Hamza Khan, social media expertYesterday we had the pleasure of interviewing  the social media strategist, speaker, and entrepreneur Hamza Khan, who drives Ryerson University’s social media strategy.

1. Tell me about your background and what made you decide to focus on social media marketing.

I suppose I took a somewhat unconventional route to get here. Nearing the end of my marketing internship at Sony Music Entertainment and entering my final year of undergrad at the University of Toronto, I sat nervously in the audience of the Canadian Marketing Association’s annual summit – NEXT:2009 – wondering, well, what’s next? At Sony Music Entertainment, I watched an industry transform in reaction to disruptive digital technologies. As a freelance graphic and web designer, I developed an entrepreneurial itch. And all the while as an English specialist candidate, I was formally studying the art of narrative. Yet, how these seemingly disparate areas of my life would converge remained a mystery. Worse, an HR manager had just critiqued my resume, describing it as “lacking coherent trajectory.” Doubtful thoughts were interrupted by applause as Rohit Bhargava, founding member of the 360 Digital Influence group at Ogilvy, took the stage and proceeded to deliver his keynote, Seeking Authenticity. Clichés notwithstanding, it was the presentation I had been waiting for. Hanging on to each of his words, I found the vocabulary to describe something which I was truly passionate about: I wanted to help brands be more human – I wanted to help them transition into, and navigate through, the evolving & exciting digital world in which I was already immersed.

2. How has digital technology transformed the Canadian university landscape?

For starters, digital technology has transformed the ways in which students learn. Sophisticated remote classroom experiences, just-in-time learning modules, online collaboration tools and the proliferation of mobile devices are but a few examples of digital technologies challenging institutions steeped in tradition. In response to these challenges, many innovative universities are introducing new course offerings around technology and social media, restructuring their programs to include digital components, and rethinking priorities at a broader level. Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone is a brilliant example of a university adapting to the digital age while simultaneously advancing it. I have to say, it’s a really exciting time to be working in higher education, particularly at Ryerson.

3. What are some of the advantages social media presents to universities?

Great segue. Social media offers universities new ways to develop deeper and more authentic relationships with students. Effective marketers can initiate these relationships well in advance of the consideration stage in the admission funnel. Done strategically, these relationships can be nurtured well into the alumni phase. Additionally, social media allows universities to gauge sentiment around a multitude of topics, enabling us to not only respond with more precision to real-time events, but also use data to help influence larger priorities. An area in which we’re innovating here at Ryerson is using social media to drive student engagement and improve retention.

4. What are some of the disadvantages social media presents to universities?

This isn’t a disadvantage as much as it is a natural byproduct of social media marketing’s maturity: we occasionally struggle with the cacophony of multiple brands vying for student attention, especially during admission season. This clutter is particularly problematic for decentralized institutions with multiple sub-brands duplicating efforts and wasting valuable opportunities to capture mindshare. Personally, I see all of this as a challenge to innovate around.

5. What’s the most rewarding part of your Digital Marketing Facilitator role at Ryerson University?

Being emotionally connected to the end goal of my work ranks high among the most rewarding aspects of being the Digital Community Facilitator. It’s a privilege to contribute to the holistic development of students – I see my work helping students grow personally, professionally and academically. But the most rewarding part of the job, by far, is being part of a larger movement of higher education and digital marketing professionals seeking to transform an industry. Along with colleagues across the country and around the world, we’re exchanging ideas and building on each other’s work to catalyze the optimization of higher education.

6. How did you get started with social media public speaking and what’s your strategy in securing speaking opportunities?

In my first week on the job, I was thrown into the deep end – I had to quickly go from being the guy behind-the-scenes to being Ryerson’s go-to social media authority, routinely sharing ideas in front of crowds of faculty and administration. Over time I was able to shake my anxiety and started to hone my presenting skills with guidance from colleagues and mentors. Before I knew it, I was speaking at conferences and most recently came off my second keynote! In terms of securing new speaking opportunities, I think I’m lucky to be surrounded by champions who recommend me to their networks. I’ve also taken a more proactive role in submitting proposals for conferences. Lately I’ve started leveraging my social media channels to promote my speaking career.

7. Tell me about your agency, Splash Effect.

Splash Effect is a venture I’ve launched with Kareem Rahaman concurrent to our work at Ryerson. Through Splash Effect my team and I help higher education brands create connections and enhance communication. We usher higher education brands into the digital space by giving them the intelligence, insight, solutions and resources needed to better engage with students. Over the course of our higher education careers, and especially in the last year, Kareem and I became acutely aware of the industry’s challenges to strategically use digital technology and social media to drive organizational goals. We moved quickly to consolidate our respective freelance careers and focus on this niche. Since launching earlier this year, it’s been an exhilarating and rewarding experience.

8. What are 3 brands whose social media presence you admire the most?

  1. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC): The degree of access provided to fans, both in terms of the lead-ups to fights and the UFC universe in general, is second to none.
  2. Starbucks: The community managers’ love of the brand is infectious. Starbucks is one of the most genuine and authentic brands on social media today.
  3. MusclePharm: These are new kids on the block who’ve mastered the art of sharing useful content and infinitely extending the life cycle of their products.

9. What are the top 3 must-have social media tools for Enterprises?

A robust social media management and analytics suite is a must-have tool for enterprises. Three tools which I’ve used, and would recommend, include:

  1. Radian6 (currently being used by Ryerson University)
  2. HubSpot
  3. SpredFast

10. What are the most important social media trends we should keep our eyes on?

We should keep our eyes on three trends in particular: big data, personalization and more industries going social. Big data was a hot topic this past SXSW; social networks have accumulated a wealth of user data, giving marketers unique data sets to play with and gain new perspectives from. Additionally, big data will help drive the personalization of individual user experiences, allowing marketers to effectively cut through clutter. Lastly (and this one is very close to home) we’re going to see more industries go social – higher education is well on its way, and industries like manufacturing, medical & pharmaceuticals, energy, real estate and construction are quickly following suit.

Hamza Khan is a digital marketing strategist based in Toronto. He delivers expertise in social media and digital marketing through his passion for helping brands become more human. Hamza currently leads social media strategy at Ryerson University, Canada’s leader in innovative, career-focused education. He delivers a proven record of success, blending experiences from his work in the higher education and technology startup sectors. Hamza is a social media advisor to the Endeavor Volunteer Consulting Network and also sits on the advisory committee for the Small Business Program at the Rotman School of Management. He regularly speaks on social media, digital marketing and professional development. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Tagged with: Branding, Canada, Entrepreneur, Hamza Khan, Public Speaking, Ryerson University, Social Media, Social Media Trends, Splash Effect, University

About Alex Rascanu

Alex Rascanu is a digital marketing strategist and speaker. Director of Online New Business Development at The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Founder of EVENTS&. Organizer of the Marketers Unbound event series.