SXSW Best Bars, Restaurants, Panels & Pro Tips from W2O

Looking for the “best of” SXSW Interactive this year? Look no further. The W2o Group team has put together a content capsule with lists of best bars, restaurants and panels, videos, survival tips and more. Got additional goodness to add? Throw ‘em in the comments.

Happy SXSW!

My Wife the Community Manager

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. As someone that has worked in the digital/mobile/social space for the last 20 years, I’ve always spent my fair share of time exploring what’s new on the Internet. Testing out new technologies. Embracing new mobile apps and even writing a book on the phenomena that is location-based marketing. The same could not be said about my wife, Melanie Strout, up until six years ago.

No, this post isn’t about how as a wife and mom that she is the “community manager” of our family (although she certainly is that and a good one to boot). She is in fact a real life community manager. She’s worked with big brands and small brands. She’s done community management, forum and Facebook moderation and even some social media marketing. Five years ago, however, I can remember a conversation we had about blogging. Let’s just say that she wasn’t the biggest fan at the time. But all that has changed.melanie

Rather than put it in my words, I’ve decided to interview her. Below you will find five questions about how she got started, what she’s learned along the way and what wisdom she might impart to others that are considering the same line of work.

  1. [Aaron] How did you get started with social media?
    [Melanie] About six years ago, I took the plunge and jumped on Facebook. At first it made me a little nervous putting myself out there for the world to see. But over time, reconnecting with old friends from high school and college made me realize that the value of Facebook far outweighed any of the downside of living my life more publicly.
  2. [Aaron] Tell us about your first job as a moderator.
    [Melanie] It’s funny, I had been out of the work force for about 11 years raising our three kids. But once they were all in school, it felt like it might be time to find a part time job to earn a little mad money for the family. My last job before having children was running an incoming call center for a customer service department so I felt comfortable dealing with customer questions, comments and complaints. It just happened to be over the phone versus online. It was a little bit of a stretch but between my comfort level with social channels and past experience with customer service, I took a shot and applied online for a job with Canadian moderation company called ICUC. Imagine how surprised I was the day I got a call back from ICUC six weeks later to do a short-term moderation project. It wasn’t particularly exciting — just approving or rejecting pictures of Toyota’s NASCAR that had been customized by fans and uploaded to NASCAR’s site. But, that job lead to other moderation jobs for ICUC’s client brand pages. I learned a ton in a short period of time.
  3. [Aaron] How did you parlay your content moderation job into a community manager role?
    [Melanie] After ICUC, a friend named Sylvia Marino saw that I was looking for my next gig and she connected with me a company she was working with called GenConnect. They were a content company that was looking to grow their social presences. That was a real roll up your sleeves kind of opportunity with just the three of us creating content, marketing the site and managing their social presences. Not long after the GenConnect job started, Sylvia also connected me with Edmunds.com. That led to a forum moderation job that helped me hone my skills.
  4. [Aaron] What was one of your most challenging moments as a moderator/community manager?
    [Melanie] Hmmm, there have been a few of those. I remember when I was managing Halls Cough Drop’s Facebook page and someone lashed out at the brand. For one, it’s always hard not to take those comments personally as an ambassador for the brand. You also are hyper-focused on making sure you are making good recommendations to your brand partners and stay in constant communication with the team (including legal).
  5. [Aaron] Your last job was as the community manager for California Restaurant Month. Tell us a little about that.
    [Melanie] That was a fun project working with Jay Baer and Lisa Loeffler. We had to create a brand new Facebook page along with several other new social channels. Fortunately, fine dining is a passion area for many folks so driving interest and engagement wasn’t as hard as it was with some of my past opportunities. One of the highlights of the job was leading/moderating Facebook chats with several celebrity chefs like Cindy Pawlson, Roy Choi and Tanya Holland. Not only was it fun to get to know those chefs but the conversations they created on Dine in CA’s Facebook page drove tons of comments, likes and shares which is always a good thing.

As luck would have it, my wife, Melanie, is currently looking for her next community manager job. Ideally, it’s a 20-30 hour/work-from-home opportunity. She is open to both short-term and long-term project work. You can find out more about Melanie on LinkedIn here.

Think(ing) Like Zuck: 5 Facebook Marketing Tips

Originally posted on WCG’s blog on 1/15/2013.

When I agreed to review Ekaterina Walter’s new book, Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg, I immediately tried to think of a way to make the book review special. After all, Ekaterina is not only a friend (and client) but more importantly, she’s a very smart woman who has achieved quite a bit at a young age. In addition to being a regular contributor to Mashable, Fast Company, and Huffington Post, she has also been featured in Forbes. If that wasn’t enough, she also sits on the Board of Directors for the prestigious Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).
The problem is that unless one regularly writes book reviews, they can be a little boring and probably not as informative as one would like. And while I’ve done a few in my day including Josh Bernoff’s book Empowered for AdAge, Clay Shirky’s, Cognitive Surplus and most recently, Chade-Meng Tan of Google’s, Search Inside Yourself, I still don’t have the swing of it. Fortunately for me (and you) Ekaterina not only learned some important business lessons from Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerburg over the last several years, she also knows how to share a few herself.
To that end, before get into a quick synopsis of Ekaterina’s book I am going to give you five of her best Facebook marketing tips. Note that these aren’t just tips that she picked up while managing her own personal page. In fact, these are tips that she’s learned from helping to manage Intel’s Facebook page which happens to have north of 16 million fans as of this writing. Here goes:
  1. Humanize your voice.
    Though you need to be mindful of the consistency of your brand voice, it doesn’t mean that it has to sound “corporate”. This is the community of people, not a platform for broadcasting the PR messages, so address your fans as they were your friends. Remember, the biggest ROI of Facebook is in humanizing your brand. So humanize your voice as well.
  2. Adjust your content strategy as you go.
    Besides being a part of the community and hoping to get discounts on your products, information is one of the most important reasons why your customers become your fans on Facebook. So add stickiness to your page through great content. Use 80/20 rule: 80% of status updates should provide value to the fan and 20% can be around your products or services.
  3. Keep your status updates short.
    Even though Facebook increased the maximum number of characters for the original post from 420 to 63,206, you shouldn’t by any means try to use all of them. A study by Buddy Media showed that posts 80 characters or less in length receive 27% higher engagement rates. Besides, if you ever want to use Sponsored Story products, only the first 90 characters of your status update will be visible in the ad.
  4. Post frequency and timing.
    Every brand is different, but normally posting once a day 5-7 times a week works rather well. By posting too much you risk alienating your fans, but not posting enough, you lose your reach. The study by comScore and Facebook found that each incremental day of publishing increases the reach among fans by approximately 2.5%. So my recommendation is to post 7 days a week.
  5. Moderation guidelines.
    Ensure that your Facebook community has clear House Rules or moderation guidelines. You should specify how you will manage your community, what to expect and which posts you will absolutely not tolerate (abusive, insulting, illegal, etc). Always be prepared in case you’ll have to refer your rowdy fans back to your guidelines. Also, specify what your response timing is, so your customers are not upset if you not able to address inquiries immediately.

Now that we have Ekaterina’s five tips, let’s move onto a quick synopsis of the book.

What I like about the book is that Ekaterina starts off with a few examples of how Facebook is changing our society by connecting us in ways like never before. She follows that up with a few pages of mind blowing statistics (hint: Facebook would be the third largest country on earth). But that’s just the appetizer. It’s the main course — her five secrets — that really start the creative juices flowing.

With too many authors, there is a tendency to get wrapped around the axle with too much detail. Not in Ekaterina’s case. In fact, arguably the best thing about “Think Like Zuck” is the simplicity of the construct she uses to convey the CEO savant’s five life lessons: the 5 Ps.

The 5 Ps described in the book are:

  • Passion — Keep your energy and commitment fully charged at all times by pursuing something you believe in.
  • Purpose — Don’t just create a great product, drive a meaningful movement.
  • People — Build powerful teams that can execute your vision.
  • Product — Create a product that is innovative, that breaks all the rules, that changes everything.
  • Partnerships — Build powerful partnerships with people who fuel imagination and energize execution.

In addition to her five secrets (the 5 Ps), the other thing that caught my eye were the use of pithy but powerful quotes throughout the book. I’m not sure if this was intentional but these quotes (a few of my favorites are cited below) are similar to the “keep your status updates short” mantra in the five tips above:

  • Transparency and empowerment breed dedication, loyalty and trust. Trust is the unleashed imagination and unlimited innovation (p. 101)
  • A company’s success is serious business. But introducing a little fun into the workplace makes for a happy and highly motivated employee base (p. 110)
  • Make innovation personal! Involve your employees and give them freedom to create (p. 151)

The thing that I appreciated the most about the book? It was only 184 pages (minus the notes/appendix). To be honest, that’s about all the attention span anyone has these days for a business book. And considering the fact that Ekaterina was able to sum up the five things that make Mark Zuckerberg a great (even if improbable) leader in such an efficient fashion, I can feel good telling you that you should buy a copy, even if you aren’t destined to be the next CEO of the largest and most successful social network in the world.

2013 Predictions from a Bunch of “Dummies”

As we roll into the new year, it’s always a great time for us marketers to look ahead to what is in store for us. This year, I wanted to take a unique approach to my predictions of 2013 by asking some of my fellow Dummies book authors to provide their perspective within their specific areas of expertise. In most of the cases below, these predictions fall into the realm of social media/social media marketing (Marsha Collier is unique in the fact that she’s written several books including one on eBay for Dummies).

I do plan to do a predictions post on mobile/location-based marketing which will appear in my monthly MarketingLand column. You can also find thoughts by several industry experts on the state of the state in location-based marketing in this post I put together for my friend, Jason Keath, of Social Fresh here.

Without further adieu, here are the predictions by several very smart “Dummy” authors:

Marsha Collier (too many Dummies titles to list)

I think this is a great idea for a post – especially because “For Dummies” authors examine their topics so deeply. Seeing as I cover three areas in Dummies books…. you can find a fairly complete list of current books here:

eBay:
eBay will further to shed it’s “garage sale” persona (yes, there are still plenty of people who do not shop the site on a regular basis). Major brands will finally see eBay as a profitable and legitimate venue for end of season and liquidation selling. Buyers will realize that much of the merchandise bought on the site is covered under the same warranties as alsewhere – and are covered by eBay’s customer buyer protection policy.

Seniors and social media:
By exposing themselves more and more to social media, seniors will see through the myths that fostered fears of social media. It will become an accepted communication venue across the generations.

Social media commerce:
I first predicted this in 2009, but it is finally coming to reality. Consumer brands will realize that online/social powered customer service is far more expedient than phone for first contact. Brands that adapt in 2013 have the opportunity of learning from very public mistakes and create their own voice to their customers – without broadcasting. New relationships with the customer have proven to build sales.

Paul DunayFacebook Marketing for Dummies

Retailers Get Smart using Facebook Data
Major Retail Companies have failed at creating commerce on Facebook because they approached the channel as another outlet for their wares when in actual fact they need to be leveraging the data within the Facebook channel to provide the ideal customer experience on their site. Next year we will see this shift begin.

 

Laura Fitton | Twitter for Dummies

I see 2013 could be a really interesting turning point for Twitter, especially as IPO speculation heats up and business model clarity is needed. You have some of your most intense early adopters already trying to pronounce it dead or dying just because they’ve moved their more intense sharing onto other platforms like Path and Facebook. While that’s true there’s just no way to discount the upside potential of a truly mainstream Twitter. With 200 million monthly active users and nearly constant mainstream media exposure on television, print and radio, continued growth is almost guaranteed. On the other hand, the DM spam problems are getting terrible and I seriously wonder what the future of that feature will be, given how poorly they support it. Mainstream small businesses are really just getting exposed now to how they could use Twitter to better connect to their existing customers, let alone to grow their base of new ones.

The platform continues to suffer from terrible DM spam, and a lot of the early adopters are shifting their more personal interactions to other platforms

Kyle Lacy | Twitter Marketing for Dummies

The year will be forever remembered as the year of consolidation and leadership in the world of interactive marketing. Organizations will start to deconstruct marketing departments to cater to the need of cross-channel communication with consumers. Leadership will be defined as the organizations who listen to the customer and deliver personal messages via all channels – email, mobile, and social.

Deb Ng | Online Community Management for Dummies

Community management is going to be a more strategic role moving forward. While less brands will see community managers as glorified tweeters, I think the role will evolve into more a social media strategist role than specifically a community building role. It will be less about growing a community and giving a warm, fuzzy vibe, than it is about getting the right messaging out. Because of this, I also see community managers handling content distribution.

Note: Deb is also the co-author of Social Media Marketing for Dummies. 

Michael Schneider | Location-Based Marketing for Dummies (Mike and I are co-authors of this book)

I don’t see the “stitching data together” problem getting any easier in 2013 as more niche apps and new graphs emerge. The hot thing will be mood / wellbeing. Apps that use relationships and data to make us healthier and happier will be huge. We saw a lot on the fitness front in 2012 with Nike Fuel Band, the Nike+ suite, Larklife and the incumbent Fitbit. Garmin integrated with Strava for serious cyclists to build community, competition and virality. I see apps like InFlow, Happier, Superbetter, Happify and Hmmm that try to combine semantics, science, location and social to make us feel better being big.

Lori Randall Stradtman | Online Reputation Management For Dummies

When I think about which social media tools, trends or ideas I am most excited about as we head into 2013, I’m thinking big data tools. I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on a social media monitoring tool that can dive deeper than we’ve ever seen before into the dark waters of Big Data and surface with real-time treasures that show segmented information so that brands can find “their people” and create approaches that appeal to them specifically. This will also be huge for crisis management. The best way to deal with a social media meltdown is to nip it in the bud by paying attention to what’s happening around your brand.

