Just Friggin' Peachy
Just Friggin' Peachy

business, digital strategy, & life in the #atl

To QuikTrip Or Not On Ponce De Leon?

This week, I want to post on the proposed QuikTrip on Ponce de Leon between Penn and Argonne Aves. Though the bulk of the conversation is happening on the local Nextdoor message board, I figure any discussion is good discussion. Plus, it gives me a reason to keep up with local development in my neighborhood.

The basics of the discussion is whether or not a currently undeveloped parking lot could be better utilized as a QuikTrip gas station, or can the neighborhood hold out for something more upscale?

On spec, I am general fan of anything that can help bridge the recent new developments near Peachtree with the up-and-coming Ponce City Market corridor. In fact, I think anyone in the neighborhood would back a developer that wants to step up and add value to Ponce over some businesses that might thrive off the seedier elements of the neighborhood.

On the other hand, I do see the points brought up by many of my neighbors. There are environmental, traffic flow, and security concerns that have to be dealt with not to mention the debate over the historic vs. modern character of Ponce de Leon, itself.

There’s even a debate about whether or not a QuikTrip might drive out the last vestiges of in-neighborhood businesses like L & M Service Market at 6th and Argonne. Just to put it out there, the defense of L & M is probably my strongest personal call to arms. I love that market and its owners and would rather the streets run red with QT slushy juice than see L & M shut down…just sayin….

Ultimately though, my opinion is just one of many. I’m going to try to make it to the public hearing at Jason’s Deli on 10th, Tuesday night at 8 PM. If you’re interested, I suggest you go to.

Until then, I’ll be at L & M buying up all their Whynattes just in case….hey, you can never be too prepared, right?!

Let’s Start A Shadow Marketing Campaign For The ASO!

If a symphony plays in midtown and no one is around to hear it, does it sound as beautiful?

Let me ask it another way…what does it take to translate art into a marketing campaign? Money? Resources? Media Attention?

The truth is that great marketing campaigns are never, and have never been built on big budgets. Sure money, resources and media attention helps but what really compels marketing to touch the very heart and soul of its intended audience is the passion and conviction of its creators.

This truth isn’t new. In fact, artists like musicians have relied on it for centuries to produce some of the most compelling “communications” in human history.

It’s no wonder then, that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is up in arms about it’s own marketing. After enduring an extended lockout, they are ready to show Atlanta why it is the great cultural epicenter of the south. You would never know it, though by looking at their marketing.

I’m not trying to pass judgement on whoever does the marketing for the ASO. However, I am interested in knowing what people that benefit and are inspired from the music of the ASO can do if they took brush to paper?

Starting today, I am going to publish one piece of marketing collateral for the ASO. A tweet, a Facebook post, a brochure, a flyer…something that says what I think the ASO means to me and to Atlanta. I am encouraging my friends in the marketing space to join in. Let’s create a shadow/grassroots marketing campaign for the ASO that helps them sustain their efforts and shows the Woodruff Arts Center we support arts in the community in a very real and tangible way.

Just to be safe, let’s set the basic standard that if we wouldn’t show it in our own professional portfolios, let’s not publish it. Post your creation with the hashtag #ASOgrassroots. Let’s see if we can even come close to creating marketing with the magic and conviction of the ASO musicians.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User – Wally Gobetz (via Creative Commons)

PS – Flickr is a great place to find photos to support your marketing collateral.  Just make sure it’s under the Creative Commons license!  

Dealing With Facebook’s New Promotional Content Penalty

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Late last week Facebook announced a significant change to its news feed algorithm as it pertains to promoted posts.

Though the change – slated to go live in Jan 2015 – will hit retailers and/or eCommerce sites the hardest, there are some key ways you can deal with this penalty before it costs you a dime:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The Rule Of Quality Content Still Stands

Facebook is making this change to crack down on pages that go for the “hard sell” with a direct call to action (CTA) in a promoted post. We’ve known this for a while, including their move earlier this year to eliminate “like bait.” As of now, Facebook is just trying to make it harder to get away with bad content by penalizing marketers that try to compensate with promoted posts.

