Why Blogs With Balls 3 Was the Best Conference I've Ever Attended

This past Saturday I attended and spoke at a fantastic sports media conference called Blogs With Balls 3.  Massive kudos to Kyle Bunch and the crew at Hugging Harold Reynolds for what was the best conference I've ever attended (and for inviting an 'outsider' like me to speak).  Do not sleep on the next time they put one of these together!

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That's right - the best conference I've ever attended.  Here's why, in no particular order of importance ...

No Jargon It didn't dawn on me until after the fact, but the day was refreshingly free of jargon, buzz words, insider speak and egos.  Rather, it was people, talking like people, to other people.  Straight shooting.  Learning.  Teaching.  Thoughtful discourse.  Very real.

Fun  Likely a combination of Saturday + liquor sponsor + Wrigley Field setting, but this was the most fun I've ever had at a conference.  It was loose and casual - from the colorful language, to the attire and between-sessions banter.  I even witnessed my first real life Bro getting iced by a bro (@edsbs got iced, as evidenced below).  Fun is not something I normally associate with a conference - BwB3 changed all that.  I had a really good time.  When was the last time you said that at a conference (not called SxSW)?

Bros icing

Great Venue  The venue was perfectly conducive for interaction. It was at the Captain Morgan's club at Wrigley Field.  There was a main room, which held about 200 people, flanked by an outdoor area.  The fact that it was so contained made conversation easy and natural.  I much prefer the tighter quarters - that containment breeds interaction.  And did I mention it was at Wrigley - I mean, how much better can it get? 

The People What an interesting group of sports nuts.  Smart.  Driven.  Not even close to the same people speaking on the same social media topics.  New perspectives to teach.  Really interested in learning.  I had great conversations with folks like Ty Ahmad-Taylor, Mike Germano and Adam Best, Ben Koo, Wayne Vore, Josh Abrams and Zachary Chapman - just to name a few.  It will be my pleasure to continue getting to know these people, and understanding ways we might work together. 

The Bloggers  As a social media practitioner, there is nothing more important and valuable than spending time talking with bloggers - face to face (imagine that!).  Of the (my estimate) 200 people in attendance, 150 of them must have been actual sports bloggers.  Women and men pounding out massive amounts of great content every day.  Some of them supporting themselves doing so.  Others hoping to do so one day.  All of them hungry to understand what it takes to get to the next level of success.  Their comments and questions told so much about their wants, needs, questions and aspirations.  It put a human face on these people - something that's easy to forget when Twitter and RSS feeds dominate our daily lives. 

Again, bravo to Kyle Bunch and Hugging Harold Reynolds for a great day.  I think you'll see me next year!

P.S.  If for some odd reason you want to watch my panel, here goes.  I'm the bearded, shorts-wearing Cubs fan.

Watch live video from blogswithballs on Justin.tv

You Are Who You Follow?

I like Gillian's answer to my question, simply because I hadn't thought about it from this perspective.

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Does a brand imply personal/professional endorsement by following someone back on Twitter?

I don't think any more than taking their money at the cash register; or even allowing them in their store. What do you think?

Gillian's example (white supremacist) is an extreme.  Replace it with a polarizing, but much more benign figure.  Does following Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, Chad Ochocinco or Alex Bogusky imply something about what you believe and how you do business?  Or do you simply find them interesting pieces in a much larger mosaic?

Storytelling With a Music Business Vet (Dan Beck)

I've known Dan Beck since 2002.  By my calculations Dan has worked and lived in the upper echelons of the music business for four decades.  He recently started one of the most entertaining blogs around, called Music Bizz Fizz - a collection of nearly unbelievable stories about his run-ins with some of music's greatest legends.

Dan-Beck-Elisa-Perry-Joe- Dan is a born storyteller.  Since I've known him he's dazzled me with personal [and mostly, touching] stories about Ozzie(Osbourne), Michael (Jackson), Cyndi (Lauper), Richard (Branson) and others.

I asked him if he'd answer a few questions on storytelling, which seems to be on the tip of every marketer's tongue these days.  Here's what he had to say.

