The Vancouver Social Media Story

by Bruce Nickson

 On September 27th, I had the great good fortune of attending a screening of Generation Social: The Vancouver Network, a film by Vancouver director Andrew Lavigne, at the Emily Carr Social + Interactive Media Centre. The film profiles four of the major figures in the Vancouver Social Media scene. The evening was in two parts: the screening of the film and a panel discussion.

First, the film: It follows the thoughts and fortunes of four of the key personalities in the Vancouver social media scene: Gillian Shaw, the Vancouver Sun Tech columnist; John Chow, blogging gajillionaire; Dave Olson of HootSuite; and Alexandra Samuel, the Director of Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

The film is about the evolution of social media pre-broadband and pre-Facebook to the present state of affairs, along with a few peeks at what might be coming next – think smaller, more intimate and more values-driven. The general message is: what a long way we’ve some and in such a short time. Social Media evolves from a deep geek-driven minority of enthusiasts to a tool that influences genuine social and political change and is a natural habitat for billions of people. For example, during the panel, Dave Olson describes the CIA (yes, that CIA) on the phone asking him “how do you do that….?” when they learned that HootSuite was still streaming Tweets from Tahrir Square when the authorities had choked Internet access.

Rather than deliver a blow by blow of the film’s story, it might be best to give a few of the highlights. HootSuite decides to attend South by Southwest (SXSW). But how? In typical low-key Canadian style? Nope, the decision was made: “let’s go large”. That meant having the HootSuite bus (dressed as a HootSuite Owl), a party house and a lot of intense and shameless on-the-street and in-event promotion.

And then there is the mogul (love him or hate him) John Chow, a quiet modest family man by day, and a blogging superstar monster with a taste for Ferraris and Lamborghinis by night. And a talent for shameless self-promotion – as in his favourite T-shirt, which is emblazoned with: “I’m John Chow: Bitch!” Needless to say, John is a guy not for the faint of heart.

The film, though, is not just about the attention-getting shenanigans of social media success stories. Emily Carr’s Alexandra Samuel forges an alliance with another Vancouver success story, Vision Critical, the survey and customer/community engagement software platform. The problem? Data and a lot of it. Roughly 80,000 respondents, in fact. Could Emily Carr students boil down Vision Critical’s data on Facebook and Twitter Lurkers and Sharers to a simple series infographics? Well, yes, they could, and they did.

And then the panel: Andrew Lavigne, Dave Olson and Alexandra Samuels were kind enough to field questions and provide insights.

In keeping with the “made in Vancouver” theme, the boil-down is about trying to answer why Vancouver is such a hotbed for leading-edge social media innovation. The answers were varied and ranged from creative lifestyle to intensity of the local competition and more, a lot more.

Would this innovation continue? Without giving too much away, Dave explained that HootSuite’s people strategy was to hope that during any foundee divestiture, new innovative technology firms would then be created. À la Seattle. Vancouver may be at that level of critical mass.

And finally, there was a discussion of “how’d he do that” regarding John Chow. Andrew explained that John’s success was about a key quality of the entrepreneur: relentlessness. Have one or two messages, stick to ‘em and repeat. And meet the people.

The takeaway? Both film and panel were fundamentally a celebration of the innovative culture that allows entrepreneurs and educators to flourish in Vancouver in the social media space. No, the film was not one of those lame “Vancouver is the best city for blah blah blah”, which, it was mentioned, no thinking person gives a crap about anyway. The event was about our ability to make real connections in real time, in a real ecosystem. Check out the film. You’ll like it. It tells an important story.

 And Dave? Thanks for the coaster. Pride of place under my beer.

 Bruce Nickson (@brucenix), who is a member of the BCAMA Marketline Committee, observes the Social Media scene and once held the fancy job title of Executive Director.

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