Monday, June 29, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama! Social South is ON!

It's taken well over a year of planning, but the Deep South is finally going to have a social media conference. In August, the city of Birmingham will host the first Social South, a conference devoted to social media with a decidedly Southern flair. The speaker list is still being assembled, but already includes some of the brightest minds in social media:

Toby Bloomberg - Atlanta's own Diva, Toby is well-respected as one of the foremost experts in corporate social media use, and her Diva Marketing Blog has been online since 2004. She's also spoken at some of the top social media events in the country, and SoSo is damned lucky to have her.

Paul Chaney - Everyone's favorite Social Media Handyman, Paul is the pride of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Director of Marketing for Bizzuka. Like Toby, he also writes for Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog.

Jason Falls - Jason is the Director of Social Media for Doe-Anderson, one of the country's oldest advertising agencies. He blogs at Social Media Explorer and has spoken at literally every major social media conference in the nation. And to keep the Southern-ties thingie goin', he lives in Kentucky and in a previous life was a native of Birmingham.

Ike Pigott - A Birmingham native, Ike is a social media and communications expert, and one of the most respected PR voices in the blogosphere. He's also been one of the driving forces behind Social South becoming reality.

Scott Schablow - Scott is the Chief Strategic Officer for Provenance Digital Media and like Ike, is a Birmingham native and has played a huge role in getting Social South off the ground.

This is the initial speaker list, and others will be added shortly. Social South will be on August the 21st and 22nd at the Innovation Depot in Birmingham. The website for Social South is currently having the finishing touches put on it, and should be ready to go in a day or two.

Now if you're wondering if I'll be speaking at Social South, you're damned skippy I will be! And the best part is YOU decide what I will speak on! I told Scott I wanted to speak on something a bit 'edgier' than most of the conferences I speak on, but at the same time, edgy can be a total hit, or a complete bust. So I wanted to throw out several possible topics, and let you guys vote on your favorites. Voting will run through July 10th, and here's the choices:

Six Reasons Why No One Likes You Online - Building a Better Community Site

This presentation is based on this post, and six pitfalls to avoid in creating a successful community site. We'll also cover examples of companies that are doing this the 'right way'.

What Rockstars Can Teach You About Kicking Ass With Social Media

Based loosely on this post, this presentation looks at what music artists do successfully (they don't think in terms of 'customers', they think in terms of fans), and how you can use social media as a set of tools to not just connect with your customers, but excite them. This one is probably the presentation I am most excited about giving.

Five Reasons Why Your Company Blog Sucks

Based on this post, this presentation will look at five common mistakes that most companies make with their blogging efforts, and how to correct them. We'll also look at examples of companies that are creating successful blogging efforts.

This Changes Everything - How Social Media Can Transform Your Marketing and Your Business

This presentation will look at how a business and the way it communicates with its customers (and internally with itself) can be changed and improved by using social media. A bit heavier on theory (with real-world examples mixed in), we'll examine how social media can improve your marketing, and how you connect with, and understand, your customers.

Ten Steps to Helping Your Business Kick Ass on Twitter

Twitter is the hot social media site right now, and businesses are scrambling to figure out how to use Twitter to grow their business. This presentation is based on this post, and will walk you through ten steps you can use to successfully launch a presence on Twitter.

And you can vote using the poll below:

So please cast your vote, and also if there's certain points you want covered/addressed in a particular presentation, please add those in a comment or email me. Can't tell you how excited I am about this presentation, and this event. Hope to see you in two months in Birmingham!

Pic of me and Jason Falls via Beth Harte

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A lil (blue) birdie told me Marketing Profs has a new Community Manager!

And it's none other than Beth Harte! I'm not who deserves to be congratulated first, Beth for getting the gig, or Marketing Profs for getting Beth! So I'll congratulate both Beth and Ann Handley and the gang at Marketing Profs.

Oh and if you want to know how absolutely perfect Beth is for this position, note that The Harte of Marketing just celebrated it's FIRST blogging birthday! Yes that's right, she's only been blogging there for a year, but look at the incredibly vibrant community she has on her blog! And of course she's always been a big evangelist for Marketing Profs, so this really is the definition of a win-win situation for everyone! Here is Beth's post on what the move means to her, and why she made it.

So go congratulate Beth on her blog, and on Twitter!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Social Media just one big clique?

I recently had a conversation with Amy Africa, and she mentioned that after she presented at the Marketing Profs B2B Forum last week, that several attendees came up and asked her if she did social media consulting. She explained that:

I think part of the thing is that you guys are so cliquey that you are often difficult to approach. Yes, even you. So people approach people like me (who know jack about social media) because well, we’re approachable.