I'm almost certain he'd answer more questions if you leave them as a comment. Go for it ... this guy has been there, done that.

Ian Sohn:  'Storytelling' is a red hot topic these days in marketing circles.  I hear brand managers and agency types talk all the time about how brands need to mine interesting stories from inside the organization, and then bring them to life for external audiences.  Why do you suppose there's such a deliberate emphasis on storytelling these days - is there something happening culturally right now that makes it more important than a few years ago? 

Dan Beck:  We are so connected today and so in touch.  I believe that this re-awakening to storytelling is the realization that storytelling is a way to texture and validate an idea or more warmly position a relationship.  All of our advancements in 24/7 communication are two dimensional and storytelling is a humanistic tool to add depth, history, and perspective. 

IS: Your blog, www.musicbizzfizz.com, is a collection of great stories from your four decades in the music business.  Why did you now choose to start sharing those memories publicly? 

DB: I started my career as a writer and my passion was to be a lyricist/songwriter.  As an editor for a music trade magazine in Nashville , I was writing stories back in the ‘70’s, about the storytellers in country music; people like Tom T. Hall and Charlie Daniels.  Then, as a marketing execuRichard-Sanders-Steven-Tyltive, I was given an enormous gift to work with so many extraordinarily talented recording artists in country, rock, pop, and soul, over the years that were so fascinating to me.  I feel a certain obligation to share those experiences that were given to me, from working with Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson to the many  artists who never made it.  I know 50 other people who have better stories than mine, but their not telling them!  It has always been an extremely difficult business for creative people to survive.  I believe there are lessons in their experiences, in their courage, and in the hallucination of chasing fame and celebrity with ones talents.  The breakthroughs, the mistakes, even the naïve perspective we might have had back then were all a part of trying to figure out how to succeed.  Maybe there is something in that a new mind can advance.  Maybe I have never figured some of these things out, but if I share them, maybe someone else can gain something from these extraordinary experiences.     

IS: What makes a good storyteller?  Is it the story or the teller?  If both, what elements are critical for each? 

DB: I think the story has to be relatable.  People have to be able to apply it in some way to their own life.  I think there has to be a good conclusion… or at least a conclusion that makes you think or ponder it.  The best storytellers love the story they are telling.  I grew up listening to storytellers and what I remember most was their joy in remembering and telling their stories.   

IS: How much does accuracy matter in storytelling?  I noticed some of the comments you receive on your blog posts are people correcting little things (it was a 747 not a prop plane) to more significant ones (I was not on that trip when The Clash ...).  To me it makes very little difference since some of your tales are 30+ years old, and little inaccuracies don't fundamentally change the story (or perhaps because my wife tells me I tend to make up historical 'facts').  But think about a brand telling a story to its stakeholders ... can inaccuracies or creative liberties be tolerated? 

SADE DB: One of the best experiences I have had has been the responses to correct my version of history.  I wrote a story about being backstage at the first Clash concert in the US .  I was with 6-8 people from the record company.  I got half the people wrong who were there.  Within a couple of hours of posting it, I had heard from several people who were there 31 years ago and we pieced together the entire backstage scene.  It was stunning to realize the speed of connection today and also how warm that connection is between people who experienced something very special way back when.  Storytelling doesn’t make the storyteller the authority.  To me, it is just bringing information forward… accurate or inaccurate.  We share stories; which means we can share our evaluation of them.  Stories do not have to be believable to be good.  We have all heard tall tales that were a lot of fun to hear and they seem to all contain some incredible morsel of truth.  Some of the best storytellers are the biggest BSers.  We still enjoy them.  With that said, silver-tongued devils can lead a brand astray.  The story is just the illustration of a point.  You have to have a point that needs to be made or a value in your brand or product that needs to be illustrated.  Usually, if you’re BSing someone, you actually don’t have a point.  What is the agenda of the storyteller?  Whenever I write a story, I ask myself, “What is my agenda?”  I then try to make sure that agenda is going to pass muster with my readers.  If I put forward a personal accomplishment in a story, it better have some basis of believability.  People accept imperfection when it is delivered with honestly.  Imperfection when combined with an agenda is the breeding ground for dishonesty.          