 

I may have another 1-2 predictions coming from some other Dummies authors who are in the process of polishing their crystal balls. But in the meantime, if you have a prediction of your own (or one that you’d like to see, please include it below in the comments).

Explaining the Explainer (animation for marketing)

Guest post by friend and digital smarty, Susanne Schantz, Co-Founder of Small Island Studio

You may have noticed a small explosion in the number of animated videos on the web lately. They are everywhere now, especially the (sort of) ubiquitous one-minute ‘Explainer Video’. Why are animated videos so compelling, and so Zeitgeist right now? What makes an animation better than regular video at conveying a complicated idea and making it memorable?

The example that springs immediately to mind comes from the fantastic TED speech given in 2006 by Sir Ken Robinson called “Schools Kill Creativity.” It was an epic speech. First of all it’s important to note that Ken is one of life’s gifted speakers, with a gentle, Monty-Pythonesque style of talking that pulls you into the topic, using humour, a depth of knowledge and his incredibly sharp intellect to make you listen with more attention than you naturally would.

So watching that speech was compelling. I became a bit of a disciple of the topic after viewing it, and would demand friends, family, colleagues all watch it as well. Then one day, while searching it out on Google for the umpteenth time to show to yet another person, I saw that there was a new speech by Sir Ken in the results, created by “RSA Animate.”

So of course I looked. And suddenly, what had been an interesting topic became unbelievably compelling.

The RSA (Great Britain’s ‘Royal Society of Arts’) had created an animation of a Sir Ken speech, in a style known as “progressive illustration.”

Adding visuals to words is hardly a new idea; currently it’s huge in the modern digital space (just look at the explosion of Infographics). But in this case, adding motion and graphics to what was already a great speech (good writing still matters) perfectly demonstrates the power that animation can have in a business context.

The “Explainer” video business has been born on the back of this idea. There are dozens of companies that have sprung up (our own, Small Island Studio, among them) to provide companies with one-minute long videos to explain complex ideas and concepts in a simple, easy to consume and memorable format.

Explainer Videos have become popular for a bunch of reasons; their short, web-friendly format makes them easy to use across all types of mediums (and they work well on mobile), and the flexibility of animation means it can tackle a wide variety of topics without the limitations of live action.

And what’s in store for this space is even more compelling from a marketer’s point of view. Adding interactive elements, which compel the watcher to get involved with the video, will increase retention substantially. Gamification, the process of adding game design elements and game thinking/mechanics, will create a competitive environment among viewers, giving them a sense of ownership over the content that will be hard to match.

Vintank Shows Us the Future of CRM for Vertical Industries

With the volume of conversations that take place online today — literally exabytes worth — I’m constantly amazed by some companies’ lack of monitoring/leveraging these conversations to improve marketing, product development and customer service. In some ways, ignoring this information is tantamount to having a group of your best customers sitting down in your companies’ parking lot telling you everything they like and don’t like about you and your competitors’ products through a bull horn. Instead of listening, you block your ears and pretend they don’t exist.

We believe that vertical social listening coupled with social CRM creates unprecedented and invaluable context to create more meaningful engagement with customers. -- Paul Mabray, Vintank, Chief Strategy Officer

Fortunately, more and more businesses are realizing that there is a wealth of online information that exists to help them run better. Also helpful is the fact that companies like WCG (the agency I work for), Social Dynamx (the company my sister works for) and Vintank (the focus of this post) are helping companies listen, analyze and then act on the trillions of conversations happening on the social web. To that point, I had a chance last week to sit down with Vintank’s CTO, James Jory, to get an in depth demo of their “social CRM” platform that targets the wine industry. What I can tell you is that I am impressed. Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I sit on the advisory board of Vintank (an unpaid position) so I know a fair amount about what James and Chief Strategy Officer, Paul Mabray, are doing. But what I can tell you as objectively as is humanly possible is that these guys are focusing on all the right things.

After walking through Vintank’s social CRM platform, I am particularly impressed with four aspects of what they do:

  • Vertically focused listening
    Their platform is optimized and tuned to effectively filter conversations for products and brands in the wine industry. According to Jory, this is particularly important for wine due to the various ways consumers identify and describe wine brands and products and the massive volume of product selection (150K wines released in US market just last year and most products stay in market 3-10 years). For example, a general purpose listening platform would likely consider “corked” and “cork” to be the same term in a conversation when in reality these words have entirely different meanings in wine.Also important is the fact that Vintank actively listens to and captures ALL conversations that occur in their segment and not just the conversations related to their clients. This allows them to reach back through three plus years of social media activity in their system to bootstrap new clients and provide historical views for existing clients. During the demo, Paul Mabray framed the importance of this feature by saying, “We  believe that vertical social listening coupled with social CRM creates unprecedented and invaluable context to create more meaningful engagement with customers.” Amen to that sir!
  • Social Commerce or Commerce + Social
    Paul and James believe that that the push to bring commerce to social is putting the cart before the horse. Instead, they feel that social media can be much more effective when it is brought to commerce in the form of customer context and customer intelligence. A winery may have 1 or 2 transactional interactions with a narrow segment of their customer base each year (a tasting room visit, wine club shipments, winery event, e-commerce purchase, etc.). This provides them with an extremely limited context for each customer. However, they know their customers are consuming wine all year long and increasingly sharing those experiences through social media.
  • Rich Customer Context
    Building on the thoughts above, the cornerstone of Vintank’s  social CRM strategy is customer context. This includes stitching together all of a customer’s social profiles, presenting views of mentions of my brand as well as wine general, interactions with owned channels (twitter, FB, LBS), most recent purchase, lifetime value, wine club membership, membership in customer segments, team notes, and so on. This allows both small and large winery businesses to be more effective with their social media activities and interact with their customers with more context and knowledge.
  • Winery Social Index
    Vintank’s Winery Social Index provides a scoreboard of sorts on how wine brands are performing in social media. The algorithm was built specifically to level the playing field for wineries of all size. It rewards engagement (I wrote a post on the importance of this metric last week)  and healthy fan growth over the vanity metrics such as reach. It has provided a valuable KPI for the wine industry as wineries find their footing in social media.

So what can your company learn from Vintank and the way they help their customers look at the market? At a minimum, the fact that you shouldn’t be ignoring that “group of customers with their bull horns” in the parking lot. Beyond that, you may also realize that paying closer attention to how you are engaging with your customers versus how your competitors are doing it is also key. And finally, what role can social play in your commerce and customer relationship management strategy? Hopefully, the answer is “a big one.”

 

 

 

Reluctantly Pinning My Way Around Another Social World

Guest Post by Laura Beck

Last month, I finally broke down and joined Pinterest. I didn’t want to. I held off for as long as I could, for a few reasons: I have a hard enough time keeping up with Facebook and Twitter, my two social means of choice; I heard Pinterest is a time sink hole, hours suddenly vanish and you are still pinning away; and I heard Pinterest is for housewives with lots of time on their hands: that cannot be me!

But you see, it is exactly my customer. Now at nearly 1.4 million users DAILY, Pinterest users are nearly 70% women, 50% with kids, most in that coveted 25-35 year old age bracket, and most with upper middle class or above household incomes.

THAT is exactly my customer, my target. You see, not only am I personally almost exactly that demographic (thought aged out now at 40), but this is who I market my business to. I couldn’t afford to miss Pinterest, for my brand, especially now with the opportunity to get in and “get pinning,” while it is still evolving.

My business, stripedshirt.com, focuses on fan-wear for women, kids and babies. Two color combination striped shirts to support a team, school, cause, organization. Women, aged 25-35, with kids and with disposable income are my ideal target. Pinterest gathers them all for me. OH AND my product is extremely visual – multi color shirts. Pinterest is built for beauty, color, great images, physical goods, pretty products, designs.

I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter for my business since day one, simultaneously setting up these business table stakes while getting my URL and building a website. But, I had not yet taken the Pinterest leap as of a month ago, honestly, out of fear that I’d get personally sucked in and lose more precious hours of my already-too-short days to yet another online social time suck.

I was intrigued, of course, especially by the recent “tipping point” for Pinterest. See, Pinterest is hardly new. It started Thanksgiving 2009. It’s been around over two years now. But this one is a strange one: it took off very slowly, plodding along really until something magical happened that other startups would likely kill to replicate. Somewhere around September 2011, Pinterest started taking off like a rocket ship. (Was it truly the power of PR? Pinterest was included in a Time Magazine Top 50 Best Websites of 2011 list in August. Who knows. Again, if the magic trigger could be identified, oh, how others would jump on board!)

Per Wikipedia, in January 2012, comScore reported Pinterest had 11.7 million unique users, making it the fastest site in history to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark. And founder Ben is now a beloved name and face to thousands of Mommy Bloggers and average middle aged American women. I heard he was mobbed, rockstar-style, when speaking at the AltSummit conference in January.

Somehow, refreshingly, Pinterest ignored the latest start up mantra of “Fail Quickly” and stuck with it until that magic moment when it went viral about six months ago. Shouldn’t be a surprise, Pinterest was BUILT to be viral – pinning and repinning is all about the “network effect” and, like Twitter, you don’t have to be friends to follow, or like, or pin. Also like Twitter, search in Pinterest is great (unlike Facebook), to find what you like, dig into topics of interest, find other inspirations.

