Thursday – 20th of August 2015
83 days until the conference
‘Meditating, are we, Victor?’
Upon hearing Jacques Lodewijks’ deep voice, Victor Van Wely quickly lifted his feet off the radiator. He turned his leather desk chair so abruptly, that he had to hold on to the top of the desk to stop the chair from spinning out of control.
His guinea pig, Napoleon Bonaparte, gave a loud tweet from his cage in the corner of the office.
‘Jacques, what a pleasure,’ Victor said. Meditation, if only he could. Perhaps it would inspire him to find the ultimate solution to his troubles. The director of the National Society for Rodent Professionals was facing the biggest challenge yet in his career.
‘Coffee?’ asked Victor.
‘No thank you,’ Jacques said, placing a hand over his heart. ‘Doctor’s orders.’ He ignored the chair that was offered to him, took a celery stick from his coat pocket and stuck it through the bars of the guinea pig’s cage. Napoleon eagerly tugged the treat into the cage and began thoughtfully nibbling away at it.
‘Good job, Van Wely,’ Jacques said.
‘He’s looking good, isn’t he?’
‘What? No, I don’t mean him.’ Jacques sat down and looked at Victor. ‘The conference.’
Although Victor got along well with the chairman of the board, Jacques’ visits to his office had recently begun to make him rather nervous. Only three months to go until Rodentia 2015. The annual world conference for rodent professionals could either save their national society or lead to its downfall. Their funds were almost non-existent and the number of members had been decreasing over the past few years. This prestigious event could considerably boost their reputation and attract a lot of new members. Gains from the participant’s contributions and sponsor income could dig them right out of the red figures. However, if the turnout was too low, they would suffer a terminal financial blow. It was a make-or-break situation.
The program couldn’t be the problem. Victor and Jacques had worked hard on it over the past few months and they were particularly taken with the result.
‘I think the confrontation panel for pest control is our best idea yet,’ Jacques said approvingly, whilst studying the proof program Victor had passed him.
‘Yes,’ Victor replied enthusiastically, ‘we’ve put together a smashing team. A scientist for the theoretical part, exterminators with practical knowhow, and the chairman of the activists’ platform for Animal Revolution. This is going to be really exciting.’
‘Great,’ Jacques bellowed. ‘I still think we’ve made a smart move also offering the floor to people from outside our own field of expertise. That’s never been done before at Rodentia. It’s sure to offer loads of fresh insights.’
‘You’d think it would have been easier to convince the program committee of that. This professor Gentle is a right conservative, isn’t he? Everything had to be scientifically relevant and fully substantiated. He didn’t appreciate any input from the real world.’
‘We managed to pass it in the end though, didn’t we?’ Jacques said.
‘Well, then?’ Jacques studied the rest of the program, puckered his lips, and nodded. ‘This is the best program we’ve had in years,’ he said. ‘And I am not just saying that because we created it. Original work methods, excellent speakers. Between your network and mine, it’s a winning combination. We’ve really outdone ourselves.’
Victor knew he was right. Satisfied, he sank back into his chair, hands folded behind his head.
‘And the number of entries?’ Jacques asked.
Victor’s back began to itch and he sat up straight. ‘That’ll work itself out,’ he said, pretending to notice something of unparalleled importance on his computer screen.
The room was quiet, save the sound of the guinea pig contentedly nibbling away at his celery stick.
‘Victor, the figures.’
‘Yes, of course. Let me just print them out.’ After opening the wrong document three consecutive times, he managed to open the correct Excel spreadsheet. 153 participants. They should have reached least five hundred by now. Four exhibitors, not nearly enough either. With a slight tremble in his fingers, Victor hit the print button. Before he had a chance to grab the paper from the printer, Jacques had already done so.
He briefly glanced at the overview and proceeded to dangle the piece of paper between his thumb and index finger: ‘What are you going to do about it?’
The paper invitations will be delivered next week, and we’re sending weekly mail-outs to our entire database’.
‘Well, well, an email, impressive.’ Jacques took a piece of broccoli from of his pocket and returned to the guinea pig cage, where the treat was received with great enthusiasm.
‘We’re going about it very cleverly, you know, all very personalized. That database we invested so much money in is paying off. We now address people by their own names.’
‘Goodness.’ Jacques pushed the piece of broccoli into the cage.
‘And that’s not all. We personalize by location, too. Dutch invitations to the Dutch, English ones to people from other countries.’
Jacques took the guinea pig from the cage and studied him thoroughly. Before putting him back, he paid extra attention to the little thing’s teeth.
It annoyed Victor that the chairman clearly wasn’t impressed by his words and started to speak louder. ‘The contents of the invitations are completely different, too. To people within The Netherlands, we highlight the convenience of it being so nearby, to the Europeans, we emphasize the large amount of international speakers. To people in other countries, we place more focus on The Netherlands as a location.
‘We have also sent a separate mail-out to the scientists, referring to their particular fields of research, including an invitation to submit a paper. It’s resulted in a record number of entries.’ Victor took a stack of paper from the cabinet, placed it on the desk, and patted them with his hand, just a little too hard, causing the entire stack to collapse. ‘These are participants, too.’
Jacques, who was still standing next to the guinea pig cage, looked up. A persistent hint of a smile seemed to be plaguing his mouth. ‘Do you know what year it is, Victor?’
Victor, aware that Jacques did not doubt his sense of time, remained silent. What objections could the chairman possibly have to his thorough approach?
Victor sat down and gave the stack of paper a small, despairing tap. ‘Which is why we use personalized emails.’
