My New Gig with Gartner for Marketing Leaders

For the last two years, this blog has been my outlet for offering tips and suggestions to brands, businesses and individuals interested in using digital and social media marketing to achieve their business and communication goals. Effective July 2013, I have accepted a role with Gartner, specifically Gartner for Marketing Leaders where I focus on helping clients develop, execute, measure digital marketing programs, specifically programs that lead to social commerce. If you have questions about digital and social marketing, or would like to continue to read my posts, please follow me on Twitter or visit my Gartner blog.

BlogHer ’11: Bloggers, Brands and Lots of Questions

Last year I joined thousands of women (and a few brave men) for BlogHer ’11 in San Diego, CA. This was my second year attending as both a blogger and social media professional, which gives me a glimpse into what motivates and concerns bloggers and brands. For two days I attended sessions, mostly about bloggers working with brands–what to do, what not to do and what to expect as told from the perspective of bloggers, brands and PR execs who represent brands.

I walked away with three revelations:

1. There is a lot of confusion from brands and bloggers about how they should work together. Like an episode of Love Connection, trying to make a connection between the two parties can be painful to watch. They want to work together, but neither group seems particularly certain about what they should get out of the deal. It’s these details that seem to create the most confusion.

2. There is no one-size-fits-most approach to working with bloggers or brands. Ask five bloggers the same question about something like compensation and you’ll likely get five different answers. This lack of standardization is what makes word of mouth marketing and influencer outreach genuine, credible and incredibly confusing to brands and bloggers alike.

Brands are also guilty of the same inconsistencies. They want and expect different things, and often they don’t know what they should expect from bloggers or what to offer bloggers in exchange. There are some companies, such as Sway Group, LLC, that are trying to bridge the information gap and help bloggers and brands work together, almost like translating for people who speak different languages.

3. Each group could benefit from learning a little more about the folks on the other side of the proverbial aisle. While we aren’t talking right wing versus left, there is clearly some bad blood between bloggers and brands born out of lack of understanding. Conferences like BlogHer, Blogging While Brown and cross-overs–bloggers who understand business and business people who blog–help to educate both bloggers and brands about how to work better together.

I’ve been to a few of these conferences and the questions remain the same, which means bloggers and brands need to keep reaching across the aisle, raising and answering these questions and educating one another. Brands and agencies should be building relationships with bloggers, reading their blogs and learning who they are, what they write about and what makes them special. Bloggers need to start or continue to make connections to people at brands and agencies so they know who to contact with a potential program or post idea or simply to get a gut check about working with brands.

That’s all for now. Keep writing and reading blogs, and play nice kids.

For more information about digital and social media strategy follow @JenPolk1 on Twitter.

How to Pick a Blog Post Topic

A few months ago, with all the best intentions, I agreed to write a few blogs for an up and coming online mom community that was hoping to expand their content. Now I sit here wondering what to write about. To say that the road to hell (and online anonymity) is paved with good intentions would be a understatement. My case of writers block got me thinking, “How do you pick you a blog topic?”.

In an effort to get the creative juices flowing and get back into the habit of blogging regularly, I decided to put pen to pad and share some thoughts on how to pick a blog post topic. Having already gone through the exercise of starting a blog and choosing a general blog topic – personal and professional branding with social and digital media, I needed the narrow the scope and figure out a specific post topic that would relevant and useful to a community of moms.

Below are a few mental frameworks and quick ways to assess your audience and find the cross section between their needs and topics you can write about in order to choose a blog post topic.

1. Write what the audience wants or needs to hear about. How do you know what they want to hear about? Ask them! To some this might seem too obvious and too easy, but trust me its worthwhile…plus blogging is meant to be fun not torturous. This is especially easy to do if you’re talking to community of users. Check out the community discussion boards, which are usually easy to sort by topic. Find out what your audience is talking about and what they’re curious about.

2. Write what you know. One thing separating an informative blog from an op-ed piece is an ounce of fact. While you don’t have to have a PhD, you do owe it to your readers to offer more than just your opinion. What you think is a great start, but take the time to do your research and back-up your opinions with actual fact. This means writing about a subject that you’re interested in so you won’t mind spending a few hours on research.

3. Write to help your readers. People blog for a lot of different reasons , but at some level we’re all writing because we think, or at least hope, something we share will be meaningful to someone. Remain true to that! Don’t just pontificate, but try to add value through useful info, or at least charm and wit.

That’s it, the process I follow to break the shackles of writer’s block. To find out what I wrote about, stop by Social Moms for a read.

