Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Real Time Web--The Future Is NOW.

Do you remember when you were a kid and would dream what the fantastic future would hold? What was it you wished for? Flying cars? Holodecks? Time travel? Being able to be teletransported like on Star Trek?

I'm guessing that for most of us, our wildest dreams didn't include having access to all of the world's information RIGHT NOW.

But that's what we're getting. Are you ready for it?

The Real Time Web

I recently attended the fascinating ReadWriteWeb summit on the development of the Real Time Web, where the general consensus is that the future is NOW. Literally. Your future will be comprised of instant updates on breaking news, your kid's homework assignments, traffic conditions, weather, stocks,sports scores and play-by-play, what your friends ate for lunch, political developments, and much, much more, all sent auto magically to the electronic device of your choice.

You can know everything happening everywhere all at the same time.

Twitter is a good example of the real time web in action, albeit just one facet. It's an amazing source of thoughts, information, news, mundane happenings and the buzz of the hive. Now you can know when protesters are being shot as it happens in Iran, what a congressman is thinking while the President is talking, get pictures the instant an airplane lands in the Hudson River and follow real-time discussion and presentations in a conference that you couldn't attend in person.

You can also know the moment that Miley Cyrus decides that she is tired of Twitter and quits it, what Shaquile O'Neal is doing this afternoon or see video of a balloon NOT containing a child making its way across Colorado.

Do You Have The Need To Know?

It's heady stuff, and to be honest, I'm not sure that I really need to know everything going on in the world RIGHT NOW. I asked conference organizer Marshall Kirkpatrick a few questions about how this will affect the 'average' internet user, and he was gracious enough to respond in this video.

I'm curious though--can you think of when you NEED to know information RIGHT NOW? Are we overloading ourselves with too much information?

From my point of view, while having some information in real time is useful, it's rarely vital. And there's the problem of filtering--how to determine which information is important and which is trivial.

With the real time web, Neda is given the same importance as balloon boy, because it's the trending topic and what everyone is talking about. And that's just not right. I think that the constant flow of information trivializes all of it, because one bit of news is replaced by another in just a few minutes.

What about you? Is the real time web useful in your life? Is a real time web what you want your future to be--or would you really rather have that flying car?

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

What Do You Do Every Day Anyway?

I recently gave my team a challenge to develop 'elevator pitches'--short, 45 second introductions of themselves and our company. I suggested 3 scenarios where having something prepared that rolls naturally and easily off the tongue would come in handy:
  1. At a conference of peers, and you get the inevitable questions-- "what do you do?" and "who do you work for?"
  2. In either a business or social situation where you meet someone who might be a potential client and you want to introduce yourself in a personal yet professional way.
  3. When your non-tech family and friends ask you "what exactly do you do for a living?"
As community managers, that third scenario is often the most difficult to describe, because there really isn't an off-line job that mirrors what a CM does.
Well, I'd like to give a shameless plug to @rhappe of The Community Roundtable who has written what I consider to be the best description of the many functions of a Community Manager.
She's done a brilliant job describing the role and I'm not going to recap her work here--I highly recommend you click on the link and check it out. I don't really have anything to add to her concise description.
Now, I still have to figure out how to put her wonderful CM description into 45 seconds or less so my Dad can understand what I do for a living, but that's another matter.
Rachel poses an interesting question on the topic--how do you prioritize your time as a CM? With so many different aspects to the job, how do you go about managing your day?
And that's what I'm curious to know too. I'm probably not very good at time management, because I find myself working on a Sunday afternoon, trying to catch up to work that I didn't get to during the week. I can get so wrapped up in doing daily maintenance tasks for my clients that I don't always get to the bigger, long term initiatives that will ultimately benefit both the client and my company more.
So here is my question for you, dear readers: How much of your day is taken up with 'mundane' tasks, and how do you carve time out for the bigger projects? I can find myself so occupied with responding to daily emails, looking at metrics and reports, surfing through clients communities etc, that I don't feel like I actually got anything done.
Do you have a system? How do you spend your day?

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

5 Things NOT To Do When Developing Community

Somebody once said something to the effect of "empty what is full, and fill what is empty."

I take that statement to mean, "do the not-so-obvious when everyone is doing the obvious, and do the obvious when everyone is doing something different." In other words, I don't always go with what everyone else is saying or doing.

If you're looking to develop a community around a brand or an idea, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of 'how to' articles on the internet that can give you solid advice on getting started. That's what's full.

What is empty...or emptier, I should say, are thoughts on what NOT to do when developing a community. So here are 5 things that I recoomend that you should NOT do when trying to develop or grow either an online or offline community:


1. Talk with your community in marketing-speak.

Sure, you have an ulterior motive for developing a community--but people aren't "customers", "members", "users" or "clients". They're people. Talk with them the way that you'd talk with your friends, family and co-workers. Be a human, not a marketer.

2. Expect people to behave the way you want them to behave.

Yes, you have an objective for gathering people together and trying to form a community, and you have hopes for how they will act. But you can't force people to do anything, and this is REALLY important when developing a website.

MOST sites want people to register with the site--they want data like email addresses, demographic info, purchasing info for follow up marketing. So they force users to register for the site in order to use the features of the site.

Or they offer very limited functionality and try to funnel visitors to either the registration or purchasing tracks.

This is wrong. UI studies indicate that you have approximately 6 seconds to provide some usefulness to a site visitor or s/he is gone. If you're not providing *instant* value, then you're never going to get the visitor to registration.

Provide value to the visitors at first glance, and then *observe* visitor behavior and try to take advantage of what the GUEST wants to do, not what YOU want them to do.

It's a better, more fruitful experience for all and will lead to repeat visits and deeper engagement with the community/website.

Registration information given because the user had to give it (instead of wanting to give it) is useless and counter-productive. The first time you try to connect with that person, they will remove themselves from your emailing list and will form a negative opinion of you because they will remember that you forced them to give something they didn't want to give.

Give people the opportunity to give you information because they want to, and that information becomes MUCH more valuable.

3. Squash disagreements or negative comments about you.

Okay, it's your website or brand--do you REALLY have to listen to people talk trash about you?

Yes. If you want to create an environment where great ideas will grow.

Nobody likes to hear people say bad things about them, but people only say bad things because they WANT to love you/your brand, but something is disappointing them.

YOU want to please your customers and your friends, don't you?

The only way to know if you're doing that is to create an open, warm environment where people are free to speak their mind.

There should be rules of civil discourse, of course and you should definitely set the rules for the tone of the culture on how to disagree and express opinions.

Controversy and freedom of expression helps bring clarity to issues (not necessarily agreement), allows defenders to come forth and leads to new understanding.

Remember--everyone speaks their version of the truth, so there is something good to be found in every opinion. If you are looking to deliver the best possible product or service, those negative views are telling you where you could be doing better.

4. Feel compelled to ACT on every suggestion or comment from the community.

Someone has to set direction and the practical reality is that you will often get conflicting opinions from members of your community on what 'they' want.

THANK everyone in the community for contributing their thoughts and energy, let them know that they were heard and considered, and give them reasons for why you make certain decisions.

But once you decide to turn left, don't waste any more time explaining to people why you didn't turn right. It detracts from the focus of what you are doing.

5. Be afraid to make mistakes.

There are no guarantees of success in any endeavor--you take the best practices, create an environment for success and make the best decisions you can for the right reasons, and maybe success comes your way.

If you're into sporting analogies--there are 32 teams comprised of professional football players in the NFL. They all have amazing players, dedicated, workaholic coaches and organizations whose sole focus is to win games on Sundays and win a championship.

