Bring on the Content at SXSW 2012!

The guts of this post were cross-posted from colleague, Meredith Owen’s, fabulous write up on the WCG blog. Big thanks to her for doing the heavy lifting on this.

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s that time of year again. Yes the time where all of your social media friends flood your Twitter stream and Facebook walls with pleas to vote for this panel or that panel at the grand daddy of all digital/social media conferences, South by Southwest (SXSW). While some people look at this as a nuisance, I take it as an opportunity to look at trends in the space. I also like to keep my eye out for new faces and voices in the world of digital/social.

To that end, a number of my colleagues at WCG have submitted panels this year. All of them look great on paper and having listened to most of them present, I can tell you that it would be worth your while to vote any/all of them through. I’ve also included my panel in the mix. In addition to the one I’ve submitted below, I am also lucky enough to be in the running with friends, Tim Walker, Kate Brodock and Troy Nalls for a panel titled, Down in Front! How to Control Bad Fans. While SXSW only allows panelists to sit on one session, I’m hedging my bets to increase my odds. I’d be thrilled to get the thumbs up on either of the two panels.

Without further ado, here are the eight panels submitted by us WCG-ers:

  • Ultimate Healthcare Reform – Reshaping Our World – Bob Pearson, WCG’s Chief Technology & Media Officer, sits down with Jeff Arnold, founder of WebMD and Sharecare, for an epic discussion on how the technology leaders at SXSW can take people from information to action to create healthier world.
  • Social Media…A Responsibility of WHICH Department? –Matt Snodgrass tackles the elephant in the room during this solo presentation that will dissect various industries and companies to examine where social media responsibility should lie.
  • Friending Pharma: Patients, Industry & New Media – Last Monday was a big day for pharma too. WCG Director Brian Reid joins a sundry team of health influencers including Pfizer VP Ray Kerins, Cancer Health Activist and Patient Expert Alicia Staley, and diabetes bloggers and patient advocates Kerri Sparling and Allison Blass as they examine the risks and benefits of connecting patients and biopharma companies online.
  • My Doctor Poked Me. Giggidy! – Anecdotal evidence suggests that health care providers’ use of social media is in the early stages of an explosion.  Social media analysts Andy Booth and Naimul Huq sit down with long-time MD and leading blogger Dr. Bryan Vartabedian to explore how social media is changing the future of the doctor-patient relationship.
  • Social Networks are Killing the Company Org Chart – Every company has an org chart – but we all know intuitively that work is done based on relationships and connections across the organization.  Mapping those connections can reveal a whole new world to smart corporations. Greg Matthews (a former HR exectutive) and Humana’s Director Learning Innovation Brian Foye explain how social media can map and measure the real corporation underneath the org chart.
  • Inside Out: Internal Social Media & Big Business – Industry leaders Brian Snyder, Jonathan Mast and Blair Klein join WCG Director Brad Mays to bring together the collective insight of some of the biggest corporate brands on best practices for using social media for internal collaboration and productivity.
  • Future of Location Marketing: Dummies Perspective – 2012 marks the three-year anniversary of Foursquare’s launch at SXSW.  Location-based gurus Aaron Strout and Mike Schneider will walk through the 5 golden rules of location-based marketing and how to leverage the “there” there.
  • Social Media Strategies of Top Tweeting Businesses – WCG’s Ricardo Guerrero understands the business of Twitter- if fact, he created most of Dell’s Twitter accounts, which generated $6.5M of revenue in their first 2.5 years.  During this panel Ricardo will examines the top 1,000 business Twitter accounts to analyze whether or not Twitter success translates across social media channels.
In addition to some of these potentially awesome panel submissions, I also have another seven I am excited to see. In no particular order, here they are:
  • The community revolving door: staying a step aheadWelcome to the biggest challenge presented by community. From continuing to seek out new members, to finding the next evangelist, membership evolution can be an unexpected challenge, but so is content evolution and most importantly, strategy evolution (Heather Strout, Farland Group, Jim Storer, The Community Round Table, Mark Wallace, EDR and Mike Pascucci, Ektron).
  • Aristotle Shops @WalMart | CSR, Ethics & Community – Today, Aristotle would be a Wal-Mart greeter, or perhaps manage its online community. What happened? The company changed their vision when CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. launched a massive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaign to, in his words, “…create a better story”. (Kyle Flaherty, Breaking Point Systems & Alex Hahn, Vox Global)
  • The Facebook Customer Service Challenge for Brands – Managing customer service on a Facebook Page is a messy proposition, particularly for large businesses and brands. Increasingly impatient customers and fans are flocking to the Facebook Wall to fire off specific questions or complaints about product and service issues, with the expectation of receiving a rapid-fire satisfactory response and the threat of making a big stink across their social networks if they don’t.  (Bryan Person, David Berkowitz, 360i, Molly DeMaagd ‐ AT&T, Eric Ludwig, Rosetta Stone).
  • No Wallet? No Problem. Enter Mobile Payments. – The days of having that lump of a wallet in your back pocket or forgetting your wallet at home are over. Consumers around the world could generate as much as $50 billion in sales through NFC-based mobile payments by 2014, according to Juniper Research. Google already has merchants like Macy’s and The Container Store are using Google Wallet, powered by NXP’s secure NFC chips, to increase engagement and offer deals to consumers (Allen Tsai, David Berkowitz, 360i, Rob von Behren, Google, Jeff Miles, NXP Semiconductors, David Messenger, American Express).
  • Will the social web build a world we want? – Social media is transforming politics, the Middle East, corporate behavior and social activism. But how far can it go? Can citizens and customers, armed with social media and connected by shared values, create the movement for change that our world needs? Or will political manipulation, corporate self-interest and consumer fatigue overwhelm them?  (Simon Mainwaring, We First)
  • Can growing a moustache change the world? –  Join Adam Garone, CEO/co-founder of Movember, as he discusses how Movember leveraged the support of a few daring partners and pockets of loyal fans to generate a global movement that saw 450,000 moustache growers in 2010. Learn how Movember captivated the attention of a demographic infamous for not discussing their health, converted them into evangelists by turning the brand over to them, and sent them off to build the campaign. (Adam Garone, Movember)
Did you submit a panel this year? Or is there one that you know of that should absolutely make it to the next round? If so, feel free to include the link in the comments along with a little plug.