And, a bit like Etsy, Pinterest is super easy, and all-inclusive about “selling” – simply add a dollar sign ($) to your image description and it beautifully tags the image as something for purchase. And you can post and pin your own stuff with ease, pimp your own goods! (Please, Pinterest, take your time in monetizing this feature, I know you will, but for the poor start ups out there, take your time!)

For all these reasons, I broke down and personally joined Pinterest, to be able to promote stripedshirt, my ecommerce business, THROUGH my own personal account. That’s deliberate. I do believe there will be strict rules for businesses on Pinterest, soon, regarding ecommerce and affiliate programs, percentages of sales to Pinterest and others. And I know soon we’ll be hearing a lot more about trademark and copyright rules with images. The big guys, and brands killing it on Pinterest like Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living can roll with those punches. Little startup me wanted to be more cautious.

For now, I’m one of the 12 million pinning away in Pinterest, and my business images, my products to shill, are clearly featured on my own boards, with information, URLs, pricing details indicating they are products for purchase, easy clicks to transactions. My friends are repinning my stuff and the images are starting to spread beyond my personal network to the wider Pinterest world.

Have I gotten a sale yet directly from Pinterest? Not that I can tell. But brand building and visibility is king. And again, if I’m a brand that cares most about Moms with kids, it would be dangerous to dismiss the power of Pinterest and be absent from it. It’s where my customers are, it’s where I need to be.

How about you? Have you also reluctantly pinned your way into a new social corner?

Laura Beck IS Pinterest. She’s a 40 year old Mom of two with a disposable income that could easily be blown on the gorgeous products featured on Pinterest. With 20 years of PR experience, she threw it all to the wind and started www.stripedshirt.com May 2010. stripedshirt is two color combination shirts to support a team, school, cause, organization, worn by exactly the kind of women – and their kiddos – who are loving and living in Pinterest today.

SXSW Interactive 2012: Key Takeaways

Originally published on WCG’s blog.

What is SXSW?

If you haven’t ever been to South by Southwest interactive (SXSWi), it’s somewhat of a surreal experience. For anyone in the digital/social media space, it has become “the” conference to attend due to the sheer number of startups, brands, thought leaders and level of networking that goes on during the course of the event. This year, nearly 25,000 paid attendees descended on Austin, TX — many more attend without a badge – to network, attend sessions, drink and eat good BBQ (and not necessarily in that order).

Given that this was my fifth SXSWi and it’s been interesting to see the changes that have taken place with the event since 2008. The biggest shift in the event over the years has been the involvement of big brands and a transition of mostly blogger and social media types to folks that do PR and marketing as their full time jobs. It’s also meant more corporate sponsorships, more hype and more traditional media coverage. None of these things are good or bad, they just change the vibe of the event significantly. And while some people who have been attending SXSWi for a while feel like the conference has lost its mojo, I see it as part of the maturation process of social and digital media in the corporate world.

SXSW Dashboard

This year, our agency, WCG, pulled together a dashboard* to track some of the conversations and activity happening at SXSWi (pictured above). One of the things we wanted to measure was the overall share of conversation of some of the SXSWi sponsors based on Twitter conversations… and more importantly, how some of those sponsors stood up to popular Austin phrases like breakfast tacos, cowboy hats and boots. Our search query looked for the presence of a #SXSW hashtag with one of the keywords on Twitter. Not surprisingly, we saw breakfast tacos overtake the likes of Apple and Samsung a day into the event. We also tracked things like:

  • Twitter velocity – how many tweets mentioning #sxsw #sxswi or #precommerce, the tag for our own pre-SXSW client event
  • Check-in activity around downtown Austin
  • Top words mentioned in conjunction with #sxsw (in a word cloud)
  • Top mentions of @wcgworld (one of our Agency’s Twitter handles)
  • Most active Twitterers mentioning #sxsw

While part of building the dashboard was for fun, we also wanted to get a better sense of what the macro activity around SXSW would look like this year. The two big take aways for us were 1) spending large sums of money at SXSW doesn’t necessarily get your brand talked about (unless the name of your company happens to include the words “breakfast tacos”) and the volume of conversation on Twitter grew over the conference demonstrating that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint did their part this year to keep the data connectivity up and running this year (years past, not so much). Understanding how your brand can participate meaningfully in these conversations is a huge opportunity that many companies ignore.