IS: The requisite social media question ... do you think brands or people can tell stories in 140 character installments, or does a good story require a longer form? 

DB: The reality is that most stories need to be short.  I’m not sure I will ever learn that in my lifetime!  However, I’ve realized through writing the blog that there is always a battle between all the facts or issues of a story and getting it across succinctly.  I actually enjoy the editing process, because you really work toward simplifying and shortening the story.  Sometimes the best stories are simply a photo.  How often have you seen a long, enthusiastic thread of comments on Facebook that all started with a photo?  Every story is a child/parent to several other stories.  The best stories I’ve told get interrupted midstream by people who are so enthusiastic about adding their experience.  Which reminds me of a great story…  

Cultural Happenings Pre Social Media: Walk This Way

Had an idea for a series of posts on important cultural events that happened pre-social media boom ... thinking about how the existence of YouTube, Flickr, blogs, Twitter and Facebook would have changed things.

Almost started with 9/11.  Then I thought I might want to ease my way into it.  And frankly, I don't need the crazy conspiracy theorists circling overhead. 

Run_dmc_walk_this_waySo I decided on something a bit lighter to pilot this ... Aerosmith's landmark collaboration with Run DMC on the remake of "Walk This Way." 

For the younger readers (this happened in 1986), it's impossible to overstate the pop cultural magnitude of this odd coupling. 

The first rap song to go Top 5 in The Billboard Hot 100.  The first music video of its kind played in heavy rotation on MTV [insert MTV video joke here].  Quite frankly, one of the first times I can remember in my childhood where kids of different races could tap their feet in unison.

So how do I think things would have played out differently if, in 1986, social media was the force it is today?

Internet Killed the Video Star.  I can remember sitting in front of the TV back then waiting for that magical moment when Tyler's and Perry's mugs filled the screen in a dark rehearsal space, that memorable riff kicking things off.  It could be days between viewings, and that scarcity was probably a huge driver of success.  These days we would all watch it on YouTube, and quickly move on to the next big thing.  

Mashup Muck up. The Aerosmith/DMC version of "Walk This Way" was a mashup of sorts - a great one at that.  In the social media era I suspect some well-intentioned [but misguided] fan would take this version and incorporate some silly club beat, animate in Kanye West upstaging Taylor Swift and for some reason geo-plot it on Google Maps.  No good.

Haters unite. I don't mean to get all serious, but if social media existed at the time of this collaboration it would have given a voice to all the haters ... rap purists, rock purists and even racists.  Remember, this kind of thing just wasn't done back then - it addressed a pretty big social taboo.

Net-net, I think this was one of those moments better off without social media.  The collaboration seemed that much more special because it was afforded the time and space to make its way through the cultural landscape, retaining its integrity and not caving to knee-jerk opinion or reaction. 

Ever get to the end of a post and wonder what the point was?  Yeah, I kind of feel that way too.  But I've never been shy about posting half thoughts here.

Thoughts or builds appreciated.

Social Media Is Not A Moment In Time

I was thinking today how hit and miss social media can be if you base your approach on reaching people at a specific moment of time. 

It simply doesn't work to say, let's Tweet this on Thursday to coincide with our widget launch


What if President Obama stubs his toe on Thursday ... no one will care about your widget launch.  Less dramatically, what if your most influential brand fans happen to miss your Tweet [which in the fast-paced world of Twitter streams and Facebook updates is likely to happen]? 

If your approach doesn't account for these scenarios, you'll almost certainly miss chances to engage the people most likely to champion your message.

It comes back to the mantra we're all familiar with by this point ... social media is a conversation not a campaign.

Marketers interested in capturing a moment in time should buy the Super Bowl or Oscars.  And to be clear, I do think in some cases this is a smart approach.  But barring that kind of budget, you better think about a calendar of conversations over a period of time.

