Mitchell is President of Smarter Shift, an Ottawa-based company that specializes in:
• Online content creation, management, and marketing
• Social media strategy design and delivery
• Sustainability communications
• Low-carbon meeting design
• Conference content capture
Smarter Shift’s predecessor firm, The Conference Publishers Inc., produced online and printed content for more than 3, 000 conferences, in more than 200 communities, and in 18 countries. From September 2011 through May 2013, Mitchell was Deputy Director of the Trottier Energy Futures Project, an effort to map an 80% reduction in Canada’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Mitchell traces his work as a renewable energy/energy communicator to October 1977, when he began a 36 year assignment as a reporter, Parliamentary correspondent and eventually, assistant editor at Canadian Renewable Energy News.
Mitchell was founding chair of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation from 2011 to 2012 and served on the international board of the Green Meeting Industry Council from 2009 to 2011. From 2006 to 2008, on behalf of Meeting Professionals International, he was project manager for a study of the economic impact of meetings and events in Canada. He completed the global Certification in Meetings Management (CMM) in 2003.
What makes a great social media site?
The price of admission for any social site is smart, worthwhile, original content that is deliberately tailored to a specific community of interest. That means thinking carefully about who you’re trying to reach online, why they should want to devote time and attention to your site, and how the content you produce or repurpose will draw that community together. Once they actually arrive on the site, it’s all in the balance—between hard-hitting content and dynamic discussion, between text and graphics, and depending on the site, between content you’ve originated and compatible material of their own that community members have had the opportunity to post.
The consistent thread here is that we’re all overwhelmed with content, good and bad, and any community worth reaching or being a part of is probably far too busy to be distracted by cat videos and thinly-veiled product placements. Thankfully, marketers are beginning to recognize that being genuine online is more than just a positioning statement, and Google continues to refine its search algorithm to reward the sites that consistently post strong content and penalize the ones that don’t.
Where do you go for great content online? Why there?
This isn’t a set-up, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how much great, diverse material I’ve found since I discovered Newsana about a month ago. But beyond that, I search far and wide, depending on what I’m looking for and when.
On content marketing and social media strategy, there are a dozen or more sites—the Content Marketing Institute probably heads the list—where I’m most likely to find thoughtful, useful material that I can learn from and apply.
My other specialty, climate change and energy, is so wide-ranging that it’s hard to point to one or a few sources. In general, I look for plausible, practical solutions that take us past the usual conversations about how the energy sector can decarbonize. Even in Canada, with its heavy dependence on oil and gas production, the surrounding economy is 15 or 20 times the size of the energy sector. If we really want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% no later than 2050 (and, yes, we really do want to get that done), it will mean finding solutions or building on existing ones outside the energy system, where the demand for fuel and electricity actually forms.
What’s your favourite type of content (infographics, interviews, thought pieces, studies, etc) and why?
Yes, yes, and all of the above. I’ve always worked primarily with text. But if communicators expect to reach the widest possible audience, we have to deliver content in the mix of formats that people are looking for—and recognize that different people will visit the same site looking for different content, at different levels of detail, for different purposes, at different times. If you’re in a hurry, you might visit a low-carbon energy site for 200 words on the latest in solar module development—but while you’re on the site, you’ll see a great study on integrating solar and wind with the electricity grid. You might come back for the 200 pages when you have time, or you might know someone who needs that information, in depth, right now. Never before has anyone had the flexibility to serve so many different, diverse needs from a single platform, and every social media site should deliberately take advantage of the opportunity.
The one format I’ll almost always rule out is verbatim video. I used to work in the meetings industry, where it’s still pretty much the state of the art to “document” a session by capturing video and tossing it onto a website, in full, unedited. Even if the original session was brilliant in person—and conference sessions often are—it’s hard to imagine anything less fascinating than a talking head at a podium, scaled to a laptop, tablet, or mobile screen, competing with everything else that demands your attention in the course of a day. We’re tremendously excited by illustrated audio [first sample on the page] as a format that can present the same content in a fraction of the time, whether or not it comes from a conference, using still photos to make much better use of the visual channel.
Which of your Newsana pitches are you most proud of?
I was really pleased a couple of weeks ago when one of my pitches on energy efficiency picked up 33 votes. We’ve known for three or four decades that the cheapest unit of energy is the unit you never have to produce or consume, and that there are massive inefficiencies in our energy systems that cost companies money every day, before even factoring in the human and environmental costs of needless fossil fuel production or the devastating impacts of climate change. But even though efficiency is the cornerstone of any low-carbon strategy, it’s kind of expected to happen by accident, off the side of someone’s desk—it’s the first thing forgotten when international agencies or major oil companies blithely project continuing growth in energy demand, fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. Getting deliberate about efficiency is the first step to the serious emission reductions we need, and I was grateful that so many people in the Newsana community picked up on that point.
What’s the best part of Newsana?
As a new member, I can already see the potential for some fantastic community interactions, and I’m looking forward to getting to know people better. So far, I’m getting the most from the diversity of smart content on the site. I try to start my day with a detailed search through the day’s pitches, but finding the time is often a challenge. That’s a great problem to have.