it can be very cheap and even free to use–except you only have so much time. It does take a lot of time to do it well. You need to have a strategy for each social media platform that you use. What content will you post? How often will you post?
- Voice. It’s critical that the voice of your social media posts matches your brand identity, and that your voice is consistent.
Another tip Burgoyne offered was to connect with people in your industry and your community who have many followers. If they support your messages, they have the potential to reach huge audiences.
The next panel speaker was Sylvia Tan, communications officer at Langara College. Tan stressed the importance of knowing one’s audience and posting content that is beneficial to them. She advised against “selling.” Social media is all about getting your audience engaged; that way your site will get publicity without a hard sell. Tan has discovered that contests, photos and videos are very popular with students and generate many retweets.
Tan spends between one and a half and two hours each day updating Langara’s social media sites. Noting that using social media can be overwhelming, she offered some tips about managing time:
- You may want to pick a specific number of times per day to respond on your social media platforms. Timing can make a difference with some audiences. For example, Tan has noticed that many students are online around 5 p.m. when their classes are over, so that is one of her check-in times.
- Some people like being “on” social media all the time. Tan prefers to set a boundary between her work and personal time. She doesn’t respond on Langara’s social media sites in the evening.
- Try some monitoring tools that will allow you to see which types of posts are most popular and effective.
Dave Macdonald, the next panel speaker, described the background experience that led him to become an expert in business use of social media. He described himself as an “organizational culture geek.” His company, Socialized!, consults with organizations to identify mistakes and gaps in their use of social media. He looks at what companies are doing internally and helps them clarify what they are trying to achieve with their social media marketing. He told one fascinating anecdote about an accounting organization that was trying to publicize its professional events. They were booking large rooms and spending large amounts of money for these events, but too often the rooms ended up almost empty. After a social media marketing campaign, the organization discovered that several events had wait lists!
The key point I took away from Macdonald’s talk is that you must decide how social media can help you. Do whatever is useful for you; don’t try to copy what has worked for another business. In some cases, it’s OK just to be a listener.
Irwin Oostindie, the final panel speaker, offered a much different perspective on social media since he is mainly excited about its potential to promote social equality. Oostinde began his talk by explaining that as more and more services are going online (including government services), there is a lack of access to services for people who aren’t online. Social alienation can occur when people don’t have access to technology. Examples of people without Internet access include many northern communities and many Downtown Eastside residents.
Oostinde works for W2 Community Media Arts. This cross-media tech centre has just opened; it aims to provide Internet access and train people in the use of technology. W2 doesn’t have a big marketing budget, but using social media can be free. Oostinde sees a role for social media in “engaging people in civil society, democracy.”
Oostinde was more critical than the other panel members about the ways social media is currently being used. He seems to think that it is playing a large role in the commercialization of our society. He cautioned that we need to think critically about how we use giants like Facebook and Google. They are trying to take over the Internet! In contrast, Oostinde was enthusiastic about Firefox (the biggest open source product in the world!) He also contrasted the social media activity of Vancouver 2010 with W2 during the Olympics. Vancouver 2010 was pushing content out (one-way communication), whereas the communication around W2 was more of a cauliflower effect that connected communities.
After all the panelists had spoken, the audience participated in a Q & A session. Some helpful tips and references to technology emerged from that discussion:
- Google Alerts are a great way to gather information.
- Twitter tools are great. Twitter is useful when you integrate it with your website. You can put a Twitter feed in your website to keep your content fresh.
- YouTube videos are great for learning how to use tech tools!
- Remember that people don’t do business with people they don’t like. You still need to meet people in real life sometimes. Tan finds it exciting to meet some of her Twitter correspondents at TweetUps!
- A business axiom is that it’s much cheaper to deepen relationships with existing customers than to get new customers. Social media is ideal for maintaining contact with people and strengthening relationships.
- Macdonald recommends keeping up a blog outside of your website. He suggests posts of about 300–500 words.