Q&A: Michelle Pinchev, Social Media Master
by Alison Garwood-Jones
November 13, 2017
The founder of Pinch Social talks best social media practices at the launch of Social Media Week Toronto
Michelle Pinchev is the executive director of Social Media Week Toronto, an independently organized event that is part of a global network of Social Media Week conferences. Pinchev is also the founder of Pinch Social, a boutique social media agency working with a variety of clients in media, tech and finance. Writer Alison Garwood-Jones sits down with Pinchev to talk about the conference and social media marketing trends brands need to be aware of in 2018.
Alison Garwood-Jones: Toronto is having this amazing moment on the world stage, both from a cultural and a tech standpoint. How did this shape your vision for Social Media Week Toronto 2017 (SMWi)?
Michelle Pinchev: It was absolutely central to our vision of Social Media Week 2017 to take into account all of the incredible things that are happening in the social media and digital landscape in Toronto and across Canada. Being Canada’s only Social Media Week, we certainly felt a sense of responsibility to really capture what’s happening in the city. At least 95 per cent of our speakers are Toronto-based or Canadian-based success stories. The first example that comes to mind is Diply, a social entertainment publisher. They are growing by leaps and bounds and we wanted to sit down with them and understand how they are targeting millennials so effectively, and what they are learning from all the rigorous testing that they are putting their content through. Wattpad, a Toronto-based free online storytelling community, and Shopify have both been on our radar for some time, so we look forward to interviewing them. We also have a lot of smaller stories that are so uniquely Canadian, and the one that comes to mind was a 2016 campaign called #TellAmericaItsGreat by a group called The Garden Collective. They did this really neat user-generated content video that was meant as a response to the volatile politics during the 2016 presidential race. It went viral and became one of the biggest social media campaigns in Canadian history, garnering the attention of some of the biggest media outlets around the world, including Jimmy Kimmel. It said a lot about who we are as a nation.
AGJ: What are some of the key social media marketing trends for 2018?
MP: We will be talking about video extensively and the conversation will span all of the platforms, whether it’s YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat or Instagram Stories. We like to talk about the medium agnostically from the platform because one of the key trends I’m observing for social media in 2018 is this idea of convergence. There was a time when social media platforms were very different, and, [to some extent] they still are. They still have different audiences and we still need to think about multi-platform strategies, but, more and more, you’re seeing [companies like] Twitter expanding their character count to 280 and Instagram [copying SnapChat] by adding Instagram Stories. When SnapChat came out, it offered a very different user experience and called for very unique content development. But now we’re seeing that exact same experience in another major platform. So, our conversations this year will be more about storytelling and [producing] content agnostic of where you are pushing it. If you’re a brand, a thought leader or an influencer and you’ve got this exceptional content that’s been optimized for one specific platform, you have to think about how you can you leverage that story across different platforms to different audiences.
This year's speakers include: (Top row) Claudia Oshry, Michael Landsberg, Bruce Croxon. (Bottom row) David Beebe, Matt Galloway, Kirstine Stewart. Photo courtesy SMWi.
AGJ: One of the overarching themes I’ve noticed in this year’s programming is an emphasis on brands as entertainers instead of advertisers.
MP: Yeah [she chuckles]. Interesting. “Entertainers” is a good term, but the term I might use is “publisher.” Every brand is becoming media—its own television program or its own radio program. We’re hosting a session on branded podcasts and Shopify will be on that panel. They’ve worked with agencies to create branded podcasts that have done exceptionally well. This idea of the brand as media/publisher blurs the lines between media and content, between content for the sake of content versus branded content. We’re really seeing a lot more fluidity between those two worlds. That creates a lot of opportunities for brands to create value-added content, instead of traditional ads.
AGJ: You’ve also organized a panel on laws and regulations, including compliance for influencers, transparency, disclosure and CASL. Why is this important?
MP: This is a very timely topic from whether it’s intellectual property and privacy or the ethics around political advertising and targeting. We’re hearing a lot about privacy concerns. Facebook, for example, is doing spectacular work with targeting, but it’s really pushing the boundaries in terms of what we’re used to with private information access. Then you’ve got other issues like online harassment and bullying. Alt-right groups have leveraged social platforms to spread their messages. We’re seeing social media being utilized in a way that it wasn’t intended. From a legal perspective, we are at a critical juncture where we’re going to see some major changes in governance and policy. I think marketers need to look out for that. But I think overall that’s going to make social media a safer and more positive space for everyone. It’s about being respectful of people’s intellectual property and being respectful of their privacy, but also ensuring marketers can be equipped with data that can make advertising more relevant to consumers. When things are more personalized and more relevant in terms of how you engage with brands, it’s a win-win for everyone.
