How many conferences are too many?

I know, I know, quiet around here lately. It’s the same excuse as always: busy, busy. I’ve been on the go for what feels like eternity (and it actually got the better of me last week – hello, flu!). Thus, I haven’t been “musing” much. But here are some random thoughts and observations from my many travels these last months, starting with…

Louisville

I’m sure it’s a great city – it looked like it from the air. Jason Falls invited me to speak at the IABC Kentucky / Social Media Club Louisville’s Content Marketing Summit in September. Thanks to some flight snafus, I ended up flying in and out of Louisville in under 10 hours and seeing nothing beyond the airport and the conference room of the hotel across the street.

In addition to presenting, I got to sit in on the rest of the day’s sessions and hear from Michael Schechter of Honora Pearls, Joe Pulizzi of Junta42, and Chris Baggott of Compendium Blogware. During my presentationI talked about online newsrooms and using press releases as content marketing, sharing some examples form readMedia clients and other savvy organizations who “get it” when it comes to organizing news on the web. My slides on Making Online News in the 21st Century are here.

Then a week later, I was off to…

Boston (technically Cambridge)

It was nice to spend a day at a conference where I was actually only there learning, and not presenting or exhibiting or meeting with clients. As part of Boston’s FutureM week of marketing events, I spent a day at MIT/Microsoft’s NERD Center (it’s actually called that) for Start-up Marketing Bootcamp. It was great to hear from some of the non-mainstream social media and marketing speaker-guru-expert-ninja people and get some “real” stories from entrepreneurs at start-ups who’ve implemented innovative marketing tactics and social media strategies to develop a customer base. There was substantially less talk about Twitter and Facebook and more about things like design, user interface/user experience, marketing analytics and A/B testing, and low-cost tools and resources for marketing at a start-up. Meaty stuff.

I most enjoyed hearing from David Cancel, founder of Compete.com and now with Performable.com, and Ross Kimbarovsky from CrowdSpring.com. The day ended with a panel of CEO-types like Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway and Seth Prietbatsch from SCVNGR. Smart, in-the-trenches folks who shared their experiences, good and bad, of life at the helm of a start-up. The day suffered from not having enough interaction among all the attendees there (it would have been great to break into small groups and talk through common issues or share ideas for marketing start-ups), but overall it was a solid event. And, bonus, I managed to grab a long overdue beer with Jay Keith and confirm that we share a brain.

Fast-forward two weeks and I’m in…

Crotonville (it’s in New York, on the Hudson)

All you need to know about Crotonville is encapsulated in this episode of 30 Rock. GE invited several other former GE communicators back to its leadership development campus for a day of networking with other company alumni and current GE communications professionals. It was great to see former colleagues and some of the invited speakers were top-notch. A crisis communications panel included representatives from BP and AIG, and it was fascinating to get an insider’s view on these crises, as well as their lessons learned (Apparently no one in the UK thought Tony Hayward sounded “posh”, and in Britain his accent is actually quite common-sounding. Meanwhile, everyone in America thinks any type of British accent is posh…).

Now we’re to early November and I’m off to…

Troy

Not that far of a trip for me, but I spent a day in the Collar City for the PRSA Northeast District Conference. I was a little surprised at the lack of social media sophistication at this conference. It seems like PR people, of all professions, should be all over social media as tools to help them achieve their goals (and if they’re not ready to jump in with clients, I’d at least expect them to be reading basic social media blogs like Mashable and experimenting with social media personally, to try and get a handle on the technologies available and understand how to fit them into campaigns).

But, there was very little Twitter usage at the conference. People were asking questions during sessions like, “What is RSS?” and “What’s a hashtag?”, which made me worry I had been transported back to 2008. The kicker was that a few days after the conference, the organizers emailed a PDF of the conference survey to attendees and asked people to reply and check off their answers (um, surveymonkey or surveygizmo, anyone?). It frustrates me that so much discussion about social media seems stalled out among certain PR audiences. At some point, you need to stop expecting social media enlightenment to fall from the sky and just roll up your sleeves and start experimenting.

On a good note, I got to meet David Binkowski and hear about some of his work with Price Chopper and Schick (he is seriously tall in real life, btw). I also attended a media panel that featured Mark Mahoney of the Glens Falls Post Star, who is far too humble for a Pulitzer winner.

Three days later I’m on a plane to…

San Diego

I attended the American Marketing Association’s 2010 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. San Diego in November sounds great, but I honestly only made it outside of the hotel twice (though once was to meet and have dinner with the lovely Rachel Kay and Jennifer Wilbur). The conference was packed with content, and in addition to meeting with a lot of readMedia’s higher ed clients, I also tried to attend as many sessions as possible. A lot of the conference revolved around big university branding campaigns, like those at American University, Purdue and Michigan State. I shared my impressions of the conference with Seth Odell of HigherEdLive via a video post here.

