Waking up at 5:30, I have to wonder if driving a carbon-spewing vehicle across an international border to sit in a room full of strangers watching someone speak about the power of remote digital connections… isn’t just a little ironic.

Regardless, I’m here at the Social Media Conference Northwest, to navigate the constantly-evolving thicket of Twitters, bloggers and Facebook Friends. Is it a green communications technology? Perhaps, compared to some. But more importantly, its a way of engaging people that no marketer, green or otherwise, can afford to ignore. I’ve had some experience in the field (hey, you’re reading this, aren’t you?) but I wanted a better idea of where it’s all going – to get more sustainable results for myself, my clients and you, dear Green Briefs readers.

As is my way with conference recaps, I’ll do my best to cover the speakers I saw, (apologies for the length, but it was GOOD STUFF!) and offer my own 2-bits at the end.

The Opener: Weak Publishing – by Matthew Dunn, ‘Chief Explainer’ at Say it Visually!

digital info createdIt’s good to start a conference with the Big Picture. Dunn began by describing his roots in a Colorado town so small the local newspaper is still to this day set with hot lead type. He also showed how ‘six degrees of separation’ theory collapses large groups down into close and accessible connections – person to person communication that is ‘weak’ in broadcast terms, but wide where it counts – reaching the right people.

So how does this help marketers? Check this stat: By 2011, the data captured and stored in the world will be equivalent to 300 Gigabytes for every human on the planet. And Google can only go so far. So we look at web sites from friends. We ask trusted associates for references on companies, information and resources. Social media provides short-cuts for information (read: your marketing message) to get to people.

Breakout Session 1: Online Video as Part of your Social Media Strategy – Aaron Booker, Varvid Digital Video Production.

Varvid started by doing videos for the ‘Value-Added Reseller’ community and has been live webcasting since 2002. So they’ve been there. They now also offer event-based social media solutions, corporate video projects and custom Internet video portals. Booker chose to use the classic YouTube video Welcome to the Revolution to introduce his presentation. Not a hangin’ crime, but I was surprised Varvid did not have their own version of a stats-based sales piece. The best quote from this stat-vid: Social media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the web. More relevantly, under reasons to use video on your site, YouTube is now the #2 search engine behind Google, so video boosts your search engine rankings. But not all video is created equal. What NOT to post, according to Booker: boring corporate profiles, messages from the CEO, commercials, or ‘viral video’ – (These, according to Booker, are a stroke of lightning, not a strategy) What does work: How-to video. Case studies. Video press releases. Client testimonials. Event video. (Cameras, lights, interviewers make events look exciting, and everyone wants to get their mug on film – as you see above)

Business Strategy for the Interconnected Age – James Burnes, Project Brilliant

This dude was psyched, waking up the crowd like the coffee we couldn’t have. And in no quiet terms, he told us he would be talking business strategy, not tactics. In a 20-minute presentation that stoked my marketing strategic fires, Burnes gave a branding 101 class that made it obvious Social Media deserves as much attention in the boardroom as any other communications channel:

  • What are your goals?
  • Who are your targets?
  • How will you deal with angry customers and support your loyal fans? (The two most important groups in social media)
  • What do your customers want?
  • Where do they go online?
  • Who is our talent? (Hint: it starts with the executive team)
  • What are our core milestones and events (trade shows, sales push, etc – plan around these events)
  • How will mobile accessibility to social media affect you? And finally:
  • Do you need your own social platform/community? (group on facebook, etc)

Burnes then offered some real-world examples of strategies, each condensed into a tight sentence. I challenge you to get yours this tight:

  • “Give prospective customers more exposure to what it’s like to do business with us.”
  • “Move excess inventory through special offers and deals”
  • “How do we drive referrals by making it easier to spread the word on the web?”
  • “Recruit the best talent by showcasing our staff’s work and the lifestyle we live.”
  • “Deliver easy ways for customers and prospects to share their product ideas.”

Burnes also drove home the need for a budget. His solution for where to get that money? Eliminate print brochures. Classic web-guy statement, but nobody in this crowd was disagreeing.

“Social Media Monitoring as a “Free” Focus Group – Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Buzz” Clay McDaniel, Spring Creek Group

Many decision-makers ignore Social Media as a “Land of the Malcontents”, populated only by whiners and geeks. But if you know where to look, there is all sorts of research information online, for free or close to it. All companies with a website are ‘Global’ – and you have access to information like never before.  Including, the entire deck for this presentation, offered online by the Spring Creek Group right here.