Though I suppose a few marketers in Cupertino would tell you that all it takes is a few years of speculation and a bunch of Apple loyalists to make a single press conference a massive social media happening.

I just wouldn't count on it for your widget launch.

Paid Media = Scale for Domino's Pizza Turnaround

A lot of talk over the last few days about Domino's Pizza's "Pizza Turnaround" - equal parts blog | website | Twitter aggregator.  The effort is centered around Domino's transparent re-engineering of its signature pizza offering.

I like the spirit of this ... good talk-value; makes me want to keep following along; most importantly, makes me want to give Domino's another shot.

One of the most talked about features of the campaign is a short documentary [produced with help of Crispin Porter + Bogusky].  At the time I write this [Dec 28 @ 5:30pm CST] the video has logged nearly 328,000 views [in just a few days, over the holidays].

I noticed today that Domino's is running paid media units on YouTube's homepage. 

Dominos on YouTube

While I have no knowledge of this brand's spend, I have looked into YouTube packages and can tell you this is no small financial commitment.  What I suspect Domino's has figured out - that many brands have not yet - is that paid media, as a compliment to 'social' media, can give your brand's blog | video | Facebook page | etc. the push it needs to scale to a larger audience. 

Interested to watch this unfold.  The one thing I really hope is that Domino's doesn't cave to the inevitable snarkiness that many marketing and social media 'gurus' will heap upon it.  Stay the course, Domino's!

Social Media in '10 (Most Definitely NOT Predictions)

I'm not big on predictions (namely because there are rarely consequences for being wrong).  These are just five things I personally look forward to in 2010 ...

  1. A kinder, gentler, more thoughtful tone.  Less finger wagging at brands who just don't get it; more willingness to help brands understand and implement best practices.  I've met some of the people I think are at the forefront of this new benevolence ... have you? 
  2. An end to the shoot first - ask questions later approach so many top-tier bloggers take to reporting news.  Reputations, livelihoods and [drama alert] lives are at stake.  Getting the story right, even if it means getting it 2nd.  Fact checking.  Protecting sources.  Basics of solid journalism.  All to often ignored.  But I expect that to change as more readers migrate from print to online and demand a baseline of integrity.
  3. Watching luxury brands get deeper into social media (e.g. Generation Benz, Art of the Trench).  I know I'm not alone in thinking there is tremendous upside here.  My colleague, Rohit Bhargava, wrote about it recently.
  4. A shift from "we need a [fill in popular social network here] strategy" to "what are our business objectives, and how can social media help achieve them?" approach.  A no-brainer, but I still see the former employed much more than the latter.
  5. Social media penetrating the C-suite in a meaningful way.  I'm not expecting CEOs at every Fortune 100 company to go wild on Tweetdeck or start a Posterous blog, but I do hope at the very least they become familiar with the basics and understand how their stakeholders (employees, customers, etc.) are using the medium.

Any comments on my list?  What are you looking forward to next year?

Follow me on Twitter.

We Must Do Away With "Social Media"

We've got to kill the term social media as a way of describing what we do.  

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You suffer from serious lack of situational awareness if you haven't noticed the eye-rolling at the mere mention of the phrase.

How dare you Ian??

Really?  Watch the videos and visit the websites.  I'm not making this up.  This is happening.  It's funny, right?  Hopefully it makes you a bit uncomfortable [it did for me]. 

I know I'm not the first to raise this concern.  And I sense the drumbeat getting stronger.  

I realize it's been widely socialized, and thus won't go awayovernight.  But I'm encouraged that some other really annoying terms that were once popular are rarely used these days [e.g. "dandy" and "slacks"].

Rather than crowd-sourcing a new catch-all and beating it into the ground, I propose we develop our own lexicons ... our own way of describing the discipline.  And that might involve a more nuanced approach than a convenient phrase like social media.

Hi, I'm Ian Sohn.  I'm a communications specialist, counseling brands on how digital conversations in online communities drive business results.

Not quite there, but better.

Ambient Awareness & Class Reunions

Just a quick thought ...