Chances are if you’re creative and make your content stand out with personality, value to the reader (outside the CTA), and that appeals to the way users naturally share and converse on Facebook you’ll be fine.  If you’re {achem} more laid back about your content and it sounds a little too much like a billboard or a banner ad, you’re going to find it much more expensive to get your content read[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Avoid “Hard Sell” Keywords In Your Posts

For instance, if your post says “buy now,” “click here,” “enter our promotion,”  or similar CTAs, it will likely trigger the penalty. This includes promotions without a ton of context (i.e. sweepstakes vs. contests).

The good news is that this is not a deal-killer for promotions on Facebook.  You just have to think through how you make “the ask” for promotions and consider the venue.  It’s possible that Instagram, Tumblr or Twitter might make a better platform for a promotion depending on how explicit you need the CTA to be.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Make Ads Unique From Promoted Posts

This the easiest thing to avoid.  Facebook is now going to cross-reference your promoted posts and ads.  If the content overlaps, it will invoke the penalty and it will costs you more to reach the same amount of people.

My advice for this one is that if you have hard sells, use them in your ads.  Use your posts to tell a story, to highlight content, and/or highlight an issue.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Again, this penalty only affects promoted posts starting in 2015.  It does not mean promoted posts are going away but you may see impact on your ultimate reach numbers and cost.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Self Help Clickbait

How many of us have seen one of these lists (or similar ones) pop up on Facebook or Twitter?

  • 8 Traits of Truly Successful People
  • 5 Traits of Emotionally Happy People
  • 10 Things Stable People Don’t Do

They promise the secrets of eternal happiness and even, in veiled form, the keys to eternal wealth. It’s tempting, no-doubt but it plays on a very sinister side of our cynical brains. We don’t want to be helped but we’re glad to see examples of those who have been helped.

It’s like hearing a therapist from the other side of a wall just so you can claim you don’t actually “see” a therapist.

These articles aren’t help, they’re clickbait. Rather than luring you to look at llamas that look like Taylor Lautner, they want you to look at self help dogma. The authors of these articles want and need the clicks just as much as the Monster energy drink-addled millennials BuzzFeed calls writers.

It’s not that clickbait isn’t entertaining, it’s that there’s no real substance to it. Sure, I can read a biography about George S. Patton but does that mean I’m ready to command a battalion of tanks into a battle? For the sake of our brave veterans I sure as hell hope not.

Just by looking at a list, we cannot and should not measure ourselves in terms of our progress towards our life goals. We’re too diverse and our paths to happiness are too different.

You want advice? Talk to your best friend. Don’t have a best friend? Find a therapist. Can’t afford a therapist? Journal.  I guarantee that any of these are better than the clickbait you’ve been reading.

Moving On

 

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One year ago today, I was laid off. It was swift, it was unexpected and they handled it in the most unprofessional way imaginable.

For a while now, all I’ve wanted to is use this anniversary to close the book on the whole affair. After all, I am now in a better paying job with a company that is far more stable.

I should be able to move on but I can’t…

There is something deep inside of me crying out – particularly because I saw it happen time and time again to other people in the same organization.

I can’t tell you how many of these posts I’ve drafted and then thrown away. Would they make any difference? Probably not. They would make me feel better, though. Perhaps they might even help one or two people.

The truth is much different, though…

The truth is that the world will go on turning no matter what I say…

The truth is that the only way I can move on is to say “I forgive you.”

… … …

Oh, and I bought some of your domains and pointed them to a website with nothing but Alan Partridge playing air guitar to “Get Lucky”…

Now, I can move on.

PS – Just to show you “no hard feelings,” the domains are going back up to auction for purchase on Monday.  All proceeds from that auction will benefit the SHRM Foundation.

Happy Pride?

The festival known as Gay Pride and I have always had an unconventional relationship. Oh, we’ll tolerate each other in public. Behind each other’s respective backs, though? Our actual feelings towards each other vary widely from admiration to an acerbic questioning why each other exists.

Let me lay some groundwork for you: it’s never always been this way. At one point in time I was a flag-waving, gay history-obsessed HRC intern. I held attendance at Pride up as the ultimate in gay patriotism, second only in importance to voting for only candidates with a 100% equality score.

What happened though was reality. As I came out of the closet, I entered into the “real world” of gay culture. For those of you who don’t know, the truth about gay culture is a far cry from the pained artists and “out of the closets and onto the streets” activism that it might have once been.

“Gay Culture” as it exists now is a overly-commercialized attempt at reconciling our sexually rebellious past with an intense need to be liked by mainstream culture. It has morphed the concept of gay identity into a couture ideal guarded viciously by the club queens, bar fairies, and gym rats.

