My Thoughts on BlogHer09 – the Good, Bad and Next

So for the first time since the BlogHer09 Conference I have 5 minutes to sit and think and write.

From July 24-25, 1200+ women gathered in Chicago for a conference by, about and for women bloggers. Mommybloggers, FitnessBloggers, HealthBloggers, BusinessBloggers, ShoppingBloggers, HumorBloggers, PetBloggers, and any other kind of blogger you could imagine. There were also a ton of women who dont blog but want to learn more and were ready to start.

And so were Brands. Tons of them. Official sponsors of the conference (Pepsi, HP, GM etc.), sponsors of the lunch (Ragu), brands in the exhibition hall, sponsors of individual parties, sponsors of individual bowling lanes at the BowlHer party, etc. Mostly CPG brands (Pepsi, Ragu, Pork the Other White Meat), but there were some apparel brands (Crocs), cosmetics brands (ELF), Nikon, HP & Microsoft there too. The brands were there with their own people (George from Crocs, Chris Barger from GM, Scott Monty from Ford, Bonin Bough from Pepsi, Bev from P&G, Johnson & Johnson had a guy there), their agencies (Social, PR or Marketing & guys like BlogTalkRadio) as well as bloggers Brands sponsored to attend.

And there were maybe 20 guys there in attendance (like Me and Carfi) who werent with a brand, or agency, but who were there to attend BlogHer09. The most common question I was asked was “what are you doing here?”. 🙂 Last year Carfi and Micah talked up BlogHer08 so much I decided I had to go, and I am glad I did.

First the Good:
Holy crap, this is one of the most well run conferences I have ever attended. It rivals Gnomedex in coordination and is almost 3-4x the size. It was organized, ran on time, the food was great, the sessions I sat in had spirited discussion and were amazing, the people were awesome, the wifi was pretty good and there was a lot of power for charging phones and laptops.

Two of the more amazing things that happened at BlogHer were Speed Dating and the Community Keynote. After the opening keynote with Lisa, Jory and Elisa, the entire audience got up and formed 2 circles (one inside the other) and proceeded to spend the next 20-30 minutes meeting new people as the inside circle moved one person over every minute. (this is where I got most of the “what are you doing here?” questions). A. This was fun. B. I got to meet some amazing women. C. I wish every conference I went to did this.

The Community Keynote followed the end of the first day’s sessions. Basically 10+ men and women from the BlogHer community got up to read their blog posts that the community had recommended and the curators selected. JD told the story of how she faked a concussion as a little kid and the hilarity that ensued. Grace talked about surviving and fighting back from abuse. Some funny, some sad, one about about race, one about getting something stuck somewhere (long story) but all were amazing. There wasnt a dry eye in the room from either laughter or tears.

And the price point for all this was ridiculous. At $305 (inc tax), this is one of the cheapest conferences tickets I have seen. For a conference with 1200+ attendees? With a really nice space, decent wifi, good drinks and food? With a waiting list (which I was on), BlogHer doesnt push all of the costs down on to the attendees ticket price – they push them onto the Brands.

Without the Brands it would have been either a smaller event or a more expensive one – and maybe not the same. This is a BUSINESS decision on the part of the BlogHer team. More Brands wanted to work with them ($$$) which allowed the Wait List to be opened up. Brands wanted to leverage the center of gravity being built by this community to get noticed and start conversations. Attendees want a great experience, with as much quality and at as low a cost as they can. It was Win-Win-Win (attendees, BlogHer the org and Brands) all around.

Brands want to connect with these women bloggers because they have influence and an audience. Just like a TV show, magazine in the newsstand or a golf player walking the back nine at Augusta. Unlike TV or celebrity endorsements, BlogHer09 is a forum to do just that AND listen to their opinions and have a discussion in realtime. Brands want to “share space” with these bloggers as they share their observations, opinions and ideas. Like any good marketer some want to sell product, some want to get noticed and some are taking steps into the Social pool.

J&J is a perfect example. They had a guy sitting in the PatientBloggers discussion who was GREAT. He wasnt shilling (selling anything), he didnt try to control the conversation or play the chest-thumping “I am J&J” game. He listened. He hung out. He added where he thought he could and HE THANKED THEM for sharing their stories. Holy crap. A company thanking anyone for anything other than “thanks for buyin my stuff”.

And that was a big deal for me. Watching Brands interact with the attendees. Watching attendees eyes light up when they met Bev from P&G or George the Crocs guy. Brands weren’t selling to them, but sitting with them at sessions and during breaks and at BOF tables at lunch. Attendees were getting to speak with the PEOPLE behind the products they buy and talk about. Interacting, learning together, asking questions, paying it forward. Some brands didn’t represent in the way or the frequency I would have liked (sending a blogger is AWESOME but I would have like to see their people, not just their agency folk) but others did. Brands were getting to show BlogHer attendees a human face and voice.