Yet, only ONE of those teams wins the championship every year, and less than half have a winning season. It's unusual when a team wins a championship two years in a row, so success is a very rare commodity.

So if you decide to turn left over opposition from the community, for example, and it turns out you should have turned right, well....

....admit it, and turn right. The community will forgive you (eventually) and your openness will signal to them that you are engaged *with* them and they will appreciate you for the honesty.

We learn more from our mistakes...remember them longer...and grow more attached people we have suffered with than those we have only succeeded with.

Failure makes you human, being human makes you endearing. And even brands can be endearing.

So if you try some initiative with your community and it doesn't work--that's okay. Try something else. Learn what you can from each experience and continue to *listen* to what your community is telling you.

After all, you are ultimately there to serve the needs of the community, not the other way around.

Those are my Top 5 Things NOT To Do when building a community.

What are some of yours?

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's said that relapse is a part of recovery, so I'll just chalk up my blogging absence to a long relapse.

Life has caught up with me and in the past few months, I've simply found myself too busy with work, the death of my mom and working on a theatrical production to keep up with my blogging activities.

I'm back, and will continue the 12 Step Social Media program in the coming days. But first...

Community Leadership Summit

I attended the Community Leadership Summit in San Jose this weekend--a fantastic event hosted by Jono Bacon of Ubuntu. (a guy so cool, he even has his own wikipedia entry)

Jono did an amazing job of organizing a free 'unconference', attended by 200 or so community managers and developers, many of whom came from the open source community.

You can find the twitter recap and notes of some of sessions on the conference wiki.

I dove in and led two sessions--one called "Social Media Snake Oil" and the other "Metrics That Matter". (note to self--remember to ask someone to take notes-I forgot to get notes of the first session, but did get them for the Metrics panel.)

My main role leading the sessions as I perceived it, was to instigate and moderate--challenge the 'conventional wisdom' (ie: you MUST be on Twitter) and prod the smart people in the room to come up with solutions to common problems.

I was really pleased when @sujamthe came up and introduced herself after my first session to tell me that she liked the way that I conducted the session and it inspired her to lead a session as well. I also discovered that she leads Twitter meetups in the South Bay and that introduction led to my meeting @pcrampton, which in turn led to an afternoon and evening of deep discussion on measuring communities that led to the topic of the second session regarding metrics.

The metrics session went well--the conversation was lively, some practical tips were shared and nearly 75% of the attendees were still deep in conversation 15 minutes after the panel ended.

That response really told us that there is a lot of interest (and NEED) among community managers for some direction when it comes to measuring communities both qualitatively and quantitatively. So now we're looking at extending THAT session possibly into an all-day conference on community metrics. (ping me if you're interested in helping organize an event!)

It's really amazing how one small thing can lead to so many bigger things at these events.

Problems CM's Everywhere Face

I discovered there are MANY common problems among community managers. Chief among them:

  • Not enough time. Communities/relationships take time and it's a messy job that doesn't fit neatly into predictable blocks of time (like coding). Most CM's are tasked with many functions as part of their job.
  • Which tools/platforms are the most effective & efficient to use? Where do you get the most bang for the buck? (Answer: it depends. Of course.)
  • Metrics are the 800 pound gorilla. Nearly all CM's struggle with developing metrics that gives REAL information. Most metrics are devised to satisfy either marketing or upper management that the community yield is worth the company investment, but what management wants is often misguided to what the community is actually doing or good for.
What I Learned at #CLS

I came away with enough fodder for several blog posts, but here are a couple of things that stick out in my mind:

  • Developer and open source communities have *incredible* passion and energy--probably more so than branded communities. Their energy level is palpable. Sometimes fierce.
  • Developer and open source communities take the concept of 'purity' VERY seriously, which makes managing their communities something of a challenge. It's an almost anarchistic environment and they like it that way.
  • These community members feel very, very protective of the communities that develop, and they struggle with how much guidance or control is appropriate in their communities.
  • It seems to me that branded communities like and expect a certain level of control by the brand in their communities. Yes, the members own the community, but they also understand that it will be policed and managed by the brand. Branded communities don't like to feel manipulated, but they seem to accept some degree of control better than open-source/developer communities.
Women Are Geeks Too

There were more women at this conference than most, and they wanted to educate the guys on how to bring even MORE women into conferences. The ratio was roughly 75% male to 25% female, and the consensus among the women was that the 'normal' ratio is around 90/10.

There were several sessions on how to create more women-friendly conferences. This is definitely a future blog topic. I really had my eyes opened and got the message. Women want to come and play too, but the guys can make women feel uncomfortable at conferences.

All About You: In 45 Seconds Or Less

Lastly, in one session, we practiced developing a 45 second elevator pitch to describe what you do that is interesting and invites more conversation but doesn't make you sound like a robot or like you're selling something.

It's a LOT harder than it sounds. But invaluable.

I *highly* recommend people take a couple of hours and develop 3-5 different elevator pitches slanted towards different type of people you're bound to meet.

Mine still needs more refinement, but I was a lot better after the workshop and I'll keep practicing. It's really a very necessary skill to distill who you are and what you do into a 45 second message.

We all know that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you happened to stumble upon someone really, really important in your field and only had 45 seconds to talk with them about what you do, what would YOU say?

Give it a try and see what you come up with!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Building A Social Marketing Culture: Step 2 of 12

Yesterday, I mentioned that 'old school' marketing is like an addiction--it's a habit that feels good, produces a familiar feeling, but ultimately is self-destructive and damaging to creating healthy relationships.

Step 1: Acknowledging the Addiction

I suggested a homework assignment to identify specifically what (or who) in your company exemplifies the addictive behavior that is standing in the way of developing a more social brand.

It's important to admit that something is getting in the way. It's not a pleasant task. But like an alcoholic who must first admit that s/he has a drinking problem in order to overcome it, you must identify what must change in your company culture before deciding how to change it.

Here are some common obstacles I've seen. Maybe you recognize one of these?
  1. A legal department that thinks the company will be held liable for anything published on your site, and thus believes they are protecting the company. Typically, every bit of content on the site must be approved by several channels prior to posting, and every innovative idea that arises is often met with the phrase "we have to run that thru legal first."
  2. A general fear of what the customer might say. What if people say bad things about your product on your web site?
  3. Marketing wants to control the brand image and portray the product how they want it perceived.
  4. A person in power/decision maker who just doesn't like or use the internet.
  5. Business objectives that try to dictate or push the customer to desired behavior rather than offering options for the customer to do what THEY want to do.
Most of these obstacles really come down to this: fear of losing control.

Step 2: Believe in a Higher Power

Okay, so now that you've named and identified the addiction. Let's say that your company is addicted to fear. Or addicted to control. (same thing, in my book) If you've got a different addiction, mention that in the comments section below, and we'll work with that instead.

So now we know the addiction. Does acknowledging it make it go away? Is the world suddenly full of fluffy kittens, golden rays of sunshine and your company is magically ready to embrace social media?

Of course not. It's not that easy. But identifying the addiction is a step towards identifying what trumps the addiction.

If we are to overcome fear or a loss of control, we must replace that with a higher power, something that trumps fear in the cosmic game of rock, paper, scissors.

Rock Beats Scissors, Scissors Beat Paper,Paper Beats Rock...What Beats Fear?

So rock beats scissors, paper beats rock and scissors beats paper...fear beats control...but what beats fear?