The Process of “Ideation” and Validation before Starting a Company

This is a guest post from Mukund Mohan, CEO of Jivity, a social commerce and brand merchandising company.

If you’re like most entrepreneurs (I fall in this bucket), who want to start a company, you probably get 100 exciting ideas in one day and none that excite you for the next 100 days. I know enough entrepreneurs who will wait for the right idea and spend months agonizing over if it will be the one that “changes the world order”. That made me think and question my personal process of coming up with ideas and what steps I follow to get my idea to see light of the day.

First a caveat: I fall into the “good ideas, good execution, but not world changing” bucket. If I were a baseball player, I’d be the “safe bet” to get singles and doubles, and a rare home run. My ideas won’t work for everyone. They are purely in the “discipline, structure and process bucket”, not the stroke-of-genius bucket. So here is a condensed version of the process I follow:

  1. Keep asking questions: It’s been well documented that good entrepreneurs are perennially curious. They like asking questions. Most of my questions have come because I have the discipline to train myself to have a heightened sense of observation. I like to notice everything around me and think. A combination of reading (blogs, books) and listening (to anyone, starting with the person sitting next to me at the airport, to my dad) helps me constantly formulate and process things around. I send text messages to myself with good questions and save other questions in the drafts folder of my cell phone. I try to keep a constant list of questions that bother me daily, many I have no answers to, but would like to ask others.

    My questions fall into 2 buckets: a) “Why” questions and 2) “What if” questions. e.g. When I was thinking of BuzzGain the question was “Why does engaging a PR firm cost so much for a startup and how can I reduce the cost”? With Jivity it was “Why does it cost so much to build a brand and can we do it in a less expensive fashion”? With my first company Interfinity it was “What if we could reduce the time to configure a Cisco router by 2 hours”?

    These questions usually translate into ideas that can help answer the question.

  2. Formulating ideas and seeking answers: I found that I get the most ideas from others, while asking them their opinion on a question that vexes me. They may not hand me the ideas on a platter, but many have helped me by asking the question differently or looking at the problem in a very different way. Many questions I asked were ones that were incorrect in the first place or those that I don’t really care about getting answers to.