AGJ: This year you chose to highlight McDonalds Canada as a brand who is killing it with their social media marketing strategy. Why do they stand out for you?
MP: If you look at my Twitter bio, I joke that I’m a recovering fast-food addict. The recovery is not going very well! The truth is, I love [McDonalds Canada] as a brand. One thing that has always impressed me is how fearlessly they reacted on social with negative sentiment and confusion around their products, their farming, how their food is produced, and the nutritional value of their products. They responded head on with a huge social and digital-integrated campaign that addressed comments and frequently asked questions with real stories of where their products come from. They are a great model, not just for the longevity of the brand—they’re a huge player so obviously they have a lot of resources to experiment in social—but they create really great content.
Social Media Week photo courtesy SMWi
AGJ: Do you have some key social media marketing tactics to reach millennials?
MP: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to advertise to millennials. They’re so aware of the game and how it works. [It’s why they’ve installed] ad blocks on their browsers. But I also think a lot of us have mental ad blocks as well. Diply is such a great case study because they create content that captivates millennials, and they achieved this through rigorous testing—by throwing a lot of things at the wall to see what sticks. That is very core to how we do social at my agency. We often hear marketers talk about AB testing in the context of paid social. We AB test everything. We are constantly gathering these insights and reinvigorating our strategies to incorporate these insights. It’s a never-ending cycle of test and learn, and test again. That is one of the core things I have learned. It’s the ability to almost scientifically test social campaigns, social content, social creative and execution, including things like best times to publish and various tactical day-to-day things around execution and what works and what doesn’t.
The other thing that pertains specifically to millennials is that you have to be always on. Millennials are all about what’s trending today, what is the language today, the lingo of the day, the joke of the day. Whatever the meme was last week is already stale. Marketers need to look at what’s trending in the moment. It’s not a matter of building out your content plan ahead of time and just executing that, as many agencies do. Something is happening today. Last week, for instance, #FirstSnowfall was trending. We’ve got a client that’s in the food and coffee space, so how can weave that in? You know, #FirstSnowfall: come into our coffee shop to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, with a really great photo. With millennials, it's more essential to be super reactive, always on and on top of the trends as they happen.
AGJ: With social media marketing to Gen X and and boomers, do you find you can still use some more traditional tactics?
MP: To some extent, but we really see that the millennial population is driving the trends and driving innovation and driving a lot of our learning. We certainly expand that philosophy to all the populations. But of course we do have clients that are B2B. We have several consulting clients who target more senior-level professionals, executives, C-suite. We certainly look to some of these tried-and-tested tactics and play within those parameters when we’re speaking to that type of audience. We’re very aware of how to speak and market to the various audiences and how to optimize content to get the best results from them.
AGJ: What is the biggest benefit of attending Social Media Week?
MP: Events like this help us adapt collectively. Every single day, platforms are announcing new features, new functionalities and changes to their algorithms, so keeping pace is key. But one of the objectives for us putting on this event is the opportunity to make lifelong career-changing connections. I like to think of social media agencies and professionals as a community, not competitors. I’ve got colleagues I can phone or email and ask, have you experimented with Twitter’s new streaming platform? Have you tried this new audience targeting in Facebook? Any tips? Any advice? That is really essential. I feel like so many industries have that, whether it’s HR, engineering, health care. The older the industry, the more well established those networks are. A lot of these networks started in school, in academic institutions where you’re part of a cohort of people all studying the same thing. If you are my age and have been doing social media for 10-plus years, you never went to school for social and you don’t necessarily have that peer network. Above all things, the networking is what is so essential about Social Media Week.
*To take part in the SMWi programming on Tuesday November 14, Wednesday, November 15 and Thursday, November 16, purchase an All-Access Pass. Those who can’t make the daytime programming can still network after work with an evening pass. Register here: https://smwitoronto.com/register/
Answers have been condensed and edited for length.
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