I can't really disagree with her, and I have been thinking about this for a long time. From my personal perspective, the problem for me is that:

1 - I am an introvert offline, and an extrovert (or at least more extroverted) online

2 - When I am at an event, I assume that most people have no idea who I am, and thusly don't want to approach me

Now my fear is that my naturally being introverted and assuming most people don't know who I am, is giving the impression that I don't want to meet you. And another problem is, I am following almost 3,000 people on Twitter. I always have someone come up and introduce themselves and give me their real name and say they are on Twitter. I normally don't recognize them from their real name, and if we haven't interacted on Twitter, I probably won't recognize them at all. This is a downside of following so many people on Twitter, that I can't always have meaningful connections with everyone.

And I've talked to other people that are 'known' in social media, and I have also been around others at events when someone approaches them and compliments them on their blog, etc. I can tell you that I am always slightly embarrassed when this happens, and I have been around some of the so-called 'superstars' in social media when someone gushes about their blog, and I've seen them turn beet-red with embarrassment as well.

That's because at the end of the day, I'm just a guy with a blog. And I know that YOU guys as a group, are smarter than I will ever be. So when someone comes up to me and says "I just wanted to let you know that I love The Viral Garden!", I am so thankful, but it's also a bit embarrassing because it's like you are thanking me, when as a reader of this blog, I should be thanking you!

And honestly, this post is difficult for me to even write because it involves talking about myself. I don't like doing that, but I think this is an important topic to discuss. I do agree with Amy that some people may see several of their favorite bloggers/social media people together in a group, and feel like they can't walk over and introduce themselves. I am the same way, at SXSW this year, I literally forced myself to go up and introduce myself to Kathy Sierra after her talk. I made a complete fool out of myself blubbering about how amazing I think she is, but it was important to let her know how much I appreciate her smartitude.

So while I can't speak for anyone else, I can tell you this. If you see me at an event and want to introduce yourself PLEASE feel free to do so as I absolutely love meeting you guys. I've said this before, but the best meeting I had last year was at a conf where a reader walked up to me and said they loved The Viral Garden. It was completely unexpected, and I was so appreciative. For my part, I am going to try to make myself more accessible and approachable during events from now on.

And I don't usually do this, but if you would be more comfortable emailing me instead of commenting on this post, please do so. I want to make sure that when I am at an event, I have a chance to meet as many of you as possible. If you have any ideas on how I can make that happen, please let me know!

Pic via Flickr user David Alston

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Are you registered for Inbound Marketing University?

It may be summertime, but marketing/social media class is about to be in session! Next week, Inbound Marketing University will bring together a dozen of the top names in social media and inbound marketing to provide you with a FREE series of 10 classes next week (2 per day), and a final exam on Monday the 22nd. The webinars are designed to give marketing training to existing marketers as well as those inbetween jobs. You can see the class schedule here, and register for the free series here.

The list of 'professors' for the IMU is pretty robust, featuring experts such as David Merriman Scott, Chris Brogan, Lee Odden, Rand Fishkin and many more. Ann Handley and I will kick off the week-long event on Monday with our Blogging for Business session. There will also be a Q&A period for the classes. And all the classes will be archived, so don't fret if you miss one or two.

If you have any questions about our session, feel free to email me, or check out my Blogging 101 section over at See you next week!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Five reasons why your business/social media conference sucks

Longtime readers of The Viral Garden know that when I speak at a major business/social media conference, I try to recap my experience to help not only conference-goers, but conference organizers as well, to help them better structure their events. With that in mind, here are five areas that the Marketing Profs Business 2 Business Forum nailed, and these are areas you should pay close attention to as you plan a similar event:

1 - You have boring, cookie-cutter sessions. Every session is a speaker standing behind a podium addressing an audience. That's a lecture, not an optimized learning experience. Now granted, some speakers can speak well from behind a podium, and this will happen often, but the point is, if every session is like this, it tends to blend together and become fairly boring.

At the B2B Forum, the MP staff was smart enough to shake it up a bit. There were interactive sessions where the audience was encouraged to participate from the start. There were hot-seat labs, where again, audience members were put on the 'hot seat'. And of course, Amy Africa closed out the event by having a Family Feud themed presentation on conversion and website design. All of this worked to spice things up, and it helped spark attention and learning.

