« February 2011 | Main | April 2011 »

3 posts from March 2011

03/23/2011 Why #BTVSMB?

We had another great Burlington Social Media Breakfast last Monday. Nicole Ravlin of PMG put together Bill Gerth from Comcast and Morgan Johnston of JetBlue to talk about social media and customer service. While we got lots of press attention around the event, no one asked the question I was expecting:

Why #BTVSMB? Why are you doing this and what’s the purpose of these events?

Instead we got a lot of the same questions: Who’s doing social media? Who’s doing social media well? Why do you think social media is important? Good questions, but they tend to incur the same responses over and over again.

Back when I kicked off the first #BTVSMB I had some specific hopes for the event. I was lucky that Nicole, who partnered with me to organize future events, had the same hopes. They included:

1) Great Speakers – I don’t travel a lot and I don’t go to a lot of conferences. That means I don’t see a lot of the big speakers around the country. There are people in Burlington who do, but I think most of us are too busy in our jobs to do that regularly. I wanted to be able to see the top speakers without having to travel so much. That was my first hope.

I also wanted to bring in speakers who would set the bar high in the discussions about social media. I wanted people to leave inspired and thinking about things they normally wouldn’t in their day-to-day jobs. I find that those types of talks make me better at what I do, even if I can’t always do everything that we talk about.

We have received a lot of feedback asking how come we don’t do more practical hands on training about Twitter and Facebook. We’ve received those questions after almost every event. My thought is that there are lots of places to get that already and you can get those easily online. I’m more interested in ideas than training for these types of talks.

One other thing about bringing in some of the smartest people from outside of Vermont: I don’t want this to turn into a sales event for the speakers. I see lots of local speakers at various events (and there are still a lot of them) where the talk is in some sense a veiled pitch. It raises all sorts of issues and raises a lot of why them and not me questions. I’m too busy to deal with that kind of stuff.

2) Community – One of my great disappointments in moving back to Burlington was the lousy digital and creative community we had. I came from Boston where I was involved with MITX (and still am for that matter). What a great community that is! Up here, though, it seemed like we didn’t really want to talk with each other.

Social media, it turns out, is the one digital topic that everyone wants to connect around. I love that we’re able to bring together at all of the events some of the biggest companies and brands in Vermont and some of the smallest companies and brands. Big agencies and marketers show up and freelancers show up. Politicians and people from non-profits come to learn. I love that we’re able to bring together such a diverse group of people around one specific topic.

To be honest, I think the networking and connections are by far the best part of #BTVSMB. I’ve met more people in the last two years than I did in the previous nine! And I’ve pushed business towards those people as well. The community part is an economic accelerator for everyone.

3) Promote Burlington – Finally, my hope was that we’d start putting Burlington on the digital map in a more substantial way. I’m completely biased here, but I’d like to see Burlington’s digital community drive the economic development of the region (or at least contribute to it more substantially). I think we’re a perfect place for this type of thinking, for this type of business, and for the types of people who work in the industry.

One of the great responses we get from speakers is “I had no idea there were so many smart people up here. I knew it was beautiful, but what an amazing turnout!” They’re surprised to learn that companies like Gardners Supply is based in Vermont! When the outside speakers come here, we start showing that Burlington is a digital and social hub, especially when we outdraw events in New York and Boston.

My big hope is that those speakers will decide to open their next shop or satellite in Vermont. That’s when I’ll know we’ve succeeded.

Here’s what #BTVSMB is not:

It’s not a moneymaking business. I’ve never made a dime on these events, nor do I intend to. All ticket prices cover costs for food, venue and speaker costs. Maybe that’s stupid of me, but I’m not in this for the money.

It’s not a full-time job. It has to fit between my business and client needs. Neither Nicole nor I have employees assigned to running this. We bring in people based mainly on our relationships.

It’s not just us. Anyone can do an event, and we hope that if you have an idea for a social breakfast you want to organize, go for it. The more the merrier. Just don’t expect us to do it for you.