    For BuzzGain the outsiders were practically any entrepreneur or small business owner. I talked to about 200+ people over 2 months primarily by attending 4 events – a BarCamp at SocialText, a Demo event at AdMob, Web 2.0 SF and lunch 2.0 at Oodle. I was not pitching the idea to outsiders, but asking the question that I was seeking ideas for.

    Usually at this stage I develop a set of “filters”. I tend to write down 5-7 filters and they are the lens I use to determine if the question is worth answering and if the idea is worth pursuing. A filter might be “Are others also thinking these are questions worth answering”, or “Can I get someone to help me understand how prevalent this problem is” or “Is this an idea that answers the question in a very different way”? At this stage none of the questions are really about market size or determining the size of the opportunity, but more about whether I am asking the right question and if the idea is the one worth pursuing. Another good technique I followed was I sent a 5 question summary using a free online survey tool to 200+ entrepreneurs and people I knew. I even offered a few Starbucks gift card to 5 winners who participated in the survey. It provided enough incentive to get a 53% response rate.

  3. Validation: As opposed to the previous stage where I reach out to practically anyone, the validation process is usually one that I test with experts. I have found that it is always better to go to experts after I go to the “outsiders” since they tend to give me more simple answers. Outsiders don’t necessarily think of the idea in the context of existing solutions, whereas experts or “insiders” do.

    I pitch only those ideas that have passed my filter criteria and it was not unusual to have 3-5 different ideas that I would tell the insider and ask them which one had “legs”. For BuzzGain, I had the opportunity to speak to over 20 insiders. Many immediately shot down 3 of the ideas but told me to refine 2 of them that they thought had potential.

    When I did talk to the “insiders” I went with a mockup. Initially a set of 7 PowerPoint slides, which I had a friend convert into HTML (he later taught me how to do it with Dreamweaver) and took 3-5 minutes to walk them through it. I had 3 mockups for each of those ideas and showed all 3 to my insiders. They ended up picking some components from each to help me draw a new idea that was what felt was different and really addressing question in a unique way.

The questions I initially kept asking needed serious “thinking time”. I found a routine that works for me. Thinking time for me tends to be “alone”. I have heard several people ponder and think while they are in the shower and others when they go for long walks. I have tried the approach to set aside time for thinking and have enough questions to think about. The time that works best for me is while doing laundry or doing dishes (yes I did that when I was in America), and back in India, since I have a lot more time, travel time or while playing tennis is my best time for thinking. I also like to talk to others when I am advanced stages of thinking, so many times, I will take someone that works with me on a walk to discuss questions that need some ideas.

5 Tips for Taking Better Pictures (Especially on Instagram)

Anyone that I’m connected with on Twitter or Facebook knows that I love to take pictures. And while I may not be great, I think I have a decent eye for taking a decent snapshot. To that end, I am totally hooked on an application called Instagram (iPhone only at the moment). I like it for a variety of reasons but the three most important are 1) it’s ease of use, especially with it’s sixteen pre-created filters, 2) the ability to cross-post to several different social networks and 3) the Instagram community.

The reason for this post is that several people have asked me recently what I use to take the pictures that I post. Rather than lock that information up in a single e-mail, comment or tweet, I’m putting together a quick post on five tips on taking better pictures.