Jacques shook his head. ‘Have you ever heard of social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? You probably don’t use Tinder, given that you’re happily married, but I haven’t seen you on our own Rodentnet.org either, where I would have expected you.’
A sense of indignation arose in Victor. Social media. There is was again. All everyone talks about now is social media. There is nothing social about it! His face tightened. ‘I am not into that nonsense, Jacques. Respectfully,’ he quickly added. ‘I know all about it, but I find it nonsense. You cannot call that connecting with each other, sending each other messages via a little screen. To all of your five hundred friends. No one has five hundred friends. I have three, and that is plenty! Oh, how thrilling,’ he said in a high-pitched voice, whilst drumming his fingers on an imaginary keyboard, ‘let me just check Twitter to see when someone uses the toilet, or what that vague acquaintance is having for dinner.’ He dropped his voice back to its original tone. ‘You know, I was at a restaurant the other day and absolutely everyone around me was staring at their screens.’ He paused a moment. ‘Even my wife.’ He stood up and began vigorously placing the papers back into the cabinet. ‘My daughter is seeing a physiotherapist because she is suffering from a text neck. Do you know what that is, a text neck? It means having spent so much time hunched over your cell phone that your spine has grown crooked. That is what social media does to people. That’s what it’s doing to our children. And it causes depression.
Jacques eyed him quizzically.
‘All anyone ever posts is the good stuff. Causing people like my son and daughter to think that their life is boring. No one ever says: I feel completely awful, I am sat on a sofa, devouring an entire bag of cheese doodles, feeling desperately lonely, whilst drinking a glass of disgusting sherry, as that is all I had left.’ His cheeks were glowing. ‘It’s all one big good-news-show, a signpost for people who want to play happy. Well, I refuse to play. If I want to talk to someone, I will call them. I’m not about to talk to my best friends over Facebook, I will talk to them over a beer. In an actual bar, with actual beer and actual appetizers. To have an actual conversation, that is actually about something.
Jacques had been waiting patiently for Victor to finish his speech. Then he spoke, slowly and with that characteristically deep voice that carried such authority that it sent chills up Victor’s spine: ‘You want an actual, meaningful conversation? Then why are you not using Rodentnet.org? Over ten thousand active users. All of them interested in rodents. With expert forums about hereditary disorders, dental care, how to clean a rodent’s cage, you name it. There is currently a heated debate on pest control. Did you know that millions of field mice are currently terrorizing Osaka? Current events, Victor, you should be using that. Put something one there about that confrontation panel with the pest control experts on it, show that we are working on exactly that topic. That will attract an audience. Twelve weeks is not a lot of time to attract an additional 850 participants, certainly not at this pace.’
‘But…’ Victor tried to add.
‘No buts. The rest of the board is breathing down my neck, too. You know, when you brought home the bid to organize this global circus four years ago, not everyone on the board was pleased; it’s an opportunity as well as a great risk. I have faith in you, Victor, I have always supported you and I still do. However this needs to be a success, or it’s the end of the road, and you know that just as well as I do.’ He pointed a finger at Victor. ‘We need a minimum of one thousand participants. You won’t get to that number with your outdated approach. Social media is not something new or exotic, it is an important channel of communication that you cannot afford to ignore. Just use it! It will be the difference between filling up that conference and not. Get on it, man.’
Victor closed the filing cabinet just a little too hard, the stack of paper inside it fell over.
‘You have a communications officer for a reason, right? Casper? He is a smart young guy and he has a lot of very good ideas about this. You just have to do it, Victor, stop dragging your heels. This is not a luxury, but a necessity. If you do not have three hundred registrations in two weeks’ time, I will pull the plug. Otherwise this thing will be our downfall. Two weeks. Three hundred. I want a weekly update. And give your guinea pig some extra vitamin C. He’s looking a little peaky.’ He threw another carrot into the cage, turned around, and left the office.
The door was still open when Victor heard a beep from an incoming email. What he read only depressed him further:
Thank you for the invitation for Rodentia 2015. I did not realize that I was still a member of NatSoRoPro and wonder if it is still makes any sense. I have not used any of your services recently. Is it possible to terminate my membership with immediate effect?
Kind regards, E.D., rodent dentist in Utrecht.
Victor phoned the man, asked about his practice and discussed the upcoming conference with him. There would be a session about a new revolution in dental care, perhaps he would find that interesting? It turned into an animated conversation. The man promised to keep his membership and to register for the conference. See, Victor thought, a phone call, now that is social interaction.
And yet, the conversation with Jacques remained on his mind as he drove home. He realized that this ‘social media’ phenomenon could no longer be ignored. His chairman was right: it wasn’t a medium of the future, but of the present. He could see it was being used more and more, all around him. Naturally, they had to do something with it. However, personally, he did not understand it that well yet and previous careful steps into social media land had proven rather unsuccessful. What did they get wrong those times? How should they go about it now?
Do you want to read more ?
This is a chapter of the book ‘Trending Topic’ – we have to do something with social media #ButWhat’. The book features the fictitious ‘National Society For Rodent Professionals’ (NatSoRoPro). Their big upcoming worldwide conference attracts a dramatic low number of registrations. Social media are the last hope of NatSoRoPro’s staff, but their managing director Victor has his doubts. And partly, he is right.
During the story, he and his staff find out how to use social media in a way that helps them reach their goals. During this process, the reader gets a lot of practical information to use in their own daily work.
The book ‘Trending Topic – We have to do something with Social Media #ButWhat’ is available in different forms and in different stores. Please choose you preferred form: