Opinion

Blogs and social media offer authentic, real time experiences

I had a chance on the weekend to meet up with blogger Chris Mathieson, who will be spending a couple on weeks on the Northwest Coast.

He’s actually here documenting a project called Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery, but at the same time he’s broadcasting his experience real-time through various social media.

The Community Supported Fishery is itself an interesting project (www.wildbcsalmon.org). If you’ll forgive my simplified description, a cooperative of people buy shares, in advance, in the season’s catch from a commercial fishing boat. They take the same risks in the season as the fishermen, and at the end receive their share of the catch.

This journey has led Chris up the coast to Prince Rupert. He left Sunday for the Nass, and will explore Haida Gwaii before he returns south early next month.

These days it’s increasingly common for our promotional connections to first happen through social media. A year ago New York-based writer Molly O’Neill, who I first “met” on Twitter a few months earlier, showed up on assignment to Westworld magazine. It was a similar story with Chris. I first heard of him from Robyn Hanson at Think! Social Media, who described him as a social media-savvy museum professional who was until recently with the Vancouver Police Museum.

“I was working at the Police Museum for seven years,” Chris says, “three of those years as Executive Director. In that time, we went from eight or nine thousand visitors to 23,000 visitors per year. A big part of that growth came from bringing more of a marketing focus and awareness, and building the brand – and it has to be a quirky and unusual brand, when you work at a museum that has body parts in formaldehyde! We began working in social media about two-and-a-half years ago, mostly with Twitter, and it worked because we were quirky and interesting. For awhile we were the most followed museum in Canada. That propelled our subsequent growth. By the end we could say that five to seven per cent of our entire direct revenue was derived from social media – and that was measurable, because we could hold an event that was advertised only through social media, and we could count how many people showed up.”

In this column a couple of years ago I told the story of Trooper writing the song “Santa Maria.” I wrote, “Instead of eventually tossing the photos in a box, today’s visitors are more likely to blog real-time, to a large audience, about their experience here. We don’t ultimately control that message with marketing campaigns. We control that with customer service, by ensuring that visitors enjoy their time here. The song ‘Santa Maria’ proves that if a visitor has an authentic experience, and enjoys it, we ultimately don’t have to worry about how it will be reported.”

Today Chris is again proving the point. He’s tweeting (@cogno) from a gillnetter, saying things like, “I can’t believe that I’m tweeting an hour off-shore from Prince Rupert, in the middle of a *ton* of rolling water.” That’s an authentic experience – not one that would appear in a tourism brochure, but one that I can guarantee will enchant his followers with the unique experience of coming here in any fashion.

“It’s not marketing,” Chris says. “I’m having a personal adventure that I happen to be sharing with others. You have to be genuine. It has to be a real conversation between real people. People can tell very quickly if you’re selling snake oil.”

Like all bloggers, Chris is what we call an “influencer,” a person whose online presence drives the interest of others. This is, increasingly, the future of marketing and communications.

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