It’s possible I’m a little jaded, though.

The good news is that I’m not alone in my opinions. Louis Perlman, a year ago today, documented this phenomenon in his article “It Get’s Better, Unless Your Fat.”

Don’t get me wrong. Despite the fact that I am an – achem – not a thin girl, this is more than aesthetic ideals. It’s about what we stand for as a community and what we want to leave to the generations that come after us.

This brings me back to the concept of Pride. I chose to buy my first house in the shady, tree-lined neighborhood right in the epicenter of gay Atlanta. It was important for me to seek out a home where I felt surrounded by not just gay-friendly businesses, but also by like-mind Atlanta natives that feel a connection with the area and it’s past.

Of course, this also means that once a year, our neighborhood is flooded by queens and dykes from all over the southeast who want to revel in the three-day event that Atlanta Pride has become.

To them, it’s a carnival of culture where the overwhelming presence of corporate sponsors are just another way to collect free shit they can go back and hang on their OTP walls. They might even look fondly on all the rainbow beads and bottle openers branded with ID Lube and Bud Light and affirm to themselves that they are indeed a part of the “gay community.”

The fact of the matter, though is that we are more than corporate sponsors. We are the community of Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer and of Ruth Simpson and Elizabeth Birch. We are the modern carriers of the American legacy of civil rights. We can be out, proud, and frivolous at the same time that we are restless, politically engaged, and hungry to cultivate the amazing creativity and talent that have sprung from our struggle.

Let’s bring back the connection we have to the past and realize the rainbow flag isn’t just a pattern. It started as a binding of the diverse elements of our nature and support for the rainbow of diversity, of equality for all, not just some.

When you come to my neighborhood this year and someone wishes you a happy pride, think for a moment. Is it a come-on or is something more? For me, it’s important to wish you a Happy Pride as a reminder of our connection to each other and our collective responsibility to lift each other up.

Have a safe and a meaningful Pride, Atlanta.

What “Work Hard, Play Hard” Actually Means

Ever notice that companies love to talk about what kinds of perks they offer as a way of explaining their company culture?

For instance, they talk about “flex time” when they value loyalty and longevity.  When they value energy and hyperactive productivity, they talk about “cross-functional training.”  My favorite “perk pitch” though is when they say they “work hard, play hard!”

You hear this phrase a lot in the agency world.  Most people take this to mean that the culture is young, fun and driven. Companies talk about all the fun things they do like Thursday afternoon socials, wild and crazy holiday parties, and sometimes even cruises.

What it really means, though is that they company wants you to gloss over the time you spend in the office in preference for remembering the good times when they got you plastered.

In my experience, the companies that tout a “work hard, play hard” mentality use it to excuse a lack of attention and interest in the actual working environment.

Now, maybe this is something that other people knew, already. Perhaps its an accepted fact and people are perfectly fine excusing the 8 to 14 hours a day they spend in the office as long as they get to blow off that steam at the end of it.

To me though, this is a relatively new realization.  I say “relatively” because I stopped working at those kinds of companies when I stopped drinking. The least rewarding part of my job became the times I have to stand around during office parties watching other people make idiots out of themselves.

What I wanted in a work experience changed and I became a lot more cognizant of the time I spend in the office. To me, I want a company culture that works for a purpose and cultivates their employees talent with peer-to-peer development and a chance to explore your own career potential.

I’m not trying to disparage recreation with your co-workers. I’m really not.  I just find there’s something to this pattern I can’t ignore.

Photo Courtesy of Whatleydude

HoneyBubble Brings Awesome Bubble Tea To Atlanta

If you drive up and down Ponce as frequently as I do, chances are you’ve seen it at least once. The sign proudly proclaims “The Very First HoneyBubble On Earth!” A bold, ambitious statement for a little tea shop…or is it?

It’s easy to dismiss places like HoneyBubble as well-funded, good intentioned shops that pin their hopes too much on temporary fads. As evidenced by the cupcake fad of 201o to 2012; many try but few succeed.

My guess is though is that that HoneyBubble may just have a shot at bucking that trend and achieving the world domination their sign suggests.  Here’s why…

Let’s start with the basics. HoneyBubble is a purveyor of bubble (or boba) tea, a traditional a Taiwanese milk-based tea with tapioca balls at the bottom. Yes, I know it sounds odd but try to keep an open mind. Trust me, it works and it’s delicious.

