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).

BlogHer – PatientBloggers

[NOTE – Adding the opening from the Liveblogging of this session here as well as the links for the panel participants and others where I could find ’em – THANKS to the person who liveblogged this – they did a great job]

Chronic or acute disease can change your life overnight…and make you feel as though you’ve lost control of your own body. PatientBloggers find support, information and resources, and regain a sense of control via their blogging. But are there also down sides? Privacy concerns abound. Being identified as just a person with a disease can feel confining. And what if you’re cured or in remission?

Where does your blogging (and more importantly: that close-knit, supportive community you’ve developed) go from there? Share your own stories with us, and find out how to manage it all from Loolwa Khazzoom, who, despite enduring chronic pain, has used dance to help herself and others find joy, Kerri Morrone Sparling, who has successfully battled Type 1 Diabetes since she was six and Jenni Prokopy, who writes about life with Fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s Phenonmenon and GERD. Casey from Moosh in Indy, who has written about working through depression and infertility, moderates this discussion.

Bloggers who write about illness.

J&J guy is here – they have a Health Channel has unbranded video content.

Discussion Points:
+ and – of doing it

Jenny –
diagnosed with multiple illnesses, found tons of sites on the web that were either depressing or too technical

  • created chronicbabe
  • fulltime writer, had to adapt her schedule, felt responsibility to offer info that she had
  • whole poing – be who you are
  • Official title of talk is you arent define by your illness
  • Has fibromyalgia
  • doesnt let herself be defined by illness
  • Wants people to keep lifting her up, but helps them in the process
  • asks friends to remind her to be her
  • most personal most raw posts get the most reaction
  • physicians and providers we have all run into crappy ones
  • first fibro doc told her to take ibuprofen
  • the more we are able to speak out, the more likely we are to build empowering relationships that help

Kerri Morrone Sparling D-Life

  • Doesnt let diabetes define her
  • Important to remember the whole
  • Patient bloggers don’t necessarily mean they are awesome at dealing with it
  • Writes for D-Life
  • would go to diabetes camp as a kid
  • used full name when she first started
  • four years later
  • blogging about type1
  • hired by current company because she wrote about diabetes
  • was specific in her posts about living with diabetes devices (where do i wear a pump at the beach), which device manufacturers dont do
  • familiarity with condition
  • Any potential medical advice there needs to be a disclaimer.
  • Was at Children with Diabetes conference before and after J&J bought them, and they are still the same (J&J isn’t going overboard – its the same community)

Loolwa Khazzoom (Dancing with Pain)

  • Dance as healing methodology
  • Jewish Multicultural Educator
  • Defined herself in college
  • whole life has been freelance
  • scheduled life around what she can and cant do – to make it work
  • Learned how to take care of herself and heal herself
  • her blog is personal, her story, her experience
  • writing is her conversation with god/universe/however you want to think about it
  • doing it for her
  • not on a mission to tell someone what to do or not to do
  • 1/2 of americans have chronic pain
  • no universities have a workshop on it
  • Chronic pain started with years of hell, after car accident
  • Injured by docs by not helping or not listening to her indication
  • contemplated suicide, saw bleak darkness
  • conceptualized dancing with pain as work endeavor
  • in alignment with her healing
  • blogging, gets article-writes for magazines, attention of docs, positions her as a very powerful patient
  • generates respect from docs because they saw her as smart whole accomplished person as opposed to name on the chart
  • Chronic pain is a vortex, every morning a choice, put self into a position of not wallowing
    used blogging to pull her up
  • physical trauma, emotional distress, and outsiders crazy-making
  • didnt blog for a while, felt stuck
  • blogging regularly now
  • thinks people should be challenging the “law of attraction” stuff in the complementary/alt movement
  • Has how-to articles, have handouts, articles to educate you on what you are going thru
  • hard to be a “power patient” – huge hierarchy, docs get pissed off when you ask or challenge them
  • if you are in a small town, slim pickings, but you have to work at it, have to be safe with that person
    safe emotionally

Casey Moosh in Indy

  • Blogging able to share its not always unicorns, rainbows and triplets
  • Everyone has Ugly days – and its ok
  • Can educate people in what they are going through
  • started writing about her move
  • then wrote about her depression and overdose
  • only one troll comment on the blog
  • fertility thing – 4 years – admits what she is going through
  • talked about everything in the process, in detail, real and raw
  • hard thing to deal with
  • talking to folks in Obama admin about what they can do for people in her situation
  • challenges around treatment and insurance
  • Talking about it will get you places
  • Its about her but it helps others

Moderator – was mommyblogger and then started talking about what she was going thru

Chronic Illness COach – its easy to stay in a dark place when first diagnosed, support system so important, treatment plan can help you rebuild, loves helping people,

Comment – Would love it to see more from companies that is closer to reality, would love it if companies were paying more attention and talking back

WHen you feel like you’ve crossed the line

Reed/Rita? (sp?)