Now, knowledge alone won't make an addict see the light and proclaim "I'm an addict and must change my ways." I'm about to post some links to some great case studies that show the benefits of social media marketing.

Follow these links and you'll find sterling examples to demonstrate to the fearful that social media marketing DOES work, has profound benefits and that online communities are more powerful than traditional customer channels.

But those case studies won't be enough to actually change the mind of your CEO, legal department or EVP of Marketing to embrace social media.

The knowledge that others have used these tools with success will start to calm some of the fears, but won't be enough to actually change an opinion. I know we'd like to think we are ultimately rational beings, the reality is that emotion (pleasure) trumps knowledge any day of the week.

So remember this: Fear trumps control. Knowledge trumps fear. Emotion (pleasure) trumps knowledge.

If you want to convince an addict to admit their addiction and change their behavior, first appeal to their fears, then their intellect and then the emotion of pleasure. In that order.

Hey, This Higher Power Stuff WORKS.

This is your homework assignment--pick out 3 case studies of the 100's listed here that are applicable to your business sector and objectives. Don't worry if you don't know your exact objectives yet--just pick out 3 case studies that seem to fit.

This compilation of case studies is courtesy of The Interactive Insights Group, and is an exhaustive list of successful social media campaigns and sites across all commercial and non-profit industries.

(Make sure you visit their site and leave a "thanks" for compiling the list. It's a fantastic resource and no easy task to put together. Saying thank you is part of your karma. Make sure you do it.)

Once you've picked out your 3 case studies, you will write a total of 3 paragraphs for each case study:
  • a paragrah summarizing the objective and result of the campaign
  • a paragraph describing how this campaign is relevant to your company
  • a paragraph on what you would hope to acheive by running a similar campaign for your company
These 9 paragraphs will become the basis of your appeal to a higher power--the power of knowledge. We'll be working with this appeal to knowledge for awhile, so spend some time getting these paragraphs right.

How am I doing so far? Are you finding this 12 Step Plan useful?

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Building Community: A 12 Step Social Media Program

One of the things that's been bugging me about the SXSW Interactive conference was the generalization of advice given in most of the sessions I attended. Actually, that bugs me about MOST conferences I attend.

What Is Moderation? Not Enough Excess?

I think when people pay money for a conference, they attend because they are looking for specific help to a specific problem they face at work. At conferences, however, presenters often give a broad overview that you could get from reading a book, and usually only take 3-4 questions from the audience on specific problems.

I realize that there isn't time to help everyone one-on-one at a conference, but I can read a book and figure stuff out on my own time. I don't need to spend $450 or so to have someone tell me, for example, that a community should be moderated for a more pleasant user experience.

I want to know, what exactly is moderation? What does moderation entail? How many hours per day does it require? What *specific* guidelines should I have in place? What are the pros and cons of having topical moderation? What do I do when a flame war breaks out? Should my CEO be posting on the boards?

Yes, I understand that the answer to each of those questions CAN be "it depends". Which is of no help to the person shelling out scarce dollars to attend a conference. The person presenting is supposed to be a Master Practitioner. At the very least, I would want a very specific list of questions that I need to answer in order to proceed.

The typical response of "your community should be moderated" is just not helpful enough.

12 Steps and Tips You Can Use

Well, I'm going to try and fix that and provide solid, practical and detailed tips on how to use social media to develop online communities using the principles of a 12 Step program. I've been in the business of developing online communities for 10 years, and I have a few experiences that just might be useful for others.

Now, a 12 Step program is typically associated with recovery from addiction and getting on a more productive life path. So in my use of the 12 Steps, I'm going to assume that companies are addicted to 'old school' marketing, production or communication techniques and need to be broken of this addiction.

The principles of a 12 Step Program are founded on:
  • admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion
  • recognizing a greater power that can give strength
  • examining past errors with the help of a sponsor
  • making amends for these errors
  • learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
  • helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions
Can you recognize how these principles might be applicable in your company?

Step One: Admitting Addiction

Does your company have an addiction or a compulsion to a particularly destructive behavior?

Maybe it's that your company is too much under the influence of the legal department and free exchange of information is prohibited for fear of liability. Or completed projects never get an internal review for lessons learned because that's 'not billable time.' Or maybe business objectives overrule design principles, because the business folks want to force the users into a particular experience rather than let the user *choose* their experience. (and thus the business people ensure the failure of their own objectives)

When it comes to using social media or developing strong relationships with their clients, MOST companies have an addiction that prevents them from getting closer to their customers. These might be addictions to personal power, control, fear or an aversion to change, but whatever the addiction, there exists an "us vs. them" mentality.

The company is us. The customers are them. But there is rarely a "we" that embraces the customer as an integral part of the company. (notable exceptions: Nike, Southwest Airlines, Apple)

Your Homework Assignment

1) What is the most significant obstacle in the way of your company using social media?

2) Can you list 1-3 things that your company is addicted to that is preventing your company from establishing real relationships with your customers? Is it a person? A culture? A department?

Identify it. Give it a name. You won't know what to change unless you can name the addictive behavior. Please use the comments section to 'fess up to your addiction, but if your obstacle is a specific person, please use a psuedonym.

Tomorrow: Recognizing A Greater Power That Can Give Strength (or: Case Studies in How The Collective Rules)

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW-Wrap Up

Finally home and mostly decompressed from SXSW. Long travel day yesterday--I missed a flight for the first time in my life!! Totally got caught in Austin traffic and it took an hour and a half to make what should have been a 20 minute trip.

Yeah, I know, I should have left earlier. I had a SXSW recap breakfast with Bryan Person and then caught the Birth of Cool exhibit that I missed on Monday, took some photos, lost track of time and left for the airport later than I should.

How nerdy am I--missing a flight because I was at the museum. I am definitely not 'cool'.

Anyway, lots of really positive things at SXSW.

Special Recognition Goes To...

1) The SXSW organizing committee.

The event is very well produced and staffed. The volunteers away from the registration and information areas weren't all that knowledgeable and the signage/maps of events could have been better, but really, that's nit-picking. The web site was excellent, you could organize events online and sync them to your mobile calendar, the printed materials were outstanding. There was a wide variety of conference topics, social activities were great, special areas like the trade show, screen burn gaming area, blogger lounge and podcast areas were nice on-site getaways.

Special kudos for the designers of the pocket guide, which was truly a useful guide. Best I've ever used at an event.

2) Twitter.

Love it/hate it/indifferent. I feel all those things about Twitter, and at SXSW, it finally proved itself to be a very useful tool for me. Whether you were connecting with a friend because the cell phone coverage was sketchy, looking to find out what the hot panels were, searching for content in a session you missed or just participating in a backchannel conversation during a talk, Twitter really proved it's utility.

I know some people who weren't at SXSW complained about being inundated with tweets, but on the other hand, I also know a lot of people who didn't make the conference who felt like they got a lot of value by following the twitter-stream.

I still get annoyed by people using Twitter to give a blow-by-blow description about the party that they are at or who they are downing shots with, but who am I to judge?

Well, I'm me, and I rule. So stop it. No one cares who you are drinking with or that you are about to go sing karaoke.

My Favorite Panel Discussions

1) Most Entertaining: Mad Men on Twitter. Now I have a mad crush on Peggy Olson and I don't even get Showtime.

2) Most Use(r)ful: Designing for the Wisdom of the Crowds by Derek Powazek . He's funny in a nerdy way, and chock full of useful information on how to let user behavior influence design. After all, it's called User Interface, right? Plus there were some really good notes and slides.