My personal introduction to the amazingly, refreshingly gummy beverage was thanks to my friend Amanda. During my stint in Washington, DC we’d venture up to the burbs to shop at malls popular with the Asian-American community.

Amanda, you see, was/is a big fan of anything anime/comic book related. To her, these malls were an oasis of cool for her away from the increasingly gentrified (and overpriced) areas like Georgetown and Pentagon City. Case in point – they were hipster/harajuku cool before said sub-cultures were “cool.”

On our first trip out to these malls, Amanda insisted I had to try bubble tea. After looking at the odd, gelatinous balls resting at the bottom of the shrink-wrapped beverage, I tried it. I’ve been hooked ever since.

You see, bubble tea is more than a beverage. It’s a chill, refreshing snack with just enough weirdness to trump anything Starbucks can offer.

What’s great is that HoneyBubble takes bubble tea to the next level. Not only do they offer traditional, milk-based bubble teas, they offer “clear” bubble teas as well as gelato, hot tea and a variety of snack-able items courtesy of a partnership with Alon’s Bakery. They even have a variety of “bubbles” including tapioca, sweet aloe vera, and coffee gummies.

The result is that you can mix and match teas, flavors and beverage experiences to find the combination that suits your style.

I’m not going to lie. You can go wrong with certain combinations. For instance, I tried the coffee gummies instead of regular tapioca with a clear bubble tea and immediately regretted it. Your best bet is to stick with the traditional bubble teas, at least at first.

If the selection seems intimidating, the staff at HoneyBubble knows their stuff. This isn’t Starbucks and the the staff isn’t going to look down your nose at you if you ask questions. As you get familiar with the nature of bubble teas, you can expand your palette and then it’s off to the races.

What also makes me believe HoneyBubble has staying power is that it has created a space to socialize as cool as the beverages it serves. Too often cafés like this obsess over the food as a fad without thinking about creating a place you actually want to come back to over and over again.

HoneyBubble doesn’t just have once space but three distinct areas to lounge in. There’s the main room with a variety of seating options, the conference room style working space, and a patio. Each space is cute, well designed but thoughtful enough with the ambient noise to make it a place you want to hang out.

Located a short walk from the Beltline and across from the Claremont Lounge, HoneyBubble occupies it’s own little corner of character on Ponce. Parking can get a bit tight in front but they also have a lot in back accessible via Bonaventure Ave.

Traffic is brisk, particularly on sunny weekend afternoons, with many patrons opting to walk from either from the Beltline at Ponce City Market or from the Freedom Parkway Trail. The walk is about a block and a half from either direction and is more than worth it.

The net result is that HoneyBubble is one of my favorite places on Ponce.  For date nights, long exploration off the Betline, or just a casual drop-in to see what its like, I really want to encourage you to discover HoneyBubble for yourself.

Not only is their product great but they are capitalizing on doing a unique cafe right.  My hope, and my bet, is that they become a staple in the Poncey-Highlands community and they indeed are able to embark on their quest to conquer the world…or at least offer an alternative to cupcakes.

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My Life In Association Communications

When I joined Kellen, the leading management and communications company for industry trade groups, I knew my job wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Working with trade groups (aka associations) is lot like herding cats. Well…it’s kind of like herding cats, if the cats had the added disincentive to cooperate of anti-regulatory scrutiny.

Associations, by their very nature, are meant to appeal to the consensus. The association doesn’t take action until a majority of the members finds it in their best interests to cooperate. This makes movement on anything from issue advocacy to picking the font for their logo painfully slow. For someone used to working “at the speed of digital” this can be…let’s just say slightly frustrating.

The fact of the matter, though is when an association takes action it has the potential to move an entire industry. Once you do get a consensus, all of the members – more or less – have a vested interest in supporting the decision. Having the backing of not just one but sometimes dozens of Fortune 500 corporations helps a great deal in executing an industry-level agenda.

Working for Kellen also has the benefit of sticking me in the middle of some of the most talented communications professionals on the planet. I’m not joking!

These guys are like the Army Rangers of public relations. They don’t just deal with one issue or one company, they have to speak and advocate for an entire industry. Achieving and articulating that kind of consensus and while facing down a highly organized issue-opposition takes mad skills, not to mention patience and confidence.