Five General Photo Tips

  1. The Camera: Start with a device that takes good pictures. That doesn’t mean a DSLR or even a point and shoot camera with 15 megapixels. What it does mean is that you shouldn’t be using a crappy flip phone or a Blackberry (which takes horrible pictures). Truth be told, I love my DSLR… but the device I like best for picture taking is my iPhone 4. Unless you plan to blow your pictures up beyond an 8 x 10″ size, you really don’t need much more. That is of course unless you like using zoom or macro lens that allow for more pixels/different lighting and shutter speeds.
  2. Time of Day: What a lot of people forget about is that the lighting for your pictures accounts for at least 50% of how the picture comes out. You can game the lighting using different apps/filters, but starting with the right “canvas” makes all the difference in the world. My favorite time to shoot is just after the sun comes up or just before it goes down. Note that temperature/humidity also play a factor. Usually colder, dryer days are the best days to shoot. Humid days are the worst.
  3. Keep it Simple: Some of my best pictures are the most simple. A single flower, a raft, a tree, a bird. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take a good picture with lots of people or things in it. Just that pictures that are too busy can come across as noise.
  4. The ‘Crop’ Tool is your Friend: Most people forget that sometimes you can make a good picture into a great picture by cropping it correctly. Most basic photo apps (or even tools like Microsoft PPT or iPhoto on the Mac) allow for the ability to crop. This can help you zoom in closer on the subject, eliminate unwanted noise or create a cleaner composition. Try experimenting with different pictures to see what I mean.
  5. Experiment with Black and White: What might be an ordinary picture in color can become much more interesting in black and white (or sepia tone). This is because converting your picture to a monochromatic color scheme can accentuate the lines and lighting in your photo. If your camera app gives you the ability to adjust your lighting, sometimes “overexposing” your picture can create some cool effects. [I’ve included an example of this below]The four photo applications I use regularly are iPhoto (Mac), Camera+, Dynamic Light and Instagram. Here is a list of other cool photo apps for the iPhone that you might want to check out. [h/t to Shauna Causey for turning me onto Dynamic Light]
Five Instagram-specific Tips
Unfortunately, the Instagram app is only available for the iPhone/iPad. However, for those non-iOS folks, you can follow along at home by using Webstagram. It’s not quite as fun because you can’t upload photos but you can at least view other people’s pics. As a proxy, you can always post to places like Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Google + etc.
  1. Take Pictures with your Native iPhone App: Taking pictures with your native iPhone app and then cropping/filtering them with Instagram is useful for two reasons. First, it keeps a raw version of your original photo. Second, it allows you to crop and zoom in on your subject matter. Recently, I’ve been taking pictures with my Phone app, importing them into my Dynamic Light app (tons of cool filters and greater flexibility with your lighting techniques) and then finishing them off in Instagram [see below for an example]
  2. Don’t Forget the Tilt-Shift: After you’ve taken a picture (or uploaded one from your photo library), if you touch your screen, a button in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen flashes up called “Tilt-Shift.” Clicking on this button gives you an opportunity to blur parts of your photo using either a straight line or a circle filter (you can toggle between the two in the bottom left-hand corner). Don’t overuse this feature but if you have a flower, face or other subject matter in your foreground, you can blur the background re-creating the same effect that using the f/stop feature on a DSLR would create. Warning – some people overuse this feature. It can be cool but can also make you look like you are heavy handed in your photo filtering.
  3. Use the Right Filter: There are sixteen pre-made filters in Instagram. Most of these filters are crap. The four I find myself using regularly are X-Pro II, Lomo-fi, Walden and Gotham. One of the cardinal mistakes that I see many other folks making on Instagram is trying to use some of the other “retro” features and in doing so, wash out/water down their pictures. DON’T DO IT.
  4. Vary your subject matter: Taking pictures of only flowers, faces or clouds may be your thing… but if you want to make your stream interesting, mix it up a little bit. This means action shots, still lifes, black and whites and color, faces and flowers. A good test is in the Instagram app, click on your “Profile” and then “Your photos.” Do your last 16 pictures look different? Or similar? Would other people find them interesting?
  5. Tips for Engaging: Here are a few suggestions if you want to engage with other followers on Instagram or acquire new followers:
    – Make sure you have a photo up for your avatar and post a few pictures before following other people.
    – Before you post one of your own pictures, go into your “stream” and like 5-10 pictures that your friends have posted (obviously you don’t want to like pictures that aren’t good but if you follow the right people, it won’t take long to find 5-10 good pics).
    – Don’t overpost. Just like on Twitter, if you update too many times in a row you will flood other people’s streams. It’s not a huge deal but it makes it harder for people to concentrate on your best work.
  • BONUS: for any of you that also use foursquare, using Instagram to “check in” to a location while adding a picture to the venue can be a cool way to make your check in more interesting.
There are obviously lots of other cool things you can do with Instagram and other photo sharing/editing apps. Feel free to share your tip in the comments.

One Degree of Separation

Unless you live off the grid in the mountains of Idaho, you’ve likely heard of the theory of six degrees of separation. The concept made popular by the movie and the Kevin Bacon game speaks to the idea that everyone on this planet is connected by no more than six degrees of separation. And while I don’t really believe that we are separated by one degree like the title of this post suggests, I do feel like we are closer to two or three degrees than six. The problem is, when the idea of six degrees came along, there was no world wide web, Facebook or LinkedIn. Now that there is, we can start to see these connections more clearly than ever.

