A colleague from Green College, UBC, freshly graduated with an MFA in Poetry, but also with work experience in editing and publishing, is looking for a job in the Lower Mainland. At a party yesterday, we talked about the Vancouver (British Columbia) social media scene, and how she can get plugged in to it, and make it part of her job search. I’ve posted my ideas below. Do you have other leads for newcomers to plug into the local social media scene?  Please post them in the comments. Maybe, together, we can build a useful resource for other seekers.

Urban British Columbia in general, and the Vancouver metro area in particular, has thriving technology and social media communities.  (There’s industry in there somewhere, also.) This community exists in part through face-to-face relationships, and in part on-line. Through this community, you can meet interesting people, learn what is happening in the industry, network for job leads, and of course have a good time.

There’s nothing terribly unusual about the techniques for plugging into this community as opposed to any other. But here is my advice for specific starting points.

Basic Identity and Persona

The first thing to have is an identity, a way for people to refer to you and link to you. From this identity you will grow an online persona.

A  stable email address is the foundation. It should be one which you can keep active for the next few years, so don’t rely on the work account from your university or last job. It’s better if it’s simple enough to tell someone verbally, and respectable enough for you to give to a prospective employer. Many people use addresses like firstname.latename@gmail.com.  A phone number, usually of your mobile, is another useful foundation. You should be able to receive voicemail and text messages (SMS) at this number. (This may be stating the obvious. But maybe not.)

A Facebook account is probably the top priority. Many in the Vancouver social media scene are heavy Facebook users.  Even those who aren’t, are likely to have their most comprehensive set of links of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances on Facebook. (That’s “the social graph”, in the jargon.) You will also find that some people are likely to choose Facebook messages over email of they want to send you a short, chatty note. Your Facebook name, and the aggregation of the photos, messages, and friends visible on your Facebook account will be a highly visible part of your persona in the social media scene and to potential employers. In the past some Facebook personas have proved to be professional liabilities; beware. Now that you have a Facebook account, systematically make friend connections to your classmates, work colleagues, and new people you meet in the social media scene.

A LinkedIn account is a valuable complement to Facebook. Think of LinkedIn as “Facebook for grownups with jobs”. It is a good place to put your work history, which builds into a nice résumé. It also holds links to colleagues, but you can make this “social graph” professionally-based. Thus you needn’t include people you met at parties, but you can include people you’ve worked with, been in grad school with, led volunteer projects with, and so on. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn has good tools to let you pass requests and messages through your network. Want to find out what a company is like? LinkedIn will help you find a colleague of a colleague who works there, and ask them for an informational interview. Establish links on LinkedIn with anyone whose work you know and could recommend. (This is a more selective filter than people usually apply to their Facebook social graph.)

A Twitter account is a useful accessory, and becomes central for some.  Twitter is a “micro-blogging” system; it lets you send brief messages. Many people in the Vancouver social media scene use Twitter to pass links to interesting web pages, or announce events, or support a cause. Ask for Twitter id’s of the interesting Vancouver social media people you meet. Then “follow” them, and listen for the interesting tidbits they post. Link to your blog from your Twitter description.

Consider starting a blog. This applies especially if you are looking for a job related to writing or publishing. You don’t need to write a lot; one post a month for six months is enough to sketch out an illuminating persona. Write about what interests you, about the field in which you hope to work, or about wisdom which you want to share with the world. Expect that prospective employers will read this blog, so use it to show off what you have to offer. Having personal or political content is, in general, OK — as long as it’s part of your integrated public persona. Mention your blog to the the interesting Vancouver social media people you meet, and invite them to subscribe to your feed. It will give you social media cred. Also, create some descriptive pages on your blog: an “About” page to give your capsule summary, and a “Contact us” page with your email address, phone number, link to your Twitter feed, etc.

Register a meetup.com account.  Many of the social media gatherings are organised through meetup.com, and having an account there makes it easier to keep track of them and respond to invitations.

Plugging into the scene — online

There are a lot of online resources which provide entrees into the social media scene. My list here is incomplete, but it’s a start. These resources will connect you to others; explore.

Techvibes is a hyper-local news blog which offers technology news, job ads, event listings, and company profiles. It focuses on 13 cities, including Vancouver.  So, subscribe to the Techvibes Vancouver blog. It will give you leads on events to attend, a trickle of job ads, and news articles as fodder for social small-talk.

Miss 604, a Vancouver-focussed local blog by Rebecca Bollwitt, who is a mainstay of the Vancouver social media scene herself. Miss 604 frequently posts about upcoming interesting events. Quite apart from the events, the blog is an interesting read of itself. She also receives some of those promotional give-away free coupons and tickets which used to go to newspaper columnists and radio stations.

It’s quite risky, in a city with so many wonderful social media experts and their sites, to highlight just a few.  Maybe I should duck behind the cover of the Best of 604” results for 2008. This was a contest which Miss 604 organised in 2008 and 2007 (but apparently not 2009), celebrating the best blogs and websites in the 604 area code, as chosen by a combination of judges and popular votes. The winning sites are worth a look. The people who produced them are worth knowing.

