Wednesday, December 31, 2008
What 2008 meant to me
The other night on Twitter, David Armano pointed out that bloggers shouldn't be doing 'The Year in Review' type posts because everyone, including mainstream media' is doing them. I agreed, and said that I was much more interested in hearing what bloggers had learned in 2008. So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, here's my key takeaways from the year that was 2008.
Around this time last year, I was busy setting goals for 2008, like we all were. At that time, I was beginning to get steady requests from companies/people needing help with social media, so I decided to really focus on providing social media training and consulting for companies in 2008. Along with that goal, I decided that I needed to place a priority on speaking at and attending several events in 2008. I wanted to start networking, but I also wanted to start meeting these amazing people that I was following on blogs and Twitter. I was especially jealous of CK, who was constantly meeting people in NYC, or as she did her business traveling. My thinking was that meeting people would have a positive impact on my business, and would also help me personally.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
It all started with SXSW in March. Now we need some background here. First, everyone knows I have been wanting to attend SXSW for a while now, and when I couldn't make it in 2007, I whined about it here. So when Dell invited me to moderate the panel they submitted on The Future of Corporate Blogging, you better believe I jumped at the chance. The first day I was in Austin, I got to spend a good part of the day with Ben and Jackie, and later that night I got invited by Dell to 'speak' at their Conversation Starters event alongside people like Jeremiah Owyang, Shel Israel, Chris Heuer and Charlene Li. Yes, we are officially not in Kansas anymore. SXSW was invaluable to me, both personally and professionally. I think being there got me 'noticed' by a lot of people that otherwise didn't know who I was. And meeting all of these people was absolutely amazing. I got to meet people like Chris Brogan, Pistachio, Jason Falls, Ben and Jackie, Tara Hunt and Adele McAlear for the first time. And I got to meet a few of the blog's readers, which was a HUGE thrill! SXSW left me extremely energized, and at the same time, I feared that it had set the bar so high that no event could top it.
Then came Blogger Social. As much as I loved SXSW, Blogger Social was simply on another level. It was the brainchild of CK, Drew McLellan, and Lori Magno, who wanted a way to bring together many of the marketing bloggers that had connected online of the past year or two. Around 90 bloggers attended and I got to meet SO many friends. And of course I got to visit NYC for the first time (actually the second time I'd ever flown, SXSW was the first). It was like having a Homecoming involving almost 100 people you had never technically 'met'. But we had, online. I've heard plans are in the works for another in 2009, and if you can only make one event next year, that needs to be the one. CK, Drew and Lori did big.
Next up was a pair of speaking engagements at Small Business Marketing Unleashed, one in April in Houston, another in Columbus in September. Both times I spoke on Blogging for Business, and it was amazing to meet with small business owners and hear what their questions and concerns were about social media, and what their goals were. Answering questions like 'So what IS Twitter? What IS a blog?' taught me as much as it did the attendees. What I loved about this event is that it's focused on teaching, it's not about lecturing. Business owners went home with a plan of action, and a better understanding of this space. And yes, Jennifer Laycock and I converted quite a few initially skeptical attendees on the promise of Twitter! The September event was also special because I got to meet Beth Harte and Amber Naslund for the first time, my friend CK joined the stellar speaking roster for SBMU, and on the final night, Jason Falls drove literally HOURS to join us for dinner.
Then October brought the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer in Scottsdale. I was especially excited about this event because not only was there an absolutely killer lineup of speakers, but it was my first time getting to speak at an event run by Marketing Profs. Like Jennifer does with SBMU, Ann Handley has the mindset that you aren't coming to her conference to speak, you are coming to teach. I love that because there's no greater thrill than showing a business how connecting with customers via social media could help them, and seeing the 'lightbulb' go off when they realize the potential. I not only did a special blog lab where I broke down the elements of a successful blog, but also did one-on-one sessions with businesses that wanted to learn more about blogging. Again, I'm not sure who learned more, and the lab and sessions appeared to be a big hit. This coming after a pair of SBMUs really drove home to me the need to provide teaching and training for companies, because I want to move businesses to a place where they can become self-sufficient when it comes to social media. So these events helped me determine where my business focus would be in 2009.
BTW in case you are in the 'that hand on your shoulder is freakin' me out!' camp on Twitter concerning my avatar, here's the source:
From left to right that's Sonny Gill, Beth Harte, Scott Monty's hand, me, Connie Reece, Scott Monty, and Chris Brogan. We even got a cameo by AmberCadabra down at the bottom left!
Then last month I spoke at and attended Learn About Web, which was organized by Craig Sutton and the team at BrightWeb Marketing. Once again, this was an event focused on teaching, and getting the audience involved so that they can learn. Craig told me that my session was the most popular with the attendees, which was quite an accomplishment considering the level of speakers the event featured. But I also think it was a sign that speaking/teaching at several events during the year had improved my delivery. At least I hope so.
And then just last night, I had my first tweetup in my home state. Over the past month or so, I've really started spending a ton of time on Twitter, and I wanted to start connecting with people in Alabama, especially in the Huntsville area. I found a few people in Huntsville that were active on Twitter, and we started talking about a having a tweetup, and decided on having it last night. I was honestly expecting no more than 5 people to show up, but 12 did, and we are planning on making these a regular event. And I think I learned more than anyone else there, @burhop showed me how his company is using Yammer (which looked surprisingly similar to Twhirl), @LoriMillier_WHNT talked about how her TV station could be using social media, as did @ArieDana. And I got to hear about how @Mbertoldi and @laceddesign are wanting to integrate social media into their businesses' offerings. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the evening was hearing two current University of Alabama students, @Danamlewis and @Mirandanicole talk about students at UA are using social media, and which tools are more popular(Facebook and MySpace are widely used, Twitter not very, but they want to change that!) Then I was shocked/humbled/honored to discover that one of @mirandanicole's PR classes at UA had devoted a class to studying this post I wrote on the top corporate blogs. Wow.
So in the end, am I simply saying that what I learned in 2008 was to meet a buncha people? Well, yeah, I guess that is what I am saying. As I am very fond of saying "Don't focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate". These tools are great, but the big deal is that thanks to these tools, I now have made connections that will hopefully result in lifelong friendships. THAT is why social media is so important. The tools/shiny objects will change, but the importance of being able to connect with other human beings and know them personally, is never going to go away. This is a big reason why I am so passionate about teaching companies about this space. I want them to find a way to connect with their customers on a personal level, and I want to see the change that happens as a result. I want to see smart college students like @mirandanicole and @danamlewis go work for companies and change the internal culture by showing them what's possible by using social media to connect with their customers.
Above all else, I want everyone to have a year like I did in 2008. And it was because of meeting and connecting with so many amazing people. I want you to promise me you will try to do the same thing in 2009. You don't have to go to SXSW or Blogger Social. Go to Twitter Local and find out who is on Twitter in your area. Connect with them and create a tweetup for your area. Start small if you have to, the point is to get started.
Here's to an amazing 2009!
PS: I met so many amazing people in 2008 and I don't want to start naming everyone because I will no doubt leave someone out that I don't mean to. But I did want to make special mention of four very special people that have gone out of their way to help me both personally and professionally this year. They are Ann Handley, CK, Jennifer Laycock, and Amber Naslund. I am a better human being for knowing each of you, and my life is in better place because of what you each have done for me. Thank you, and I can only hope that everyone reading this has friends as good as you.
Pic of SBMU dinner via David Alston.