To illustrate my point of how small the world is (and how LinkedIn and Facebook help us see these connections), I asked the question on Google + and Facebook. Within minutes, I got some amazing responses, the most relevant of which I have included below.

    • Jeannie Walters – 1. My college roommate worked with my Chicago friend in Kansas City. Because of FB, we discovered this and the 3 of us had dinner when friend was visiting Chicago. 2. My cousin in Atlanta is connected to various business connections of mine. He is 10 years older and we have never lived in the same state.
    • DJ Waldow – Spoke with a women yesterday who say my blog post that included a video of +Jay Baer. Turns out that she lives in AZ and knew Jay back when he was Jason. Ha.
    • Damion White – When a fellow Davidson College athlete in my stats class looked over at my comp screen during class the Monday after spring break 2004, noticed my Facebook page (yes, I said 2004), and then mouthed that the girl who’s friend request I was accepting had arrived at his and her NJ HS graduation in a Rolls Royce Phantom. I asked what the hell he was getting at, and that was how I found out that one of the girls in the group from St. Johns University that we had hung out with and befriended on Spring Break in Miami was Vanessa Simmons, daughter of Reverend Run of Run DMC.
    • Elmer Boutin – On my employer’s Facebook page, we encourage people to share pictures of their kitchen remodels using our products. One person who did writes a blog. Reading that I found she was from my hometown in Michigan. I emailed her and found she lives 6-blocks away from my mom and her sisters went to high school with my brother.
    • Judy Madonna Moriarty – Absolutely! One of my FB/twitter friends in Miami (whom I’ve never met in real life but have had many on-line convos with) posted a pic of herself cheek-to-cheek with one of my oldest IRL friends from NYC who now lives in Miami. I found out later they’ve been friends for a long time. FB & Twitter are definitely shrinking the degrees of separation!
    • Alexa Scordato – How about that time you were in Minnesota and bumped into my friend Shawn Horton at the Apple Store? The three of us were only in the same location once and that was at Podcamp in Boston years ago. Super super small world!
    • Rachel Happe McEnroe – A few weeks ago two ex-colleagues, one from 15 years ago and one from 3 years ago both friended the same person on FB on the same day (close enough that it came up in my stream somewhat at the same time). Weird.
    • Mike Lewis – Yesterday someone from college reached out to tell me my Aunt is her daughter’s daycare provider. She found out my aunt and I were connected through FB… very small world.
    • Bob Blount – Friend moves to Singapore (I learn about it via one of my social sites). Time goes by, I see a post or two and wish her well. Months later… On the phone with a colleague at my company about business in Singapore. At the end of the call I say, hey if you’re ever looking for an amazing PR Professional I have a friend that lives in Singapore you should talk to. When I tell her the name she says… “no way, I just extended her an offer yesterday”. I would have never said anything had it not seen her post. #smallworld
    • Elysa Rice – I have a good one… In June a person from Social Media Club Dallas came up to me and said “How do you know Lesa R?” to which I responded “umm that’s my step-mom, how do you know her”… her response “we went to 6th grade together in Kentucky” — the Facebook birthday game is what tipped her off that we had both commented on same person’s wall.

While this might be cool, you might ask what’s the point Well, for starters, it means that you might be a little more mindful about how you treat people. You never know when your neighbor, former boyfriend, gym mate or even fellow traveler could be your next boss. Or better yet, your client. This also means that you might be careful about what/how you share on your social networks. That’s not to say that you should be paranoid to the point that you are left sharing pictures with your immediate family and best friend from high school, but rather that you might think twice next time when you decide to share that late night picture of you doing body shots. Or the picture of you with the low cut speedo/skimpy bikini on.

On the positive side, the fact that we are all more closely connected than ever before (and have the tools to see these connections) means that when you are searching for a job, a prospective employee or new customers, the first place to start might be in your own network. Whenever people ask me to help them with a job search, I suggest that they connect with me on LinkedIn and then do a regional or industry search of my connections. For one, this helps me because I can’t proactively remember 5% of the people I’m connected with at any given time (nor do I always know where they work if we’re just friends). Second, if someone is looking for a job at a specific company, they can see if the people I know are connected to the hiring manager at that company.

So what about you? Do you have a story about your (less) than six degrees of separation?