A crash course in social media

As some of you may already know, last week I was away, traipsing around British Columbia at Simon Fraser University. Following in the footsteps of Porcupette Caleigh Minshall before me (here and here), I signed up for three summer workshops at SFU. Of the courses I took—Marketing Through Social Media, eBooks in a Day, and HTML5 Broken Down—some were more useful than others, but all offered new insights into the constantly changing nature of our increasingly digital world. In Marketing Through Social Media, we discussed how social media is changing the way we interact with each other; in eBooks in a Day, I learned how easy it is to self-publish through Amazon; and in HTML5 Broken Down, I watched my instructor animate a short sentence online using only CSS. While there is lots I can share from my experience, I think the most interesting, and perhaps most useful, were the tidbits I picked up with Angela Crocker in Marketing Through Social Media.

Angela Crocker is a social media guru and has been since well before social media was even cool. A graduate of SFU, she currently runs her own company, Beachcomber Communications, where she teaches her clients how to use social media to promote their projects.

I had signed up for the course because social media is a huge part of my job here at the Porcupine’s Quill. I interact with all of you everyday through these blogs, twitter, and Facebook, but I’ve never been formally trained in the area. I signed up for the class hoping someone would teach me how to “do” social media, but I wasn’t even sure if such a thing could be taught. How would one go about instructing someone else how to “do” social media? For an outsider, the trouble with social media is that there is simply too much. There are too many networks, too many means of communication, too many voices, and too much noise! As an outsider looking in, it seems like everyone is saying the same thing, simultaneously, as loud as they can.

Thankfully, in this workshop Angela provided some very simple objectives to keep in mind when communicating through social media, especially when doing so on behalf of an organization. She took what seemed to be impossibly complicated and made it completely manageable. Here are some insights I took away from Angela’s workshop:

1. Know your audience. When we have conversations through social media, we’re talking to individuals, not large groups. No longer are we devising national advertising campaigns intended to capture the interest of “married women over 30,” instead we’re talking to one married woman over 30, perhaps named Claire, who has a daughter and enjoys reading mystery novels. We’re no longer talking to demographics, and your audience won’t appreciate being spoken to as such. Find out who you’re talking to, and what they want to hear about you and your company.

2. Define concrete goals. No one can do it all, and you certainly can’t do it all on social media. Whether you’re running a twitter account, a Facebook page, or a tumblr feed, you need to have some clear objectives in mind. What do you want your audience to walk away with? Do you want to educate them about your company? Do you want them to buy your product?* Or do you want them to just have a little fun? Pick a goal and stick to it. Your page and posts will be stronger for it.

3. Have something to say.
You can’t hop on a twitter account and hope your audience will come to you. It’s a long, hard process building up a network, and you’ll do it by consistently having something interesting to say. Angela recommended keeping Google Alerts and starting a Google Reader for topics of interest to you and your readers. Keep them up to date on news that interests you and is directly relevant to them.

With these three points in mind, I’m already finding that communicating through social media is simpler and, hopefully, more interesting for PQL’s audience.**

Walking out of Angela’s class, I realized that I had already known how to “do” social media. There is no magic to composing a popular tweet or writing a viral post on Facebook. There’s nothing to it that you shouldn’t have already known from good ol’ fashioned conversation. The trick is keeping that in mind, so that social media doesn’t throw you for a loop. People are still people, wherever they are, be it on the internet or in the cafe down the street. They still want to be spoken to with honesty and respect, and they still want to listen to someone who has something interesting to say. In an odd way, it turns out that social media may be making the world personal again—at least, when in the hands of the right people. Until next time … Porcupette out!

*Interestingly enough, we were told that if you want to see concrete sales increases due to your efforts on social media, you shouldn’t hold your breath. I think this is a common frustration companies have when they sign onto twitter and Facebook. But why aren’t they buying my products?? The truth is that since social media is so personal, the second readers start to think you are trying to sell them something, they tune you out. The short term goals of social media cannot be to make sales, but rather to make friends. By engaging with your audience you can hope to develop a network of friends who care about you and your company. If you work hard, these friends could become loyal customers for years to come.

**That wasn’t all I left the class with. While social media can be a great way for companies to talk directly to their customers, it can also be a dark and scary rabbit hole. I’ve been hearing rumours lately about some tricky features on Facebook, and in Angela’s workshop they were confirmed. As more and more companies sign onto Facebook, the social network is starting to change. When you “like” a page on Facebook (a fan page like Fans of Gilbert Blythe or a company page like the Porcupine’s Quill) you are telling Facebook that you would like to receive information from that page on your feed. However, if you don’t often comment on or “like” posts on the page, Facebook will slowly start showing you less and less of the content. As such, a company that has a page on Facebook may have 800 people who “like” it, but they may only reach 200 with their posts. If you want the rest of your audience to see your content, Facebook has been testing “promoting” those posts for a small cash fee. Apparently the difference in reach is phenomenal (from a few hundred to upwards of 3,000 in one instance I heard), but I still think this is a little ridiculous. I’m an introverted Facebooker myself, loath to “like” everything that flashes before my eyes, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still want to receive information from my favourite pages. So the moral of the story is, if you want to stay up to date with your favourite pages, you better start “liking” those posts! This article is a little silly, but you can read more about this issue here.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.