2 - After the sessions end, so does your event. One thing Marketing Profs did that was brilliant was they had a tweetup at the end of the first day, and got 451 Marketing to sponsor it. Why was this important? Because it let a bunch of people in the Boston area that couldn't attend the event, to show up and meet everyone. This was one of my favorite parts of the conference, as I got to meet Julie Ann, Doug Haslam, Michelle Wolverton, Christine Perkett, and even Chris Brogan showed up. This also gave people that didn't attend a chance to get a taste of the experience at the conference, and I'm sure this helped sell these people on attending future Marketing Profs' events.

3 - You have boring meals. One theme that ran through the B2B Forum was expanding the event beyond just the sessions. This was evident with the Tweetup on day one, and then afterward there was a dinner which featured a wonderful group of magicians going through the crowd amazing us. Then the following morning during breakfast, the tables were organized by topic, and you picked the conversation you wanted to be a part of, and joined in. This was a great way to get everyone's brain moving before the general sessions started on day two.

4 - Your speakers leave the stage, and leave the event. This is a BIG pet peeve of mine. At many events, the speakers fly in, collect a check, and leave. If you aren't lucky enough to catch them as they are walking off the stage with your question, then you are SOL. At the B2B Forum, the attendees could not only schedule one-on-one time with many of the speakers about several different topics (blogging, Twitter, email, usability, etc), but the speakers themselves were great about spending time with attendees and answering questions. I missed lunch on the first day of the forum and so did Amy Africa. That's because she spent two freakin' hours with me helping me with the organization of I don't even want to know how much that time would have cost me otherwise.

5 - You aren't a friend of Lucky the Lobster. Ok this one has nothing to do with the conference, but my two days in Boston were capped by a dinner that featured Ann setting Lucky the Lobster free into the Boston Hahbah. Here's a pic, and here's the video Justin Cresswell shot.

But the bottom line is that when you are planning your business/marketing/social media conference, think about what Marketing Profs' did right with the B2B Forum, and try to better the structure of your event. The staff found a way to make the event more fun and enjoyable, but at the same time, this increased the learning and sent everyone home from the event satisfied. This was honestly the best business/social media conference I have been to yet, and has me even more pumped for the Digital Marketing Mixer in October.

Some pics via Flickr user Robert Collins and SWoodruff

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The idea that 'content is king' in blogging is total bullshit

This is one area of social media and especially blogging that has always irked me. The belief that if you create great content, you are set. That your blog will be inundated with thousands of visitors just dying to get the chance to glimpse your verbal greatness.

Give me a break.

Every day I read hundreds of blog posts. And every day, I see dozens of truly GREAT posts that get no comments. Every day I see dozens of pretty good posts that get dozens of comments and have vibrant conversations.

The difference? Most of the bloggers that write those pretty good posts are also pretty good about leaving their blog and interacting with people on OTHER sites. They comment on their reader's blogs. They tweet their links on Twitter. They are ACTIVELY social with social media.

The ones that write those great posts that get no comments are the ones that I never see on Twitter. I never see them leaving blog comments, in fact if I ever want to see them, I have to go to their blog to find them.

Many bloggers view their blog as their stage. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn't make sense to walk behind a podium, start talking, and expect the room to fill with an attentive audience. Chris Brogan had a great post on this today (and read @KathySierra's comment), and the point he kept making is that the difference between an audience and a community is the direction that the chairs are facing. Many bloggers act as if they are addressing an audience, when they want an interactive and passionate community. This is a disconnect that the idea of 'content being king' feeds into.

Great content is NOT the king in blogging. Being social is. Remember last week when I talked about how bad many of my first posts were here? Even those posts were getting comments, and a big reason why was because the comments were coming from people that noticed my commenting on their blogs.

I know what you're thinking. 'But Mack, good content is still VERY important, and if you have good content, sooner or later people WILL find out about it'.

I agree, but here's the thing; being active in the blogosphere and on social sites IMPROVES the quality of the content you create on your blog! It gives you a better idea of what your readers are looking for, AND it exposes you to other viewpoints, which helps you solidify and strengthen your own thoughts. And as this is happening, you are also exposing your blog to other people, by interacting with them in their space.

The best way to grow your blog is to leave it. That's how you build a great blog.

Pic via Flickr user JacobEnos

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

First impressions: Thesis

Earlier this week I announced that I had launched, and I did so on Wordpress using Thesis as the template. I know a lot of you are thinking about launching or relaunching your blog, and may be considering Thesis, so I wanted to share my initial thoughts on the template.

Pros: Insane amount of customization is possible, and most of the major changes can be made with a few mouse clicks, instead of changing/editing code.

Cons: NOT for the beginner. If looking at template code scares you, you'll never get the full affect from using Thesis. Plus, it costs $87.