I’m really enjoying being so involved with the higher ed community through my work with readMedia, and it’s great to be able to learn from them and also share knowledge gleaned from working with our clients. I’ve made great connections with people like Michael Stoner, Rachel Reuben, Fritz McDonald and Charlie Melichar.

Back from San Diego and two days later it’s back to…

Troy (again)

This time, Troy played host to the eighth installment of Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley, with the very cool Revolution Hall as a backdrop. Patrick Boegel was able to entice Guy Gonzalez of Digital Book World to come talk to SMBTV about Audience Development in the Digital Age. With Guy’s poetry and publishing background, it was really interesting to get his take on building communities online. Guy shared his view of how online platforms (Kindle, iPad, eBooks, etc.) are disrupting traditional methods of getting content to audiences. I love that SMBTV has been exploring deeper and more niche-y topics lately. The audience is so sophisticated and asks such great questions, and it’s great to be beyond Twitter/Facebook 101 content. Guy’s shared his recap and slides from SMBTV on his blog.

…Somewhere in there I also flew out to Colorado for my first Dawgs game in six years (we lost), picked up responsibility for sales at readMedia (a big, scary, exhilarating, awesome challenge for me), and managed to squeeze in some fantastic hikes in the Adirondacks and beyond. I suppose that schedule is enough to land just about anyone in bed for two weeks. I’m on the mend now and happy to be off the road for a while. I won’t go so far as to promise I’ll be back to blogging regularly here, but hopefully it’ll be more than once every three months.

What’s new with all of you?

Image via Flickr user kmanohar

Yes, I’m still here…

It’s been quiet around the blog lately. I’ve been traveling a lot for work (and some for fun) and blogging has taken a back seat. Plus, it seems like I haven’t felt like I’ve had too much to say. I’m resolving to get back on track, though.

Here’s some of what I’ve been up to over the last six weeks:

I guest lectured on social media to a graduate-level PR class at The College of Saint Rose and talked with them about how social media has influenced and changed PR over the last several years. The class is working on a social media strategy for a local non-profit and I gave them some ideas for ways to encourage volunteering and fundraising via content marketing. My slides from the class are below (and they’re pretty bland – I usually try to jazz up presentations more!)

I was a member of a panel of speakers on social media at the 2010 Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference at the NYS Museum. I had never heard of this group before, but it’s fantastic! This national organization has chapters all over the US and brings together 10th graders from different schools for a weekend devoted to leadership and community service. The kids were excited, energetic and inquisitive. For my part of the panel, I talked to them about how social networking is an important component of online reputation management. When they’re applying for jobs or scholarships, people are going to Google them. They need to make sure that their social activity (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, other online postings) reflects the type of person they want to show to the world. I also taught them how to Call the Dawgs.

I read Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. I received a copy of the book at last October’s Inbound Marketing Summit, when it was pretty new, but never got around to reading it. I thought it would be interesting to wait to read it until almost a year after it was published and see how well it held up. I’m generally not one to like social media books (or even business books in general). I’ll probably save my observations on the book for another post in the coming weeks.

I flew three round-trips to BWI for conferences about PR in higher education and communications in government. I talked with lots of readMedia clients (and hopefully future clients) about effective ways of reaching hyperlocal media, how to manage enterprise-level PR and communications within complex organizations, and how to ensure social media is baked into PR best practices so that it becomes a natural extension of communications activities. I go back to BWI in two weeks to present a workshop on social media for government communicators. I’m going to be the mayor of that airport in no time.

I finally pulled together a group of smart, hard-working people to help me keep Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley moving forward. The event has grown so much in the last year and was more than I could handle on my own – so I’m now happy to have a team behind me making it happen. We took a break from our typical early morning programming in June and instead hosted a social media happy hour at a local biergarten. Networking was greatly enhanced. We’re looking forward to bringing back regularly scheduled programming in August.

So, this post is a total cop-out, but I plan to be back to blogging (semi) regularly soon. Stay tuned…

Beyond the Facebook Status Update: SMBTV #5

If you’re a brand trying to market to customers on Facebook, how do you cut through all the noise and reach your audience? What can you do to engage people through the medium, beyond just having them fan your page? Atlanta-based social media strategist Brad Ruffkess tackled these questions this morning at the fifth Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley.

Brad shared some interesting data points about Facebook:

  • Brad Ruffkess SMBTV The average user fans two pages a month on Facebook
  • Facebook approximates 30 billion page views per month
  • Gaming in social media is huge. Farmville has more users than Twitter
  • Facebook’s self-service ads drive $200 million in revenue

He shared some interesting ways brands are using Facebook: Adidas’ Star Wars campaign that integrates Google Maps and a Facebook user’s location to “blow up” their city with a blast from the Death Star. Canada’s CTV broadcast network integrated the Olympic Torch Relay live video stream with Facebook Connect to allow viewers to post status updates about watching the relay live.

