Surviving and Thriving in 2011: A digital take…

I’m going to start this post with a confession: I really had no idea what to expect of tonight’s event put on by 9 of Charlotte’s advertising, marketing, PR and social media organizations, titled “Surviving and Thriving in 2011”.  I’m a newbie in this area: a part-time dabbler who’s looking for information and knowledge wherever I can find it.  So I figured it wasn’t a bad thing to be kind of clueless.  I saw an upcoming event on the SMCLT (@SMCLT) site and decided that the topic sounded like something I might be able to apply in a number of different areas, so I figured what the heck.  Nevermind the fact that it was on my husband’s birthday…

So I registered, checked the details and then showed up.

Disclaimer: As someone who has to organize events on a regular basis, I give folks a lot of credit when it comes to details –  both big and small.  It takes a lot to put on an event. So my criticisms are made knowing they will both torque off the people who organized the event but also hopefully make next year’s event better.

I knew it was at the epiCentre theatre, but had to ask a couple of folks where I was going. Signs would have been super. I walked in and found a table full of name tags and a stack of papers with the logos of each of the Marketing Groups on one side and the names and bios of the panelists on the other. That was nice. Once I had my name tag and sponsor sheet I didn’t know what else to do. Am I supposed to officially sign in? Do I get a drink ticket somewhere? It’s 5:00 and I’m starving – what’s the deal on food?

Okay, so after asking around I make my way to the bar, order a glass of wine, double-tip the waitress because I didn’t realize tip was included until I went to sign the credit card slip and had already stuff a dollar in the tip jar. (As a former food service employee I understand the joy of a double-tip but I feel robbed whenever it happens to me as a customer.)  Then I found a friendly looking group of folks to talk to and I stayed in one place for the remainder of the hour. As servers passed by with hours de’ vours plates I pounced on each and every one of them for a sampling of whatever they were offering.  Did I mention I was starving? Gradually the area got too crowded with bodies and the servers gave up trying to circulate. Or they ran out of food. Or they were avoiding the greedy lady who gave them the stink eye every time they walked near her general vicinity.

Eventually it was time to make our way to the theatre/auditorium so the mob started slowly oozing in that direction.  There may have been a formal announcement or a “hey you guys” but I never heard it over the din of the schmoozing. The theatre was dark (as they usually are) but we found seats and settled in with… pens and paper? Where are all of the iPads and Laptops?  Okay, I can’t judge as I sat there with the ubiquitous black and white composition book I grabbed two seconds before running out the door. If I’d been guaranteed a wi-fi connection I would have dragged my handy-dandy MacBook with me.

Introductions were made, but to be honest it was so poorly lit in there I’m not sure I could recognize the panelists in a dark alley.  Oh wait – maybe that’s the only place I would recognize them.  Some front-lighting would have been super though.

Mr. Greg Collard, who is the WFAE News Director, was the moderator and he kicked the discussion off with a few general comments and questions about the recession (Are we in one?  are we out? did anyone understand when I said the word “recession” or are you all asleep out there?) while the audience was asked to write questions on a sheet of paper and pass them to the poor soul (I didn’t catch her name during introductions) who was running around the room collecting them and passing them along to Mr. Collard.

The questions were all over the place.  Everything from what to outsource, how to deal with the media/press, use of social media tools, measurement of performance, reaching out to underrepresented communities, and marketing when you have no budget to market.  There were some good answers, a few great answers, a couple zingers, some company plugs and some sidestepped questions. Honestly not a lot of it was worth quoting verbatim so to sum it up my takeaways from the four panelists were as such:

Scott Pacer, Marketing Communications Director, Duke Energy: Engage your audience. Don’t just talk to them; talk with them.

Scott Provancher, President, Arts & Science Council: Know your Customers. Figure out who they are, what they want, and how to engage them.

Lauri Wilks, Sales & Marketing, NASCAR Hall of Fame: Be creative. Don’t settle for the status quo – find ways to stick out from the crowd.  (and just kidding on that comment about letting your interns do your social media!)

David Oakley, Owner, Boone Oakley: Look inside your own organizations for resources before paying someone else to do the work.  (And if it’s not there then hire our firm to do it for you.)

The panelist discussions were interesting to listen to, but should not have taken up two hours of the event.  I was disappointed that the event never covered the actual market aspect of things.  There were five bullet pointed objectives stated in the event invitation and they only successfully covered one of them.  The objective I was most interested in, the one listed first, “Gain an expert assessment of the Charlotte market’s economic health, focusing on issues such as employment, tax revenues, public services, and job creation.” Yeah… that didn’t get covered.  Along with three other bullets, but that was the one that drew me to the event.  That’s why I went.

But the event was put on, in part, by Social Media Charlotte and I’ve got some relevant  suggestions for next year that I hope will be taken into consideration.