Sure, Kellen works with more than just associations. In fact, our communications team has quite a few “individual” clients. These clients are less complicated and usually move at a pace akin to a “normal” agency environment. READ: “OMG…I need it now!!!”

Ultimately, a lot of the work we do is thankless outside the rarefied air of the representatives of the companies we work with. When we win, it reflects on our members rather than our firm. You almost never hear of Kellen in the news.

For agency veterans this can sound like a dreary existence. I assure you, though the work never lacks a challenge. What’s more, there’s an element of accountability that Kellen’s work has to have on behalf of its clients. For me, whenever you talk about measurement or tracking, I am all about that!

Associations aren’t the most exiting clients. The work is intense and it’s largely a behind-the-scenes job. The fact of the matter, thought is that not everyone can do it. It takes skill, mastery of industry-level dynamics, and a lot of patience.

However, when you’re effective, there is no better feeling in the world than knowing you didn’t just impact one business but multiple businesses. That’s why I do it and that’s why I’m proud to work at Kellen.

Blatant Sales Pitch

Just so you know, Kellen does work with non-Association clients. In fact, most of them value our industry-level focus. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to me.

The Flaw In Gallup’s Survey On Social Media Impact On Purchase Decisions

In the research equivalent to asking “did you eat the cookie?” Gallup makes a tenuous connection to real social media outcomes. The WSJ is happy to play along.

Why is it that businesses are still actively trying to disprove social media as a channel to reach consumers?

That’s the question I had to ask myself as I perused my digital copy of The Wall Street Journal, this morning.  Gallup, a noted consumer research firm, is releasing a survey today that says it speaks to the “real” impact of social media on consumer behavior.

Normally I am very enthusiastic about any hard data on consumer behavior – social media impacted or otherwise. There’s only one problem with this data: it’s self reported. In case you’re not a stat geek, self-reporting is the research equivalent of asking a little kid with chocolate smeared all over their face if they ate the cookie.

The gist of the research is that Gallup showed that consumer buying behaviors aren’t impacted by whether or not they follow or like particular brands.  The WSJ article then goes on to detail several major brands including Ritz-Carlton and how they are abandoning what was thought of as traditional social media marketing strategies.

In fairness, the Gallup survey is actually pretty solid. It doesn’t purport to represent heuristic research methods nor does it say that social media is a waste of money.  The WSJ does that job all on its own.

Here’s where my beef is: the headline of the WSJ article is Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype. A closer examination of the article yields that someone originally titled the article by its sub-head: Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans. How do I know this? Check out the URL…http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658.

What this discrepancy tells me is that an editor found more utility in trying to convince readers that social media is “failing” than the real story which is that your customers don’t care about the number of fans you have. (Side note…we needed a national, census-adjusted survey to tell us this?)

The WSJ is not dumb. The editors know what they are doing and they know what their readers want. In this case, they know their readers are inherently skeptical of social media so they give them what they want in order to lure them into reading the article. This kind of bait and switch is all well-and-good but it actually obscures the actual story, which is quality over quantity.

Like I said, I’m all for research. However, we shouldn’t confuse self-reporting with actual impact on consumer behavior, which has been documented copiously in peer-reviewed journals.

The Importance Of Measuring Content Quality

At first, it might seem like content quality is subjective and not really quantitatively measurable. The fact is, though that content quality is quantitatively measurable and has a HUGE impact your success, online.

Before discuss what exactly those measures are are, let’s talk about exactly why they are important:

1. Content Quality Scores Both Measure AND Impact The Traffic To Your Page

Think of this as a “catch 22” that you can actually impact. Content Quality Scores measure how relevant your content is based on the interest and validation of your online audience.  Content Quality Scores are also used by search engines to determine what content gets what traffic with better quality content receiving the lion’s share of the search traffic.

2. Content Quality Scores Also Impact How Much You Spend On Paid Search

Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad once said “advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.”  I’ll add onto that statement by saying the more unremarkable you are (e.g. the poorer your content quality) the more expensive your advertising will be. Sure, you can throw money at anything and make it work but because Google uses Content Quality Scores to determine search ad pricing, it might take 3 to 10 times more money to push the same volume of traffic to a page or site with poor Content Quality Scores vs. a site with high quality scores.