Other Key Take Aways from SXSW

  • Location-based services are here to stay (read: foursquare) but they are starting to evolve into a new flavor that includes something called proximity services. The big players in this space are companies like Highlight, Sonar and Ban.jo. In a nutshell, these services connect you to those people nearby that are either in your social graph or should be by looking at your similarities. While these services do provide a value to some, their ultimate utility to the mainstream user is still questionable.
  • Customer engagement is top of mind for many brands that have moved from the ad hoc to strategic use of social media. This means putting more thought and energy into mainstream channels like Twitter and Facebook is critical. It also means paying attention to emerging channels like Google + and Pinterest to evaluate the utility for customers and enthusiasts.
  • Big data is big and getting bigger. For anyone that doesn’t know what “big data” is, it’s essentially the ability to collect, store, process and analyze Terabytes or even Pedabytes of data (think customer conversations, search, location-based activity, census, etc.) Historically, this has been difficult due to lack of affordable storage and processing power. This is quickly changing and spells a whole new way for companies to look at trends and insights.

What did you see at SXSW this year? My colleague, Chuck Hemann, shared his take aways here. If you have a post or observations you’d like to share, please include in the comments below.

 

*Normally when we build these types of dashboards, we use a broader set of channel data (blogs, forums, Facebook, news) but in this case, we knew a lot of the real-time activity flows across Twitter (we also wanted to keep development cost/time down to a minimum).

 

I (Still) See You

A couple of years back I wrote a blog post called I See You. It was based on a concept borrowed from numerous groups of indigenous tribes world wide but re-presented in the runaway hit movie, Avatar, where the native inhabitants of planet Pandora used the term to acknowledge one another in a deeper way than just saying “hi” or “what’s up.”

What reminded me of this post and thus this concept were interactions I had recently with several different companies across a few different industries. Some of these customer service interactions were better than others but in each case, there is a key take away that I would suggest other companies — big and small — take note of.

JetBlue – I fly JetBlue about 50% of the time I fly. This has a lot to do with the fact that they service many of the direct flights from my hometown of Austin, TX to places like New York, San Francisco and Boston. However, I also like JetBlue because of their friendly service, snacks, built in televisions and comfortable seating. Two weeks ago, I was flying home on a fairly packed flight from SFO to Austin. It’s not a long flight (3 hours) but a little tricky to try and use my laptop when stuck in a middle row. After unsuccessfully asking the kind woman at the ticket counter if I could switch to an aisle or window seat post-check-in, I reached out to Twitter. Believe it or not, I wasn’t expecting anything as I really try to not be “one of those people.” If anything, I like to use my social channels and reach for good versus anything negative. And in this case, I used a little of both by saying, “@JetBlue, you know I love you but not looking forward to the middle seat from SFO >> AUS. ;(”  Much to my surprise, JetBlue tweeted me back within minutes and asked me to direct message them my flight info to see if they could do anything about it. Unfortunately, the flight was so full, even the social media folks couldn’t pull strings but as you can see from this blog post (and my ensuing tweet), just the fact that they acknowledged me and made an attempt to help went a long way toward making me feel like I was a valued customer. Now other people in my social graph know that too.

Key take away: sometimes just reaching out and trying to help (in a meaningful way) goes a long way toward surprising and delighting customers

Lexus – if you’ve never owned a Lexus, it’s worth buying one some day just for the service (and trust me, they are damn good cars). This past weekend, I needed to drop my car off to be serviced. In addition to arranging a loaner car for me, Lexus walked me through all the work that needed to be done (new breaks and a tire replacement). What I appreciated most was that they presented me with all the information, the pricing and the pros and cons of waiting versus doing certain things sooner rather than later. And in particular, I was very impressed when after letting me know that my tire wasn’t in stock but that they could have it within two days, the service representative agreed with me that taking my car to a tire specialist was actually a better idea than waiting and letting them do the work. You can bet that I tweeted positive feedback about my experience with Lexus.

Key take away: Being transparent and providing your customers options, especially when big price tags are involved is much appreciated.

American Express – While reviewing my online statement, I realized that I had been errantly charged for four purchases that I hadn’t made during a recent trip to JFK airport. After trying to remedy the situation directly with the vendor in question, I called Amex (business account) and immediately got in touch with a customer service rep. Within three minutes, they had taken all the necessary information they needed from me, walked me verbally through what the next steps looked like and let me know that they would take things from there. On top of that, they thanked me for my business (in a genuine “I’m not reading off a script” kind of way). They also reminded me of a valuable service they offered every time I used the card to purchase airline tickets (something I do regularly).

Key take away: Quick access to a customer service rep, minimal operational nonsense and then a well-informed acknowledgment of my relationship and a genuine thank you for my business.

