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.

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.

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.

Follow me on @jenpolk1 for more.

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.