Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Two local women passionate about the power of social media in today’s marketing environment are taking their message on the road.
Bernia Wheaton and Melissa Schenk have launched the Making Social Media Simple conference, and together with a team of experts they are calling their “social media rock stars” will be touring Ontario speaking to business owners, non-profits and local governments about the newest, best and most innovative social media products and tools available.
It’s a topic both women know well – Schenk runs her own production company and has extensive experience in sales and content marketing, while Wheaton, before taking a job as business development director for Erie Meats, was an award-winning social media strategist and economic development coordinator for the County of Perth.
In 2010 the women partnered to offer a series of well-attended social media boot camps in Stratford and throughout Perth County. But they found the three-hour seminars didn’t offer the time or hands-on opportunities that many first-time users require.
The new conferences, by comparison, will be held over two days and offer participants hands-on training workshops, networking opportunities and peer-to-peer collaboration.
Topics that will be discussed include social media strategies, video marketing, search engine optimization, pay per click and email marketing.
Whether it is through Facebook or Twitter or a newer product like Pinterest or Google+, social media has the power to increase marketing revenue, says Wheaton.
She uses her employer, Erie Meats in Listowel, as an example, noting that within five months of starting to use social media to communicate with its customers the business not only saw its Facebook popularity rise, but also boosted its sales by nearly 98 per cent.
Wheaton says stories like that exist throughout the business community, and are becoming less rare as more people familiarize themselves with the technology.
“(Social media) is another tool to reach customers, to educate them, to persuade them to buy new services and products,” she adds.
The conferences, which kick off June 12-14 at the Hockley Valley Resort in Orangeville, with future conferences to follow in Grand Bend and Chatham-Kent, will feature 18 speakers spread out over 30 different training sessions.
One of the so-called “social media rock stars” who will be sharing his expertise is Huron County farmer Wayne Black, who early on recognized the role social media could play cultivating relationships between farmers and the public.
“I saw it as an opportunity to get the farmers’ stories out there and give the urban consumer a chance to talk directly with the farmer,” he says. “And because they are intrigued by what we do on the farm, and what we do as an industry, they now want to come to our farms, walk the fields, see what we do.”
Today Black has nearly 1,500 followers on Twitter.
He says social media has also been an important tool for the agricultural community in terms of communicating with the people in Toronto and Ottawa who create the policies and programs that are important to them.
“It opens a lot of doors for communication with politicians,” he adds.
Other experts participating in the conferences include Andrew Schiestel, chief of WOW! Projects, an award-winning web design and social media marketing agency; and Gregg McLachlan, a senior communications consultant who specializes in rural clients.
Also speaking will be past MPP John Wilkinson, whose former assistant, Cathy Winhold, has also joined Schenk and Wheaton as the project's manager.
You can keep up to date on the latest with the Making Social Media Simple conferences on Twitter by following @MS2Conf.