And it was GREAT to see agencies representing the right way at the sessions. Asking Bloggers about what they wanted from Agency interactions, how they wanted to be pitched (OR NOT), about how they felt about sponsored conversations, blog advertising etc.

The Bad
First off, I had a great time. But there were legitimate complaints from others. Complaints about Brand overload, about the over-emphasis on SWAG (Stuff We All Get), complaints about the quality of some of the panelists, a dummy trying to intimidate George from Crocs for a free pair of shoes (wtf?) all with this the FTC-Blogger-Advertising-Transparency debate running in the background. When I go to a conference I firmly believe that I get out of it what I put into it. If I hang back and don’t interact and complain incessantly, its my fault. If I engage and try to have the best possible experience I have EVERY right to point out things that piss me off because ITS MY CONFERENCE.

Brand Overload –

Yup, they were there, all over, at every party, session, room, lunch table, on the conference program, signage, in SWAG bags, etc. Either sponsoring a room or a party or a lunch or the drinks, whatever. BlogHer is a FUBU (for us by us) environment that has a deep connection to Brands. Every conference has sponsors and people footing the bill – because SOMEONE HAS TO PAY. But it seems to be, the difference here is that BlogHer, like Gnomedex, seems to do a great job of separating the pay from the play. Brands are there, they support the conference experience (keeping prices low, providing services like break rooms and drinks, etc.), and they bring their own experiences to the table (like the GM guys in the exhibition hall or the Hershey’s party) – its all part of the show. Brands are paying for ACCESS to the Attendees. Attendees pay for Access to the Brands and other Attendees. Access is a currency.

Is it bad? I haven’t been to previous BlogHer conferences so I don’t have context for that, but I don’t think the Brand integration at BlogHer09 was any worse than any other conference I have attended (and paid a LOT more for a lot less value). I didnt see Brands have any say over the editorial. Brands (and their agencies) are a fact at most conferences and it is up to the community of attendees and organizers to decide what level of Brand influence is allowed. “Too Many Brands!” is a valid complaint for some, but not for me.

SWAG Overload

There was NO SWAG FOR ME. I have to be honest, there was a TON of swag. Now at most conferences I go to, the SWAG includes tshirts or trinkets, pads and pens, etc. Sometimes there are giveaways for X-Boxes at parties and stuff. But BlogHer is different (are you seeing the trend here people?). At BlogHer swag was EVERYWHERE. Every party, all of the Brands in the Exhibition hall, pretty much everywhere. 2 or 3 times I was asked if I wanted to keep my swag bag (because there was nothin in there for me – but my Nephew scored the Spiderman book from leappad). George from Crocs was basically threatened with blogwarfare if he didnt get someone a pair of Crocs. There was a Swag bag stolen at some point. All that being said, I have no idea what BlogHers of the past were like but I have to assume based on some of the blog posts I have read regarding the SwagInsanity this year was over the top. Were people crazy for it? Yup.

Should it stop? Nope. Why? Because thats what the attendees (for the most part) wanted at the time. Free is powerful, value is in the eye of the beholder and people like stuff. Not everyone likes Pepsi and not everyone likes sessions about Twitter and not everyone likes blogging and not everyone likes Swag and not everyone likes the way a conference changes and and and… Brands want to give away stuff – they make TONS of Swag every year and events like BlogHer are a way of getting something with their brand in front of the public to take with them. BlogHer is trying to provide the best possible experience to the community and I think if a sponsor or Brand offers a giveaway they would be kinda nuts to turn it down. Now if the community gets together and says “hey Brands, save the Swag this year and feed 1000 kids in the third world” that would be interesting.

Panel Quality

I hate multi-track conferences (after being spoiled by Gnomedex-goodness). I hate them because I always feel like I am missing something and then I meet folks who were in another session and they rave about how great it was and I get session-envy (and hope someone recorded the session). BlogHer had multiple sessions running in parallel and more than a few times I had to choose between one and another. Some were great, and one or two invoked the “law of two feet” where I decided the session didnt interest me that much and split. 3 of the standout sessions include the PatientBlogging, Advanced Social Media, Syndication and Stats, and Sponsored vs Unsponsored with Anne-Marie Nichols of This Mama Cooks! Reviews and Lucretia Pruitt of GeekMommy.

Now StephanieBamBam wrote this piece about the panels and speakers at BlogHer09 and I think it raised some great points (and I doubt she is the only one). She points out that there are some amazing women in tech who werent speaking, how great the geeklabs were and how there needed to be more experts in the panels who were actually experts (she has a real issue with some of the content). Considering the current conversations on twitter and the blogs over the lack of women speakers at other events, this is a growing, important subject.

