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.

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.

Comment. Subscribe. Follow me @JenPolk1 for more.

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.


PR+Mktg Camp Chicago: 6 Ways to Build Your Social Network at Real Life Events

Each real life event you attend is an opportunity to build your brand and your social network. Sharing where we are, what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with is one of the basic tenets of social media. Connecting with others who are at the same event, know the same people or enjoy doing the same things is the basis of social networking.

I always struggle a little with whether to simply enjoy the event or spend my time there checking in, taking and posting pictures and tweeting about the things going on around me. Below are 5 simple ways to do all of the above while still allowing yourself to live in the moment and participate in the event, rather than just report on it.

1. Use event registration tools and social platforms to share the event with others. Check out Meetup and Eventbrite . Both are useful for creating an event, inviting others and managing the event registration. They also allow attendees to connect and share their plans to attend with social networks. EAVB_WHVWMHAYND

2. Find out if there’s a LinkedIn Group, Facebook Page or hashtag (#) for the event. All three are ways to connect a group of attendees and interested parties. If you fall into either category, raise your hand and be counted. It’s a great way to build and maintain connections before and after, share pictures and key information.

June 2010, PR+Mktg Camp Chicago

In June I attended PR+Mktg Camp Chicago.  Good event, although there were some technical difficulties that made it hard to connect to the net during the event. That said, a hashtag and Facebook page have allowed me to reconnect with people I met at the event, view the pictures and participate in subsequent discussions.

3. Check in at the event. If you use Foursquare or Gowalla check in when you get to the event. I usually do this in the car before going in–seems a little less dorky. Be sure to share the check in on Twitter and Facebook with a comment.

4. Take and tweet a few pictures early and after. Be sure to capture anything that you think is funny, interesting or worth sharing. I usually try to tweet with the hashtag once or twice at the beginning and once afterward.  The rest of the event is mine to enjoy and connect.

5. Be your natural and charming self. Put down the Blackberry, Droid or iPhone. Stop connecting with your virtual peeps or tweeps and get to know the people around you. Allow them to get to know you. All this technology has its place, but it’s useless if you never build real life connections–the foundation of social networking.

6. Build, keep and maintain connections. Try to keep track of or remember all the nice people you met. Feel free to bring business cards, if its that kind of crowd. Believe it or not, people still use them. If you enjoyed hanging out, reconnect on LinkedIn and Twitter. As with the PR+Mktg Camp, I met and connected with 15 new people.

Resume 2.0: Social Marketing Tips for Managing Your Personal Brand

We all have a resume. In fact, I’ve had a resume since I was 16 and career management included walking the mall and applying for jobs at all the fast food restaurants and retailers where I was likely to earn a paycheck and the chance to spend time with cool people. Interestingly, both are still on my list of job criteria.

Nowadays, it’s not enough to have a resume, especially in this economy. You have to be everywhere a potential employer might think to look for you, and your presence there should be one that reflects who you are without raising any red flags about your moral character or personal reputation.

So what does that mean? It means marketing your personal brand on paper, email and across relevant social platforms.

LinkedIn: A virtual resume and Rolodex rolled into one. For most professions, a LinkedIn profile is a must have. There may be some exceptions to this rule–artists, musicians, Buddhist monks. As for the rest of us, have an up to date profile, build and maintain connections with your professional network and even participate in a few groups and discussion forums on topics related to your area of expertise.

Manage your Facebook Privacy Settings
Control who sees what, especially potential employers.

Facebook: Unless you’re using Facebook professionally or applying for a job where knowledge of Facebook is key, the best way to leverage Facebook to manage your personal brand is to make your page private. Login to Facebook, click Account Settings, Privacy Settings and review who can see what.

Twitter: Comes in handy in certain professions and is completely irrelevant in others. If you’re in a profession where having a network makes you more marketable and more valuable to your employer, then Twitter is a great tool to use and be found on, provided your professional network is there. If you’re using Twitter to build your personal brand for professional reasons, keep your posts informative or at least positive and screen your followers.

MySpace: Most useful if you are an artist or musician. It’s a great place to display your creative works, connect with others in your genre, as well as fans. It also gives fans an outlet to share your work and their opinion, which can be a double-edged sword. Outside of creative professions, MySpace is considered significantly less relevant than Facebook and may not be a place you want to invest much time or use to manage your personal brand.

Lastly, be sure to build the appropriate links across platforms and tie back to your resume in a way that fits your field. For instance, it’s totally appropriate to list your LinkedIn profile next to your email address at the top of your resume, regardless of your profession. I would only list your Twitter handle if it adds to your marketability.