Captivate: Brave New Social Media

Last week I attended the launch of Captivate: UTSC’s Digital Storytelling Competition, an event that left me with feelings of pride, gratitude, and wonder. Pride because I was the catalyst for the competition. Gratitude to the staff at UTSC’s The Bridge who designed the event and are managing the competition. Wonder because the competition involves the brave new world of social media. I’ll expand on each point.

Sally Field Moment

When I retired two years ago, I worked with the UTSC Department of Management’s Communications and Marketing Officer Kendal Egli and advancement officers Lisa Lemon and Samantha Barr to plan the Sandford Borins Digital Communications Fund. Our idea was to raise $25,000 in my honour to endow a student competition in digital communication. I am very grateful for their efforts contacting my colleagues, students, friends, and family about the fund. I posted about the fund on this blog. I was uncertain whether we would be able to raise the money, and when it turned out that we had secured $30,000, I had a major Sally Field moment.

Beyond a Library

The UTSC Department of Management and Library have partnered to create The Bridge, a multi-purpose academic space in the management building that combines teaching, study, research, and experiential learning. The staff at The Bridge – Director Stephanie Perpick and Officers Mariana Jardim and Abigail Warnock – are organizing the digital storytelling competition. The competition challenges students to create a short digital story – such as a podcast, video, or website – that tells their story. They organized the launch event (discussed below), will hold training sessions, and will work with judges to select the winners. The value of the time they are putting into the competition far  exceeds the value of the prizes the fund supports. I am deeply grateful for their efforts in bringing the competition to fruition.

Brave New Social Media

I envisaged the digital storytelling competition as a continuation of my Narrative and Management course at UTSC. Personal narrative was a major component of the course, with assignments to tell the “story of my life” and “story of my job.” Each involved a 5 page paper and 2 minute oral presentation summarizing the paper.

The competition goes beyond the rather traditional personal storytelling formats that I used into the brave new world of social media. The invited speakers at the launch exemplified personal storytelling through social media. Heather Beamish is a spoken word artist who told her story of leaving the role of pastor to affirm her queer identity. She delivered two poems accompanied by videos. Her cadences remind me of Amanda Gorman, who presented her poetry at President Biden’s inauguration. Heather’s presentation was compelling and, as the organizers of the launch intended, captivating.

Then there were two speakers associated with Viral Nation, a firm I confess that I hadn’t heard of – my bad. Viral Nation describes itself as a “modern marketing and technology company” and has expertise in influencer marketing. I noticed that the first prize in the competition includes a day shadowing a talent agent there, which suggests this is something of great appeal to UTSC students.

Ray Ligaya, also known as Mansuki, is a singer who has gone viral on the social media app Vine and who is now head of talent relations at Viral Nation. Daniel Shim was an early content creator on YouTube who is now a social media strategist at Viral Nation. His presentation involved what, for me, is the inside baseball of how to succeed as an influencer, for example exploiting the algorithms of various social media platforms. Both Ray and Daniel have fascinating life stories and appear to me to be doing cutting edge work at Viral Nation. I was unfamiliar with some of what they were saying, but some of their advice, such as the importance of a great “hook” to begin your story, makes perfect sense.

A Generational Thing

Though I know a bit about social media, this presentation brought home to me that millennials live in a very different social media environment than my generation. This isn’t the first time I’ve been reminded of this. Eighteen months ago, I was watching a television program with an ad for a car intended for the millennial market. The ad featured a young man with the name and appearance of the son of some relatives. I emailed my relatives to ask if indeed it was their son. They replied that it was him and he was featured because he was an influencer.

At the time I wasn’t sure what an influencer was, but I started hearing and reading the term a lot. And I thought that my friend’s son might be an influencer because he works with Drake. (A Google N-gram shows that the term influencer has taken off – one might even say gone viral – recently.) A month ago I was chatting with a friend who is closer to Gen-X than millennial and mentioned this story. My friend asked the name and when I told him he replied, “Theo, he’s Drake’s videographer. He’s huge!” and then told me half-a-dozen things I didn’t know about Theo (which is ironic because I’ve met Theo and he hasn’t.)

I admit to being a bit behind the curve in understanding how the latest social media platforms work. But I do recognize the importance of having a compelling personal story. I am looking forward to the stories that the students who compete in Captivate develop and tell. I’m delighted to have been the catalyst for this competition and hope it will become part of my legacy at UTSC.

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