MISSION, RGV – The Mission Economic Development Corporation held their inaugural Social Media Summit this month at the Center for Education and Economic Development (CEED).

Speakers from the Rio Grande Valley and around the state led panel discussions about the necessity of social media today and how individuals and businesses can best use various platforms.

Teclo Garcia, the director of strategic partnerships and program development at Mission EDC, said that the idea for the conference came to him while attending another conference for the Public Relations Society of America.

“I was in one particular workshop where you had Coca-Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts and a vice president of the second largest PR firm in the country on a panel … and their almost entire conversation about marketing revolved around social media,” said Garcia.

“So, if the highest of the Fortune 500 companies know that this is part of their daily operations – the very top circles – then you know that social media is not just something for kids. This is something that everyone is doings for business, … for pleasure, for communications. So, we thought this was important.”

Representatives from South Texas College, UTRGV, the McAllen Public Library system and UT at Austin, among others, covered topics ranging from content creation to crisis mitigation. Rachel Benavidez, director of marketing and communications for VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, underpinned the significance of social media, saying it is here to stay and that individuals must learn how to wield it for their specific purposes.

“Social media began to become sort of this creeping sensation to start with, and there was still debate in the newsrooms, as in a lot of industries, about what the value of social media was going to be,” said Benavidez. “Today that’s undeniable, indisputable. Social media is critical. You live or die by how well you execute it.”

As a panel moderator, Benavidez spoke about the “bones of the body of social media” – content. Content is king, she said, and the internet is the great equalizer in the sense that anyone can create it and share it easily on any platform. To be successful, however, businesses must produce strategic content to reach their desired audience.

“The content that you create, and how you choose to distribute that content and the voice that you create with the content that you choose, really is more than a playbook. It’s strategy for survival for a lot of businesses,” said Benavidez.

Chris Ramirez, lead storytelling coach for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, facilitated a discussion focused on video content. While the paper serves the people in the coastal bend of Texas, Ramirez says they are also tapping into a much larger audience online. By incorporating video and adapting to social media trends, they are keeping pace with how people are now receiving their news – a lesson translatable to all industries.

“In the past, it had been more about journalists, editors, reporters, photographers thinking that they knew what the audience wanted, and we gave them their diet,” said Ramirez. “Now, they’re telling us that this is what they really want … They’re showing us through their likes. They’re showing us through their agreement with a lot of the stories that we post online through social media that this is what they want to consume and how they want to consume it.”

For the Rio Grande Valley, companies have the added pressure of engaging both Spanish and English-speaking audiences. Benavidez says bilingual adeptness for this region is key, especially when planning social media strategies.

“You know, you hear the old adage about Fred and Ginger … everything he did, she did backwards and in heels. And, in the Valley and in South Texas, people who are communicating, particularly digitally, or who are advertising or marketing, have to be Fred and Ginger. They have to do both dually; and they have to do them consistently; and they have to do them both well,” said Benavidez.

The summit drew about 115 people, and plans are already in place for next year’s. Garcia hopes to make it bigger, saying the audience is “really hungry for it.” Benavidez also acknowledged the significance for the community.

“It’s important to have conferences like this because the Valley has a unique voice in social media, and it’s important that we start to share with each other what we have learned, to start to share with each other what audiences are telling us,” said Benavidez. “Those conversations have to happen within regional communities like the Valley because of what we have in common, not because of how we’re different from the rest of the state.”

Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of Mission EDC.