  1. I love that someone communicated an event hashtag but it wasn’t until we sat down in the theatre that it was really communicated to the broader group.  They did try communicating it on the Facebook page created for the event (I’ll get to that in a moment) but given that only 17 people were fans of the page at the point it was posted, I’m guessing less than 17 people saw it there.  I do know a few plucky folks asked during the networking portion of the evening, so there was some chatter going on before-hand.
  2. Once people figured out the hashtag, you know what would have been great? If the organizers had set up a Tweet Feed so those of us in the audience could see what was going on during the event – rather than staring at our phones.  That giant movie screen that was above the panelists heads?  Yeah, let’s make that interactive versus just staring at the marketing groups’ logos.
  3. Speaking of interactivity, as I mentioned earlier the audience was asked to write questions on a sheet of paper and pass them along to Mr. Collard.  It would have been great to poll the attendees ahead of time for questions to ‘wet the pipe’ so to speak, and then keep up with additional questions via twitter, the facebook page, e-mail, whatever electronic means they felt was appropriate at the time.  I felt so bad for Mr. Collard as he squinted in the dark at bad handwriting to make out the questions.
  4. Networking opportunities seemed to be the biggest draw for folks attending the event.  Unless I grabbed a business card or wrote down a name as I was talking to someone, I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with people after the event.  I suppose I could go look them up name by name on the event page, but would it hurt to let folks include a twitter handle or website address when registering?  Lyell Peterson, @93Octane, was the only one smart enough to force it into his name field when registering. (Lyell, where were your tweets during the event, btw?)
  5. A facebook page was set up for the event.  I’m not sure who decided to set up a page for an event, but it was really not the best use of this particular electronic tool.  Much less the fact that the existence of the page was not communicated until the event.  A link from the eventbrite page would have been a super addition.

I’m not the type of person to list off a bunch of points of improvement and say “good luck with that next time.” So please, by all means, call me out and tell me you’d love to have my help with the next one.  Or any of the other (currently) 912 members of SMCLT. Especially those tweeting their negative reactions right now.  That is… if you’re engaged with them and reading those comments.

Christy

Update 1/13/2011: If you’re interested in reading the play-by-play Q&A details check out Corey Creed’s update on TheJungleMap.com.  He did a good job summarizing the details.

Oh Platform, Oh Platform. Where for art thou, Platform?

Recently I shared my conundrum in choosing a blogging platform on which to start this new journey.  And while it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where I landed, what you might not be able to infer is why this was the choice I made.

As I stated, I’ve given just about every blog tool a try over the past decade or so.  Some are more intuitive, others have cleaner options, and yet others are just plain fun.  But I had to make a decision – was this a tool I ever had any expectation of needing tools and resources available only to professionals?  And that led me to the decision to set down roots permanently on WordPress.  And quite frankly that could never become a reality I am faced with.  I’m perfectly happy with this being my happy little place to record my own thoughts, musings and ramblings.  However, it would be a challenge to assist others with setting up and managing their own pages if I didn’t have something to show them.  And unlike the cobbler whose children had no shoes, I’d like to be growing and developing myself the same way I help others to grow and develop.

So that’s how the decision was reached.  No fancy charts or graphs – just some basic questions and straightforward analysis.  Sometimes simple is better.

Smartypants…

Ahhh New Year’s Eve.  Champagne, confetti poppers, and resolutions….

It’s the last day of the year and many people are putting together their list of resolutions.

Pop quiz: what did you resolve to do or not do in 2010?  Any idea?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.  Most of us wouldn’t.  It’s not that resolutions aren’t a good idea.  Everyone likes a fresh start and resolutions are the grown-up version of a do over.  But I have a few issues with them.

Personally, making that list of resolutions always makes me feel like I didn’t try my hardest or do my best this year.  And I’d like to think that I always put my entire self into everything I do.  So just the act of creating a resolution means that I am admitting I fell short. I may not have accomplished everything I wanted to, but you can be sure I gave it my all.

The other thing is that a year is a very long time, and why do we feel like we can do anything for a year?   These days we’re lucky to keep our attention on something for a few minutes, let alone keep up something hard for 365 days.  Because, let’s face it, if it were easy we’d already be doing it right? No one resolves to watch more television or eat more junk food.  Well, not anyone I’ve ever met… So why set the bar so high that we’re already doomed for failure before we’ve even dipped a toe into the new year?

However, it’s a tradition and many people will be setting their resolutions.  So here’s a challenge to you – why not set yourself up for success this year?

Rather than resolutions, which by their very nature sounds negative, I prefer to set goals. But you can’t just list off a bunch of goals and be done with it – there are guidelines for setting goals.  You may have heard of “SMART” which is an acronym that helps direct the creation of appropriate goals.

S – Specific

This might seem obvious, but you have to drill down into the goal to make it specific enough.  Don’t just say “I’m going to eat better” or “I will be a safer driver.” Instead specify that you will “Eat more whole foods and no fried foods” or “not text while driving the car.”

