Social Media Tips from the Experts 

Scratch that title. According to Matthew Tierney, who handles social media for the Toronto Raptors, people should be wary of those who call themselves social media experts since social media is an ever-evolving medium. Catherine Mann, a social media brand manager, concurred, saying that it’s OK not to know something. Never claim that you’re an expert.

This tidbit of wisdom was just the tip of the iceberg in a recent panel discussion hosted by the Miami Ad School in Toronto. How can you not love a school that uses dog and flamingo logos?  Check them out on Twitter @MiamiAdSchoolTO.

Miami Ad School Social Media

The panel was a group of social media experts…oops, there’s that word again. But forgive me, Matthew and Catherine, you and the rest of the group certainly seemed to know your stuff. 

The panelists.

Matt Stephen is a social media specialist at Shopify. Check out his Twitter feed @MemeLatifah, it is FUNNY. Dude’s missing his calling. 

Cristina Gardeazabal is associate creative director of content at Mirum. A painter and graphic artist on the side, @gmshake could lull you into a trance with her velvety smooth made-for-FM-radio voice. 

Patrick Forestell is director of strategy at Studio 71. Full of style and energy, @plforestell gets my vote for most likely to have his own TV show. 

And finally, the two I already introduced:

Tierney is the managing editor of team content for the Toronto Raptors at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and it was clear basketball is in @Tierchild’s blood.

Mann is a powerhouse of personality and certainly commands a room. Handling social media for AIR MILES Canada@cmann_83 positively bubbles over with charisma. 

The panel was moderated by the very capable Jennifer Stack. @JenniferKStack is the social media program director for the Miami Ad School and director of social media for Anomaly

Social Media Panel Miami Ad School

The discussion began with each panelist sharing their story about how they got into the social media game. 

The takeaway? None took the conventional route – but maybe there is no such thing as conventional when it comes to social media. 

Matt S. has a background in writing. He graduated from York University with a degree in journalism and started his career writing for BlogTO and The Hockey News. 

Catherine M., also a journalism grad, has been in the game for over a decade, building her career during the infancy of social media and simply jumping in when others wouldn't.

Matthew T., who holds a bachelor of arts in business from Western University, was bored in his regular job. His “regular” job just so happened to be at the NHL. But he's a basketball, not a hockey guy so he stalked the people in the building who he knew worked for the Raptors and made connections. Clearly, it worked. (But for potential social media job seekers, maybe tread lightly on the whole stalking method of job advancement. It can certainly backfire and lead only to a restraining order.)

What tools do you find valuable for creativity?

Matt T. said he watches TV and movies and particularly listens to the stories he feels are told through the musical score. He pointed out that social media is about storytelling and part of his job is telling the cool stories that happen off the court, sometimes in videos. To really paint a picture of a player, he said you have to go beyond the sound bites you see on TV and social media allows him to do that. To illustrate this, he talked about sitting down with each player on the Raptors to get an idea of who they are off the court. Matt T. found that a player named Bismack Biyombo was deeply involved with many charities. He said you would never get that story from the TV soundbites and hackneyed quotes players give after games.

Christina G. said she gets ideas and inspiration from podcasts such as Radio Lab, Invisibilia, and NPR. Podcasts make you smarter, she said. 

Catherine M. answered Google alerts and her friend Donna, who works in Silicon Valley and knows the trends before they've swung north. (I’m going to guess that these two would be a whole lotta fun to meet over a pitcher of mojitos.)

Patrick F. wrapped it up by giving the succinct advice: unplug and read a book. He doesn’t care where you find the books…Heather’s picks or Oprah, just read. 

What trends do you see coming in social media? 

Catherine M. thinks we will see a cultural shift to simplicity in social media, with an emphasis even more on storytelling in its most raw form.

Matt S. thinks that there should be more of a human touch rather than automation and gave the advice to hire humans, not robots.

Cristina G. thought that brands more and more will treat “content as product.” 

What word describes your role in social media?

After quite a bit of jostling and passing the buck because no one could think of what to say, Matt S. jumped in with actualized. He said he loves the process of actualizing ideas and seeing them out in the world.

Cristina G. said decide. She said it is important to her that she is in control and she gets to decidewhat she wants to be, by producing, planning and building things.

Patrick F. thinks it’s all about creating. Creating things such as campaigns, relationships, and bridges. He described bridge-building as half listening, half asking the right questions in order to bridge strategy between the clients, influencers, and consumers.

Catherine M. said she is always watching what other brands are doing, especially the ones she admires, to foster her own creativity. She gave the brand Quaker as an example of a company who understands both their audience and trends with their campaign “comparenting.”

Matt T. said change. He said he gets bored doing the same thing over and over again. (I think this may have been another swipe at the NHL. He really seemed to hate hockey. Matthew T. do you hate maple syrup and beer, too?)

Their advice for people wanting to get into social media?

Matt S. pointed out that having a background in journalism makes him realize good writing is critical to social media. He warned though that you also have to have a thick skin. He told a story about putting something out on social media that immediately got the comment, “What idiot wrote this?” 

Catherine M. said to be OK with failure. She admitted that sometimes her campaigns suck. But it’s important to pat yourself on the back for trying. Having a dud is a learning experience.

Cristina G. said to put your ego aside and make yourself invaluable. Learn everything you possibly can.

Patrick F. said keep going. Keep trying. Keep doing. Have unrelenting perseverance.

Matthew T. gave the advice to bet on yourself. Be confident. He asked if anyone had ever suggested something in a meeting that was met with a silent room. Then you think, well, that was dumb. He said everyone has had that experience but don’t let it stop you. Keep betting on your ideas.

What is your favourite platform?

Matt T. immediately said Twitter.

Christine M. said she likes to be a troll on Twitter but believes it is Facebook that leads trends, giving their new dating app as an example. She also pointed out that it’s important to ensure brand integrity across all platforms.

Cristina G. said Instagram but likes the engagement on Facebook and the awesome conversations in the threads.

Patrick F. looked incredulously at the group and said, “Hello? What about YouTube?” He backed it up by pointing out that it is now the biggest search engine, with Instagram second. (I wanted to verify this so after a quick search, I found that multiple sources say that YouTube is the second largest search engine with more than 3 billion searches a month. Apparently it’s bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, Ask, and AOL combined. Google does rank number one but since YouTube is owned by Google, I guess technically he’s not wrong.)

What tools or strategy do you use?

Cristina G. said she uses the Ads Manager tool on Facebook and also tracks everything in Excel.  She said she does it so she always has answers to questions about numbers. 

Catherine M. said that the native tools of each platform are quite valuable and she uses them rather than third-party apps. She said it’s valuable to educate yourself with data analytics especially Ads Manager. “Get dirty" with it, was her advice because it gives you the upper hand. She also gave the great advice to learn to ask smarter questions or make friends with smarter people. You can't know everything so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Matthew T. warned to be careful about scheduling tools because current events can overtake a scheduled post and that can make a brand look insensitive.

Patrick F. talked about the “BAM brief” which stands for Bare Ass Minimum. It’s important to know the minimum you need in a space. Always think, what are the BAM details? It’s also important to have a post-mortem after a campaign to discuss what went well and what went wrong.

To sum up…

The general consensus from the panel was obvious – sitting on metal bar stools for two hours is a killer on the lower back. 

But also working in social media is like being a Swiss Army knife. You have to be able to wear many hats, assemble many skills, and do any job that’s required. It’s about managing chaos, handling constant change, and simply getting shit done.


~Christine MacLeod