3) Most Validating: Managing Expert Clients by Kali Cover and Marili Cantu. These two laid out very practical how-to advice on managing client relations. Lots of nodding of heads in the audience when discussing the special challenges we face helping clients. The notes are by @MeganGarza.

Most Disappointing Panels

I don't want to call anyone out in public because any disappointment I had was *mine*, and I'm sure that for every panel I was in that I thought wasn't fulfilling, there were people in the room who thought it rocked.

Still, here are some things that disappointed me that ANYONE who speaks at a conference should heed:

1) Title are important. If you have a totally kick-ass title for your panel, your presentation should rock too. A provocative title means you will have bold opinions and a definitive stance. A title with a question in it should ANSWER THE QUESTION by end of the session. (you'd be surprised how infrequently this happens) A vague title that requires a subtitle to explain what the topic is really about isn't going to get many people to your session.

2) It's not necessary that EVERY panelist responds to EVERY question. I saw a lot of time wasted and thus, not a lot of information being shared in panels where the moderator would pose a question and then the other 4 panelists would give their answers and they were all saying essentially the same thing.

If there is strong disagreement on the panels, that's good and makes for a lively discussion. Everyone agreeing with the first response and then saying why they agree pretty much wastes everyone's time.

I would rather see more points covered than making sure everyone on the panel got equal response time.

3) Have enough topics to cover the time allotted. I saw several one hour sessions where there were maybe three bullet points covered in the entire hour. I wasn't sure if that was because that's all the moderator could think to cover, everyone just kept rambling in their responses or what.

But each case felt like a waste of an hour. I don't mind getting only one good takeway out of an hour presentation, but if you only cover three things, you're cutting down your odds of getting something awesome in there.

More isn't necessarily more, but less isn't always more either.

4) A presentation isn't a lecture, it's a performance. Please don't just talk about what's on your Powerpoint slides. If that's all you're going to do, just post your slides somewhere and let us get on to someone more interesting.

YOU are as important as your material. I hate to put any pressure on anyone, but if your name is in print, I'm expecting you to entertain me in some way. Be provocative. Witty. More knowledgeable than anyone else out extraordinary.

5) Announce a sensible Twitter hashtag at the beginning of your presentation. If you don't know much about Twitter, then ask someone in the audience to set a hashtag.

Hashtags are how we are going to find notes and information from your presentation afterwards. Twitter just may become the new search. People are tweeting about your presentation and we want to find those notes later.

Clever hashtags like #cake and #fuckcount draw a laugh from the crowd attending, but when you try to find a bit of information from that presentation 3 months from now or you weren't at the conference and the topic was really Building a Brand or Developing Strong Communities, are you really going to look for #cake or #fuckcount? (yes, those are actual hashtags recommended by the panel moderators)

Great Connections

1) I loved meeting the Southwest Airlines new media team. Southwest is doing some really cool stuff in the social networking/online community space, and they clearly 'get' this media. It's refreshing to see a corporation that knows how to have fun and be social with their customers.

2) Also enjoyed meeting @LPT--another person at a major corporation that is utilizing social media well, albeit different in tone than Southwest. Her blog is a good, thoughtful read.

3) I was amazed by @carbody, and she really opened my eyes as to what being a 'digital native' means. I watched her effortlessly tweet, listen, take notes, engage in conversation, email, add followers, fact check and absorb everything around her as easily as breathing. I don't even think she is aware of how extraordinary she is-but she is so fluent in this realm that it was truly inspiring.

I chatted with her during the breaks and found her to be quite thoughtful, eloquent, knowledgeable, passionate about social media and her clients and just down-to-earth and friendly.

4) I was also lucky enough to chat with Andy Carvin of NPR and chat about the future of journalism and some directions NPR will be heading. He's a very thoughtful, forward-thinking person, and NPR is also doing some exciting things with social media.

If you're not an NPR fan now, you should check 'em out! NPR should be a daily stop for news and entertainment.

What I Take Away From SXSW

1) Inspiration. It was a pleasure to see so many passionate social media practitioners in one place and learn by watching my peers as well as participating in discussions with 'experts'. I have many new ideas and information to share with my team, my company and my clients.

2) Have a plan. I went totally free-form. I wasn't sure of what to expect, so I didn't plan much beyond where I was staying. I got a lot out of it by just wandering around and going with the moment but probably could have gotten a few more connections, developed a few more relationships and learned a few more things by being more organized.

3) SXSW parties are not a good way to connect. They are good for having fun (you can never go wrong with free booze and food!), but it's tough to have meaningful conversations with music blaring.

4) Go with someone. I traveled solo for this, and it can be an extra struggle/effort to constantly meet people. I'm kind of strange, maybe. There are times when I can be very outgoing and love to meet people AND when I'm in a big crowd, I can also just sort of sit on the sidelines and watch.

I didn't find many people at SXSW who made much of an effort reaching out to me (other than Bryan who I work with, and thankfully, he seems to know a lot of people), which meant that I was the one constantly going out of my way to meet other people.

That's not a horrible thing, just something that takes some effort that eventually feels draining. I'd recommend going with a friend--it's a better shared experience than solo.

5) Pace yourself. The smartest thing I did was get away from the conference for an afternoon and just enjoy Austin. The energy at SXSW Interactive is very palpable and eventually becomes overwhelming. Don't be afraid to get away--Austin has many other nice attractions. Get 8 hours of sleep and drink plenty of water. It's a grind, not a sprint.

6) Blue Bell ice cream. This was recommended to me by Texas native @LindaKayHolden and I first thought it was just another "everything is better in Texas" kind of suggestion.

Nope. Blue Bell is REAL ice cream. Made from real cream. Waaaaaaaaaaaay better than Ben and Jerry's, Haagen Daaz or any other ice cream I've had.

Really. It's that good.

The Conclusion

Yep. It's worth the money. I got enough ideas, inspiration and new friendships that totally made the trip worthwhile. I highly recommend attendance if you're currently using social media or are thinking about it. I'll be back next year.

So...what was YOUR SXSW experience like? What was the best and/or the worst of it?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SXSW Interactive Day 5: The Nerds Go Home

Interesting day today--it's the last day of the Interactive festival, the first day of the Music festival and St. Patrick's Day. Busy.

And somehow, I forgot that last tidbit and didn't pack anything green for the trip. I claimed that the green neckband on my festival pass counted. Lame, I know.

Lots of folks left yesterday, and even more today. Still plenty of people around, but the energy was considerable less frenetic. People are tired and more focused on the content today.

The Mediocre

1) Like many others I talked with, I'm a little disappointed that the content is uneven. Some panels are really good, in-depth and useful. Those are like an ice-cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer day.

2) Many panels have good speakers but just don't go deep enough into the material to be useful for the type of people at this conference. This is not a beginners conference. If you're here, it's because you're serious about interactive, gaming or social media.

The material should reflect the talent level of the people here. A lot of what I saw was pretty basic. I'll recap the 'winners' tomorrow. I've left feedback on the SXSW site for the other panels, so I don't feel a need to call anybody out in public. I'm sure there are a lot of backstories to some panels that I don't know about.

3) The worst is the bait-and-switch with panel titles, which is more common than it should be. I was in three sessions where the title was very provocative, but the moderators either never lived up to the title, or worse, asked a very specific question in the title and didn't answer it. Or led to the conclusion that the question is unanswerable right now.

Random conversations with folks indicated this was a more widespread problem than you would think. So, here's a note to anyone ever presenting at a conference:

If you've got the moxie to create a really provocative title for your panel,

But let's not be a hater. There were a LOT of really good things today.