Now, we can talk about the scores themselves…

Domain & Page Authority

This is a score I use commonly in digital public relations because it gives me a measure, site to site or page to page, of what users think is useful.  If a user thinks a site or page will be useful, they link to it, share it or cite it in their own work.  Domain & Page Authority aggregate all of those factors into a single score of 1 to 100.  The important thing to note is that there is no single “great” number when you’re talking about authority measures.  They are a site-to-site, page-to-page, or even a measure of the same site/page over time.  Here’s an example:

A Domain Authority score of 40 might pale in comparison to a site like Wikipedia, which has a domain authority of 87. However, if your primary competitor is coming up with a Domain Authority score of 30, that means users are finding your content more useful and thus with more authority than your competitor’s site.

Quality Score

If this measure sounds rather generic its because it is.  Every search engine, comparison tool, and ad network has its own way of measuring quality. Though there are many, many sites that offer content quality scores but my favorite is the one provided by Raven. Raven tools aggregates several different data sources including Moz, WordStream, AdWords, MajesticSEO and CALAIS as well as meta-data from the site itself. By using multiple data scores, I’m able to get a pretty darn good idea of trustworthiness and a user-based measures of content quality.

Both of these scores will come up in conversation when I talk to my clients about how well the content on their site or page is doing.  My advice is to find a quality score you like and pull the current scores of your client’s web sits so you can proactively discuss how you can improve their content quality.

Of course, this is to be combined with ensuring that you eliminate technical barriers to search visibility but that’s for another time.

How To Make Social Media Conferences Not Suck

You can call me an occupational elitist, an intellectual snob or even just a plain old hatter but the fact is that today’s social media conferences are a waste of time, money and talent. Not only is the programming for these events woefully uninspired, the ones I have recently attended actually seem to make the problems of lack of innovation and accountability in social media worse.

As an example, let’s take last week’s Digital Summit here in Atlanta. The concept itself is fantastic; put on a nationally-relevant social media conference in a city that is fast becoming a hotbed for start-ups and corporate innovation. The only problem with that plan is that, of the speakers that actually showed up, most seemed to be more interested in patting themselves on the back than discussing the nuances of execution.

At one point, I even tried to follow-up with one of the speakers about the details of a “case study” they presented. I was curious about what he had done differently in his campaigns and began to try to discuss the particulars with him.  It turns out that he hadn’t actually achieved any results, yet. He said the chart was more “illustrating a theory” and that he didn’t deal with actual execution.

This pattern repeated over and over again throughout the two-day conference. Representatives of major social media sites or agencies would get up on stage, talk about their company and then tell grandiose but detail-absent stories about their “amazingly successful” campaigns.

I’m trying really hard not to hate here. I’ve been to plenty of great conferences where this isn’t the case but the fact is that it’s easy to present a case study about a popular brand backed by campaign funded by a truckload of money.  What about the challenges you faced getting there, though? What were the client objections you had to overcome? How did you track your results to an actual impact on their business?

Speakers at social media conferences aren’t going to talk about these things because that’s not what these conferences are set up to do. Instead of discussing how to make things better and setting up an event where social media professionals can help each other, these conferences have become exercises in vanity. In fact, many conferences like Digital Summit spend more time on sponsorships and stage decorations than they do vetting and arranging programming.

It’s ironic that social media conferences have turned into the exact thing social media hates most: tightly controlled, highly polished environments where speakers talk at, rather than with participants.  

Social media evolves so quickly. Time and financial resources for professional development is so scarce. Why wouldn’t we focus on setting up open exchanges of information?

To me, there are three very simple things conferences like Digital Summit can do to, for lack of a better term, not suck…

1. Encourage Presenters To Be Human

Instead of telling us how great you are, tell us what challenges you overcame that made your campaign great. If you don’t have a story to tell about innovation or dealing with the tough realities of client/brand relations then find another venue.

2. Fewer Lectures, More Interaction

One of the things I love about the un-conference model is that it encourages the attendees to participate, present and give active feedback in the sessions. Sure, I love listening to big, keynote speakers talk about what’s next in the industry but that should be desert, not the main course.

3. Create Separate Tracks For Paid Sponsors

I understand that sponsors play an important role in putting on events and there’s definitely value to their presentations. However, just like we do with sponsored content in social media, let’s call these sessions what they actually are: promotional content aimed at customer acquisition. After all, if you’re asking attendees to pay for the privilege of being sold to, at least do them the favor of being transparent about it.

