Friday 12 October 2012

Interview with Michelle Prak

Michelle Prak, enjoying
Farmers Union Iced Coffee,
a legal but addictive substance,
manufactured locally.
Michelle Prak is an Adelaide-based social media consultant, with over twenty years experience in communications spanning journalism, politics, government, and public relations. She produces content for the social media world, writes a regular blog on social media, Tweets compulsively, has a weekly segment on radio, lectures in Public Relations at the University of South Australia, and is a Board member of the South Australian Writers' Centre.
     I first came across Michelle
earlier this year when she was a newly-elected member of that Board. My initial reaction was that, as she appeared to be neither writer nor filmmaker, she was of no interest to me. Then—influenced perhaps by the ads she had running on Facebook at the time—I reconsidered. One of the demands now being placed on independent filmmakers is that they develop social media skills, and build audiences and online communities that will support their work into the future. And, by then, I'd thought of a few questions of my own I'd like to ask.

*  Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Born in Perth, WA, but grew up in Whyalla, SA, from aged 6 until I left for university in Adelaide, aged 17.

*  What kind of a family did you grow up with?

It was an eclectic mix! I have a brother, four years younger. Our parents separated when we were young and our mother raised us until I entered high school. We then went to live with my father, his partner, and their children. There were seven children in the house at one point!

*  Can you tell us something about the origin of the surname, Prak. I could only find reference online to a minor character of that name in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

It’s Dutch but just as uncommon there as it is here. The Dutch say the closest ‘meaning’ or translation for the name is ‘mashed babyfood’!

*  Where did you go to school?

Stuart High School, a public school in Whyalla; then did my BA and MA at the University of South Australia’s Magill campus.

*  What was your first paying job?

This depends on the definition of paying job! I was paid a few dollars to help edit a football column for the Whyalla News when I was fourteen or thereabouts. 

My most substantial first gig was a part time job with Coles supermarket, from year 10 to year 12. During year 12 I was working seven days a week: every day after school, 9-5 on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. I loved earning my own money and I was saving to move to Adelaide to study.

*  How did you come to be professionally involved with social media?  Was that part of a plan, or just something that happened?

My career in social media evolved, but it was as a result of me following my passion for it. I was digital content manager at the South Australian Tourism Commission, looking after our many websites, etc. I then started looking at TripAdvisor and what was happening with tourism content there. Our first forays into social media were for our major events—specifically, the Tour Down Under

I was very keen to get our events and campaigns into social media and, luckily for me, those were the days when one could experiment and didn’t have to leap through layers of permissions and hand-wringing, which can happen in large organisations today.

I found I enjoyed social media immensely and seemed to have a knack for it—though I do think that was assisted by my long career in communications before that.

My roles since then have all been social media-focused.

*  Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Pozible, IndieGoGo, etc.) provides filmmakers with a way to raise money for their films that bypasses traditional funding sources. What advice, if any, do you have for filmmakers considering Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding isn’t a speciality of mine, but from what I have read and researched, social media platforms can be a great boost to any crowdfunding efforts. That is: if you have Facebook and Twitter networks, they’re great to help you get the word out about your project. It’s very difficult to draw visitors to your Crowdfunding site otherwise. And genuine social networks, as you’d know, are something you build up slowly over time. It’s a long term undertaking, so if filmmakers want to ‘self promote’ in the future, they should be active on social media platforms now.

*  You were mentioned in a local newspaper last March in an article about prolific Tweeters from Adelaide. You were ranked #20. Did that article, or the subsequent debate, alter your approach to Twitter (in even a small way)?

I was quoted in that piece too, reflecting on why more women were in the list than men.

The piece didn’t alter my behaviour at all. The subsequent debate about ‘quality versus quantity’ on Twitter was quite amusing, with many people criticising the high-volume, enthusiastic tweeting of the most prolific accounts. My philosophy is that you use Twitter as you like, you enjoy yourself, and others will choose to engage with you there or choose not to, according to the value they place on your tweets.