The Good

1) Connections! I hung out with @BryanPerson quite a bit today and met a lot of people. Seems like Bryan knows everyone. We had breakfast with the @SouthwestAir emerging media team (including this red-headed leprachaun). They are doing some very cool things with social media and have a great culture there. I got a few good ideas from them. :-)

Bryan had a list of like, a gazillion people to meet during the 5 days of the conference, and at the end of today, he proudly showed me that he had met all but one. (note to self for next year: have a plan)

Bryan doesn't look like a schmoozer, but I tell you, he's got those Boy Scout good looks and is a charming guy. No wonder he won an award as one of the top 25 Social Media professionals in Texas this year. (not to mention he picked up the tab for breakfast, which makes him VERY socialble, in my book)

2) I also met @CarriBugbee who totally RAWKED THE HOUSE in her panel about being one of the 'voices' behind the Mad Men Twitter characters. (and I even got her autograph!) Didn't get to sing karaoke with her, though. Maybe next time.

3) Got my second free meal of the day meeting (I still take a starving-artist's delight at getting free meals, what can I say?) with @withoutayard who not only is a former Austin local with a LOT of knowledge of the music scene, but is also a great promoter for Toronto as a travel destination. It's now high on my list of places to visit.

4) Met too many other people in casual conversations to list. Random strangers seemed more accessible to chat with today. Lots of ruminating on the conference today, which I will summarize tomorrow. Bryan and I will be getting together to recap and brainstorm more on some cool takeaway ideas we had today.

We both found some inspiration during the conference, and suffice it to say that I learned a lot, had a good time and would definitely recommend others to come here.

5) And of course, I have to give a shout out to my house mate Bruce, his awesome dog Rosie, and Coco Ono, who became my cat away from home. It's been pretty cool living like a local away from the downtown party scene and not out of a hotel.

I'll be back, Austin. Thanks for a good time! :-)

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SXSW Day 4- Austin Social

Day 4 started like every other day has so far--late. Time and I have not been very good friends this trip.

Since I think the point of an interactive conference is to...well...interact, I
spent the morning having coffee and chatting with my housemate Bruce. He does some work setting up eBay stores for small businesses and we had a really good strategy/brainstorm session on how he could help a particular mom & pop kayak shop use social media to develop an online community that might help grow their business.

Good stuff, and it was nice to connect. We've chatted a few times since I've been here, and I feel like I've made a new friend. We found each other via Craigslist--I'm renting a room in his house for $400 for the week, instead of the $200 per night that the hotels are charging.

Yippee for social networking. By the way--check out Jeremiah Owyang's blog on how connection is evolving. It's a look at how we're liable to connect on adventures like this in the near future.

Hive Mentality

I didn't mind missing some of the morning sessions--it's a bit of grind being inundated with so much information and buzz. One term being bandied about in social media circles these days is the 'hive' mentality, and that's really evident here.

Following the Twitter-stream of SXSW live and in the 'backchannels' of a conference is like tapping into one HUGE thought-stream.

(the backchannel is the unspoken conversation by the audience while the panel is going on. Often snarky, sometimes off-topic, it provides both a source of notes for the topic and a feeling of what people really think about the session, like passing notes in a classroom)

It's both fascinating and overwhelming--like a sci fi story where you can hear everyone's thoughts. Trends, patterns and organization forms out of all the chaos, but there is a lot of noise to filter too, and that process can be very mentally taxing.

One of the useful things about the hive mentality is that it can help crystallize and validate your own thoughts. It's nice to know that you're not the only one feeling something. My own feelings of being slightly overwhelmed and TOO immersed at SXSW were echoed by a check of the twitter-stream.

Well the sun came out today, and after a really good panel session on dealing with difficult clients (one of the best panels I've participated in this week), I decided to get away from the noise and explore Austin a bit.

@MarkWilliams Day Off

I started with a Mexican Martini at the Cedar Door and almost ended the day right there. A Mexican Martini is a margarita-flavored martini that arrives in a 16 oz glass. Since the place was slammed with customers, food service was very slow and I had time to nearly finish my drink before eating anything, sparing me the waste of food absorbing the alcohol entering my bloodstream.

An instant stress-reducer.

Texas Art and Culture

From there, I had intended to stumble to the Birth of Cool exhibit at the Blanton Art Museum, but my motor skills having mysteriously diminished at lunch, I wound up taking the cute 'Dillo (short for armadillo) trolley for just 50 cents crosstown.

Unfortunately, I didn't catch that the art museum was closed on Monday's, but it happened to be across the street from The Bob Bullock State Texas History Museum, which WAS open. Apparently, the good people of Texas only need art 6 days a week, but they'll talk about themselves any ol' time.

The BBSTHM was pretty cool. It's named after a former Texas state Lieutenant Governor, by the way. I've always wondered just what exactly a Lieutenant Governor does, and now I know. They build museums and name them after themselves.

I learned a lot of local history, like how Texans took the land from the native Indians, then Spain and later Mexico. Did you know that Texas used to be an independent Republic?

Texans are proud of their state and history, and I was pleasantly surprised that they were willing to display some not-so-proud momentos of their history, like this:

I spent a few hours in the museum--it's rather extensive and I was not able to see it all in that time. If you go, (and I recommend you do), plan on leaving at least 4 hours for the visit.

Local Austin

I was lucky that Bruce was willing to play tour guide and show me a little bit of the local scene away from the downtown area, and took me on a short hike to Mount Bonnell, the highest point in Austin. From there, we went to Zilker Park Disc Golf course (I didn't have any discs with me, but might try and play tomorrow morning) and Barton Springs.

Finished the evening up at the fabulous 'locals only' Magnolia Cafe with VERY tasty dinner of Jamacian jerk pork chops with collared greens and garlic mashed potatoes, topped off with local brew of Fireman's #4.

By this time it was 9 pm and I was gassed. Went home and finished off my pint of Blue Bell Chocolate and Cherry ice cream, which just might be the best ice cream in America. Really, it's that good.

One more day of SXW. Let's hope I can make it to the finish line!

Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW Day 3: Random Moments of Beauty

In the midst of all the hyper-activity of SXSW, here are a few moments of sheer beauty that I've come across--little snapshots that existed only for a second or two and then vanished.

Tiny stolen moments in the cacophony that surrounds SXSW...little intimacies I wasn't supposed to see.

These are the ones that go in my treasure box.

1) The 30-something woman--a senior manager at a very large corporation, influential in her field and sought-after as an expert and speaker--who had dreams of being a professional dancer as a child. Attending an awards ceremony held in a ballet studio, gazing in the mirror and assuming first position, checking the curvature of her arms and the correct angle of her feet.

She subconsciously slips in a demi-plie; a respectful curtsy to the gods of Dance like she was trained to do many years ago. For the briefest moment, her eyes sparkled, her soul twirling and leaping with her dreams remembered and she became a little girl who loved to dance more than anything else in the world.

Then she laughed, and talked about something else. But she was still dancing on the inside.

2) Riding the bus, catching the eye of a very pretty transsexual heading for home after a night out. She gave me a smile, I smiled back and then she turned her head away and wouldn't look at me for the rest of the ride. Maybe a little fearful that I would uncover her secret under the harsh lights of the bus interior?

During the ride, I thought about her and how much courage she had--I wonder if I would have that much courage to be who I am in public, if 'who I am' is that far outside of the norm? Her hands gave her away--large, weathered hands with a bit of grease still under the cuticles. Man's hands, probably a mechanic.