The Next
A couple of years ago I spent months talking up Gnomedex and how great an event it was, and how it was my favorite conference (and one I ALWAYS pay my own money to go to). I love the party Chris and Ponzi throw every year and I love catching up with my friends in realtime in one of my favorite cities in the world (Seattle). Unfortunately, that year, after convincing a client and other guys from the ad agency I worked at to attend the show was less than spectacular. The curatorship over content from previous years had seemed to slipped and there were MORE than a few duds – and in a single track conference I travelled across the country for, thats not a good thing. Actually the conference was a disappointment compared to years past and a number of people wrote passionately about how and where it didnt work that year (including me).

And thats the thing. Chris and Ponzi listened. Last year Gnomedex was easily the best of the 4 years I had attended. Great speakers, parties, and discussions. They took the community’s feedback with an open heart, pulled up their sleeves and got past it.

So how does this impact BlogHer? No conference is perfect for everyone, but there is no doubt that the BlogHer team did a kickass job across the board.
Brand overload? Perhaps.
Too much Swag? Maybe.
More focus on experts in the panels? Sure.

I am not a conference organizer, but they put on a great show, and have serious feedback for making next year better. The Swag issue is something the community needs to discuss and get past on their own. I think the Brands are kinda responsible for a number of people getting to go at all (either as guest-bloggers or as waitlist folks). Experts in panels is something that all shows have an issue with. I understand that BlogHer has a policy of refreshing the speakers list every year and sometimes people can’t make it or have to cancel – its a tough business.

Are they listening? The founders of BlogHer seem to have already started. Jory and Elisa have started commenting on their feelings of how it went and where it needs to gohere (Jory) and here (Elisa).

I plan on going next year and adding it to Gnomedex as a show I plan on going to every year (its that good).

And in the spirit of Brand overload, Scott tissue or Kleenex or someone should sponsor tissue boxes on all the tables for the BlogHer10 Community Keynote (see description above).

Community Community Community

(the title of the post should be said outloud like Jan on the Brady Bunch yelling “Marsha Marsha Marsha!”)

I think Micah’s post on the Lie About Community hits the mark pretty well. “Community”, like Social and Participation and Conversation has been the buzzword for a while now. Everyone wants one. Clients want the “network effects” and the “just add water” efficiency of having a group of interested individuals focused on their product/service/brand. Every company would love to have a community. Every Brand and Product or Service would love to have dedicated, passionate fans who check in all the time. Agencies would love to sell their clients on this day-in-and-out. Every agency out there would love to sell a client on building a community around there .

Just showing up doesnt make it a community. If that was the case, then Grand Central Station in NYC would have a new community every 5 minutes. Just because people go somewhere doesnt mean they are engaged, that they care, or that they are something more than a collection of individuals checking something out. Just because we all like airbags in cars doesnt mean there will be a Ning site tomorrow dedicated to our love and fandom of all-things Airbag.

Then again, survivors of car accidents thanks to Airbags could be a community.

Community is something that grows over time and connections (shallow and deep) are made, broken, strained and strengthened. A forum isn’t a community. A chat room isn’t a community. A blog isn’t a community. A wiki isn’t a community. But a community can be found on all four (and more platforms). It has to start with something that people care about or have an interest in. Then comes the participation. Then comes the quality of interaction. Then comes the exchange of the member’s attention for value (sense of belonging, information, catharsis, etc.). Then comes the investment of time/effort/attention/love.

Its kinda like porn – we know Community when we see it:

Where we see individuals self-organizing around a common goal/topic/crisis/effort/idea/joke
Where we see a company facilitating and acting as a host – encouraging and participating in the community’s interactions, acting as a guide (and sometimes a hall monitor) without being a shill, a censor or drill instructor
When the members of the community take ownership and a stake in its ongoing existence by policing their own, sharing and helping, acting like members instead of guests

More importantly, like a startup, or neighborhood, within a community a culture develops. Shared expectations of behavior and action are mutually agreed on and evolve over time.
is an amazing community that developed from one dad’s desire to share and interact with other families whose children were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (Jeff’s story is awesome and I am going to be begging him for an interview in the coming weeks). The community managers were there to keep things moving, to keep an eye on things without being heavy-handed. The community – kids and parents – share and interact and help each other online and off. They had a common interest (kids with diabetes), a way of connecting (the website and meetups) a culture that evolved and grew as the community did. They built trust and love between the site and the members and between the members themselves to the point where, when the management of the site let the community know that they were going to be bought by J&J the community gave them the benefit of the doubt because “we trust Jeff”.

You can’t buy that – you can only earn it.