Begin by listening to what’s being said about you. Google Alerts is a good place to start. This service sends you an email every time Google finds a page containing keywords that you specify (like your company name). You can also place alerts for peoples’ names, your competition’s company, key issues etc etc. Other tools like Technorati help filter some of the billions of sites for you, and Twitter has its own set of tools (Twittersearch, Twendz) to monitor trends and keywords. For more robust, customizable solutions, check out Scoutlabs or Radian6. If you just want to jump right in yourself, here’s your 1-2-3:

1. Set up your Google Alerts
2. Spend 1 month determining where your customers, competitors others are posting most about you, themselves, their market
3. Pick top 2 key social media channels for you: Monthly deep-dives using one or more of the right tools.

Then look for those “a-ha” moments regarding your brand. That may be a trend in discussions, a surprise customer service issue or an opportunity to fill a need you never knew existed. But if you never listen, you’ll never know.

Blogging, Tweeting & Revenues. But really, who has the time? by Anne-Marie Faiola – CEO Brambleberry – AKA The Soap Queen

This was one presentation I had to see. How one small retailer grew her business with grass-roots social media and still mans the Twitter, blog and Facebook helm every day. Anne-Marie Faiola sells materials for handmade craft soaps, (molds, colorants, soap) online through a company she started when she was 20. In her words, “People bought my products just because I was helpful and friendly. People buy from people they like.”

Faiola budgets her social media time thus: Twitter: 30min/day Composing 15-20 tweets a day, jumping into conversations etc.  Facebook – 10 min a day. Blogs, one every single day – 60min. YouTube – (4 episodes of Soap Queen TV) 8hrs to film once a month on a weekend – (60hr project for the entire team)

Faiola then went beyond strategy to specifics. She uses Tweetdeck – to create lists of her followers so she can track them by category. Hootsuite helps her schedule her twitter updates so they appear regularly throughout the day. For blog writing, she recommends creating an editorial calendar and keeping a buffer of completed blogs.

Her YouTube Channel, SoapQueen TV has its own interesting story – the tale of another nail in the print advertising coffin. In 2006, Faiola had a $48,000 print advertising budget. With one stroke of the pen, she decided to use that money to set up her own in-shop mini TV studio. Including a local camera crew and editing services, each episode now only costs an average of $1000.

At first, her board rejected the idea of a Social Media plan. Now, using Google Analytics, Faiola tracks tangible sales directly from her online social media activities. In one example, she tracked $16,000 to a Twitter sales campaign. At the same time, year over year sales are up 29%. Cleaning up, one might say.

How to use social media to promote your brand – Brad Nelson, Starbucks

Seeing Brad, It’s like the ‘I’m a Mac’ guy got up on stage to present. His comfortable, casual delivery is perfect for Social Media. This is the guy you want talking to millions of customers every day. He began with some caveats. If your product sucks, social media is not going to fix it. If you are not willing to be transparent and open, social media is not for you. If there was one main message he preached it was to LISTEN. All media is social. All companies are media companies. Goodbye Ad Wars. Hello Conversation.  Add value to the conversation, and if there’s a fire, respond to where the fire is.

Nelson had an interesting comparison to the social media world of just a few years ago. If 2009 was the year of status updates, 2010 is the year of the check-in. When you check in with Twitter, YouTube, your Facebook page, that’s where your real world and your digital world connect. So what’s next for Starbucks?

  • Location – smartphones, Foursquare, and other technology that knows where you are adds layers to social media experience
  • What’s a 1-800 number? Anyone under 25 will probably not call it.
  • Social media is how you discover content. Facebook helps people discover content, through links from trusted friends.
  • Social Media will help us even more to decide what to buy.
  • Organizing – Elections, Tweetups

Nelson’s parting (espresso) shot: Start now to build credibility in the Social Media world. One day you’ll need it.

The Green Briefs 2-Bits: More than ever I believe Social Media will be a relevant channel going forward. Social Media NW is affordable, accessible and has something for small or large businesses. Will people tire of Tweeting? Undoubtedly. Will some defriend Facebook and revert to growing organic carrots and playing guitar all day long? I hope so. But more conversations and better content will make our new connections with each other more and more important to business. Heck, I remember a time when business cards didn’t have a web site address. So leave a comment. Tell me what you think – after all, that’s what this social media thing is all about, right?

Whoops, gotta go. It’s time to feed my Tweeter.

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