Notes and Quotes from PodCamp Boston 4: Social Media Grows Up

Developing new media for your audience that fulfills their needs, while measuring how these new technologies meet your own business goals

This weekend I attended PodCamp Boston, a community driven conference for new media professionals. In attendance were podcasters, publishers, corporate branding professionals and media makers themselves.

I’ve been to a few PodCamps now, two in Boston and one in New York, and I have to say, this year had more of a jaded vibe than years past. Rather… this year had a more mature audience, with much larger goals in mind.

Let me explain.

In years past, everyone was excited about social media, new media and the “free love” vibe that spread through the conference. People would exchange Twitter names and develop deeper friendships that would develop through social networks until the next live event (or impromptu coffee meetup).

This year, the vibe was a little different. Some might even say corporate. One person I talked to told me that they had gotten over forty new followers during PodCamp. “I don’t even know these people, why would I follow them back?” he said.

Coming from someone within the social media circle, I took that as quite the surprise. So after further inquiry, he said that he didn’t feel that meeting someone for half an hour and having a good conversation meant that they should follow him on Twitter and thus, be followed back so that he could “listen to their life story”. He said that he might check them out on Twitter, but unless they were delivering information that was relevant to him, he wouldn’t follow them back. This is only one of several people I talked to who had the same outlook.

So, is this officially the year where there is an overabundance of people on social networks, especially on Twitter? Is this the point when people have started seeing Twitter as a content delivery method, rather than a social platform?

I’d like to hope that I was just talking to the wrong people. I happen to enjoy the conversation as do most, less elitist people I know. But let’s remember that social media lets you create your own goals, and not everyone’s goals are inline with one another.

This of course wasn’t the only kumbaya social media element that was squashed at PodCamp this year. Personal branding was also attacked during an impromptu hallway session that included social media maven himself, Chris Brogan.

The thoughts from those in the group were that your personal brand can only carry you so far. Robert Scoble, another very iconic Twitter person known by most people involved in social media likely brought tons of brand awareness for his former employer, publisher Fast Company. But the issue, said the group, was that he wasn’t making them money.

So in other words, if Oprah Winfrey, who has an obvious personal brand, lost weight with Subway and became their new spokesperson, but wasn’t increasing sales, Subway would have no need to keep her. If people identified more with former heavyweight Jared, and he brought in more sales as a more believable spokesperson, then Subway would keep him, as they have.

“I can’t wait for all of these personal brands to burn up in flames”, said Chris Brogan. He followed it up by explaining that the bottom line is that whatever you do needs to make money for the company you’re working for.

In publishing, we actually live on the opposite side of that fence. We don’t generally associate personal brands with our publications except in the form of writers and editors. When we do associate a person with our brands, it’s when they are the primary voice of our brand. But what happens when a publication loses the face of their brand? In some cases, it could be more detrimental to publishers than say, Subway.

When someone reads a blog every day, written by the same person, they develop  a connection. When this connection is delivered further through social media, it’s hard to disconnect the link to the person from the brand.

If Kathy McCabe of Dream of Italy decided to sell her newsletter, would her readers miss her writing for the newsletter? Would her @DreamofItaly Twitter followers still follow that account, or would they follow her to a new account? If she started writing for a travel magazine, would they start reading that magazine, or would they continue to subscribe to her former publication?

These are all questions you have to ask yourself when you decide to associate a personal brand with your publication. For Kathy, it’s important to associate her personal brand with the publication because it’s her publication, and it’s her primary voice. For Fast Company, it wasn’t beneficial for them to have a single voice for their magazine.

When someone’s personal brand outshines the publication, you’re looking at a major disconnect that’s neither beneficial or profitable.

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Not likely the largest take-away you thought I’d get from PodCamp is it?

Personal branding and the future of jaded social media users is certainly not my only take-away from PodCamp. I can honestly say that having gone to many conferences, I have the most insightful and thought-provoking conversations at events like this.

Surrounding yourself with “thought leaders”, as they call them, can give you a huge to-do list once you walk away.

At a lot of conferences you can only hope that you’ll get one valuable take-away or network with one person who makes the event worth your while. I was lucky enough to come up with five take-aways and meet dozens of worthwhile people who inspired and influenced me.

Here are my top five take-aways from PodCamp Boston:

1. Video is possibly the most effective method for building (or destroying) trust.

This is a simple take-away, but there’s plenty of depth to it. The amount of personality that video can bring to your brand is obvious. HubSpot, an inbound marketing software company has been in the market for three years. The thing is, I (and many others) thought they were a new company, founded within the last year or so.

Want to know why? Because it was recently the one-year anniversary of HubSpot.tv, their weekly videocast that happens every Friday at 4pm. It’s when they started this funny and smart weekly web show that their brand awareness started to increase.