As you find interesting blog posts, contribute a comment to them. This will raise your profile several ways. Most blog systems let you give your name and a link to your own site. Making a productive comment will make the blog author feel good (speaking from experience). You will have something in common when you meet the blog author. It will also make your name visible to the other readers, and it will increase the search engine ranking of your own blog in a search on your own name.

Plugging into the scene — face to face

The heart of the Vancouver social media scene is in the meetups. These are social gatherings with business purpose, mostly in the early evening, held mostly at bars in downtown Vancouver. Sometimes they take the form of a weekend conference at a low price. Here is where you put a face and a personality to the people whom you follow online.  Most events have an online presence, announcing the time and place of the next meeting.  I’ve linked to that.

Again, this is just a selection; explore.  People are generally friendly and welcoming. However, you’ll have to introduce yourself. There’s rarely a host who will take you under their wing and introduce you around.

Third Tuesday (Vancouver) is a monthly meetup focussed on the topic of social media. There is often a speaker, but the heart of the event is the networking.  Nominally it is held on the third Tuesday of each month, but sometimes it varies. It’s a great place to start. Tell people you are new, and ask them what events they think will help you plug deeper into the scene.

Launch Party Vancouver is a showcase for startup companies. They get a huge turnout, which means it’s also a good place to meet people. Maybe not the person you wanted to meet, since they are on the other side of the seething cauldron of humanity in the centre of the room — but you’ll get to meet some people. The next Launch Party is planned for January 2010.

Ideas on Tap is a networking event aimed at a swath of Vancouver tech and internet related sectors: social media, games, web development, etc.  It restarted in 2008, based on an older idea. It is happening every 6 months or so. The last one was in June 2009; I don’t see an announcement for the next one.

Northern Voice is an annual conference about personal blogging and social media.  It’s been held on a January weekend on each of the last few years, at the UBC campus. No announcement yet for a 2010 event, but the @northernvoice Twitter feed mentions that planning is underway. Apparently there’s some other February event which is filling venues.

The Vancouver Blogger Meetup  is a gathering for bloggers of all stripes. I’ve never been, but I respect the organiser and the host location. It looks like this group met monthly through mid-2009, then has slowed down a little since then.

Another way to identify meetups is by picking some social media tool or technology about which you’d like to learn more, then attend a meetup devoted to that topic. All the ones I’ve been to have been very welcoming of novices, and ready to answer questions and get you pointed in a productive direction. I know of Vancouver area meetups for Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, Ubuntu, and a variety of engineering topics. Find a topic that interests you, and attend.

What should one do at these meetups? Introduce yourself to people, ask them about things you want to know, help them with your knowledge. Have a question you can ask each person you meet. When you start, it might be, “what is a good way to plug in to the Vancouver social media scene”? Ask them what they are looking for, and help them find it if you can. The last person you talked to may be a valuable contact for the next person you talk to, and you can make the connection.  In other words, network!

Advanced Persona

Over time, as you become a fixture in the social media scene and you want to expand your online persona, I expect that you might want to add a few more elements. You definitely don’t need these to get started. Here they are, in part for your reference later, and in part to reassure you that you don’t need to tackle them right at the start.

You’ll probably find that it gets tiresome to give people your online coordinates if they are, well, uncoordinated.  It’s a lot more convenient to have similar names for your blog, your website, your twitter feed, and so on. I long ago adopted the initials “JDLH” as a shorthand. My blog is http://blog.jdlh.com/, my Twitter feed is @jdlh, my email address is “jdlh [at] jdlh.com“. A search for JDLH finds me. Where I don’t use JDLH, I use my name “Jim DeLaHunt” as a user ID. This makes it easy for people to connect my online and my face-to-face personas. There are some notable cases of people who have built personas around a consistently-used nickname. See, for instance, Miss604 or Hummingbird604. So, come up with a coordinated online identity, and migrate to it.

You might find that you have materials to publish which don’t easily fit into a blog format.  This might be a photo gallery, an essay, a directory which people update over time, or a piece of software. It might then be time to build yourself a web site. Content management systems like Drupal and Joomla make this a lot easier. I’ll leave it at that — explaining your web site options is a big topic in its own right.

Consider registering your own domain name, e.g. “myname.ca”. This is a big step in making your online persona more coherent, easier to find, and more persistent over time.  It becomes a consistent identity for your email address, blog, and web site (and, someday, your microblogging stream). This also is a big topic in its own right.

Of course, consider business cards.  A simple set with your name, blog URL, email address, and phone number can be had for $50, though you can get them for only the shipping fee if you accept an ad on the back.  The cool kids have mini-cards with a photo on one side. Ask people for their cards; you’ll end up with a pocketful.  Interestingly, though, I’m finding that cards are optional in the social media scene.  The name of your blog, or Twitter feed, is usually enough.

So, there you have it.  This should be enough to get you going, and give you things to explore for the first three months.  By the end of that time, I expect you’ll have a number of your own leads to follow. Please contribute your comments, to make this blog post more helpful for the next reader.

Have fun in the social media scene, and I’ll see you at a meetup!