Ever since Clive Thompson published his New York Times article, I'm So Totally, Digitally Close to You, the term 'ambient awareness' has been tossed around liberally in social media circles.  And for good reason ... it's a nice way of describing the connections enabled by communities like Twitter and Facebook.  As the article describes it ...

It [ambient awareness] is,they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

Later in the article ...

Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,”

It's that last bit, about E.S.P., that particularly hits home after spending this past weekend celebrating a milestone high school reunion.  As my eyes floated around a room filled with people I hadn't seen or spoken to in many years, I felt totally in-the-know ...

Teddy?  San Francisco, two kids.  John?  Chiropractor, stays in touch with Gregg.  Dina?  Can't believe her twins started 5th grade.  Micah?  Wonder how he likes living in the suburbs?

No big takeaway here ... just that after using the term 'ambient awareness' so often in the last year, it all finally makes sense; and I now have a good example to use when describing the term.

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/iansohn.

the3six5 Project

Len Kendall - he of Constructive Grumpiness - has taken on quite an ambitious project for 2010.

Everyday next year a different person will pen a 250 word entry abouttheir experience that day. No specific topic - just as long as it relates to something going on that day.  Come December 31, Len expects to have collected the story of one year, told by 365 individuals.


It's called the3six5 ... you can check it out at www.the3six5.com.

I was thrilled Len asked me to contribute.  I chose January 8 for three reasons: (1) I figured it might help get my mind going after the holidays (2) I wanted to go early enough as to not be influenced/intimidated by months of great entries and (3) It's my son's birthday.

If you're interested in contributing, email the3six5@gmail.com [sounds like Len has been getting a lot of emails, so be patient]. 

What I Like About Posterous

Posterous is the popular new kid on the block.  There are a number of good reasons to like the service ... from how ridiculously easy it is to post, to how it syndicates content across the social web, to the great bookmarklet and more.  Mashable has a nice post about some of the killer 'hidden' features.

But thinking about it today, what I like the most about Posterous is how egalitarian it is.  Whether you're a big shot like Alex Bogusky and Guy Kawasaki or a regular Jane like Stephanie Lim, Posterous is not about bells, whistles and fancy design. 

And that's what I like about Posterous - everyone starts with the same visual template.  It's the content you put into your Posterous feed that will make it stand out from the crowd.

The Ethics of ‘Outing’ an Anonymous Commenter

There is a battle raging on one of my favorite blogs, PSFK, about a new campaign for Levi's from Wieden + Kennedy [that's an advertising agency for those of you who don't live in the echo chamber].  If you're interested, check out the post and comments here.

But this post isn't about the campaign, but rather something I noticed in the comment thread.  Someone, identifying herself only as "megan," left an anonymous comment for Piers Fawkes [who wrote the post] saying "your negative rants on wk are getting boring."

I happen to believe that anonymous commenting is pretty cowardly.  But I'm neither naive nor dogmatic about it - I realize that for a variety of reasons people sometimes feel they need to hide their identity, or just aren't comfortable identifying themselves.  But still, I'm not a big fan.  Apparently Piers has a zero tolerance policy, judging by his 'outing' of Megan as a W+K employee

FireShot capture #135 - 'Levi’s Does An Abercrombie & Fitch - PSFK_com' - www_psfk_com_2009_07_levis-does-an-abercrombie-fitch_html

So the question I pose [and I invite Piers to respond, and I hope he appreciates the spirit in which this post is drafted] is, what are the ethical standards for a blogger 'outing' an anonymous commenter? 

Do we owe our readers a disclaimer that their identity may be revealed, despite their desire for anonymity?

As masters of our own domain (pun intended) do we have a right to do anything we want with the back-end analytics at our fingertips?

What's the upside of 'outing' commenters?  Does it level the playing field?  Force people to own up to their words?

Please leave your comments - I hope the subject-matter here compels you to leave your name.

What's With The Media Bashing?

To those using Michael Jackson's death as a reason to bash "Old" Media:

You rightly criticized the mainstream media for calling the 2000 election prematurely.  That was an unmitigated disaster.