Brad left plenty of time for Q&A that covered everything from the benefits and differences of profiles vs. groups vs. pages to the intricacies of FBML and ways to measure effectiveness of Facebook engagement.

Some of the key takeaways:

  • The value in Facebook is not necessarily the “share” but the “re-share” – what can you do to get your network to post content on your behalf? People like and trust information they see from their friends more than they do from brands.
  • Don’t forget to take your Facebook engagement off of Facebook. It’s very easy to use widgets and simple lines of code to add Facebook functionality to your Web site. Add a fan page box, allow users to comment on content on your site (video, e.g.) via Facebook status updates, use Facebook Connect for people to comment.
  • Quantity does not always (or sometimes ever) trump quality. A small number of passionate fans is more valuable than mountains of people who don’t really care.
  • Paid media is critical to success on Facebook and one way to cut through the noise. Advertising on Facebook is extremely targeted and affordable. At the very least, you can use the self-service ad tool to look at data surrounding the particular group you want to target.
  • There are rules of the road to Facebook and if you violate them, your page and community can be removed. Know the restrictions around things like contests and protocol for contacting fans and asking for their personal info. If you abuse the rules, Facebook can and will remove you – and then you’ve lost all the time and effort you’ve spent building up your page and following.

You can watch the video of the entire presentation via UStream, courtesy of MZA Multimedia. You can also view the Twitter transcript of the event.

What’s the most creative marketing use of Facebook that you’ve seen?

One Question: HubSpot’s Rick Burnes

How can businesses use Twitter to drive leads? Rick Burnes of HubSpot shared his thoughts at the New York Capital Region American Marketing Association’s “Twitter for Business” workshop. I snagged Rick after the presentation to ask him this one question:

Two other good tips from Rick during the presentation:

  • Companies should create a page on their Web sites with a list and links to the Twitter handles of all their employees.
  • “Favoriting” positive mentions of your company on Twitter is a great way to assemble third-party endorsements. You can send the link to your favorites so that people can see what’s being said about you.

Check out Rick’s full presentation on SlideShare.

Cause marketing: A bra by any other color

2285544109_0aab5b967aI was too busy watching college football last night (priorities!) to notice all of the Facebook “bra color” status updates from my female friends. But I caught up on the meme this morning via Stephanie Smirnov’s post. She raises an excellent point: while it is a fun activity in the name of breast cancer awareness, what does it accomplish? Definitely check out the post on her blog. I left a comment that turned into a post in and of itself, so I’ve repeated it here:

Stephanie – your post brings up an interesting, tangential point. In all likelihood, this probably wasn’t an organized effort by a breast cancer-affiliated NFP. It was probably just one or two women who thought it would be fun and started spreading it among their Facebook friends (which is why it has all the characteristics of a good grassroots viral campaign, as you pointed out).

While we’d hope (and expect) that a planned marketing tactic from a large organization (NFP or not) would have a little more strategy behind it, including a call to action or other way to induce a behavior change among participants, this underscores that through social media, ANYONE can start a viral campaign in the name of “breast cancer awareness” or any other type of cause they’re passionate about.

That leaves the NFPs and organizations formally associated with these causes in an interesting position. In some cases, these homegrown campaigns will be fun and harmless (if not effective). But what if a similar meme were to spread that included incorrect information about a cause/issue? While one of the great aspects of social media is that your customers/stakeholders are empowered to market for you and spread your message across their networks, the drawback is of course that you’re not in control of your brand anymore.

It would be great to see an organization like the Susan G. Komen Foundation jump on this meme to turn it from a fun diversion into an actual force of good. What about partnering with Hanes to donate $1 toward breast cancer research for each color status update posted? Or creating some fun visual graphs of the breakdown of colors being reported and have people try to guess which is most popular (after making a donation or watching a short video on the importance of mammograms, e.g.)?

A lot of grassroots cause marketing like this meme probably won’t be as sophisticated and strategic as if an organization had thought through it as a campaign and defined goals for behavior change or donations or any other metric. But these “campaigns” can still draw a lot interest and participation and are a great opportunity for nonprofits and cause-related organizations to leverage the buzz created and transform it into community action.

Yes, I used the word leverage (cringe). But that’s exactly what organizations, especially nonprofits with limited marketing budgets, should be trying to do. If something like a Facebook bra color meme surfaces and becomes wildly popular– and is even slightly linked to breast cancer awareness– then breast cancer organizations should capitalize on it and give the meme the teeth (a call to action) that it currently lacks as a cause marketing campaign.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Image via Flickr user QueenBlingerie