When I look back on Monday’s event, I think it hit all of my criteria. It doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. But it sure made me think about a number of new things.

What are your expectations for #BTVSMB?

03/21/2011 The Digital or Social Messiah

Businesses and agencies have recognized the energy of digital and social marketing. As they scramble to get up to speed and to catch up with consumers, many have tried to jump start their efforts by hiring or appointing a Very Important Person. Usually they have titles like Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Creative Technologist, or Director of Social Media. In reality, they’ve been anointed as the Digital or Social Messiah.

You know what a messiah does right? He leads you out of slavery into the promise land (well, not really, we wanders around for 40 years). He tears down the powerful and starts a new religion (or at least starts something). Or he leads a jihad and conquers the civilized world (over hundreds of years).

What’s wrong with this picture? Messiahs and Prophets may be necessary, but you can’t have true religion unless you have a good group of apostles around you. The messiah might provide the inspiration, but the apostles end up doing most of the groundwork. When you’re trying to establish a new digital or social religion in your company, do you have enough apostles to make change happen?

It was interesting listening to Bill Gerth of Comcast and Morgan Johnston of Jet Blue at the #BTVSMB social media breakfast today. I was particularly impressed with Bill’s description of Comcast’s social media team. It included key personnel from various departments around the enterprise, including customer care people and engineers. Bill doesn’t have to proselytize himself; he has others within the company with greater status within their own groups.

Agencies have similar problems. They need to talk digital, and they need a spokesperson, salesperson and leader, both internally and externally. But if you really want to gauge how serious they are, ask them how many digital or social apostles they’ve hired lately, especially compared with other hires in the traditional areas.

Everyone loves a messiah or prophet. But creating a new religion, whether it is digital, social, or Christianity, is hard work. One or two people can’t do it alone. The companies that are doing it right have lots of apostles doing the work.


03/17/2011 The State of Interactive - #SXSW1

Whew. Finally coming down to earth after a weekend in Austin at SXSW. It was my first time there and there were a lot of people attending. There were a number of key points I took away from the panels and from my discussions with people there. In this first post about SXSW, I wanted to address the “state of interactive.” 

I went to a number of panels where the discussion still involved questions of how companies and agencies can focus more on interactive ideas rather than the usual traditional marketing. For all the talk, traditional marketing is still king of the hill and, despite solid inroads, interactive thinking and social programs are still afterthoughts in the grand scheme of things. 

The panels talked about the challenge of bringing new ideas to the forefront and convincing clients to do them. They talked about internal challenges of having the right technical/digital people to influence marketing thinking. In both cases, it seemed like a slow slog, if not a downright losing battle. 

I also talked to a lot of people in charge of embedding digital changes to their organizations. These people came from all over, from the very, very big, to the medium and small. They had the role of inspiring the internal culture to make it a more digitally focused, innovative company. I found an overstretched under-supported group. I met more than a few that were ready, or had, given up trying to change the traditionals and who were ready to do something more digitally focused.

They reminded me of myself 3-4 years ago when I received titles like Chief Digital Officer but no mandate or authority to actually hire new digital people. When it comes to making companies more interactive, it seems like we still faced with the Sisyphusian challenge of trying to change something that, really, doesn’t want to change.

I think that’s why you see people like John Winsor starting Victor & Spoils and Ty Montague starting Co. It’s why Howard Draft, chairman of DraftFCB told a panel at the latest 4A’s Conference that if he were to start over today, he’d start a small, solely digital shop.

Don’t get me wrong: There were a lot of great digital and interactive thinkers and thinking in Austin. But when it comes to shifting business and agencies to interactive and digital marketing, we’re not as far ahead as we think.

It points to a potential huge advantage in the coming years for those who have made the shift. And it shows that once the big marketing shift actually happens, if it does, the ones who are talking about it rather than doing it are going to be in a very, very tough spot.


My Web Sites