The difference between the HubSpot session I attended (on how to incorporate B2B video into your business) and other sessions, was the feeling of a pre-existing relationship. Everyone in the room clearly felt that they already knew the speakers. Nobody was shy. Everyone was engaged.

My biggest take-away from HubSpot and their success with video was that perfection does not equal good online video. They recommend not using scripts because it’s more stressful and loses personality, and they also recommended recording live because it doesn’t require editing.

On the other hand, if you start delivering video, possibly with the wrong personality, or without the feel of an authentic dialog, you can actually lose brand reputation. When the goal is to build trust, do what you do best, be human.

I posted a little video of this session, which you can watch here.

2. Social networks have no value whatsoever except for what people bring to it.

Chris Penn, PodCamp co-founder, emphasized paying attention to what’s happening right now. He suggested that Search, RSS, API’s, Data and Trust are the elements that are coming to be some of the most important things to your business right now.

He emphasized making connections and building trust while social networks are still in their infancy. “The window of opportunity is narrow”, he explained, which goes back to what I was saying earlier about Twitter users who don’t want to follow people anymore.

There was a time when close friendships grew from Twitter, but the gate is closing and it’s slowly turning into more of a content delivery platform. That’s good for content delivery, but not so good for relationship building. Depending on your goals, this could be a concert that’s about to sell out with a band that won’t be back on tour anytime soon.

The best tip that came from this session was from Penn on how to be successful on social networks. “You don’t have to be ON social media to be successful IN social media. Instead, create something awesome and social networks will take care of it for you. It will spread. Spend more time ‘doing awesome’ and less time on Twitter and Facebook.” Again, another golden nugget you never would have heard in 2008.

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3. Taking digital delivery more seriously means additional revenue and less production.

This is clearly not the first time we’ve talked about digital delivery, but it’s the first time I’ve been in a room with a best-selling author (John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye) who wishes publishing companies would sell his book for less, so that he can make more money.

The discussion there is that in the online world, people are stealing content. They’re using sites to download content illegally and they’re passing your paid content around. By making it more affordable online, you’re letting the user decide if they want the hassle of stealing your content, or if they prefer true ownership.

The iTunes store has made music easy to buy, easy to download and at the price of only a dollar. You can buy a CD online for only $10, or you can buy it in store for $17. Some people will want a hard copy, but many people increasingly prefer to buy a product as soon as they hear about it. When the price is affordable, it makes the decision that much easier.

In a session called “Will the Kindle Save Reading”, moderated by Len Edgerly, a very enthusiastic group talked about the future of digital publishing. You can listen to it online or download the discussion.

While there is plenty of interesting conversation in that podcast, which I’d recommend listening to, one of the biggest take-aways I got from the session in regards to publishing was to put your blog up on the Amazon Kindle. Edgerly noted that you won’t make a million dollars doing it, but it’s a new revenue stream that you didn’t have before, and it’s effortless. You can post your own blog for the Kindle here: KindlePublishing.Amazon.com.

4. There are more tools than you can possibly use to host and track online video.

Even though it has taken some time, video really is starting to come into fruitition for many people and companies. Now that Google has introduced universal search, videos are being indexed and MRSS has become the new RSS, used to syndicate media files and upload to Google video.

For the first time, search engines are being used as a delivery method for video, just like other content.

I can’t narrow this take-away down to one session because there were so many tools that people mentioned during the event, but there were several tools that were mentioned over and over that make it easy for you to start distributing the video you create.

TubeMogul.com was the most popular tool mentioned. This service will distribute your video to all of the top video-sharing services that you want to use. All you have to do is sign up with all of the individual services on your own, and TubeMogul will use your login credentials to post the video and its meta information to each of those sites. TubeMogul also offers analytics, which tells you about who’s viewing your videos and how they’re viewing them. Paid accounts get even more tools to promote, track and manage video content.

Blip.tv was another site recommended by those doing longer video podcasts or webshows, not only for the ability to create larger sized videos but for the plethora of analytics they offer.

YouTube.com was still recommended by many podcasters not only for its reach to their obviously huge audience, but also for the metrics that are built in. YouTube Insight and YouTube Partner Program offer you a look into how your videos are being viewed and also allow you to share in revenue-generating opportunities.

Apps for live/news streaming included Qik and UStream for taking video outside of the usual framework of an inhouse studio.

5. It’s almost possible to measure social media engagement.

So we are the babies of social media, and social media metrics are still a moving target, but one day there will be an effective way to measure social media with the same ease that we measure website traffic and other analytics.

In the meantime, there were several sessions I attended that attempted to solve the question that is, “how can I tell if social media is working”?