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3 Reasons to Love Instagram

While I appreciate mainstream web publications, I sometimes learn about hidden technology gems through lesser known publications and blogs. This is one of those times, and I was fortunate to learn about Instagram–the latest photography application for the iPhone.

Developed by Burbn, Inc., Instagram
is one of the top rated photography apps and is quickly becoming a favorite tool of many. I’m no exception and I can think of many reasons why, but for now I’ll limit myself to three reasons to love this app:

1. Easy to use. Grab pictures from your photo library or take a new picture. You can also turn things around for an impromptu self-portait. With 14 photo filters that range from a simple black and white (Inkwell) to a grainy technicolor look (1977) it’s easy to enhance your favorite pictures. There’s also a flash adjuster which comes in handy with filters like Gotham.

2. Encourages sharing. Post your pictures to the public feed, add tags and share through the app, email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and more–all with a few fingertip swipes. You can also find and follow friends from your phone contacts, Facebook and Twitter to see, like and comment on the pictures they’re posting. Think Twitter meets Foursquare–the ability to see what friends are doing through the eyes of their camera lens.

3. It’s free–but it shouldn’t be. Enjoy this while it lasts. Instagram is hands down one of the best photo apps on the market, free or paid. This means the developers could have charged or maybe they’re hoping Instagram will do for photo sharing what Foursquare has done for location sharing–make it more popular to share these aspects of our lives with the world than to keep them private.

Whatever the case may be the world is more beautiful and more interesting through the eyes of friends and strangers all sharing their lives in photo. Instagram has made it all possible by turning even an amateur into an iPhone-wielding professional photographer.

Who Owns Social: 4 Questions to Answer Before You Decide

Who owns social media? This is a question that companies and brands of all sizes have been wrestling with, and the more complex the company the more difficulty they have finding a definitive answer. The reality facing most is that the owner of social media could require a shift in the organizational structure; breaking down of traditional silos and barriers; rethinking of roles like marketing, customer service, public relations and even sales.

It really means understanding your brand and brand purpose. It also means more flexibility than most corporations and business people are comfortable with because the owner of social media at your company will likely need to change as social and your use of social continue to evolve.

Before we get to the evolution of social media at your company, let’s begin at the beginning–what do you need to know or decide to determine who owns social.

1. How can your brand use social media to maximize value to it’s customers while fulfilling it’s purpose? Start with your brand architecture and positioning (what you say about your brand); add a healthy dose of listening using tools like Radian 6 (what others say about your brand) and stir.

2. What needs to change within your company or about your brand in order for you to close the gap between advertising and reality, and which internal teams need to lead that change? The internal teams needed to close the gap should also be at the forefront of your company’s social media efforts.

3. As you start to close the gap between advertising and reality, who are the storytellers internally that will inform customers, solicit additional feedback and address the wave of complaints that is sure to follow? This is when your brand needs to be it’s most honest about its shortcomings and enthusiastic about its improvements. Who is up to the task?

4. Who are your adventurers? As you embark on improving the brand from the inside out, some things may need to change about the corporate culture to take the emphasis off the internal agenda and focus more on external relationships. Explore and experiment with ways to build new connections and drive behavior.

As you explore and experiment, push the cultural norms of your corporation; try new things and new ways of doing old things. Make certain that your social media efforts support your brand purpose and add value in the lives of your customers. Finally, ensure those efforts are led by the right teams and individuals at that time.

5 Ways Brands Can and Should Use Twitter

A snowy Tuesday evening and the eve of the great blizzard of 2011 and I’m perusing the chatter on Twitter. As I do I see a number of my favorite brands–some local Chicago businesses, others national brands, all doing interesting and innovative things on the platform.

I’m inspired to write this blog because I don’t think enough credit goes to marketers and conversationalists who are using Twitter and increasing brand awareness without the aide of billion dollar marketing budgets.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned from them about how brands can and should use Twitter.

1. Start the conversation. @Huggies does a good job of asking a question that really gets you thinking and is easy to respond to in 140 characters. Even better, they often RT your reply which makes the user feel heard and recognized.

2. Join conversations about your brand. I can’t stress enough the close ties between pop culture and Twitter for consumer brands. Therefore, your brand has to have a full-time voice, and eyes and ears, to remain aware of what influencers are tweeting and saying offline that could lead to tweeting. This could be an opportunity to engage a very powerful brand advocate.

3. Tie into the trends. Twitter had made it incredibly easy to see what people are talking about. Go the extra mile and tie your brand to one of these conversation topics. This is great way to be relevant and spark up a conversation. Retailers like @bluelgcrew and @homedepot are doing this as we speak, tweeting about tips, tools and sales to help those in the Midwest battle the snow.

