I’ve been busy with an experiment recently. It’s a proper, real life social experiment, with the emphasis on social. Yes, funnily enough, I mean ‘social’ as in social media. You wouldn’t expect anything less from me would you?
Having thrown my hat into the ring with social media several years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with virtually every major global brand. And with social media in high demand, I’ve had the chance to work with interesting start ups, entrepreneurs, theatres, lifestyle companies, non profits too.
High octane as this sounds, being at the cut and thrust of marketing and branding leaves you out of touch with the real world. Buzz words like engagement, traction, activation and acronyms like ROI, CPA and KPI are flung around the room like weapons and everyone is caffeinated to hell and back. Then there’s the jostling between the various agencies and clients over competitive edge, revenue and budgets which is just exhausting. This is why I always take a step back and have a project of my own which feeds my creativity and soulfulness while opening me up to new ways of doing things.
Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve trained around 400 people how to use social media. Each workshop, class and one to one tuition is a revelation. People are either terrified, overwhelmed or hugely excited by social media (and sometimes all three). People behave differently; some run around the room cheering having sent their first tweet, one woman was so nervous her first tweet would go viral we all thought she’d cry as she posted it, others have gone on to set up their own social media outfits. It’s humbling thing bearing witness to all this and a huge reminder that while Facebook has over one billion users globally and other social networks are close behind, it’s really about the individual and the experience they have that matters.
Gathering this feedback and insights has made me realise that a lot of small businesses are really behind the curve in digital and social media. They are lacking the confidence and expertise to use it to their advantage which means it’s more difficult to compete with the marketing budgets to big brands. On a local level, I began to notice that where I live people don’t really do social media. At the same time, businesses are closing and the indie, villagey feel is dwindling as retailers shut up shop and make way for pop ups or the big brands that are taking the character away from high streets everywhere. It’s a vicious cycle. So I had an idea, why not create a virtuous circle and transform my area into a social media haven while making a real difference to the businesses here?
Armed with my insights from training and knowledge of working with big brand retailers, I’m doing precisely that.
Earlier this year I set up a Twitter account and called ShopChiswick and then a blog and even a Pinterest account. I followed local people and businesses and started to build a following on the premise that ShopChiswick was a free for all; news and offers and asks for anything are retweeted from Twitter and companies can have free feature on the ShopChiswick blog.
To launch the initiative, I applied to become an official Social Media Week event in September and had one of those cart wheeling down the streets moments when ShopChiswick was added to the list of official events. The launch was a great success and attended by around 70 people, I had expected no more than 50, and the atmosphere was upbeat and buzzy. Additionally, I’ve been running training sessions for free to get shop and business owners up to speed on Twitter and social media.
It’s all been a great adventure so far and really great to forge relationships with the local community which is thirsty for knowledge and support.
There’s one barrier and a shocking reason behind it. I discovered it while struggling to get the ShopChiswick Pinterest account off the ground. My Home of Social account has around 6,000 followers on each board and Pinterest is a great social medium for retail so I couldn’t see why it would be an issue for this new account. But as you may or may not know, the nature of Pinterest is that you need images to pin from web sites, blogs and social media to curate your boards. But there are hardly any photos or images online of Chiswick businesses and that’s because many businesses don’t even have web sites, let alone social media accounts. I find this incredible. It astounds me this hasn’t been addressed by the government. There have been massive campaigns to get consumers online, but there’s been a massive oversight when it comes to small business. Why?
Well, I’m going to have to work on that too somehow…but back to the task in hand. I want tangible proof that social media is relevant and effective for businesses in many ways. Some great stories are surfacing already and I’ll be applying to Social Media Week 2015 for official event status to reveal the full results then. It’s going to be a really interesting case study and as a professional social media marketer, rather than quote from Altimeter, Forrester or Mashable (much as I admire them and do often quote them), I want to evidence something that I’ve built, lived and learned from. And for me, that’s what social media is really about.
While ShopChiswick is ticking along nicely on Twitter, as with all social media marketing, day to day community activity is one thing but campaigns are what’s necessary to keep people interested and engaged. I’m getting creative with a series of social media driven guerrilla events, the first is called Tweet the Streets.
It’s a partnership between Brompton Bike Hire and ShopChiswick to celebrate the upcoming Small Business Saturday on December 6 and to get locals excited about what’s on offer in Chiswick this Christmas. 5 teams will be set a challenge to Tweet the Streets over the course of a morning. Covering the length and breadth of W4 and starting out from the Brompton Bike Hire dock on Turnham Green Terrace, the participants will make their way round the area on Brompton Bikes and capture social media evidence of their challenges to share across Twitter and other social media accounts using the #Tweetthestreets hashtag.
Follow the action on @ShopChiswick and #tweetthestreets from 9am on Thursday December 4, 2014.