Bottom line: If you are comfortable tweaking your blog's code, or willing to learn, Thesis holds incredible potential for your blog as its template.

I've been wanting to relaunch The Viral Garden, and launch for a while now, and I knew I wanted to have both be on WordPress when I did. Initially, I was thinking that I would wait till later in the year when I had time and hire someone to design a super snazzy template for me. But when I heard about Thesis, I really became intrigued because it apparently simplified much of the coding process, and since I knew a bit from tinkering with the template here (and wanted to learn more), I decided to go with Thesis.

And let me say up front that I think this is where the first misconception about Thesis (at least for me) comes into play. I think Thesis is viewed by many as the template that makes the process of designing your blog MUCH easier. I think it would be more accurate to say that it flattens the TOP of the learning curve when it comes to tinkering with your blog's template. But if you are a complete newbie when it comes to changing/editing a blog template, Thesis will still seem like you are dealing with Egyptian hieroglyphics at first. I remember reading the forums about getting Thesis set up on my blog (can't remember the snag I was hitting), and I saw a reply from someone that had just bought Thesis and they said 'I bought Thesis thinking it was supposed to make everything easier. It shouldn't be this hard'. I completely knew what he meant.

But if you want to quickly and easily set up a very basic blog layout, Thesis is a gem. Look at this screenshot:

It might be a bit hard to see, but that's the Thesis Design dashboard, and with a few clicks, you can change not only the size of each of your blog's columns, but even change the NUMBER and ORDER of your columns! Want 2 columns with the content column on the right? No problem. What about three columns with the content column in the middle with a width of 500 pixels with the sidebars having a width of 250 pixels? Piece of cake. This is probably the biggest area that most people want to customize when it comes to their blog's layout, and Thesis gives you the ability to change and define this in literally seconds. This alone probably makes Thesis worth the $87.

Another area that many people want to change is adding widgets to their blog. We all want to stick our Twitter and Friendfeed and MyBlogLog, etc widgets on the sides, right? Thankfully, Thesis also makes this painfully easy.

Thesis has several 'pre-loaded' widgets available for you to choose from, such as Archives, Recent Comments, Tag Cloud, etc. It also gives you the ability to add your own by adding a Text widget, then putting in the HTML code you get from Twitter or MyBlogLog or whatever site you want to add the widget for. Just pop that code in the text widget box, click Done, click Save Changes and there you go! You can also choose which sidebar you want to put the widget on, and in which order you want to have the widgets. Again, this is painfully simple.

The other area of that I wanted to change was to add a header image, and this is where the trouble started. Unfortunately, this process was far more demanding than changing the layout and adding widgets. I went to the forums for some answers, and struggled to find a decent solution. And in reading the forums it becomes obvious that Thesis is geared toward the more advanced blogger. I guess that's assumed since you have to pay $87 to get the thing. But I think it can be a bit intimidating for the beginner. Here's an example of what I am talking about. I was scanning the archives for a problem I was having on getting Thesis set up, and found this solution from a member:

"Hey this is an easy problem to fix! All you have to do is edit your custom.css file, add in this code, save it and re-upload it, and you're good to go!"

Now this response makes several assumptions:

1 - That I know what my custom.css file is and where to find it
2 - That I know HOW to edit my custom.css file
3 - That I know how to add the code and re-upload it

By now, I know all of these steps, but at first I was totally clueless and had to do some serious studying. But if you are used to using Thesis, solutions like this will make total sense, but will confuse the hell outta you if you are new to tinkering with your blog's template, and Thesis. But on the whole, the forum has been very helpful to me, and all the members seem very nice and willing to help out. Even if some of them make the mistake of assuming that I'm not an idiot when it comes to some of this stuff ;)

BTW I finally figured out my header issue, this site has the answer I needed, just find out the EXACT URL for your header pic on your server, and put it in parantheses where it says YOUR_ABSOLUTE_PATH, and add the code to your custom.css file. Yeah, it sounds like French now, but if you get Thesis and start tinkering with it, you'll get it!

And this comes back to the ultimate question: Should you buy Thesis? It really depends on:

1 - How comfortable you are with editing and changing your blog's template and files associated with your blog's template, and

2 - If you are willing to learn how to do this tinkering, if you don't already know how.

I am more in the camp of I don't know that much about HOW to tinker, but I want to learn. For myself personally to improve the look and functionality of and this blog, but also professionally, so I can help blog consulting clients with their blog's design.