When I left the bus, she finally looked at me again and gave me a flirtatious smile with a little toss of her hair, and looked away again shyly.

Just like a girl.

3) The middle-aged Latina waitress at the end of her shift in a still-busy Mexican restaurant late Sunday night. Harried, still serving tables and trying to finish her work and close out so she could go home, she would be occasionally be overcome by the music from the live salsa band and break out in fierce moments of dance once she got off the floor and was hidden from view in the waitress station.

Music so powerful, so ingrained in her soul, that even when tired and given the chance to rest, she danced.

4) A random connection that happened because of mistaken identity. Standing in the doorway of a room, waiting to leave for the day, a woman approaches me joyfully, with a smile and a big greeting. Then realizes I'm not who she thought I was. We laugh and chat to get over the awkwardness.

Turns out we have much in common professionally, and the person she was there to meet was someone that I wanted to meet too. In the midst of our 'professional' conversation, I mention that I came to the world of social media via the theater.

"Really?", she asked, eyes lighting up. She leaned in slightly towards me, and lowers her voice just a bit, as if she were to share a secret. "I'm a jazz singer." Her body seemed to relax a bit, lighter, like a heavy cloak had been removed from her shoulders.

We are all so much more than what we appear to be.

5) A recipient of an award recognizing work in the social media field, responds to the audience asking for a speech. Unplanned, unscripted, she fumbles a bit for words--she's not used to public speaking. "I don't want to be a rock star", she says. "We're in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and there are a lot of people out of work."

She pauses a moment, looking for eloquence. Her heart wants to speak, her mind struggles to find the right words to express the depth of her feeling, but she's uncomfortable at a microphone, there are lights shining on her and 75 people are looking at her, waiting for her to say something.

Somewhat awkwardly, she blurts, "We're in trouble, people. Let's help each other out." To rousing applause from the audience.

The words are always perfect when spoken from the heart.

This is the best of SXSW so far.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

SXSW--When is Transparency TMI?

I got a great text message to my last blog post (SXSW Day 2) from someone who is very close to me who asked: "You are degrading your personal experience and this the kind of message you want to be sharing with the world?"

In an age where the greatest Olympic champion EVER can go from being a hero and a role model to a national joke in just a few weeks because of a photo posted on the web, that's a very good question.

When DOES transparency and accessibility become too much information?

It's a sage question because people DO check out your Facebook page before making hiring decisions. People have been fired for things on their Myspace or Facebook pages. The question shows a real savvy in this new social world that we can all be held accountable for our actions...and thoughts... to a greater degree than ever.

In my particular case, I don't mind being transparent and sharing my insecurity and uncertainty about immersion at SXSW Interactive because I think many of my clients (and others thinking of getting into social media) feel the same way. The use of socia technology and depth of inter-connectiveness IS confusing and scary if you're not a digital native, and I think I'm reflecting the same trepidation that many people feel.

I am one of them. Even if I'm the 'expert'--we're in this journey together.

Education and Experience

Two of my favorite quotes about education are:

a. "We teach best what we most need to learn."
b. "Education is the process of discovering what you already know."

The point is... I know what I know and my friend is trying to remind me of that. I'm also okay with sharing in public what I don't know, because it's real. Others (including clients) should takeaway that yeah, I'm uncertain about some of this stuff too, but I see the value and I dive in anyway.

What I Know

I've been gathering people together around shared passions and developing real-world communities for 20 years. I've been developing online communities for 10 years. I know what works there.

And, in my own personal history, I've also been a radio disc jockey. I've been interviewed on radio and television. I've worked in movies and television both in front of and behind the camera, so I get podcasting and video. (and understand that web video and cell phone video are NOT the same as film and tv)

I've also been on stage connecting with people in groups of 10 to 1,000 at a time. I've spent a LOT of time in chat rooms, discussion forums and blogging. None of these technologies or forms are new to me.

What IS new, is doing all of them, all at once, casually and easily. I'm used to production values and polish not speed of production and content delivery that prevails now.

The Lesson I'm Learning

Connie Benson (one of the folks whose style and message I really respect) posted a wonderful "How To Build Community 101" guide today, which was a wonderful reminder to me that the *tools* we use to build a community and connection may differ, but the process of connecting remains the same.

So yes, I've been feeling a little overwhelmed here at SXSW because there are so many people here who are fluent in using so many tools simultaneously and their presence is ubiquitous. You can't walk 20 feet around here without seeing someone podcasting, shoot a web video or twittering.

But knowing how to play many musical instruments doesn't make one a superior musician. Mozart couldn't play all of the instruments in his orchestra or sing, but he wrote some of the most amazing compositions and opera ever.

By blogging my uncertainties at SXSW, I share with my clients and anyone else who is trying to develop a social brand presence a lesson that I have to remind myself every so often:

Do what you know how to do.

Connect the way that you know how to connect...and experiment with the new forms too. Don't let the forms of media confuse you from making the actual connections that you're trying to make. Sure, what works to connect via a blog won't work with a video. The form dictates the style of the content--but not the connection itself. The focus is not "I must use this form (tool), but "what's the best way to create a connection with this person?"

It's about connecting with people, not tools.

And I never was one of the cool kids. I was one of the creative ones. That's okay with me.

The core question remains--what do you consider to be TMI? Am I sharing too much inapproriately?

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

SXSW Day 2

Day 2 of SXSW Interactive started off bad. In rapid succession--

I overslept because my iPhone, which doubles as my alarm clock, ran out of battery power during the night. (lesson: if it's plugged into the Mac and the Mac goes to sleep, the phone stops charging) So I started the day 2 hours later than intended.

Then, I plugged the phone in to charge, got ready to go, left the house and forgot the phone. And locked myself out. Walked up to the bus stop to catch a bus just in time for the session I wanted to go to and...

...I forgot that I had spent my bus change the night before and all I had was a $10 bill. Missed the bus. Hiked another mile to a 7-11. Caught the next bus just in time to miss the NEXT session I wanted to go to. A mighty fine start to the day.

The Good

1. People. I seem to make 1-2 really good connections per day. I talk with more than that, of course, but seem to really only *engage* 1-2. Today it was @carbody--she's a twenty-something social media specialist who woud best be described in anthropological terms as a 'digital native'.

It was a total pleasure sitting next to her in a session and watching her effortlessly listen to the speaker, twitter good notes recapping the discussion, quickly researching the profiles of people speaking, add 5-10 new followers on Twitter (and checking them out before doing so), listening and contributing to the conversation on the backchannel AND checking her email.

And she is FULLY engaged. We had a great conversation after the session, sharing stories, frustrations, common problems and brainstorming around working with clients. She is so fluent and intuitive in how she uses social media--it is a part of her being and her native language. Chatting with her was both delightful and informative for me.

2. Found Waterloo Records, which is something of an Austin landmark for being a cool, independent record store. Glad to contribute to the local economy and pick up some music by local artists.

3. Helped Bryan (our LiveWorld evangelist) score an interview on NPR tomorrow. Bryan is really very good at talking with people and interviewing others, but too nice a guy to toot his own horn. We were at the NPR/PBS party tonight talking with their social media director who was telling us about their upcoming interviews with social media experts and evangelists, so naturally I piped up and said "well, you should interview this guy right here!"

Bryan is the founder of Social Media Breakfasts that have now sprung up in something like 20+ cities across the US and has some street cred. They started chatting and arranging interviews with each other for tomorrow.

I make a good wingman. :-)

4) Nice opening address by Tony Hsieh of Zappos. Focus was on *happiness*. That everything we do, our ultimate goal is happiness, so why don't we just incorporate happiness into everything we do?