After all that rambling, whats driving me nuts is this idea that community managers can be outsourced or provided by the SaaS platform provider. Thats plain nuts. Its like “ghostbloggers” who blog for someone else. How can a company claim to be more authentic and trying to enter the conversation when they hire outsiders to communicate? Authenticity by proxy? Community managers, in my mind, need to function as a both hosts and facilitators – helping the newbies, participating, adding to the conversation, and listening to the community – they are the lighting rods for trust between members and the management. Agencies/Consultants/Community Gurus should be “teaching the skill of fishing” instead of being fishmongers. Otherwise, communiy managers are just moderators/hall monitors/crossing guards – involved but not really committed.

A company can only show it’s committment to community with actions: honest dialog, engaging the members, listening, asking permission, being authentic not talking about it,paying it forward.

My 11 Twitter Guidelines

So I haven’t blogged in a while because… I have been busy as all heck.

Many have blogged and twittered and videoblogged and webinared how to work with twitter. Some of the more egregious “click my junk”ers even charge users for the “inside information”.

I advise clients on strategies in integrating digital and social tools within their marketing architecture and inside the enterprise. Finding, implementing and using tools like blogging, twitter, video, wiki, etc is what I do. In the last 24 hours I have had 2 conversations around guidelines for working with Twitter (and a big thanks to @Micah on twitter and and who got me thinking about this). How to jump in, use it, not abuse it, get something out of it and connect with people. This isn’t a post about getting to 25,000 users (I only have 1000+) or making money with Twitter, or how Social Media saved my . Here are some tips I give clients about Twitter, and getting in the right way.

1. Be human. Have a real person behind the @name – even if it is a brand, you need someone there, a real person and preferably someone in the org and not the agency (ghost twittering isn’t authentic). BestBuy’s developer group has Keith Burtis, @Comcastcares, etc. are all real people. They talk about real stuff. Sure, sometimes it is more corporate, but its nice to see the human behind the curtain.

2. Listening, listening, listening – whats the point of having this live, 24/7 stream of distributed consciousness/conversation and dozens, hundreds, or thousands of followers if you dont bother to listen to the users when they mention you, your product, your brand, your category you are leaving money on the table. Pandora does a great job of listening, so does JetBlue (who responded to me via DM after an incident at the gate for one of their flights). Start with Summize or take a big-boy step up to use search in tweetdeck or go nuts with Radian6 or one of their competitors and really start paying attention.

3. Attention is a currency. Following back is a gesture. Retweets are a powerful way to say to your followers “I dig this” and to the person you are retweeting “I dig you”.

4. 50-50 rule, Pay-It_Forward, etc . Do you want fail at twitter? Talk about yourself all the time. Me, Me, Me, is Boring Boring, Boring. Spend half as many of your tweets on your followers and the people you follow as you do yourself. Spend the time to show you are listening by paying into the shoutout economy – celebrate what your users are doing, congratulate them for a job well done, or send your condolences when their dog dies. You can do this publicly w/ an @ or privately with a DM. If one of your followers says something interesting, profound, funny or worthwhile, RT (retweet it). Add value and then your followers won’t mind checking out your new blog post, or youtube video, or “hey guys can you take my poll”. My friends don’t ask me to “click their junk”

5. Consider following back other real people. Someday your ratio might matter

6. If you can’t commit to twitter its OK. Don’t force it. Don’t make the intern run the twitter feed. Don’t agonize over every tweet. If you are the agency, don’t drop this on the client as the next big thing without helping them understand it. Walk them through it, have them open their own personal twitter accounts. Even better, get their internal team on Yammer to use microsharing INSIDE the org first.

7. Make your tweets inherently “retweetable”. Brevity is the sole of wit and kindof a requirement when you only have 140 characters. Take advantage of a URL shortener, there are a bunch (and some are built into tweetdeck and the twtiiter architecture itself uses tinyurl). Supposedly has an interesting measurement capability if you want to see the reach of a tweeted URL – i need to look into it

8. Auto DM is generally bad. Especially if you have a “click my junk” in your autoDM. When you go on a blind date, do you start with a “free e-book offer”?

9. Fill out your whole profile. Make a background image with your URLs (linkedin, facebook, website, blog, etc.). Make sure your main URL is part of your profile so it is clickable.

10. You can leverage twitter if you build trust. @skydiver is on there a lot with urgent HARO requests, because he has paid it forward. Macheist recently did a giveaway for Devonthink software. You can ask your followers questions and they will respond – see #2 above

11. Rinse, repeat, make mistakes, learn from them, get better and don’t give up.

The 50/50 Rule, Link Love & Reciprocity

The 50/50 Rule is something I started sharing with clients a while back. It’s nothing new or earth-shattering and TONS of individuals and companies are doing it EVERY SINGLE DAY. The idea is simple – to connect in the Social spaces where the users live, you need to spend half as much of your time talking about the users as you do about your brand/product/service/website/effort/whatever.

You need to be a neighbor, not Vince from ShamWOW (who I think is AWESOME, but not a good example of starting/having/maintaining/sharing a conversation). If all you do is pitch AT them all day, they will tune you out. If you spend at least half of your time celebrating them, encouraging them, recognizing them, sharing with the rest of the community what they are doing/have learned/successes/challenges, then they might listen to the other 50% of your “stuff”.

