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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?

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