There are plenty of goals you can set for yourself, but first you must determine your highest priorities. Are you using social media to generate more word of mouth? Increase customer loyalty? Bring outside ideas and feedback into the company? Generate leads and business contacts?

Once you’ve identified your main priorities, you can use those as indicators as to how well you’re doing in social media. Most people I talked to were using tracking codes on every link they used on the web.

One presenter said that if your goal is to build incoming links, you should set yourself a goal of generating 10 inbound links a day. It can be your own links that you drive from third-party websites or social networks, but they should encourage re-posting and links back to your website from bloggers and others.

One presenter, Wayne Kurtzman who has worked for many small and multinational corporations, bluntly concluded that metrics are “useful for BS, not decision-making”, and that you have to make your goals inline with what’s right for your users.

Kurtzman also said that “an inordinate amount of page views don’t necessarily mean that people really like you, it means they couldn’t find what they were looking for”. In other words, unique visitors is a much more legitimate metric to watch.

The major difference between the web and social media measurement is that the web deals with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of behavior, where social media deals with the KPIs of ideas, thoughts and experiences. The key is to measure the building blocks of interaction, such as:

  • Are people sharing your content? Where are they sharing it? What are they sharing?
  • Are people linking to you? What are they linking to? Is it what you want them to link to?
  • Are people talking about you? Are they saying positive things or negative things? Are you responding to them?

Some tools that were mentioned on this topic were TweetGrid, Monitter and PRmetrics for tracking mentions of your business online.

The metrics shared for social media are not unlike your own website analytics. The key is to define what your goals are and see if you are improving.

If your goal is to drive more email conversions, make sure your social media strategy includes giving away free products that ask for an email address in exchange for the product. Attach a promotion code to your link, and use a link shortener and tracker like bit.ly so that it’s easily passed on. Watch your conversions.

If your efforts are not converting well, try variations on the text you use to surround your link, or try new products to promote. You can’t be everything to every audience, so accommodate the audience you’re working with.

 

Comments

    Amanda your leading comments were interesting to me. Over two years ago Twitter was a small pool party of early adopters in marketing, technology, PR, SEO and similar fields. Now it’s like a July 4th party in Boston, NYC, D.C., Chicago, L.A. and 1000 other cities.

    With this increase in numbers there has been an increase in diversity of participants. There has also been a lot of spammers and scammers arriving and flooding the place. So the “new and few” in social media are having to adjust to the scene becoming a larger party.

    The early on idea of following everyone back is wearing thin on a lot of folks. People are looking for value. For some that is business related content. For some it is more social and for most it is a mix of the proportion of their liking. It used to be that most folks that followed me were in a similar circle of interests, while today I honestly puzzle at why some follow me. And I don’t automatically follow back anymore based on subject matter mostly.

    My simple observation is that #pcb2 was a lot of t-shirts and shorts, while I showed up in a sports coat being my first year. This year I was in shorts and a short and there were plenty of loafers walking the halls. I smartened up the second day.

    I see these all as “growing up” changes in a young industry. I met plenty of new people and witnessed and participated with old timers welcoming newcomers by talking with them and answering questions and even offering phone calls after PodCamp was over.

    I didn’t see anything jaded. I did see a maturing. More people are speaking, publishing and participating in other ways instead of just talking. And plenty are continuing to share freely.

    And, yeah, I always thought that personal branding was a bit of an ego trip. Like Chris Penn said, be awesome. That is enough. 😉

    Reply

    Hello Amanda,

    It was nice to meet you at Podcamp and I like your synopsis. It was my first year at Podcamp and I must say that I had a much different perception and didn’t sense any ‘jaded’ energy. Actually, it was one of the most comfortable conferences I’ve attended. It’s possible that I’m still floating on the “free love” vibe as social media is still relatively new to me.

    Thank you so much for the reviewing the some of the comments such as Chris Penn’s “be awesome.” I didn’t take very good notes and I simply acted like a sponge in an experiential way. I’m still going through the stack of cards of people I met (that’s how I found you as a matter of fact).

    You write beautifully and I’ll subscribe right now. Take care!

    Reply
    Amanda M.

    @Jim – I think you said it more eloquently than I did, by saying social media is growing up. Where there used to be a small circle, there’s now a much larger circle, and thankfully, is being taken more seriously than it once was. I was happy to meet so many people from “big brands” at PodCamp, whereas even last year I only met a few. Shows that people really are starting to listen to what we’ve been talking about for years now. 🙂

    @Dan – It was great it meet you too! 🙂 You’re absolutely right, PodCamp is definitely the most comfortable event you can attend! It’s one of the few conferences you can go to where everyone is headed in the same direction. I hope by saying jaded, it wasn’t construed as a negative comment, I think Jim put it better than I did in that PodCamp is growing up and we’re starting to take social media and the business aspects of it much more seriously.

    Reply

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