Link Love is described in Wikipedia as “the effect that web pages rank better when they have more and higher quality links pointing at them.” It is partly about attribution (making sure you acknowledge where a discussion or quote came from), but it is also about sharing these connections that you value with your users – and hopefully they will check out those links. This is a powerful gesture, because in the digital space, links are a currency. They have intrinsic value, links are an outward, public display of paying attention. Says Doc, “In simpler terms, humans are distinguished no only by their ability to talk, but also by their ability to point.”

Some real examples of Link Love:

  • Blogrolls are Link Love: they share with the readers of any given blog the other “voices we like”.
  • Trackbacks are Link Love: they create a connection between my blog post and another blogger’s post – a discrete, ping-based connection that says to the user and the blogosphere “hey, these things are related”.
  • Twitter posts are Link Love – I think enough of what someone is doing to share it with my circle of followers/friends
  • Comments (although sometimes NOT counted by Google thanks to comment spam) are Link Love – I think enough of the ideas in this post to not only leave a note, but also where I can be found later for thanks/feedback/comments/a beating.

How do we connect in with this link economy? Where does Reciprocity fit in?

We need to link to the voices and ideas outside our “four walls”. If our blogroll only contains the other blogs our company has created and not the blogs of the users then we aren’t using that currency properly. If we only comment on other corporate blogs, then we aren’t connecting with our community. If we have a twitter feed with thousands of followers, but only following a few users, then we are missing out on an opportunity to participate. As publishers/pundits/journalists/program managers and “experts” we need to send the link love out there first (real, authentic), without expectations that it will be returned until we have earned it – and earning it is completely in the mind of the user. You either add value or you don’t. You are sponge-worthy or you are not (to use a Seinfeld reference). Reciprocity in this context is less about obligation (“oh hell, he linked to me, so now I need to link to him”), and more about attention and intent (“X is paying attention to my ideas”, or better yet “wow, those guys from Company Y spend a lot of time talking about what the members of their community are doing”). Its about adding enough value that others think you are worthy of their currency (links, attention, comments – whatever your measure of success is).

One of the clearest, fastest ways of seeing the 50/50 Rule in action is on Twitter with users like Richard @ Dell and Zappos. Richard@DELL is one of the leaders in corporations working with social software like twitter and making business personal. He spends as much of his time sending users to other voices and links as he does “Dell Business” with his twitter feed. Zappos uses his tweet time to talk about the people he is meeting with and interacting than he does his own site (along with DMs to users who ask questions about Zappos.

Liz Strauss has this to say in her killer blog post about the 25 Twitter Traits/ Twitter Folks she admires:

Certain value and actions make people who care about having relationships and conversation before transactions easy to spot…
5. talk mostly about the accomplishments of others….
12. shout out good news, help in emergencies, and celebrate with everyone.
16. offer advice when people ask. Help whenever they can.

If you want people to talk to you and about you, then link to them for all the right reasons. Spend the time and the social capital to celebrate what they are doing. Show where you see the value in them. If you want them to link to you, give them lots of opportunities to find something valuable in what you are doing. A shout-out is a personal gesture regardless if it comes from the DJ booth, the radio or a blog post.

Thing to do:

1. If you are building a community anywhere (twitter, facebook, ning, wordpress, Meetup, etc.) spend the time to look at how much you are talking about “Me Me Me Me Me” and course correct NOW.
2. If you have nothing to to link to (don’t really have a relationship with the users beyond their consuming your “stuff”) then start that conversation NOW.
3. Use the features of the community to connect with users: ask them if they have blogs and add ’em to your blogroll (or have a special blogroll for your community members), send Link Love to them through microblogging platforms like Twitter, use the forums as a commons for discussion and to point out the achievements of the users
4. Celebrate your users and set an incredible example that shows the rest of the community just how much you appreciate them – small, simple gestures can have a real impact.
5. Reciprocity is like love – it isn’t an obligation, but something freely given. Hope but don’t demand, ask, but not too often.
6. Be “linky”, use the currency of the web to show your users what/who you think is valuable.
7. Be real. Don’t engage in linkbait, users notice and your credibility will suffer as a result
8. Send half of your time talking about the users, the community, the people outside your org, company, startup (the 50/50 rule)

Ghost Blogging and Authenticity

David Mullen nails it with his post on “Save the Ghosts for Halloween

Think this is a great post and should be required reading for companies that want to “use” social media.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but in my mind there’s a difference between ghost writing the typical items mentioned above and ghost writing blog posts, Twitter “tweets,” and blog comments. That’s because there is a different expectation in place when it comes to social media engagement.

