SMWi Toronto officially kicks off to celebrate all things social media. As official Social Media Weeks take place simultaneously in cities like Los Angeles, Bangalore, and Milan, SMWi Toronto’s grassroots, jam-packed week of events will include talks from all industries affected by social media. Attendees will get a chance to hear from the social media savvy like Toronto councillor Norm Kelly and lifestyle blogger Casie Stewart, as well as media heavyweights like Buzzfeed Canada editor Craig Silverman and journalist Jesse Brown. For the more tech-focused among you, BetaKit is also hosting a panel about how bots and artificial intelligence will impact the future of social interactions.
BetaKit talked to Michelle Pinchev, founder of social media agency and SMWiTO organizer Pinch Social. She shared some thoughts about why Toronto is the perfect place to host a social media week, how startups can benefit from attending, and how the social media landscape in general has changed.
Why did you decide to organize SMWi Toronto?
Essentially, we had Social Media Week in Toronto three years ago and then we didn’t. And like most people, I didn’t know why that was. All I knew was that New York, Miami, London, Los Angeles and Chicago had SMW and Toronto didn’t and we have incredible, thriving, growing, and really impressive social media in the city. Along with so many people, I found myself wondering, why not Toronto? So we contacted the company based in New York that owns the Social Media Week global brand and we started an application process. It took many months to get to the point where we were even in talks with them.
Then around that time, they rolled out a program called SMWi, and that allows community organizers like ourselves to do a Social Media Week event independently, so it allows more cities to participate and gives a chance for independent organizers like us to do a more grassroots event. Having said that, we’ve grown in scale and were taking it to another level — this is in many ways an indie event, but it’s also very polished.
What has been your experience with social media and how did that influence why you think this is necessary?
Like many professionals today, I didn’t study social media. There wasn’t a social media degree or courses when I was in school over 10 years ago. I studied psychology and I’ve always had a keen interest in human and social behaviour and human connectivity, and what motivates people to make decisions and act in a certain way. That ended up translating well into a career in marketing and social media.
Early in my career I worked for several nonprofits and found myself in a series of roles where we were limited in budget and resources and having to be creative and how to reach people. Early on I found social media to be an accessible platform.
Why is Toronto an ideal city to host a Social Media Week?
Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America and we have major tech and social media companies based in Toronto — Twitter, Google, and LinkedIn all have offices here in Toronto. We have incredible companies and tech startups that are born out of Toronto.
There’s a growing amount of professionals that have social media in their titles or have a social media function that’s part of their role or department or division. It’s gone from being this thing of interest that was on the horizon, that companies were still grappling with, to a much more well-established and valued function that has companies investing millions of dollars into from a brand or communications perspective. We’re also seeing these professionals holding more senior titles. Before, social media was seen as a junior or millennial function, now we’re seeing executive level positions dedicated to social media.
How does SMWiTO fit into the rising social media landscape?
SMWi is a celebration of social media in Toronto, and individuals who practise social media either as bloggers, marketers, communication professionals, entrepreneurs, and users. But it’s also an industry conference for professionals to share best practices, learn from each other’s successes and failures, hear case studies, get inspired, and learn about trends.
This is still an incredibly new field so it’s more important for us in this industry than in any other industry to get together IRL (in real life) and form these connections that result in this community becoming tight-knit, so that we can all support each other and collaborate so we have visibility to who the key players are in this cities and what job opportunities are available. It creates synergies that help Toronto be more competitive on a global scale.
It’s an incredibly new field where all of us are pioneering and the rules of the game are constantly changing. We’re all grappling with the rapid pace at which things are changing, its platforms are constantly evolving, algorithms are changing, new platforms are emerging. Just when you think you’ve figured out the rules, something like Snapchat comes along and turns it on its head. So we’re always having to adapt and pivot. I think that these IRL forums allow us to collectively learn faster and smarter so we’re not all in silos winging it.
What’s the value for tech companies attending the event?
Social media levels the playing field and allows you to have platforms and reach people in ways that through traditional media wouldn’t have been possible. It’s very democratizing in that you don’t have to be a large company or a media outlet to create content.
You don’t have to have a million dollar budget to share messages, you just need to be active on the platforms and be consistent and build relationships, and just do all the things that you’re supposed to do on social media, which is social networking and building connections.
Perhaps you can’t compete in social with the Coca-Colas or big brands of the world, but there’s also an opportunity to tap into demographics and establish thought leadership to grow communities and an audience. Anybody has that opportunity thanks to social media and that’s extremely important for the tech community, startup community for small businesses, retail, and anybody that wants to use social media to establish presence and a brand and even just professionals for job or career-related purposes. There isn’t really a group of individuals in any industry right now that doesn’t have a use case for social media.