Bank of America – In stark contrast to my experience with American Express, this one was a little rocky. Similar to my American Express story, I also had an errant charge on my BofA Visa card (tried paying for food at the same broken kiosk with a different credit card). After calling BofA and entering all my pertinent information into the system, the first customer service rep I spoke with asked me to provide significantly more information. That wasn’t a huge deal except after giving her all the necessary information, she let me know that she was going to have to transfer me to another specialist rep. While I wasn’t thrilled with this, I expected that she would hand all of the information I had provided (in addition to the fact that I had been “validated”) to the new rep. Not so. Instead, I had to provide all of my information again from scratch, a fact I let the rep know I was not happy about. Here’s where BofA scored a few points back. The rep apologized several times and acknowledged my frustration. It didn’t make it go away but I appreciated that she at least tried to smooth things over.

Key take away: Create smoother hands offs between systems and reps. And when you put an 800 number on your website (particularly, the logged in portion where you know what my relationship is with you) for a particular type of call, you should be better about actually getting me to the right place. Oh, did I mention that I’ve been a customer since 1993?

So which company has “seen you” recently? Which company didn’t that should have?

15 Tips for Creating, Curating, Capturing and Cross-Purposing Content

Originally posted on WCG’s blog on 9/30/11.

How many times have we heard that content is king? Believe it or not, probably not enough. That’s because good content is a major component in creating successful presences and connections on the social web. And with Facebook’s most recent announcement it sounds like brands will need to work even harder to gain their customers attention.

Creating Great Content

Unfortunately, many companies are not particularly well-equipped when it comes to creating content. Many are used to creating ads, collateral and e-mails. What most companies don’t realize is that the answer to many of their content needs may already exist within their four walls.

Here are three ways to think about creating content:

  • Hold an internal contest to find out who can write the best blog posts. Give your employees three topics, have them write three blog posts and offer a prize (cash, parking space, recognition, gift card) for the winner(s)
  • Arm someone in your marketing/PR department with a flip camera. Have them schedule weekly video or audio interviews with your product or customer service team (note – start wide by interviewing multiple members of product or customer service and then narrow the pool once you’ve find your best “speakers”)
  • Create a corporate photo-sharing account on Flickr or Picasa. Let your employees submit pictures they think best-represent your culture. Designate someone in marketing/PR to curate post-upload.

Curating Other People’s (or Companies’) Content

The conundrum for most businesses is that they know they need more content yet they don’t feel like they can possibly create enough content on their own. One great way to present engaging content is to “curate” other people’s or companies’ content.

Here are five ways companies can curate third party content:

  • Creating a list of relevant Twitter accounts. If you don’t know where to start, try looking up relevant key words on site Listorious.com
  • Ask your customers, partners or industry influencers to guest blog for you.
  • Build a list of your favorite sites, blogs, videos on a social bookmarking site like Delicious
  • Follow keywords in a Twitter management tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and then rewet relevant tweets
  • Pick a favorite Slideshare deck and feature it on your website or Facebook account

Taking Advantage of Opportunities to Capture Content

One of the easiest ways to capture content is to attend live events. The rationale is that most live events like a trade show or conference feature numerous speakers and sponsors who are domain experts. Depending on how big the conference is and how popular some of the speakers/sponsors are, you might want to try and pre-arrange interviews ahead of time to ensure you get time with the right people.

To that end, here are four ways to capture content at your next live event:

  • Bring a flip camera and do short video interviews. This could include speakers, sponsors or even fellow attendees. Consider asking the same 3-5 questions to each.
  • Live tweet or blog the event. If you don’t have someone at your company to do this, there are many agencies and consultants that offer this service (sometimes even for the cost of a conference pass and meals)
  • Take pictures and upload them to a photo sharing site or a content aggregation tool like Tumblr or Posterous
  • If you or one of your employees is speaking at the event, consider posting your presentation to SlideShare

Cross-Purposing Existing Content

One of the thing companies forget is that they may already possess some content in the form of white papers, executive interviews and webcast recordings. Assuming that content is somewhat evergreen, there are a number of ways to cross-purpose that content into other formats and thus cross-post content into more social channels. Doing this can earn you better search engine optimization (SEO) and get your content in front of more eyeballs. Don’t forget to link this content together to create even better SEO juice.

Here are three ways to cross-purpose your existing content:

  • If you have a white paper, consider creating an infographic out of it. Social channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google + love infographics thus giving them higher amplification or pass along among your customers and prospects.
  • Has one of your executives done a recent video interview on the news or for an industry outlet? Consider making a transcript of the video and adding an introduction/summary and posting it on your company blog.
  • Chances are you have a set of FAQs on your website. Consider tweeting these FAQs, especially if they are more of an educational nature. You can post 2-3 a day or stretch them out over the course of a week. If you do the latter, consider using a hashtag such as #UsefulFAQs to make sure people can easily find your other tweets.

Do you have any great content tips to share? If so, please include them in the comments below. Feel free to call out companies or individuals that do a good job at creating, curating, capturing or cross-purposing content.