If we really believe in this stuff, not just paying lip service to cluetrain and treat “the conversation” like the newest jug of snake oil, then ghost blogging has to be seen as inauthentic, not real, and a BAD IDEA.

Strategists, “gurus” and agencies need to stop treating their clients like junkies and acting as crack dealers. They need to stop “blogging for”, “communicating for” and “using social media” for their clients and work with the clients to develop a real sustainable culture within the communications (marketing and PR and events) teams of DOING THIS THEMSELVES. Are you really joining the users in a conversation if you are doing it by proxy (ghost blogger)? Acting as a filter between the user and the client is inherently INAUTHENTIC, FALSE AND WRONG.

The main reason I got involved with digital media in the early days was because it was different, special, unique. The same goes with Social Media. How is blogging different from a press release if it isnt real?

Are you really joining the conversation if you are having someone do it for you?

Strategy at its core is about education. Guru by definition is a teacher or guide. These roles arent meant to be cutouts between the user and the org. We “experts” need to help the clients tell their stories and connect DIRECTLY with the users. I would rather see the intern in the client’s Comm department blogging than have some wonk in the agency write it for them.

In Social Media, WHO says it is as important as WHAT is said. Otherwise this will end up like press releases and advertising… and users will move on.

Money on the Table

Had a great conversation with a couple of really smart guys. They shoot video for a living, specifically videoblogs for themselves and some not-small companies, and they do it really well. Part of the discussion focused on the kinds of things they are doing these days with Facebook, widgets, syndicating their stories (videos) to different platforms and how they are connecting with users via authentic forms of outreach.

Can ya tell that I really like these guys?

All of these tactics, depending on the client, their goals and the strategy defined to meet those goals is worth every dime spent. All of the different ways they are working with media and connecting with users would appear in any of my decks. There is only one thing that bothered me about the discussion. These tactics, these methods, only work if the client/company/non profit is actively listening. If you do all the right things… but forget the most important thing, the social media program is leaving Money On The Table.

If you have a blogging platform and don’t have comments turned on, then you are missing an opportunity for your users to say “hi”. You are leaving money on the table.

If you have a YouTube channel but no one bothering to watch the comments, then you are leaving money on the table.

If you spend a fortune on an agency or consultant to help you design and execute a social media strategy, but don’t plan for the resources and effort required to maintain it for the long term, then you are leaving money on the table.

So whats the point of all that work, money, connections, copy, personnel if you are leaving money on the table. Until you can take the time, via comments or trackback or twitter, to say “thanks” to a blogger or forum or twitterbuddy who took the time to mention you, then you aren’t ready to move on to the next step.

Brilliant – Rules for Media Networking

I first met Terry at Gnomedex years ago. Great guy, really understand the broadcast business and how to get users involved.

This post is awesome:

My favorite:

4. Give before you get. As soon as I meet someone new I’m immediately thinking about whether I can help them, not because I want to trade a favor (I may not need anything from them), but because this is how I would like to be treated by them.

25 years from now…

25 years from now someone in my niece’s graduating class might be the VP pick for the highest office in the land (POTUS). What will that “vetting” process look like? Sure there will be the usual background check stuff, FBI calling their college roommates, PHD advisor, pastor, etc., but what happens in a world where we are declaring our intention and attention (status) all-day, every day. What happens when one of these digital natives, who have been facebooking and myspacing, and flickring and youtube-ing their daily thoughts, ideas, location, and media every day for the next 25 years runs for office?

Past Is Prologue
-William Shakespeare

Status anyone?

I had a conversation with my buddy Craig the other day and we discussed how these platforms and models were changing how users interact and part of the discussion touched specifically on:

Right now, every kid under the age of 18 in the US has grown up with potential access to the internet either at home, school, rec center, mom’s office, etc.

For the most part these kids are creating online identities in a ton of places, some are throwaway (to get access to a concert video), and others are permanent (tell my niece she has to quit MySpace and you will end up in a fight).

These kids are getting their own computers (cell phones), self-organizing digitally

They are making their own media (audio, photo, video, text) daily

They are connecting with their friends on these platforms and using them to stay in touch, bully each other, make new friends, etc.

Potentially, this generation will never lose touch with anyone they grew up with – EVER. They graduate from High School Facebook to College Facebook to Work/Life Facebook (or whatever the social platform/graph/grid/mesh evolves to). My niece will be able to keep in touch with, ignore and more importantly, have status on every single kid she is going to high school and college today. I can’t remember every single kid I went to grade school with, but I could probably find a bunch of them on Facebook if I looked hard enough.

Networking? Sure – having the world’s largest, distributed address book in history will make keeping and making connections more interesting.But what happens when you have persistent status of people you know, what they are doing, where they are /were/will be? What happens over time to this data, when it becomes the past tense (was doing, was at, was with)?