  • takes off wig
  • doesnt have cancer, nothing wrong other than white cells decide she shouldnt have hair
    perfectly fine
  • writes about her experience
  • first blog post her husband ever read was about her illness
  • Something so benign, having no hair, no symptoms, can go to work every day, but having no hair is mindbending
  • way that you react to yourself mentally, your life and your illness is your business but you will get the kind of support that you want

Many don’t talk about specific treatments because they dont have responsibility to take care of people.

J&J guy –
great panel
will take insights back to J&J
175 companies
Docs don’t live with it
have to learn to use this to listen and communicate
have to remember there are people at J&J who want to talk – mission to train docs to not be jerks
Dr Licensing orgs – have to start listening to patients

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.

It’s there because it works…

Chris Brogan writes (in a great post you need to read here):

How much does one of those opportunities cost? It can’t be cheap to put up a billboard in an airport, right? That same amount would fund a social media project for an entire year, and you’d have clickable metrics for the effort. Wouldn’t that be a better return?

Did Chris remember the name of the company sponsoring the phone/laptop charging station (Samsung)? The Advertising worked (and got the fringe benefit of promotion on Chris’ blog)

Did Chris remember those Vending Machines in the airport (Apple and Best Buy)?? The Advertising worked (” fringe benefit” comment again).

Did Chris remember the 2 billboards before the Hudson News stand? How about the 2 page spread in the middle of this month’s WIRED? The 12 commercials that ran between when you sat down at Fox Sports Bar and when you got up?

Little Guy In The Subway With A Bag of $

Little Guy In The Subway With A Bag of $

The two examples he used (Samsung charging stations and the Apple or Best Buy vending machines) worked because they either provided immediate value (needing to juice up, a HUGE problem in most airports, or chargers, iPods, etc.) or potential future value. They fit within his/yours/my context. If my mom was travelling at the same time, she wouldnt notice who sponsored the power, because she doesnt travel with devices that need power. She might notice the Apple vending machines because they are novel/unique to her, but 5 years from now she will ignore them because they will be commonplace.

Billboards are a “shotgun” approach (with a ton of metrics behind it). The hope is, the right person happens to walk by who happens to have that product or service as part of their context (along with Direct Marketing phone, email, URL to let them find out more AND to let the marketer see effectiveness) or the creative in the ad connects with the user (for a brand campaign – the iconic APPLE ads are a great example of this). In the case of Brand ads, the marketer is paying for impressions (and they pay through the nose – those boards aren’t cheap). In the case of ads with some kind of direct component, the ROI can be (to a certain extent) measured. There are impressions and clickthrough rates to measure against. Is it personal? Nope.

Here is the thing: this stuff, these traditional techniques (print, radio, tv, out-of-home, ad banners, PR, etc.) aren’t going away. Sure, more of the budget is going to digital, but not all of it. There are more of them (less digitally savvy or complete luddites) than there are of us (people reading this, living this, sharing this thing of ours). Marketers still think of us in terms of CONSUMERS and demographics. The reason the old school isn’t going away, the reason we don’t have the advertising apocalypse is because of one thing – IT STILL WORKS.

While we keep saying Social Media is no longer an experiment, we need to keep the marketer’s context in mind. The CMO wants to be innovative, and the brand manager wants to change the world, but both have numbers (leads, impressions, brand value, etc.) that they have to meet to be successful, to grow their brand, get their bonus or in some cases keep their job (the avg lifespan of a CMO is currently something like 22 months). No one ever got fired for doing yet another Direct Mail campaign (where a 1% response rate is considered successful), billboard or tv/radio spot – they are part of the marketing mix. Even ad banners get clickthroughs and they are the “ritz crackers” (low value, not tasty or very effective) of digital advertising.

Small, growing and new brands can go all-in on Digital and Social because they need an edge, and the edge is reach and cost and hopefully shortcut the need for brand recognition and jump right to a relationship. P&G knows it needs Social and is working towards it for the long term (the same thing they did with radio and TV). Ford and GM know they need it, but have to work harder to connect emotionally and with passion (two things that are kinda requirements). If all you do is SELL SELL SELL, its kinda hard to “start a conversation” – you have to invest a lot (time, money, humility) to get respect and to get people to listen. That investment is happening now.

