Forbes and Lowe

From storm chasing to social media

Reality TV star and entrepreneur Ricky Forbes became a social media influencer “before we even knew what that was.”

He owes it all to storm chasing, a career he kind of fell into after obtaining his degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

Pursuing his taste for travel and adventure, he wound up crossing paths with storm chaser Greg Johnson. Johnson was building a name intercepting and documenting extreme weather events—prairie lightning storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards.

In the spring of 2012, Forbes saw his first tornado.

“I was hooked. It’s still my favourite thing to do,” said Forbes.

But Forbes and the team were barely breaking even selling video footage. So they hopped on social media to market themselves as storm chasers and public speakers.

“You build a big enough audience, you get enough eyeballs on you, it just helps increase your value,” Forbes said.

They chose Twitter, then Facebook and finally Instagram as the best medium to connect with potential fans.

“For what we were after with our imagery, we needed virality. We needed something that would move fast and Twitter offers retweets, Facebook allows you to share it,” he explained.

The team’s big TV break came shortly after May 31, 2013 in Oklahoma. The El Reno tornado is the largest tornado in recorded history—over four kilometres wide—and Johnson, Forbes and their teammate Chris Chittick were right on the edge of it. The whole world got to see and experience what they did, from the comfort of their digital devices.

Soon after, they got a phone call from TV producers in Toronto wanting to make a show about storm chasing. They “loved our content, they loved our social media channels, and of course our following helped leverage that deal as well,” Forbes said.

More work came Forbes’ way. A guest appearance on the CMT show Ice Racer Showdown, racing rally cars on ice in Alberta, hosting the online show Canada’s Greatest Explorer, and MuchMusic’s Far & Wide.

Returning to Saskatoon after his projects wrapped up, Forbes reconnected with his school pal and fellow adventurer Travis Low (BComm’10). While Forbes’ forte was social media and reality TV, Low had spent four years as executive director of Parkinson Society Saskatchewan. Low has also used social media to promote his fundraiser Lows in Motion, now entering its 10thyear. Low’s father has Parkinson’s, and running this event was a way for Low to give back. It’s Canada’s most attended Parkinson fundraiser, and has brought in more than $550,000 so far.

Paddleboarding on the river one day, Forbes and Low brainstormed business ideas.

The result was a digital marketing company, Blue Moose Media, launched in November 2016. Its mainstay is two-fold. One is account management for clients, handling all aspects of social media marketing for them. The other is training other businesses in social media marketing tools and strategies so they can be successful online.

“Social media is by far the most cost-effective and measurable advertising tool out there,” Forbes said, adding this proviso: it takes time to make it work.

Asked to name the most important things about effective use, Forbes mentions three: posting great content that is engaging, having a clear and well thought out content strategy, and something he calls community management.

“No other advertising medium allows two-way conversation with consumers,” he explained. Imagine drawing in 50 or 100 comments on your site: now you have a community, “you become weaved into their lives.”

But it’s important to answer those comments, reviews and messages. As is offering “a great brand story” that includes not only your product or service, but other content pillars that add value—things your company is doing in the community, the people who work for you and expertise in your industry. A company that sells barbecues, for example, might post the top five recipes.

“You’re not trying to sell me anything, you’re just being a friend,” Forbes explained.

Forbes’ advice to anyone launching a career or business: emulate the successful social media marketers. Look at how often they post, what they post about, which posts get the most engagement and why. (Is it the way it’s worded? Is the person’s photo a close-up or shot from 20 feet away?)

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