Doc Searls has said in a previous VRM meeting that he wants to see a day when the customer can have their own TOS (terms of service) that gives them the right to “nuke my info off your system if I want to quit your proprietary aspect of data”. Outside of the NUKE option (which I think we need), what about an expiration date on my status/intention/attention/media? 15 years from now, does Johnny really want his new girlfriend to see his “Growing Up Gotti” haircut from back in the day? Are those funnel photos from the Preakness really going to be appropriate when your kid decides to “see what mom was like when she was my age”?

Carrying off on this point is a really great and creepy PSA out about kids and the things they are posting to the web:

It changes the game because WE ARE ALL MAINTAINING THE STATUS over our attention/intention/action as well as that of others. There are no reporters, I dont have a secretary, no one is “going to the archives” to find out what I did last week – they just need to follow my twitter feed (which is hooked up to my friendfeed and facebook and wordpress blog) to see what I was doing. Its all in the cache/cloud/reverse chronological order. All someone needs to do is connect the dots (which is getting easier every day).

Your ideas, photos, comments, videos are out there, in the cloud/cache, forever. A persistent, ongoing record, distributed amongst different platforms and social graphs for the world to see. Add in face and voice recognition and that protest rally you went to in college, because that hippy chick you were dating at the time wanted you to go, might become a problem 20 years from now when you run for office, or a job, or meet a not-so-hippy chick. You didnt shoot the video, you didnt know you were on camera, yet it is part of your history. Lots of folks are getting gigs BECAUSE of their participation on these platforms. There are already stories in the “news” (and I do use the term loosely) about how kids are getting turned down for jobs because of things on their myspace page, beauty pageant contestants are losing their crowns because there are embarrassing photos of them on the web, kids are videotaping crimes to get on YouTube.

I hope you know this will go down on your permanent record
– The Violent Femmes
Kiss Off

Things to think about:

Will our past actions prevent us from trying for a job (even Vice President) because we know what closets our skeletons are in (“I told the candidate I could not accept the VP nod because I want to spend more time with my family, and because there are some raunchy pictures of me at my roommates’s bachelor party 17 years ago”)?

Will individuals guard their expressions more closely and be more conscious of their attention/intention/status?

What happens when we run into a “blank slate” who doesnt have a facebook history or is tagged in flickr sets? Will we give them the job/trust/reputation? Will they be a social media pariah?

Will I be able to find a “cleaner” to get rid of all traces of Spring Break 2012 in Cancun before my bride-to-be finds them?

Will there be a “Identity Bankruptcy Court” that will order these graphs and platforms to nuke all traces of someone?

Social Media Best Practices

Thanks Chris – Here are my Social Media Best Practices… YMMV, 1. Commitment
This is not a campaign. It is not an event. It is not a fixed period in time when effort will be thrown against X product or idea. It is an ongoing effort, a conversation, a multi-faceted dialog. If you go into a Social Media project and think there is an end-state you are painfully missing the point. The users want to engage. They want to play with you. And they want to do it on their terms. They will connect when it is convenient for them. They might not come back for months, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love ya – they will be telling everyone they know. A Social Media effort will never be Cap-Ex – it is ongoing, evergreen, committed.

Imagine being in a bar, talking to someone and halfway through the conversation they go silent and walk away, mid-sentence. Thats a real-world example of what happens when a social media effort ends… It isnt supposed to. The party can move to another bar, apartment, social media platform but you dont want to leave the users mid-conversation.

At Gnomedex recently, a friend told me about a client of his who really wanted to blog like their competitor. And he took them through what this meant – commitment, honesty, authenticity, being real and talking back to the users. At the end of the day, the client admitted they weren’t ready to be that transparent, authentic, or committed. They admitted that they weren’t ready and had a ways to go and needed to take their time to get there. As someone who has done a LOT of client work this is a huge moment and I applaud the agency and the client for getting to the point of not doing something because the other kids are doing it.

Not committing to doing something halfway is committing to a real respect for the user.

2. WHO (at the beginning)?
Spend some effort, not a brainstorm session, not an afternoon, but some serious sleeves-rolled-up, sweating, chugging coffee, fingers stained with dry-erase marker time to get an understanding of the user you want to meet. Try more time than it takes to get to 90% on your LinkedIn or profile. You want to reach people, communicate WITH them, get them interested – it kinda pays off if you actually make the attempt to understand them upfront.

3. Outreach
I will spend a bigger blog post on this because it is so important (and I have mentioned it in lots ‘o places) but Outreach needs to be a part of whatever you do in Social Media. No one ever woke up and had 100s of friends. You need to reach out to them, listen to what they are into, what is ticking them off or getting them excited.

