Thursday, May 13, 2010

I won't speak for free

In March of 2008 I had a pair of 'firsts' that were both scary as hell for me at the time. First, I flew on an airplane for the first time in my life, and second, I spoke at SXSW. Actually I moderated a panel, but it was the first time since graduate school 5 years prior, that I spoke in front of an audience.

Now as an introvert, an introvert that had never spoken professionally at the time, my first thought when I was contacted about moderating a panel at SXSW was "There's no way I can do this!"

My second thought was "There's no way I can't do this!"

So although I was literally worried sick about speaking at SXSW, I went ahead with it. It ended up being one of the best decisions I've made in the last 2 years, and now I actually love speaking at social media conferences, something I would have never imagined this time two years ago. And I've gotten to be a pretty good speaker, I get good reviews every time I speak, and at every event I have had at least one attendee tell me afterward that my presentation alone justified the cost of the event for them.

For each event I speak at I spend on average 10 hours creating the slide deck, and about 20 hours rehearsing the presentation, unless it's an existing presentation/deck, then that time is much less. The end result is that I spend anywhere from 15-30 hours preparing/rehearsing the presentation, and lose a minimum of one day due to travel, usually two days.

So there's a pretty big time commitment necessary for me to speak at an event. And yet even with the time investment required, even though I have spoken at most of the biggest social media events and get rave reviews when I speak, I still have conference organizers that contact me expecting me to speak at their event for free.

And when I say 'free', I don't mean that they won't pay a speaking fee. I mean that they won't cover a speaking fee OR any of the speaker's travel costs TO the event.

About a year ago, I adopted a strict policy for speaking at events: I won't speak for free. If you want me to speak at your event, the bare minimum requirement is that you cover my travel. I'll probably require a speaking fee as well, but one certainty is that I won't be paying to come speak at your event so you can sell more tickets. I have turned down a lot of speaking requests in the last year because the event organizers wanted me to speak for free.

I won't. Period.

I'm sorry, but if you are an event organizer, my expertise and time are both worth money, and I'm going to ask for it. I've worked with event organizers before, so I understand that very few social media conferences are cash cows. But a lot more could be compensating their speakers, even if it's only their travel to the event.

Besides that, it's the right thing to do.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Experiencing social media vs monitoring it

Over four years ago, I wrote this post about the importance of companies understanding their customers. I wanted to focus on this section:

What happens when you better understand your customers is that you can better serve them by anticipating their wants and needs. And the best part? As we correctly anticipate the consumers' wants and needs, and fill them, a trust is developed, which leads to the consumer lowering their defenses and letting us interact with them on a deeper level. This leads to a greater understanding of their needs, which means we can more quickly and effectively meet these needs, and thus the cycle is created.

Understanding your customers is general is obviously incredibly important, but you should also understand how your customers are using social media. This is something that often is overlooked when we advise companies on how to get started with social media. We teach them of the value of monitoring social media, of tracking company and industry mentions. Of knowing what's being said and where it is being said.

But that's only half the battle. The 'why' gives meaning to the numbers. What social tools are your customers using? Why are they using them? What information are they looking for, and how do they want it to be delivered to them?

The numbers alone don't tell the whole story. For example, last year a couple of studies came out that challenged Twitter's popularity. The studies claimed that people were flocking to Twitter, but then they stopped using the service after a few months. But the studies were looking at how Twitter users used the Twitter WEBSITE. Many Twitter users move on to a Twitter client such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic after becoming comfortable with the service. So the numbers suggested that people were leaving Twitter, when in fact they may have simply been leaving the Twitter website, for a Twitter desktop client.

You should definitely monitor social media, but ultimately, you should strive to understand the people, not the numbers. If you can reach the point where you understand how and why your customers are using social media, then you can begin to use social media to connect with them on terms that they are comfortable with. And when their comfort level increases, then your customers will more freely connect with you, and this helps you better understand them. And when you better understand them, you can better meet their wants and needs, which in turn will prompt them to more easily understand you. And thus a cycle is created and eventually the understanding on both sides reaches a point where trust enters into the equation.

But it all starts with focusing on the people, not the numbers. Be aware of the numbers, but understand the people behind them.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How 'social' should companies be?

My policy on who/how many people I follow on Twitter has become much more lax in recent months. These days, I follow back most of the people that follow me. The downside to this is that a lot of these people will immediately unfollow me as soon as I follow them back, I guess in an attempt to 'pad' their follower count.

So every few weeks, I like to go through my Twitter network and 'cleanse' it. I will unfollow a lot of the people I am following that aren't following me, and at the same time I will try to follow back people that followed me that I somehow missed. I was doing this today (using Twellow), and I began to notice a trend as I was going through the people I was following, that weren't following me.

I was following a LOT of people that write for Mashable, that weren't following me back. I finally found SEVEN people that identified themselves as writers for Mashable, that weren't following me back. I'm not talking about people that occasionally write for Mashable, these are seven paid writers for Mashable, not counting Cashmore (he isn't following me either).

I checked the ratio of people they follow to those that follow them. The 'best' ratio I found was one writer that was following back roughly 33% of the people that follow him. The worst was less than 10%.

I got to thinking about this, and honestly I'm not sure of the significance. Will I stop promoting Mashable on Twitter because none of their writers will follow me back? Probably not. Now do I think it's hypocritical for the site to bill itself as 'The Social Media Guide' and only follow back a fraction? Yeah, a little. Is that enough to make me change how I share their content with my network? Probably not.

So at the end of the day, who cares? That's what I'm wondering about. If a company is at all connected to social media, whether it's via content they aggregate, or create, or distribute, or services they offer, are these companies held to a higher 'standard' when it comes to using social media? If an agency brands itself as being 'experts in making companies social', and they aren't using social media to be social themselves, is that a disconnect? Are they expected to be more 'social'? Should they be? At the end of the day does it really matter?

What do you think?

UPDATE: As I continued to go through the people I am following that aren't following me back, I noticed that I also had several from Twitter. Which is really ironic.