Now you're wrongly criticizing them for their initial reporting (or lack thereof) out of Iran; and their hesitation to confirm Michael Jackson's death.

You can't have it both ways. 

At at the end of the day, I'll take solid reporting over knowing something 20 minutes earlier. 

Because unless we're talking a terrorist attack or natural disaster, those extra 20 minutes it took to get the story right won't matter in the long run.

And besides, what value comes of bashing "old" media?  Perhaps I'm biased since my wife spent many years as a national TV news producer, but what seems lost on the Twitterati is that behind the mastheads and animated logos sit a smart, dedicated, thoughtful group of producers, editors and reporters who want - more than anything - to get the story right.

What Mona Lisa Have I Painted?

Right or wrong, as a marketer [and perhaps particularly as someone on the agency side] I feel self-imposed restraint about what I can/can't say in the public eye of social media.  Both in the content of what I put out and the tone in which I convey it.

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  1. You never know what brand you're pitching next.  And without a doubt, most prospects are going to Google the pitch team to see what they're all about.  How would they feel if they came across a snarky blog post about their recent ad campaign?  Or a sharply worded critique of how they handled a recent crisis in social media?  Some would be fine [maybe even appreciate it].  But there are a lot of fragile egos out there.
  2. It's a small world, this marketing echo chamber in which we play.  You never know who your next potential boss might be.  Do you want to be face-to-face with a person you harshly criticized (a) on day one of that person as the new boss at your company or (b) during a job interview?
  3. What Mona Lisa have I painted that gives me the right to cast stones?

How does this affect/restrain my social media behavior?

  1. A foul word slips out every once in a while, but for the most part I keep it clean.  Some people are very sensitive to language.
  2. Particularly when it comes to creative, I constructively question, but stop short of criticizing.
  3. I find myself staying away from certain brands altogether ... particularly if they are big players in categories I know I want to work in.
  4. I never [at least to the best of my memory] talk trash about another agency.  I've walked in their shoes, and have no interest in piling on the negativity. 

Don't get me wrong ... I have opinions.  Strong ones.  But I express them in other ways than in the public eye. 

Do you think I'm taking the easy way out?  Do you have any of the same concerns?  Would love to hear your POV.

Interbrand's Top 20 on Twitter

For no reason other than curiosity I decided to look up the Twitter feeds for the corporate names of the top 20 brands on Interbrand's Best Global Brands list.

As you can see, a combination of squatters, locked accounts, actual people who happen to share a name with a brand, and the occasional brand actually using their Twitter name (Intel and Google).

Clearly not scientific.  I'm sure many of these brands have accounts under different names (e.g. a brand name within their portfolio) or use a shortened version of their corporate name (e.g. Coke v Coca Cola). But it is uncanny to look at them all in one place.

Not sure what to make of this, but I am struck by the lack of activity. 

Thoughts? Opportunities? Observations? Warnings?  Anyone from these brands care to comment - I'm sure readers would be interested to hear (1) if you own your own name and (2) if you have any plans for it.

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Bloggers as "Things Collectors"

Yesterday John Byrne, Editor-in-Chief of BusinessWeek.com, asked a question on Twitter:

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I answered:

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Got me thinking that some of my favorite blogs/bloggers are fellow collectors ...

Strange Maps, as I've said many times, is one of the coolest blogs out there.  It's a must read.

Noah Brier does it brilliantly and with just the right amount of editorializing.  If you don't read Noah's blog, I strongly suggest you do and prepare yourself for equal amounts of hmm, wow, what?, oh!, huh?

Kaitlyn Wilkins, when she's not busy busting eardrums with her karaoke, collects and skewers like only she can.  Her irreverence is legendary.  If you read Kaitlyn over lunch, there's a serious possibility your diet Coke will end up coming out your nose. 

Springwise collects new business idea trends, then offers perspective on what it means to you.  It's entrepreneurial inspiration.

There are so many more ...

Please share your favorite collectors of things - URL and brief description - in the comments.  Feel free to include yourself.