Dive in, get engaged, participate with them, get active, listen, talk, be humble, ask questions, PM people, contact the leaders of the tribe or community. If you want to connect with tribesmen in a remote civilization in the South Pacific, using a megaphone from a chopper is a bad idea. You need to get in there, show you want to be a part of something OTHER than yourself (or company). Give a little to get a little. Pay it forward with your attention to (hopefully) get their attention.

Comment on their blog posts. Thank them for their comments. Give the links to things you have found that are relevant (NOT CORP SPAM – but real valuable pointers). Spend more time pointing out the cool things that are happening OUTSIDE your four walls. Be a human being that is interesting BECAUSE he/she is INTERESTING.

We all laugh when we see another Tweet or Blog Post where “clueless huge PR Firm XXX pitched me and NEVER read my blog!”. BUT WE DO THIS TO USERS ALL THE TIME. We either don’t give them a payoff for their attention, take them for granted, think our ideas were so precious-“how could they not love us” or we make some cultural gaffe that signals we didn’t do our homework/didn’t try hard enough. It all rolls up to research and respect and humility and EMPATHY – if we can’t relate to them, how can we communicate with them.

Don’t be another half-assed ad campaign.

4. WHO? (in-progress)
So we spent the time, did the research, looked at the places and spaces these users live, we joined them at their jamboree, hoe-down, gathering of the pack, etc. We begin to scratch the surface…

And then we execute the plan according to the messaging guidelines and creative brief, making sure the touchpoints and brand impressions are expressed.


Once you start listening, once you begin engagement, once you take a minute to try to understand the user it doesn’t stop there. You need to keep listening, keep connecting, keep trying to understand them and how they are changing (and they are changing). Users aren’t static. They don’t live on a timeline or production calendar or release cycle. If we commit to the long term risks and benefits of a conversation then we need to live with them long term and LISTEN long term.

Nail down the goals on a segment by segment basis. One size fits most sucks, and on the web the suckage is even more pronounced. Don’t start with an end-state in mind, rather start with an opening state (100 users adding comments, enough activity for a full-time moderator, 1000 subscribers to the newsletter) and a bunch of empty bullet points to fill in as you learn and grow the effort.

6. Tactics
Identify, based on the work you have done to engage and understand the user what are the best ways to reach them – Blogging? Wiki? Virtual World?, In-Game efforts? Meetups? Twebinars? Twitter? Video? Widgets? Facebook?

In the 80s, when Desktop Publishing exploded (thanks Apple) you could use multiple fonts on a document – AND EVERYONE DID. It was painful, company newsletter started looking like ransom notes – bad news. Just because you can use every platform, mashup, codebase, meme and tactic in the world doesn’t mean you should. Put the user in the center of your efforts, identify the touchpoints they are in, make smart bets and ASK THE USERS ABOUT OTHER CHANNELS to connect to them.

7. The User Is The Platform
Map to their needs, their devices and their ideas. Don’t make them come to you. Put lots of lines in the water and breadcrumbs on the path… if what you are doing connects with them they will follow back (and bring their friends). Remember the “WTF? Rule” – if you are doing something and say to yourself “WTF?” then you should probably reconsider.

The user makes choices and commitments without you in the decision. They are a Photobucket guy or a Flickr kid. They live on MySpace or FB or LinkedIn. If you want to reach them you need to be where they are (and again – not everywhere, but focused, relevant, & humble)

Video? Don’t just host it on your site, make it shareable, embeddable, linkable and even indexable (at least have a transcript or use a service like Share it with YouTube, get it on iTunes, post it to Facebook, make it shareable via RSS, email, AIM, etc. Let your users leave comments via Seesmic or Eyejot, create a channel for them to engage.

8. Soylent Green Social Media Is People
Pesky humans. They tend to recognize their own, have insanely honed BS detectors, can sense marketing at 100 paces and aren’t afraid to bitch and moan until someone pays attention to them.

Then again, the coolest stories inside a company, organization, table tennis team, etc. are from the people there. Not the spokesman. Not the media-trained, brightsmiled, finely manicured spokesman/pitchman/flimflam man. The 60-year old guy who has given up every weekend for the last 20 years to Habitat for Humanity AND is the number one engineer in the company is a heckuva lot more interesting than the Troy McClure (simpsons) wannabe who will be selling/telling us all the wonderful ideas behind the product. For the longest time, the only people inside a BIG company we could see where the C-Suite kids who made their quarterly appearance on CNBC. Users are getting a taste of the real people inside companies and they want more – not for inside secrets or war stories or gossip – but because they are giving a little bit of themselves (money, attention, fan-boy-hood) and want a little something human in return.

At our startup, the users are clamoring for the professionals within the company to engage them. They want to see and hear from the Pros and get sometimes a little unhappy when the guys can’t participate in the forums fast enough or often enough. Its a learning curve for the Digital team, and it means we are doing something right (and need to do it more and with more people to spread out the work).
I will probably think up 100 more as I drive home

Looks like Brogan got me blogging again.