As the Social Media side of Digital grows and matures (and we get more news like the Dell metrics) it can make the case to take a bigger piece of the marketing pie. Digital is no longer sitting at the kids table when it comes to the Agency-Client relationship. Digital is getting more and more budget because it is effective and less expensive and has greater, time-agnostic reach. Sure, we might start shooting commercials for Hulu (or whatever replaces it) and we may see more immersive and experiential and integrated efforts in the future, but the Old School isn’t going away. An ad agency I interviewed a few months ago WILL NOT HIRE an account, strategist or creative without digital in the portfolio or CV. Its becoming that important.

But Social can be the “red thread” that ties the traditional and the digital together, make them more connected, connecting, relevant and responsive. Social (listening, outreach, participatory) can start changing the marketing mindset from campaign to commitment. But that is going to take time.

In 10 years we will have Marketers (CMOs and Brand Managers) who have grown up with Digital in their toolbox from the beginning. Thats when things will start getting weird (in a good way).


Like it? Hate it? Leave a comment below 🙂

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)

Friends: CoBrandit

So when I worked for, I got the chance to work with a video company called CoBrandit on a series of videos that were different than what we had done before.

As a company, CorePerformance has an amazing amount of intellectual property in the health and fitness space (as part of Athletes’ Performance, the CP gets to leverage the knowledge and day-to-day experience of working with elite athletes in almost every sport). Like most great companies, the real secret of the operation was the amazing team behind the company.

One of our goals for the video program was to inform and educate our users by sharing the stories from the amazing people inside the company. CoBrandit worked with us to capture, edit and produce these stories in a way that was accessible and (in the future) share-able and give us some learnings on producing short form videos in an always-on environment (amazing people are insanely busy and we can rarely get them all in one place – so we need to go to them to shoot these stories).

Here is an example of their work:

Owen and Jesse (the founders of CoBrandit) are an amazing team to work with. They have a deep understanding of the social side of video, can shoot and edit, have a great reel, and THEY KNOW HOW TO LIGHT (which is a big deal). They also do a lot of work with linking and syndication of content and helping companies get their video in front of users.

I am a big fan of these guys and will work with them again.

To check out more CorePerformance videos (specific movement videos AND more educational pieces), go to and check out the Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, Recovery sections.

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.

Interview with John C. Havens

Had a great interview today with John C. Havens. on

John and Shel Holtz recently released their new book Tactical Transparency: How Leaders Can Leverage Social Media to Maximize Value and Build their Brand (where yours truly is quoted). Check it out.

>>> Editors Note: I am an idiot and got my “Shel”s mixed up, originally posting John’s co-author as Shel Israel, and not Shel Holtz, who IS the co-author of Tactical Transparency. My sincerest apologies to John and Shel, and thanks to Shel Israel who pointed out my error. I have corrected it above.

Corporates and Comments

Another mind-bomb from the desk of Chris Brogan concerns Comment policies for corporations. Its a solid piece of experience and sharing – comments aren’t scary, users aren’t all looking to “dis” you, but you have to plan and have principles and rules to follow.

You might say, “let the chips fall where they may.” But the thing is this: the audience who’s chosen to engage with the blog isn’t there with carte blanche to do what they wish. This is a chosen engagement. This is a relationship point. It’s NOT the right place for every interaction with an organization. It’s a place.

Before moderation and defining which (sometimes poor) soul is going to have to read all the comments, a discussion around what is and is not acceptable needs to happen within the corp and between the corp and its agencies. Legal needs to be brought in EARLY AND OFTEN to give them context for the who/what/when/why and most importantly HOW of comments. Getting the legal team and the PR team and the Marketing kids all on the same page is critical. The Corporation has to identify where the “third rails” are: what opening up conversations actually means to the people who work there (morale is a currency), the industry press (comments can be valuable as well as fodder), and the users who will never comment, but who will read EACH AND EVERY ONE.

Once the context around comments is set, once legal completely understands and appreciates and is engaged (continuously, not consulted and then ignored), and the communications twins (Marketing and PR) are on-board, then you can set the rules and principles. Rules are hard and fast – no cussing, no racist stuff, no lies. Principles are guidelines that for keeping things moving and flowing: act like an adult, this is OUR space not YOUR space, don’t post in all-caps, Funny is better than funny and mean, let the thread die.

Part of this Rules/Principles exercise is to set what the community standards are for the space. This is what we will not allow. Everything else, these are the guidelines and standards of behavior.

The result of this needs to be the “rules of the sandbox” – for moderators AND the users. And it needs to be made clear to the users that comment, clear to the users that are old members of the community and CLEAR TO THE MODERATORS. And not in a EULA or TOS that will be checkboxed and ignored, but in some way that the users SEE what you BELIEVE. This sets the levels for all users of the commenting system. Keeps it clean and aboveboard, and most of all, lets users know where they stand, what will be permitted and why things are/were removed.

So turn comments on, moderate them, but first, clearly define your rules and principles, live by them, and apply them consistently.

The users (all of them) will appreciate it.