When I decided to go to apply to the Commonwealth Women’s Antarctic Expedition, I never thought of how much I would change. Like most others, I focused on how far I would go – all the way to Antarctica!
One of the sources of change was the sponsorship process. It is all well and good to train for Antarctica, but you have to be able to afford the plane ride there (approximately USD 30,000).
How does a Jamaican woman of no-gold-spoon origins afford Antarctica? I just read of Jamaica Producers’ 10 million dollar ripe banana campaign (http://bit.ly/drQIcy) – a campaign involving billboards, radio and print advertisements was definitely not an option for me. So I tried another traditional way – getting sponsors. But I was constantly told that Jamaicans are not interested in this kind of thing – “Jamaicans like music and parties – not adventures to the South Pole.” I was inclined to believe them, as Barrington Irving, a Jamaican who was the youngest pilot to fly around the world, had no Jamaican sponsors.
Then friends recommended social media. Facebook would prove to be not just a way to keep in touch with friends, but also a way to let ‘uninterested’ Jamaicans know about this ‘SouthPole Trod.’ Its quickness and freeness had already led me to start using it to keep in touch with my various Caribbean contacts as part of my job at CaPRI (Caribbean Policy Research Institute). I had even planned a seminar in St. Lucia largely through Facebook and Skype
Thus started my interest in opportunities social media offered to adventurers to showcase and publicise what they were doing. Even established businesses would benefit from the interaction with the customers and the ability to get real, rather than polite and filtered, feedback. I was able to use social media to publicise my adventure, get sponsors, get support, suggestions and even training partners.
Firstly, I started a Facebook group. I wondered who would join – we had over 800 adherents. I tried to keep them updated with what was happening with me – the training, the events, the food, the happenings with my fellow teammates! The shock was the interaction – people wrote back and asked questions. This is the difference of the Web 2.0 era – interaction and commentary – not passive consumerism. The SouthPole Trod group was amazing – they supported events and me!
I then started a blog. The idea came about after one sponsor, Wisynco, saw the press garnered by Frozen, largely through electronic and social media. But while there was a paper version in the Flair, only 2 people came up to me citing the paper version.
One issue was how few comments the blog got. People seemed to follow intently, if unobtrusively, online. Now that I run Endz of the Earth (EOTE – a social media communications and brand management company), I know we should have used Google Analytics. We could have found out how many users read our blog (online), the name of their ISP, the users’ approximate location, how long they visited, et cetera. But we knew not and worried! People would call, text, and even laugh with me in the street at some of the shenanigans described. I even had an 8-year old walk up to me at a memorial service.
However, it was when I got frostbite that the power of social media was fully demonstrated. From the customs officer at the airport to Juici employees knew of the frostbite. Moreover, traditional media, such as radio, newspaper, and television had picked up on the story. So even at parties, and Haiti relief events, my frostbitten fingers were far more popular than I ever was!
Using social media has another very important effect. It prevents us from stereotyping each other and our interests. We don’t just assume that Jamaicans are only interested in football or cricket.
It is this democratization of the public space that causes social media to reap opportunities and advantages and which led me to start Endz of the Earth. We can all contribute to redefining Jamaica and Jamaicans, to let all our different variations, interests and enterprises (such as record-breaking Rotary book drives) to be seen and heard…to the very Endz of the Earth!