If you want a no-frills blog template that looks decent that you never want to mess with, you can probably get what you need from a free template and be completely happy. But if you like to customize your blog's design and keep the functionality up to date with what your readers want, Thesis is perfect for you. And I haven't even gotten into Thesis Hooks, which hold incredible customization potential by allowing you to add in functional elements at different locations on your blog. Here's an example of a gorgeous blog/site that's running on Thesis. That's definitely over my head, but it shows the potential that Thesis offers, and that's a big reason why I wanted to get the template and learn how to tap into its potential.

My advice is to get Thesis. Sure it costs $87 and you'll also have to pay the associated hosting fees, but in the end it's worth it IMO to be able to customize your blog to the level that Thesis allows. And you also get updates for free as each new version of Thesis comes out. I'll likely be updating this entry later on as I become more comfortable with Thesis, but I wanted to give you my initial impressions as someone that's only been using Thesis for a week or two.

If you're using Thesis on your blog, what do you think about it, and what would you tell someone that's considering getting it?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Is social media creating one helluva mess for your company?

Ms Single Mama recently left a post that got me thinking, and that should get the attention of every major company. She took her child to use the bathroom at her local Kroger, and was horrified at the condition she found it in. She took out her cellphone, snapped some quick photographic evidence, and then issued this challenge to her readers:

I have a challenge for you - because I have a bit of a rebellious spirit, if you hadn’t noticed, take a picture of your local grocery store bathroom and post it on your own blog or to your Twitter account (use your cell phone to take pictures).

This got me to thinking about what could happen next for Kroger (or any company that finds itself in a similar situation).

Bad scenario: MSM's idea goes viral on Twitter, and everyone starts posting Twitpics of horrible bathroom conditions at Kroger's around the country. #nastykrogerbathrooms becomes the top trending topic on Twitter, and Kroger finds out about this when the NYTimes calls for a comment.

Good scenario: Kroger posts in every bathroom their Twitter name, asking customers to contact them if they don't like the condition of the bathroom. Kroger then continues to monitor feedback on Twitter, and continues to improve.

The point is, your customers now have the tools to create content about you. Many have cellphones that can take pictures with them at all times. Some even can record video and stream that video INSTANTLY to the internet.

And thanks to social sites/networks like Twitter, they can mobilize and share information almost instantly. Paul created quite a stir with his Hurricane Kohls post from almost THREE years ago. That was back when most of you had never heard of Twitter. Imagine what could happen if that post had been left/tweeted today?

The bottom line is that thanks to social media, your customers can move and mobilize faster than your company can. Welcome to 2009.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Hopefully you've noticed, but posts have been a bit lax here at The Viral Garden for the last couple of weeks. The reason why is because I've been working on getting my new site, set up.

I've been wanting to launch this site for a while now for two reasons:

1 - I needed a better way to promote my blogging, social media consulting and speaking services. And I have never felt completely comfortable having that information here, yet at the same time, I am constantly being contacted by people that want to know IF I do consulting. So I needed a better way to let everyone know what I do, and launching a new site with this information seemed like a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Feel free to check out my prices and services for blogging and social media consulting.

2 - Over the last 4 years I have literally written well over 1,000 posts and articles about social media. I wanted a place to aggregate much of that content, instead of having it spread out over The Viral Garden, Daily Fix, Marketing Profs, and Search Engine Guide. So I've collected some of my best posts and articles and collected them in a Social Media Library on

So please check out if you have a minute. It's not perfect now and there's some issues that I'll still be tinkering with in the next couple of weeks. But it's officially open for business! Please let me know what you think!

Now that brings us to The Viral Garden. As much as I have wanted to launch for a while, I've also been wanting to move The Viral Garden to Wordpress, and I'll be doing that soon. But this move also got me thinking about the focus of this blog moving forward. I have always viewed the content here as being co-created between you and I. I write the posts, you leave the great comments, and the end result is content that we both created together.

So when I relaunch The Viral Garden, I am going to approach it not so much as a blog anymore, but as a community site. Because that's what I think of it as being. So with the move to Wordpress, I'll be able to add some elements/plugins (Comment Luv!!!) that will give you more of a say here, and will better promote your contributions. And I have some other ideas that will highlight readers and commenters on a regular basis. I also have some ideas for new features that will be here that will hopefully increase this site's value and keep you on the cutting edge of what's happening in the blogging and social media space.

So moving forward, will be more about me, The Viral Garden will be about us. I'll be removing the tabs/pages about my consulting/speaking that are here when I switch over the Wordpress, and will be replacing that with other materials.

And BTW it can never be said enough, but I really do appreciate each and every one of you that read The Viral Garden, whether you've been reading since the first post in 2006, or if you just found the blog today, thank you. I will try my best to never take your attention for granted.