We spoke with Dani Gagnon, a trailblazing social media marketer and CEO of Dani G Inc, about social media trends and how to tactfully weave popular culture into great stories that engage your audience.

Let’s start with an introduction. Tell us about your day-to-day.

Hi everyone, I’m Dani, I own a social media marketing firm here in Toronto. I teach at Seneca College, and I’m a speaker with the National Speaker’s Bureau. Most days, I’m at home just on social media, trying to come up with cool campaign ideas for clients or speaking at conferences and traveling.

Tell us about your career path. What led you to where you are now?

I actually went to school for political science and I was going to become a lawyer. But after school I needed a break, so I started working at a skate shop, ’cause I was into tattoos and skateboarding. When I was at that shop about eight years ago, there wasn’t really anything called social media marketing.

There were no businesses pages, like nothing existed. But I started doing marketing for this skate shop on Facebook. The neighbourhood BIA – the Beaches – noticed what I was doing and asked me to be a member of the board, so I could help them with their social media. I just started helping a lot of the neighbouring stores. I started charging, and literally my company was created overnight. I quit my job and everything just exploded. I was one of the first ever social media marketing people.

I’ve had to really adapt my business as things have gone along, ’cause everything changes every few months, but it’s definitely been cool and challenging. I’ve never really considered social media to be what I was gonna do. For me, public speaking has always been what I wanted, so it doesn’t really matter what I’m speaking about, but, yeah, I’m where I wanna be now.

How can businesses use pop culture – in smarter ways – to engage with audiences?

If something is trending online [Game of Thrones, is the one I usually explain with], on a Sunday when it comes out, and you don’t post about anything but Game of Thrones, your content is not gonna get seen on the internet. I really encourage businesses to come up with creative ways to actually talk about their own brand and their own promotions, or whatever it is, through what’s trending.

For example, I worked with a life insurance company, and when Game of Thrones came out, we put out a poll asking people which character needed life insurance the most for that episode. So the way to actually just connect with culture, while still being genuine to your brand, but not promoting yourself, is by just being socially relevant. If you’re at Starbucks, and they spell your name wrong on the cup, post about it. It doesn’t have to be so within the box of what your company is. I always say, if your company was a person, what would they be posting?

How do social networks shape this content – in contrast to traditional marketing?

Internet’s gonna be going faster and faster and faster, so you can’t post about something three days after it’s already happened. Whereas with traditional media, I think it just took longer to kind of evolve, so you could post about something a few days later, so it just pushes you more, being on top of whatever’s going on.

How do you determine if a trend is content-worthy? Does every trend work if you can tie it back to your business?

If there’s a trend, it’s content worthy. For me, it more has to do with what your target market is interested in.

So if Game of Thrones is trending, but your target market doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, let’s say your target is 65 plus, you could probably guess a lot of those people aren’t gonna be watching Game of Thrones. Maybe your target market’s younger, like 16 and under. A lot of those kids aren’t watching Game of Thrones either. In those scenarios, you don’t have to post about something trending because your target market’s actually not interested in that trend.

A lot of times things are going on within the subculture of 16 year-olds for instance, that may not be displayed on a Facebook trending bar. It’s really important to get to know your target market, and maybe find some people that are within it, so you can ask them what’s going on.

How important is storytelling for an audience?

It’s important that when you’re thinking storytelling, that you don’t connect back to your product, and that you’re really just trying to create a message and feeling for your brand, like an emotion, so people feel tied to come back, or to buy your product. That’s the strongest kind of sense of marketing you can have.

We’d like to thank Digital Main Street for connecting us with Dani Gagnon.

For more insight on the top trends and happenings in the digital industry, visit our Industry Experts Interview Series.