M – Measurable

A unit of measure gives you something to ensure you’re moving the dial towards your goal.  “I will give 10% of my earnings to charity” or “I will lose 25 pounds.”  But make sure you measure is…

A – Attainable

You can’t be expected to meet a goal that is impossible for you to reach.  So be realistic with your goals.  If you haven’t got a creative bone in your body, don’t plan your goals around becoming the next Picasso.  Do not set yourself up for failure before you’ve even started!

R – Realistic

This sounds a lot like “attainable” but it’s a different flavor of it. Maybe you’re barely scraping by and that 10% donation will get you in the poorhouse – and maybe donating your time would be a better option.

T – Time sensitive

The obvious answer to this might be “By the end of the year” but let’s not boil the ocean.  Split your time into manageable chunks and continuously measure your progress at the end of each interval.  If your goal is to lose 25 pounds, then you should theoretically be able to measure a loss of 2 pounds per month, or a half a pound each week.  You can’t approach your goals like a student with a research paper due the next day.  There’s no cramming in real life.

So it ends up being much more optimistic and refreshing sounding, doesn’t it?  My challenge to you is to set your SMART goals and continuously track your progress against them.  Maybe this time next year you won’t be racking your brain trying to remember what you resolved to do…because you forgot about those resolutions before the popped confetti ever hits the floor.

Bite the bullet…

As I stated in my post yesterday, I’ve been doing the blog thang for a while now…  Naturally when I started this new blog the first thing I did was make sure I was starting out on the best blogging platform available (at that exact point in time).  I wanted one that would allow easy posting, template customization, and integration of all of my favorite social media tools.  I’ve tinkered with quite a few of them in the past: Blogger, WordPress, Xanga, Posterous, Typepad (and the list goes on and on.) Why experiment with so many of them?  Because for me the learning opportunity is best achieved by biting the bullet, signing up, and playing around.

Having been around the block a number of times personally I decided to see what the self-professed experts were saying.  So silly me, I do the first thing I would expect anyone else would do… I googled it.

Then I laughed.  One of the top three (non-paid) results was a page titled “Seven Blogging Tools Reviewed” and it was from 2006.  Yeah…like that’s relevant.

Which is kind of funny to me because within the vast universe of technology tools available to us, things change in a heartbeat.  Love your Myspace page?  Say buh-bye ’cause all your friends just jumped ship and moved to Facebook.  Your current favorite location-based application is Foursquare?  That’s great but the people you want to connect with are all on Gowalla.  And so on…

And therein lies the rub.  We have all of these tools at our fingertips, but the casual user could get into a swirl of analysis paralysis trying to decide which bandwagon to hop on.  And if you’re a small business?  Forget about it.  You’re not just keeping up with your buddies – you’re trying to woo all of your current and future customers through the myriad of tools they are using!

I’m a self-professed newbie at all of this social media stuff.  But I know I’m in good company because in all honesty most of us are new to this because the technology hasn’t been around that long.  And quite frankly anyone can do what I did: bite the bullet, sign up and play around.  You may publish one “Hello World” post and never return but at least you tried it.

There is a lot of value in having someone play with those tools, understand your needs (either business or personal) and help guide you not only to the right tool but in the appropriate way to use that tool.  And that’s where I’m hoping to provide value to others.  I want to share my experiences, lessons and triumphs.  And along the way, I hope to make some new friends and peers.

Oh, and to state the obvious answer to the first question, this blog is hosted on WordPress, which is where I wound up.  More on that in another post…

Fresh starts, new beginnings, and another opportunity to fail miserably…

I’m making a fresh start.

Normally folks wait until the New Year to do this type of thing – setting goals, expectations, etc.  But not me, I like to do things a little differently.

I’ve been blogging since 2001 – before it was really known as blogging.  I started with a ‘site’ on Xanga when it first popped up.  I was one of the originals – led there under false pretenses via an e-mail sent by “Alice.” And let me just say that long before Facebook rolled out “Likes” Xanga came up with “Props”.  It was a fun little foray into what would eventually evolve into blogging, but I quickly tired of the cliques who would prop each other to the top of the blog roll and the community drama that ensued.  I left one final goodbye that April and never returned to the site again.

Since then it’s been one blog after another.  Different topics, different platforms.  Some public, and others kept private.  I was always trying to find that one thing that made each one better than the other.  With each attempt something just didn’t feel right, and each site was eventually left untended.  After a certain amount of time you can’t give CPR and expect things to spring back to life again.

And it finally hit me that I was trying to compartmentalize my life into blogging bits, rather than celebrating it for the diverse, schizophrenic, beautiful mess that it really is.

So this is a fresh start.  I’m turning off the other blogs (some of which haven’t been touched for years) and beginning anew.  It might not be pretty, and it will most certainly be a hodgepodge of the things in my life, but at least for the first time in a decade it will finally be me.

Buckle up.