Greater Victorians honing in on the Twitterverse

New interactive social media chat program appears to be gaining a foothold

Mat Wright

Three community organizers plan on turning their social media experiment into a full-length documentary.

Four months ago, Kyle Schembri, Mat Wright and Susan Jones began a weekly Twitter-based discussion on Greater Victoria issues.

“We wanted to keep it open and really informal,” Schembri said. “It was completely an experiment. We had no idea what would happen.”

Under the hashtag #YYJchat, the Twitter conversation has quickly grown into an open platform hub for town hall-like discussions. They take place every Tuesday from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and feature a well-known guest responding to questions from organizers and the public. Topics range from politics and regional amalgamation to the best place to buy a bottle of wine.

“There’s an informal accountability for these guests to answer questions,” Schembri said. “I wouldn’t normally get to pose questions to these decision-makers, but with #YYJchat, I can do that.”

The online discussions are curated and posted each week on VictoriaWave.ca, the brainchild of Schembri and Wright. The duo began producing podcasts last March, but it wasn’t until Jones suggested they utilize Twitter to engage more discussion that the website really gained traction.

“I always refer to it as a face-palm moment,” said Wright, who runs a local marketing and communications agency. The website received more than 100 unique visitors during last week’s #YYJchat discussion with former provincial NDP leader Carole James, but using Twitter makes it difficult to measure those people who observe without participating.

“Twitter can be an intimate conversation, but at the same time, you’re broadcasting that to the world,” Wright said. “There may be 80 or 100 people engaging, but there are likely hundreds more watching.”

#YYJchat has had an impressive lineup of guests since its inception, including mayors Barb Desjardins of Esquimalt and Frank Leonard of Saanich. Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May will guest-host sometime in the next month, at her request.

But don’t be fooled by the political slant. #YYJchat’s organizers are open to any relevant topic and every willing participant.

“The good thing about Twitter is anybody can come on board,” Schembri said. “My mom hopped on board last week and started texting me, asking why I wasn’t posting. And she doesn’t even use Twitter.”

Across Canada, 52 per cent of people use Facebook while 18 per cent are on Twitter.

In Victoria, those numbers are estimated to be at least 10 per cent higher in a city well-known for its early adoption of new social media platforms. In 2010, Mayor Dean Fortin declared June 30 Social Media Day, the first city in the world to do so.

The trio hope to release YYJ: A Social Media Documentary, next year. In order to fund the project, they are accepting weekly sponsors.

To learn more, visit victoriawave.ca or tap into #YYJchat on Twitter next Tuesday.

dpalmer@vicnews.com