4. Connect across channels to reach more of your audience. @JimmyFallon is a great example. This afternoon Fallon tweeted to followers to play the hashish game by sending him your worst pickup lines with #worstpickuplines. Stay tuned to Jimmy Fallon Live tomorrow night and he’ll show his favorites. An awesome way to drive his audience from Twitter to TV by offering someone 15 seconds of fame.

5. Engage followers around your brand with a regular event. Whether it’s a regular Twitter conversation like the weekly deal chat hosted by @Frugalista or the daily trending topic shared by hosts if BET’s @106andPark. The topic is posted every evening on their show and leads to hundreds of tweets by their viewers and followers.

These ideas may not be driving ROI or winning a Shorty, but they’re creative, engaging and fun. At the end of the day that’s one of the primary reasons social consumers respond to and remember brands.

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60 Minutes and 140 Characters: How Social Media is Affecting Politics and Vice Versa

It’s nearly 10 pm on January 25, 2011 and I’m inspired and in awe. The State of the Union Address (#satu) is coming to a close, but the post-address commentary is just beginning. What amazes me is that I’m not watching it or the address on TV. Instead I’m following President Barack Obama (or the members of his staff who handle tweets) and between him and a handful of others getting a real time feed of the best of the State of the Union Address.

Let me be honest. In a household with two working adults and two kids, including a new baby, we just don’t have time to sit glued to the TV for an hour or more. We’re lucky if we can watch a thirty minute sitcom. Most TV gets recorded and watched later which just doesn’t cut it when history is in the making. So I turn to Twitter and am able to keep up with the theme and highlights, including a healthy dose of political satire.

Earlier today I learned of a major change in the Chicago mayoral election, followed one of the candidates and retweeted one of his posts to show my agreement and support though I live in the burbs. Not only has social media and Twitter in particular given me a window into politics, but it’s also amplified my political voice beyond the ballot.

It all seems to have started with the 2008 Presidential election and then-candidate Barack Obama using social networks to reach young voters. It’s turned into the way my generation talks politics and debates the issues that are most prevalent in our global society. We are journalists, bloggers, entertainers, mothers and more and we’re connecting to voice our opinions and exchange ideas with the fervor of a 60 Minutes broadcast and the pithy wit that comes with only having 140 characters.

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3 Steps to a Better Content Management Strategy

Managing a community? Moderating a Facebook page? Wondering what to talk about, when and how to start the conversation? Start with the audience. Get to know them and what they care about. Then find the cross-section of what they care about and what your brand and community stand for and go forward from there. Finally, take a look at these three steps to managing your content.

1. The 30/60 Rule – would you approach any speaking engagement without a plan of what you were going to talk about? Absolutely not. So don’t approach the social consumer without a plan. At a minimum follow the 30/60 rule by having at least 30 and no more than 60 days worth of content in an editorial calendar. Thirty days of content is a good start and should get the conversation going while more than sixty days worth will likely be outdated and irrelevant by the time you get around to using it.

2. Tie into the Trends – being flexible is just as important as having a plan and that includes adapting and adding to your editorial calendar to tie into the trends, especially those that are relevant to your audience or brand. What are the hot topics in your community today and can you weave those into your planned content? If not are those topics more important or interesting to your audience than what you has planned? Whatever the answer be sure you remain flexible in order to keep your content and conversation meaningful.

3. Leave Room for Listening – social marketing is about a two way dialogue and listening as much or more than you talk. Use the platform and audience to determine what they want more or less of, what topics and types of content and how often. Then adjust your editorial calendar accordingly.

Most importantly do not forget the importance of spontaneity and be willing to relax and participate in the conversation and step away from your calendar and agenda in order to form a genuine connection.

Follow me on Twitter for more tips (@jenpolk1). Be social!

Target Selling Facebook Virtual Gift Cards: What Does This Really Mean and Who Stands to Benefit

Big news! Beginning September 5, Target will sell Facebook virtual gift cards in many of its stores. This is revolutionary and clearly the cutting edge of social media monetization for retailers…right? The quick answer is, “it depends.” In the past 24 hours, articles have been written, blogs have been posted, emails have been flying and meetings have been called by executives who feel this is something we have to get involved in, and fast.I’m not so sure about that. Based on the articles I’ve read, it sounds like this latest development has a user flow that goes something like this:

Clear winner! Along with game developers.

Step 1 Go into a Target store for….well do you really need a reason? This part is important. We’re talking about the cross-section of those who shop Target, go in store, use Facebook and participate in Facebook gaming or virtual gift giving.

