16 June 2009

Blog Potomac Recap

Thanks to McLovin's bad luck, I was able to score a last minute ticket to Blog Potomac Friday. Which was a good thing, since organizer Geoff Livingston is getting out of the game of doing this after Blog Potomac 3, which will take place in October. So unless someone else picks up the mantle, c'est finis.

Secondly, to get a much more complete sense of what happened on Friday than this recap will provide, go to Twitter and search #blogpotomac. As the topic trended, we definitely saw some Twitter spam, but attendees were tweeting enough that there's still good stuff to be found.

The format of all the talks was the same: 10 minutes to speak, ABSOLUTELY NO POWERPOINT (yay!), and then 30-ish minutes of questions. (In retrospect, I think I would've preferred 20 minutes of presenting and 20 minutes of questions, since people didn't have 30 minutes worth of questions for most of the speakers, but nobody asked me.)

Anyway, the day kicked off with an awesome talk from Shel Holtz about the barriers to adoption of blogging and social media in general. The biggest one we in the association world hear, of course, is legal liability. I quote: “2-3 years later, none of what the lawyers warned us about has happened.” That's right, Shel supported what I've anecdotally been finding to be the case: no one's ever gotten sued for this stuff. That's not to say that it will never happen, of course, only that the panic is overblown.

Additional barriers Shel mentioned included:
  • Loss of control - our organizations trust us to have conversations in other venues and make the right decisions about what to say – why would the Internet make us forget the rules?
  • Ownership of content - while Shel pointed out that skills don't necessarily equal strategy - just because you know how to do something doesn't mean you know why - everyone needs to be empowered to have conversations with the audiences they touch.
  • ROI - Shel recommended that we drop the idea of ROI for Sphere of Influence (SOI), although he admits it's cool idea that hasn’t caught on yet, and he did acknowledge that you need to be fluent in CEO-speak (market share, growth, attracting best talent) in order to sell the idea.
  • Resource Commitment - Shel said we need to be able to demonstrate how socmed is saving time and money in other, more traditional communications areas if we hope to sell it.
As a final piece of advice, Shel mentioned that saying, “One of our competitors would do a really good job of this” tends to persuade upper management to at least try new things.

Shel was followed by two much weaker presentations. Digitalsista (aka Shireen Mitchell) ostensibly talked about political blogging, but really she told stories about her work on the Obama campaign. Not that they weren't fun, but I'm not sure how useful/fresh they were. Most of us have already gleaned all the lessons that might apply to our organizations from the 2008 presidential campaigns.

Then Scott Monty gave us 10 minutes of rememdial social media and Ford commercials. Perhaps Ford should devote more energy to building cars that don't suck and less to being the top social media brand in the world? The best part of his presentation was when he ran through their social media policy...way too fast to capture, and without providing a URL. It sounded pretty good - practical, straightforward, non-business speak - but I can't seem to find it online. If you happen to know the URL, hit me back at ewengel at yahoo dot com.

Liz Strauss was very Zen on the business aspects of branding & socmed, but she did offer a few pithy statements:
To grow your organization, give your customers more things they want to buy and more opportunities to buy them.

The ROI of relationships hasn’t changed – we just have new tools to maintain them now.

You have to know who you are and what you do all the way down, and you need to understand what the other person needs & help them get there. When that happens, you're no longer selling, you're just talking about what you do.

Be on the same side of the table as your customer. Make their time more valuable, more fun, more meaningful and you’ll be irresistible.

"How social can you be if you're not talking to people within your own company?"

Organizations have a culture, individuals adopt a culture. The danger in organizations entering social media is that companies will influence individuals far more than the reverse.
Lunch was provided by the event's awesome charity partner, DC Central Kitchen. Got an event to cater? Give them a call, and help the homeless learn job and life skills that can get them off the streets in the process. Tony Bourdain visited DCCK as part of his No Reservations trip to DC. Check out the video:

After lunch, Aaron Brazell (aka Technosailor) and Amber Naslund (aka Ambercadabra) had a debate on the concept of personal branding. (Aaron actually wrote a follow up blog post as well.)

