Geek Speak: Julie Szabo, partner at Capulet Communications

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Julie Szabo knows the difference between a triple Lutz and triple Salchow, and she could probably explain it to you in 140-character messages. The Ottawa-born writer and publicist is a partner at Capulet Communications, the Vancouver-based marketing company that she cofounded with her husband, Darren Barefoot.

      Szabo and Barefoot are the authors of Friends With Benefits: A Social Media Marketing Handbook, which was published in October 2009 by No Starch Press. It’s the follow-up to their 2007 e-book Getting to First Base: A Social Media Marketing Playbook. The pair has taught continuing-education courses in social media at the University of British Columbia, and they offer their own social-media boot camp for other marketers and business owners.

      Four years ago, Szabo started her figure-skating blog, Boot and Blade, where she recently recounted what it was like to attend the 2010 Winter Olympics. Szabo and Barefoot helped found the Northern Voice personal blogging and social media conference in 2005 and are still on the organizing committee. The sixth annual event takes place on May 7 and 8 at UBC.

      The Georgia Straight reached Szabo on her cellphone at her office in Vancouver.

      How do you define social media?

      Social media is really just communicating using social-media tools. So, it’s really about communication. It is about connecting with people, but using Facebook instead of e-mail, or, of course, Twitter or Digg or all those great tools instead of the kind of older Web 1.0 or even older than that.

      How does your company approach social media differently than other marketing agencies?

      I think what we’re really focused on is strategy, as opposed to tools. I think a lot of companies who are interested in getting into social media right now think, “Oh man, all my competitors have a Twitter account or other businesses I know are on Facebook, so we need a Twitter account and a Facebook page.”

      But we like to look at it from kind of a more traditional communications perspective and say, “What is your goal? What are you trying to do? Are you trying to connect with new customers? Are you trying to, you know, keep a community of existing customers happy? What’s the strategy?” And then kind of layer the tool on top of that.

      What’s one important piece of advice contained in Friends With Benefits?

      A really important piece of advice for anybody who’s starting to use social media for business is definitely to listen first. I think the tendency is for businesses to kind of jump right into the middle of a conversation and start talking about how great they are or their new products or, you know, what’s coming down the pipeline. But really they have to recognize that a community already exists, and they’re just going to be one new voice in an ecosystem that’s already functioning perfectly well without them.

      So, finding your community, listening to them, trying to figure out what the tone is, what the culture is, and then kind of approaching the community as more of a member than just a loud party guest. We like to talk about it like it’s a cocktail party, right? Like, if someone walks into a party and talks about themselves the whole time and talks really loudly, that person just becomes a bother to the party instead of making it more fun.

      What’s one thing you’ve learned from blogging about figure skating?

      I’ve learned that figure-skating fans are passionate. They love the sport, and they take it very, very seriously. Anybody who thinks that figure skating, you know, is more art than sport, I think they would have a tough time arguing that with a diehard figure-skating fan.

      What do you think of Google Buzz?

      You know, I’m not sure yet. I need to spend a little more time with it. I’d like to see how people start to use it, I think, before I comment on it. I think it’s a little too early for me to feel comfortable making a prediction about it.

      How do you see location-based services changing how we use social media?

      Well, I think they really will make an impact. Where Twitter is asking, “What are you doing?” these other services, like Foursquare and Gowalla—and there’ll be hundreds of them coming down the pipeline—are asking, “What are you doing and where are you?” So, I think what’s going to be interesting about it is it’s going to bring real-world engagement into the mix, because right now all the activity that we’re doing on-line lives on-line.

      The fact that people are willing to share where their location is, I think, going to bring the real-world component and kind of the face-to-face component back into communication. For people who are active on-line but also want to have the real-world experience, I think it’s going to be the missing key that lots of us miss with on-line interaction—or on-line-only interaction.

      How do you think the focus of this year’s Northern Voice might be different from, say, last year’s?

      Well, I think the Olympics will probably really inform what happens at Northern Voice this year. The speaker selection is open right now, so we’re getting lots of great abstracts in. I think we’re going to see more on citizen journalism than we’ve seen in the past. I think as well—and this is a prediction because I haven’t seen anything coming in yet—location-based is going to be definitely a hot topic as well.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at