When social media was first attracting real professionals, attending a conference was the most exciting thing you could do.  Not only were there great ideas and presentations, but there was a camaraderie among the attendees.  Even sponsors were humble enough to send their best teams to learn something new.

Maybe, just maybe if we talk about the realities, difficulties and aspirations of using social media to change minds and engage customers, we can rekindle some of that excitement. Until then, I am going to be very reticent to lay out any more of my money, or my company’s money on conferences that are more self-serving than anything else.

New Marketing Rule: Fight The Urge To Push The Button

Oftentimes, when marketers fail it’s not because of they got the message wrong. It’s because they were too damn lazy to do it right.

Take Sponsored Posts, for instance. Facebook has made them powerful, affordable and so, SO easy.  All you do is click that little “BOOST” button on the bottom right hand corner.  It’s just so tempting, isn’t it?! BOOST your post and all your organic reach problems will go away. BOOST and you never have to say “you’re sorry” in a KPI report.

Sure, there are reasons that Sponsored Posts work but here, elegantly in a single photo, Tom Fishburne illustrates why that kind of thinking is folly:

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Tom has a little lighter touch than I do but then again, I’ve met these types of marketers in real life and its astounding to hear them talk about what they think works with audiences. The fact is that the above illustration demonstrates a critical gap in what marketers want to accomplish and how much energy and thought they are really willing to put in, in order to make that happen.

For instance, what if that Subway post accompanied a sponsored partnership with a weight loss message board.  Yeah, remember message boards? They were social media before media was social.  They still exist and tend to have some of the most on-point opportunities for marketers to engage with target audiences.  The problem is that its nearly impossible to engage as easily in message boards as it is on Facebook.

This is where footwork comes in.  If marketers think about where the conversations occur  and exactly what they can do to bring value to the conversation, they would realize that they can’t just phone it in when it comes to consumer engagement. Producing content, engaging with gatekeepers, crafting sponsorship opportunities in unconventional medium are all examples of things that are a major pain in the a$$.  The thing is that it works!

Time and again, I’ve seen the investment in knowing, understanding and crafting approaches specifically for your audience.  Yes, it takes more time, sometimes more money and definitely more brain power than throwing sponsored messaging at a wall and seeing if it sticks. You know what? So does anything worth having.

So I say to my fellow marketers its time to stop being so lazy. Put the time and effort in and see how that works out for you.

PS: Yes, that BOOST rant was also so I could feature the Ren & Stimpy reference. You’re welcome.

Two Perennial Truths About Online Influencers

Working with public relations professionals, I’m frequently asked about pitching online influencers and how that differs from traditional journalists.

Though my advice has evolved over the years based on the continual evolution of the blogosphere, there are some things that remain the same. In fact, there are two truths I come back to again and again that any online professional should know:

1. Not All Online Influencers Are Bloggers (And Not All Bloggers Are Online Influencers)

Particularly when dealing with issues rather than products, influencers can and should be defined as anyone that can sway the opinions of others.  When it comes to the online space, there are plenty of examples of influencers in non-blogging platforms like Twitter, Message Boards and even on Social Bookmarking sites.  The ways you can approach these influencers are VERY different than the way you would approach a journalist.

2. Not Every Online Influencer Wants To Get Paid

If you’ve been in the online PR space for any length of time you have heard tales of Mommy Bloggers and how much they command in terms of payment for their cooperation.  Though there are plenty of examples that prove this stereotype valid, there are plenty of other online influencers that don’t do what they do for money.

In most cases, they exist because of a higher cause which is GREAT news for certain clients.  As long as we can understand what motivates them and then create adequate content and pitches that speak to their needs, they are not only cost effective but also very much a valuable part of your public relations offense.

Perhaps these truths are more self-evident than they may seem.  Honestly though, if you’re a PR professional, these are two things you probably want to keep in mind, if only to remind you of going back to the basics.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Elvert Barnes

Why Search & Social Are Now (Pretty Much) The Same Thing

I’ve never been one of those guys that drank the “SEO Kool-Aid.”  To me, technical tweaks and keyword-loading were always, and continue to be, an excuse for crappy content.

Thanks to recent patents filed by Google regarding their search criteria/algorithms, the rest of digital humanity is slowly catching on. For a not-so-brief explanation of what I mean, Moz.com has done a brilliant job covering the news and detailing what these patents mean to digital marketers.