I think this Aaron quote best sums up my feeling about personal branding:
“I don’t care about your personal brand.”
The debate ended up being pretty circular. I don't necessarily buy the concept of personal branding. I think it's about reputation, and I think reputation is about a lot more than ego-driven branding building. I'm not even sure people can build brands about themselves in any sort of realistic way. The whole concept is too constructed. Hmmm - this would probably make a good stand alone blog post.

Two more fun quotes from this session though:
Companies that believe they can control their brand are delusional – your brand is controlled by customers.

Social media can make people look more social than they necessarily are in real life.
And they asked what was supposed to be the "killer" question: would you go on partial commission based on how your brand could deliver new business? I think that's kind of ridiculous. Would *anyone* do that based only on "brand"? I hope not. Based on skills? At least in my case, sure - I've actually done it in the past, relatively successfully.

However, the afternoon was saved by Shashi Bellamkonda, Network Solutions socmed swami. I have to point out that I was seriously crushing on Shashi, because I love a geek who can make me laugh. He was supposed to talk about Network Solutions' successes in socmed, but he mostly told great stories punctuated by some very swami-like pieces of wisdom. To wit:
The function of the legal department is to define the risks. The business needs dictate whether you take a given risk or not.

Consultants can help answer skeptics. (After which I tweeted: Every consultant here owes Shashi $1.)

Policy setting is not hard - just follow your regular employee communication guidelines.

What's important is that you join the conversation. You won’t agree with everything that’s said, but once you're participating, you have the opportunity to get your position out there.

Every tool that makes it easier to connect with another human being will be the tool that wins.

Unplug. The tools make communication/virtual connecting very easy, and because Americans are relatively isolated, virtual connecting can be addictive. We need to make choices about where our focus is.

This prompted to me to tweet: do you (how do you) unplug? how do you know where/when is appropriate to be plugged in/unplugged? Which I think might also be another good stand alone post.

The final session of the day was a 3 person panel: Rohit Bhargarva, Kaitlyn Wilkens, and Doug Meacham engaging in "social media karaoke" (no actual singing was done). Maybe I was just burned out at that point, or maybe Shashi was just too tough an act to follow, but I thought the "words of wisdom" offered were not so much. "Be creative and original." Um, thanks.

Upon reflection, it was a worthwhile way to spend the day, not least of which because I got some quality face time with the babes from SocialFish and with Techchix. But another $100 and a full day in October? Probably not. Where's the grad level social media work taking place? Hell, where's the 201 class? Don't know, and while it was fun to bask in the glow of the rock stars for the day, this wasn't it. I have high hopes for Buzz 2009.


Maggie McGary said...

LMAO--"Perhaps Ford should devote more energy to building cars that don't suck and less to being the top social media brand in the world?"

Ah, I was having a crappy day so far until I read this post and you cheered me up!

I was supposed to have gone to this but it turned out that my son's elementary school graduation was that day so the only part of Blog Potomac I went to was the happy hour. I have to say I was NNNNNOOOOOOTTTTTT impressed at all and came away feeling a bit jaded about social media. I know Blog Potomac was supposed to be very un-conferency, but shouldn't there be SOME threshold to an event? I would have felt equally comfortable walking up to the regular bar and striking up a conversation with strangers as I felt finding--because that was the exact experience I had anyway.

Rather than pollute your comments with the semi-rant I feel coming on, I actually think I'm going to blog about it--you've inspired me!

Scott Monty said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I didn't mention a URL for our social media policy because it isn't online - yet. When it is, it'll be clear. I'm sorry you felt that my presentation on crisis communications was remedial; I also heard from others that some of the content was too advanced.