Step 2 Purchase a $15, $25 or $50 co-branded virtual gift card bearing Target and Facebook logos. This is also important. This partnership drives awareness of Facebook, gaming and virtual gifts to millions of Target shoppers who visit their stores. I hope Target gets something too.

Step 3 Rush home, or grab your iPhone, and login to Facebook. Go to your account and redeem the gift card. What’s not clear is how the Target brand will show up in this part of the experience. Since they’re the first to strike this deal with Facebook, many details are unclear. Ok, I see how Facebook benefits. This partnership opens a new channel for them to sell virtual credits, which will supposedly be one of their leading revenue streams. I see how developers of Facebook games and virtual gifts benefit.

The new partnership with Target is likely to (1) increase spending on virtual items such as Snicker bars and new weapons for Mafia Wars and (2) increase the total number of Facebook users who buy, gift and use virtual credits.What is not clear is how Target benefits, at least from a monetary perspective. First, their cut has not been disclosed, but I imagine they are getting some percentage of gift card sales. Second, it would seem these virtual credits allow users to spend on items that are unrelated to Target, unless the retailer has built out its virtual gift offering. What would be interesting is if they’ve built out that gift offering with an incentive to users to spend the virtual gift credits purchased at Target on virtual Target merchandise.

Beyond revenue sharing and brand awareness, what do they gain?

Lastly, Target is opening the door to bring the Facebook brand into their stores, but how will their brand show up on Target? The biggest potential here seems to be driving brand awareness and association between Target and Facebook, but so far it seems to be a one way street. I’m sure all will be made clear on September 5, but I wouldn’t rush out and emulate this partnership just yet. Unfortunately, the same journalists and bloggers who create the original hoopla rarely follow up with results, so we’ll have to keep our eyes open for indication of whether or not this is a success.

First BlogHer Conference: BlogHer and BlogHer Business 2010

It’s Friday evening and I’m preparing to head home and say goodbye to my first Blogher conference. BlogHer 2010 has been an amazing whirlwind journey, and one that I’ve had help navigating thanks to more experienced bloggers, those who have attended the conference before and helpful tweets and check-ins from trusted tweeps. I had a great time and I leave feeling simultaneously exhausted and invigorated by the people I met and the things I learned.

I came. I saw. I took pics and copious notes, handed out cards, live tweeted and checked-in for two solid days. Along the way I met amazing women bloggers, most more experienced than me, all willing to share some piece of themselves. I was so impressed by these women, their warmth and how open they were exchanging ideas and sharing their knowledge and perspectives on social media, technology, parenting, relationships, fashion, etc.

If the content, panel discussions and break-out sessions, draw the lines of your experience at at BlogHer conference, then the people you meet color in those lines. So let’s talk about the content. So many sessions and opportunities to learn, so litte time. I attended BlogHer Business heard from well-known brands and agencies on funding social marketing programs; consumers as co-brand managerse; and moms and social media, plus very useful case studies.

Hard to believe all that was just the encore to the main event–BlogHer Conference 2010 where 2,400 bloggers descended on NYC and the Hilton ready to connect with each other in RL. What they also discovered or rediscovered was inspiration for their writing; tips on how to optimize their blogs and address major areas of concern, such as FTC guidelines; and a chance to hear about, taste and try new products from brands such as Tropicana.

I attended sessions on blog usability, blog layout and design and build a library of knowledge and connections with subject matter experts. Equally as important, I skipped a few sessions and keynote speakers to visit the booths and exhibits and see first hand how brands are leveraging this opportunity to connect with bloggers in person. I also took this time to chat with other bloggers, learn about their blogs and talk about my own. Believe me, it was well worth it.

So I’m heading home from my first Blogher conference with a suitcase full of swag, rolodex worth of business cards, countless new followers, numerous check-ins on Foursquare and a new badge! If that were how I defined my first BlogHer conference, then it was a waste. I’m really leaving with a greater appreciation for what this conference means to women bloggers and their readers–empowerment of women through the voice of women.

BlogHer is a chance to connect and network with other women, without judgement or insecurity. The conference is a place to learn in an environment where no one is an expert in everything and everyone is here to learn something.  It’s also a place to study the craft of blogging and get better at it; find your audience and reassurance that, no matter the topic, as long as you’re passionate and genuine someone is listening. Happy blogging and see ya at BlogHer 2011!

For more info on my trip to BlogHer and BlogHer Business, check out my guest post, Live from BlogHer, on Corporate Executive Board’s Wide Angle Blog.