*  What do you think of retweeting services? Should we get involved with them?

If you’re alluding to auto retweeting services, I’m not in favour of much automation on social media at all. It is open to too much backfiring and spam-like activity. It’s tempting to use these if you have a large social media workload but there are other means to manage this, via social media dashboards for example, garnering genuine supporters, developing a popular hashtag and so on.

My favourite social media dashboard is Hootsuite. I’ve tried others like Tweetdeck, and even played with tweeting via Crowdbooster, Socialbro and a myriad of other tweet tools, but Hootsuite has served me the best for years now.

Before Twitter was taken over by the bots and corporations, genuine ‘hand crafted’ retweeting services were fantastic. I think Adelaide Tweet remains a good example of this—the owner hasn’t set up a program to retweet any old tweet that meets content parameters. 

Rather, Adelaide Tweet has a team of people reading and assessing #Adelaide marked tweets and trying to share genuine pieces of news interspersed with some local reflections. It means Adelaide Tweet has become an established part of many local organisations’ promotional strategies. 

I don’t enjoy job vacancy retweeting accounts, or the proliferation of city-based retweeting accounts that almost mirror what Adelaide Tweet is doing, but without the same care and quality.

*  What’s the point to “liking” something on Facebook? Isn’t that just another way of handing your life over to Zuckerberg, so he can make more money off you?

We ‘like’ things on Facebook for many reasons. Sometimes it’s to get discounts at a retail chain, sometimes to support a cause, sometimes to protest something, sometimes just for plain old fun. While Facebook may sell that data to the ads that show on the right hand side of your screen, that’s the price we pay for a social network that is free for individuals to use, that connects us to people around the world, that’s continually updating and improving its interface, that provides free emails, online space for our photographs, and so on. ☺

If anyone is truly anti Zuckerberg, they can of course stay away from Facebook.

*  Given that you’re not primarily a writer, why did you become involved with the SA Writers’ Centre?

I was a member about a decade ago, when I did want to be a writer. I was invited onto the board recently because I have some skillsets that are valuable to the Centre right now: not just my social media skills, but also my PR and media relations skills. I am very excited to be back there and in fact getting my passion for writing again.

*  What are three suggestions you would make to a writer or independent filmmaker trying to build an online support base?

1. Share yourself: give followers insights into your work, the process, your hopes and failures and successes! People just love a good story.

2. Don’t just broadcast: have a conversation. That means asking followers questions, reading their content and responding.

3. People love images, especially on Facebook, but you can do a lot via Twitter, or just use the free Instagram app for both. So share photos of yourself at work, at events, of your craft, what inspires you, and so on. 

*  What is the biggest mistake you see writers or independent filmmakers commit online?

I can’t say I’ve watched the field closely enough to comment. But the biggest mistake anyone makes online, regardless of industry, is not responding or replying to others. If you’re broadcasting only, you’re a very dull social connector indeed.

Another mistake is not having a professional-looking profile. Make sure you take advantage of all the available biographical and image fields that social networks provide you. Tell people who you are. Have your website address there. It sounds like commonsense, yet some accounts don’t do this. This means they look uninspiring and even frightening, because people may think the account isn’t real or it is spam.

*  What one social media advice book would you recommend to filmmakers in Adelaide?

I'm not really a socmedia book reader. I’ve read Brian Solis’s Engage, and also WikiBrands: Reinventing Your Company in a Customer-Driven Marketplace, by Sean Miller, Mike Dover and Don Tapscott, but other than that, I find that online sources serve all my needs as far as social media reference material. 

Even more importantly, I’m a member of Facebook Groups for online community managers where we share case studies and news of platform changes. 

I recommend that filmmakers scour the internet and connect to some of the many sensational blogs, online forums, networks and online magazines that may appeal to them.

*  Name ten of your all-time favourite movies.

I’m not an art house person!

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Whyalla is not a place known for its opportunities. Well done to Michelle for creating a vibrant career. Also thanks for the common sense advice about social media.