But I've got to believe that you're coming at this with a strong anti-Ford bias ("Cars that don't suck"?). I respectfully suggest you (and Maggie) do your homework on exactly what Ford is producing before passing such a sweeping (and erroneous) judgment. Facts like:
- having the most fuel-efficient mid-size sedan in America (Ford Fusion + Hybrid)
- Ford surpassed Honda and is now tied with Toyota for the best initial quality rankings
- we've been producing the most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet for 5 years now (Escape Hybrid)
- and new products like the 2010 Taurus and the 2011 Fiesta, which are wowing people everywhere.

If you didn't like my presentation, I can live with that. But based on all of the feedback I received and other posts I've read, you're the only one who didn't. Sorry I didn't meet your expectations.

Scott Monty
Global Digital Communications
Ford Motor Company

Shashi Bellamkonda said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Thanks for mentioning me and I love the title "geek who can make me laugh". When you collect the $1 from all the consultants in the room please donate to the DC central kitchen. I will look for your post "appropriate to be plugged in/unplugged"

best regards,

Shashi Bellamkonda
Social Media Swami

Anonymous said...

@Maggie - can't wait to read it.

@Scott - mine wasn't the only negative feedback that *I* heard, but I do give you props for showing up to defend yourself in a polite manner, rather than starting a flame fest I'd be sure to lose, at the very least by virtue of vastly smaller footprint in the digital world.

@Shashi - thanks for the shout-out, and I'm flattered that you'll be back to check out the unplugging post, which I'm guessing will go live next week.

Scott Monty said...

"Flame fest" isn't in my DNA, nor do I think it's a matter of the size of digital footprint. I interact with people of all levels of experience and reach online. To me, the only thing that matters is a well reasoned discussion. Glad you've got a great place to exchange views and debate. Thanks for the opportunity.

Jeff Hurt said...

Thanks Elizabeth for sharing. Your post contains some great nuggets and gems that I will treasure and ponder for a while. Wish I had heard everything to understand their context.

I also appreciate your honesty about which speaker presentations resonated with you and those that didn't. Every event planner should read your post because it is a great example of how important the it is to secure speakers that can deliver a great presentation in 10 minutes. I call it the education design of an event or conference. I find it interesting that the one speaker that you liked the most told relevant stories sprinkled with wit and wisdom! There’s wisdom in that presentation style.

I'm also jealous that the DC area has so many social media event opportunities--wish some of these organizers would go on the road for the rest of us that can't fly to DC for every event. Ok, I digress.

Anonymous said...

@Jeff - I think you raise a really good point. We have all this virtual interaction. Where's the virtual learning? Not everyone can gather face to face. Even when the economy turns around, we may all discover that we don't get to go back to the way it was WRT travel budgets. So how are we going to adapt?

Mack Collier said...

"But I've got to believe that you're coming at this with a strong anti-Ford bias ("Cars that don't suck"?). I respectfully suggest you (and Maggie) do your homework on exactly what Ford is producing before passing such a sweeping (and erroneous) judgment."

Scott you know I like you, but that was a bit of a snippy reply. Even if Maggie and Elizabeth DO have a strong anti-Ford bias, suggesting that they 'do your homework' doesn't help your argument, IMO.

Mack Collier said...

Elizabeth, one thing I have noticed from speaking and doing webinars, etc., is that you're never going to please everyone as far as the level of information presented. Even when I lead session where the attendees are informed beforehand that the session will be 'Basic 101' information, I still always have someone complain that the information is 'too basic'. Then again, someone else may complain that it was too advanced.

And my guess is that Geoff will be interested in your post because he can take in your honest feedback and consider it when planning the next Blog Potomac. With any luck I'll get to meet you there ;)

Anonymous said...

@Mack - you might think so, but I got busted for writing the only "negative" review of the event (http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/2009/06/17/why-a-final-blogpotomac-social-media-really-is-dead/). As one of my association peeps pointed out, us association types are probably more discerning/critical when it comes to events because we give so many, we attend so many, and we are used to receiving all kinds of feedback and using it to improve our pwn events, because many of our organiziations live and die by that revenue.