5) I helped steer a session that I was in back on to its original topic: "Why Gen Y Won't Friend Your Brand." (search #geny on (I have answers to that question that I think are better than what was presented in the session btw. If your brand sucks to Gen Y, they won't friend it. If it's relevant and engaging to them, they will. And not every brand is relevant, no matter how much you might want to sell to them. Which, by the way, is no different than trying to engage any other generation. But...I digress)

The Bad

1. The day started badly and I was grumpy for much of the day.

2. I'm a little overwhelmed by all of the activity at SXSW and underwhelmed by the actual content. It's AMAZING to see the level of connectivity going on by so many people. And...I get it. But on MY personal level, I don't really want that amount of connectivity and I'm not as fluent in as many realms as most of the people around me.

It's like traveling to another country where you know some of the language but aren't fluent. It's very tiring and draining to always try to translate and understand what is being said. My frustration here at SXSW is that I get what everyone says at the macro level--I understand on a deep, personal level how people connect and why.

In fact, I'm underwhelmed by the content--I haven't heard anyone say anything yet that I don't already know about social media, how it connects people, how to use it, etc. The only really useful gem I've picked up about how to engage Gen Y is to enable sharing personal information among peers, or "what can you tell me about my friends that I didn't already know?"

So I know what this stuff is all about, but I'm personally not podcasting, live streaming, twittering thru the sessions, chatting on the backchannel, emailing, texting friends and sharing every single little detail of SXSW as I go along. I'm not that fluent and I'm not sure I want to be--I wonder if I'm sharing too much or not enough or the right kind of info for the folks who aren't here.

I still think about the *quality* of content, and the shift really does seem to be towards quantity and letting the masses sort the wheat from the chaffe.

I'll have to let that last statement marinate a bit.

3) I'm at the epicenter of coolness at SXSW, and I'm not cool. Not compared to the other kids (and adults) here. And I don't know if I want to work that hard to be cool. Or whether I even COULD be.

I feel like I could have something to contribute, but don't have a mechanism. I came hear to learn, but the panels aren't teaching me anything yet. I learned more from sitting next to @carbody today than from anything anyone has said in 2.5 days.

I'm surprisingly out of my comfort zone here. This kind of reminds me of high school. :-)

And tell many of you really enjoyed high school? Or were you one of the cool kids?

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Friday, March 13, 2009

SXSW Day 1

Arrived in Austin on a cold, wet, windy day--all the locals apologize for the weather. I guess it was 80 degrees and sunny a few days ago and the forecast calls for nice weather to return over the weekend.

For now, the weather dissuades one from just walking around downtown Austin, so we're stuck indoors, which is okay cuz I want to get the vibe of SXSW Interactive and you've got to be immersed to get the feel, right?

First impressions--it's very well run event. Someone called it "Burning Man for tech geeks" and it's a little like that. No costumes, but a very large three ring circus that can be sensory overload at first glance. There's a LOT going on and it seems like you really need to be on top of your schedule here--no casual wandering around and just absorbing it.

The Good

1) I've met some interesting people so far. Ken from that has a startup that gives people a platform to connect local causes, philanthropy and activism. Talked about how to gather and activate community for offline actions--check their site out, they are doing some very righteous stuff there.

Also met Fred from Google apps--they are offering a cloud solution for businesses who don't want or can't afford to create their own IT department but might have sophisticated needs that goes beyond a small business using one computer to connect to the internet. I'll start work on a project developing a small business community when I return from SXSW, so meeting the Google folks will help me be a better resource for that community.

Had dinner with an Israeli filmmaker and we talked about marketing films/documentaries on both web and cell phone interface, and the strengths/weaknesses of those platforms, and how to utilize community and web video to support the more mainstream film & tv content. Fun brainstorm session.

Also met some folks from a local interactive agency and had a fascinating discussion on architecture, how space influences people and what that means for web design. Very esoteric and fun.

2) Texas BBQ ribs--lunch was so good (and filling!) that I didn't eat dinner.

3) My housing. I went on Craigslist and found a sublet with a local for $65 a night, instead of the $250 per night the hotels around the event are charging. I get a cool roommate (he likes to backpack to strange lands and poke around ruins) who gives me great local insight and hangouts, with a friendly dog and a cat who is as affectionate with me as my cat Cleo at home.

Plus good coffee in the morning.

4) Screen burn. They have a very cool, fun game center where you can go unwind, play some Wii, WOW, Guitar Hero and many other games. They've got a conference center decked out like a family game room for cool ambience. Will take pics tomorrow.

The Not So Good

1) Not getting into THREE sessions that I wanted to see because I was 2 minutes late and the events were full. I'm still at work while I'm here and was solving work-related problems which caused me to be a little late. So now I know to get my sessions early, but still. I paid $450 for my ticket and my expectation is that I can see the things I want to, even if it means standing room only.

2) Had an invite to the Social Media Club mixer tonight and there was a line of maybe 100 people when I got there and was told the event was already full and they would let people in one at a time, which essentially meant I wasn't going to get in.

I was there on time for that one AND I'm one of the few *paying* Professional members of Social Media Club, so I would have thought I could get in, but nooooooo.

Membership is supposed to have its privileges, but apparently not here.

3) Went to another party that seemed interesting--the Austin Museum of Digital Art was sponsoring a laptop DJ battle. 16 DJ's using only their laptop and a controller for mixing their best 3 minutes. The event started late and while the DJ's all had some good technical skills, no one was....uh....dancing.

When's the last time you were at a club with 300 or so of your new best friends with DJ's battling it out and no one was dancing? I gave it a good hour and a half, saw half the DJ's perform and didn't think it was going to get any better so I left.

Oh yeah...dunno if this is Texas or what...but the bars down here serve Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can. PBR is usually what you get when you don't want to spend the money on Miller where I come from, but I guess it's a premium beer down here.

That's it for now. Will report back tomorrow--I have a full slate of seminars and panels scheduled starting at 10 am.

...and I know that I can't be late!

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

5 Rants and 5 Raves About Twitter.

I had a great phone call last week with an old friend of mine who has been charged by her workplace to become their 'social media expert'. In the next couple of weeks, of course. She called asking for some help and insight.

Talking with my friend gave me the opportunity to talk frankly about this business, the tools available and to distill everything I knew to the essential. I had the chance to rant and rave over my view of the social media landscape from the vantage point of one who sees a LOT of social media strategies by major brands up close and personal. Some of whom who do it right, and many of them who don't.

Twitter...all the world is a-twitter about Twitter.

One of the first things she asked about was Twitter...and that core question that newcomers to Twitter always have--what is it good for?

Now, like many people, I have mixed emotions about Twitter. I spend a fair amount of time on it. I find it often amusing, sometimes useful, frequently addictive and occasionally infuriating. I'm part of the culture, part of the hype and...

...I'm still not sold on it, even though I embrace it as a tool and source of connectivity.

There's much that I like about Twitter, and more than a few things that I DON'T like about Twitter.

Rants: 5 Things I Don't Like About Twitter

1. Traditional media doing stories whenever someone 'mainstream' uses Twitter.

Like, it MUST be worthwhile if Barack Obama, Paris Hilton, Arnold Scharzenegger, Shaquille O'Neal and other celebrities are using it. If they're doing it, we must do it too.

It's not news that Barack Obama sends text messages. Or emails. Or uses the telephone. Ergo, it's not news if he Twitters. Which he doesn't, btw. Someone on his staff does it in his name.