Since Moz does a lot better job explaining the technical implication of the patents, I’ll stick to what I do best – connect the dots to businesses’ bottom line.

What this means for business is that your website strategy and your social engagement strategy are now, pretty much, the same thing.

Even casual mentions of your brand without direct links are now being considered in the criteria of where your website comes up in search rankings.  Given the fact that 95% of all traffic on the web is driven by the top page of search, this is a big friggin’ deal.

Not only does your content have to compel consumption the websites with the most traffic are now going to be the ones that can compel the most conversation, as well. Even for B2B brands, the B2B brands that can get people talking are the ones that will get the traffic, not to mention the sales.

From a measurement perspective, this news underscores the importance of keeping tabs on how many mentions your brand has, online and finding ways to increase that total volume.

Sure, you can play around with Google Alerts but trust me when I tell you that you need detailed data to this effect. Personally, I swear by Netbase even though you really do need to know a little bit about brand research in order to make the most out of it.

I have no doubt that we’ll see more of this type of news in the future.  The implications however, will remain the same – don’t settle for temporary fixes, just create better content.  This advice appears to be relatively simple but, like I said, there are a ton of lazy-ass marketers out there that still love their SEO Kool-Aid.

To them I say “keep doing what you’re doing ’cause you keep me looking great!”

How I Learned To Give Up & Take MARTA

I will admit that as a native Atlantan, I have grown up with the kind of mass hysteria we’ve seen in the last 18 hours. However, enough is enough. As of 5:12 PM on Tuesday I was struck by a bolt of reason that has, now and forever, changed my view of Atlanta and the snow.

First, A Little Background

On Tuesday around 1 PM the snow was just beginning to fall and I headed out for a “farewell” lunch for a co-worker.

The roads weren’t that bad, neither was the traffic and so I proceeded to a restaurant right across from Perimeter Mall. I will admit, there is no good reason to be anywhere near Perimeter Mall at any time of the day or night but it was for a co-worker so I capitulated….BIG MISTAKE. If Perimeter Mall traffic is bad at rush hour, think about what happens during inclement weather.

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It Was The Best Of Atlantans, It Was The Worst Of Atlantans

In just over 3.5 hours, I traveled approximately .25 Miles from my point of origination. In that time, I saw the best and worst of my fellow Atlantans. In general, people were level-headed but I saw a few motorists on the verge of hoping out of their cars to berate fellow motorists. Not a pretty sight and, I have to say, a little disheartening.

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However, I did see some amazing compassion. Namely, people were helping each other in ways you would never expect. I saw one gentleman walking from a gas station to the parking lot that was the side-streets to get gas for a mother with kids in her SUV.  They didn’t know each other but he had a gas can in his car and she needed it help – it was as simple as that.

I even saw one motorist pull up beside a stranded car to offer a jumpstart.  At first, I was thinking they must be crazy – now two lanes were blocked! However, that motorist ended up not only helping out the stranded car but re-opened the lane that had been blocked by that stranded car.

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My Moment Of Clarity

Somehow in that excruciating 3.5 hours I managed to make my way to Hammond Drive. Not the worst option to cut across and get to Mount Paran, I figured. It was then, right after I passed the Best Buy/Big Box strip on my left that I realized nothing was moving in any direction…except for MARTA.

Ah yes, MARTA. That transit option most of us make fun of or only use in case of football games and/or the Peachtree Road race. Despite the gridlock MARTA was still running. I looked at that train and suddenly I knew what to do!

After a couple quick couple of turns…some of which were probably illegal…and some nice motorists that let me cut across an intersection I was able to duck into the MARTA parking deck. I parked, grabbed my emergency walking mocks from the trunk and headed up to the train platform.

Not surprisingly, there were dozens of other motorists that had the same idea. When the train came roughly 6 minutes later, we hopped on, sat down and enjoyed the ride! It took 20 minutes to get from the Dunwoody MARTA Station to Midtown Atlanta. When I arrived this is what I saw:

It was a beautiful sight. Once I got back to my house, the total travel time was less than 40 minutes!

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Lesson Learned

Though MARTA won’t be my primary mode of transportation, I have to say I am going to use it much more often. In certain weather, there’s just no downside to taking MARTA. Hopefully more people will come around to that idea and MARTA will get the support it needs to become a better system that can become a mainstay in many more Atlantans’ commutes.

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