2. Folks on Twitter who twitter about every time the traditional media does a story about someone famous using Twitter.

The media talking about a form of media.

Hey look! I have a belly button! Whoaaaaaaa....dude...YOU have a belly button too?! That's AWESOME! We must be, like the only two people who have belly buttons! mean THEY have belly buttons too? That is JUST SO F'IN AMAZING! Let's tweet that!

3. News agencies (CNN) who incorporate Twitter feeds into their on-air broadcast.

"Let's see what they're saying about the collapse of our economy on Twitter."

Twitter: "Skittles fit perfectly in my cat's anus!

I don't give a frack about what the person in the street (Twitter) is saying about the news of the day, bucko. I'm paying YOU to tell me what's going on. If I wanted to know what the people on Twitter were saying about something, I'd log on and find out for myself.

4. Creating new nouns and verbs based on variance of 'twitter'.

ie: Twittersphere, twips, tweets, twestions, twaffic, twatrix, tweepers, tweeples, tweetaholism, tweet-bombs, tweetcred, tweethearts, tweetups, twirlfriend, get the point. It's not cute or clever and this practice must stop.

It only serves to further devolve the English language and create a special insider vocabularly that makes Twitter LESS inclusive.

Those that persist in this odious practice are just a bunch of twankers.

5. The use of the term "followers".

I am not a follower. I learn, I engage, I listen and I connect on Twitter, but I don't follow anyone.

The term is creepy, like I'm a stalker, a disciple or a fan. I do not solicit a cult following, nor do I necessarily agree with the thoughts and practices of those I am connected to via Twitter, so I don't know how I can be considered a follower. More properly, I'm a listener--I connect to people who have interesting things to say with whom I might want to engage in conversation.

"Following" leads to a cult of personality and I think we all see this on Twitter--getting followers seems to be a way of claiming either special status or knowledge, when it does neither. The term needs to change. Language matters.

Raves: 5 Things I Love About Twitter

1. One can connect with a bunch of really smart, articulate people that you ordinarily would not get to talk with.

This is the primary benefit of Twitter for individuals, in my opinion. I can't go up to a superstar in person and just introduce myself and engage in a conversation with them, but I do get that opportunity via Twitter. That's very cool.

2. Twitter blatantly encourages businesses/brands to join the conversation.

Most brands need to do an end-around to actually converse with their customers and find out what people really think of them. They build elaborate customer service, public relations and marketing departments, all of whom have a vested interest in diluting or distorting the feedback they get from actual customers.

Twitters levels that playing field and brings some honesty to the conversation, which is good for both brand AND consumer.

3. The ethos on Twitter (for now) is sharing and transparency.

You gotta love a place where you build cred and status by giving away your best thoughts, links to resources and making connections for people, whether doing so benefits you directly or not.

And as an added bonus, Twitter is a no-bullshit zone--there are too many people with too many resources at their fingertips for anyone to try and spread propoganda or falsehoods.

4. You can deliver a message to a lot of people very quickly--IF it's the right message.

I have very modest standing on Twitter--there are 450 people on my 'followers' list. But according to one Twitter influence tool, I have a reach of slightly more than 2.5 million people in my network. That's pretty cool--if I have the right message that is important enough, clever enough or vital, I can broadcast to a lot of people in a very short period of time.

That's a power that I couldn't possibly obtain thru any other social media.

Of course, with great power comes with great responsibility. Which brings me to #5...

5. Twitter is chaos in action and demonstrates how people will self-regulate and govern given the opportunity.

It's a wide-open frontier on Twitter and there are very few rules. By and large, people will organize themselves in social groups in the way that works best for everyone and do not need a lot of outside regulation or direction.

So far, Twitter is a place where interesting conversations take place, good deeds get done, information gets shared, connections are made, friendships are formed and the general ethos is to help the 'have-nots' have more.

It's pretty cool to see the best of humanity come out on such a visible playing field.

So that's my list. What are YOUR rants and raves about Twitter?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Perspective, with a bit of Heresy

I'm baaaaaaaack, interwebs. Didja miss me?

Okay, I wasn't really gone for long--I took a week's worth of vacation to play some golf, connect with my brother who is going thru a divorce, and then once I was offline for awhile, I just got lazy, breaking the cardinal rule of blogging:

You must blog consistently or you lose your audience.

And sure enough, I can hear the echos and the reverberation of my own voice out there at this very moment. Kinda reminds me of Twitter.

Heh. I'll save my Twitter rant for tomorrow's entry.

Tin Foil Hat Goes Unplugged

I spend 10-12 hours a day online and unplugging comes very easily for me. I love being connected when I am, but I've got to tell you that I'm not the least bit concerned about email, my blog, Aim,
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr or work when I'm looking at a 30 foot downhill slider for birdie to win $2 against my big brother.

I'm as focused as Tiger Woods even if it's just a couple of bucks on the line.

A break from the computer helps put things into perspective too. My brother is a fellow who prides himself on being a bit of a troglodyte--he's not exactly a technophobe, but he doesn't use many electronic gadgets and doesn't see the need to. He doesn't text, checks his email maybe once every other day and the social media tool he uses most frequently is a telephone.

And he gets along in this world just fine, thank you very much. He has lots of friends that he sees often and connects with his long-distance friends and family frequently. He's even been known to *gasp*--write letters.

I have to say, I get a bigger kick out of getting a letter or a card from him than I do an email, even if I get both with about the same frequency. (once every couple of months)

He's a good touchstone for me--because every so often I have to explain to him what I do for a living and why someone is willing to pay me money to show them the wonders (and value) of social media and building online communities.

He gets it. He just prefers a different style.

For example, we originally planned our golf trip to San Diego to play PGA West, Torrey Pines and La Costa but it was raining like crazy the day we left and we reaaaallly didn't feel like paying that much money to play those great courses in the rain.

And there were rain clouds in the sky for a few hundred miles in any direction you looked.

Road Trip!

So you know what we did? We *could* have gone online and looked for weather forecasts, put an APB out on Twitter asking where we could go where it wasn't raining, downloaded weather maps to my iPhone or found any other number of efficient, online solutions.

But the purpose of the trip was to spend time together, so we just hopped in the car, starting in LA and drove south and west until we found sunshine and a golf course.

A few hundred miles later, we found a quaint little course in Blythe, CA where it was overcast, but not raining. We jumped out of the car, played 18 holes and got back in the car just before it started raining again.

We kept heading west, took a wrong turn, almost ran out of gas, ended up on Route 66, where we proceeded to get our kicks and wound up in Laughlin, NV, home to a couple of great golf courses, and cheap hotel casinos where we proceeded to win enough money on the craps and blackjack tables to pay for the golf and the gas.

We had a great time because we decided to ignore efficiency of all the technology available to us and just explore. (we also explored how high golf balls will bounce when dropped out of a 25th floor window, but that's another story)

Here's the Bit of Heresy

My brother is a good reminder to me that for as intense as this business of being wired 24/7 can get, and for all the many wonderful connections and relationships that social networking can foster, there are still literally millions of people in the USA who don't participate in online social networks and they live rich, meaningful lives.

Social networking online is beneficial. Useful. Enriching, even. Just not necessary.

It's a good perspective for me to not take all of this stuff so seriously and get in a tizzy about the latest marketing gimmick (Skittles), or tool (Twitter). Social media isn't the thing itself. It's the *way* to the thing. And that thing is...

...connecting with people. In the real world.


Thanks, bro. Had a great time, and thanks for making me go unplugged. :-)

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