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Five Observations from Social Media Conference (SMACS) at RIT

Yesterday I attended a conference on Social Media and Communication at RIT. I have a strong interest in social media and thus hoped to find out the latest news from a Marketing and Journalistic perspective. You can read my short, random thoughts on the conference in more detail on my Twitter feed (search for hashtag #smacsrit as well for a better perspective).

EDIT: I’ve made some corrections and additions and added a 6th point for the afternoon crowd. Please feel free to engage me on these points in the comment section with your own observations.

My favorite moment of all was being introduced via Deirdre Breakenridge‘s talk to this excellent graphic from Forrester Research on Internet roles. If you are pressed for time, go look at it and skip the rest of this post. It’s a valuable ontology of the social media user base.

Forrester Social Technographics

Here are five (EDIT: Six!) takeaways that left me thinking after the conference was done:

1. The actual utility of Social Media is still unknown. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a quietly biting essay subtitled “Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted” that I unfortunately had to agree with. Yes, advertisers have bought into social media, by and large, because a large audience lives there. And there are plenty of anecdotes as to individual social media successes. On the light-hearted side, I myself once introduced two friends to one another via social media, and they are engaged now. But I left from the conference still thinking that gaining loyalty of followers and viewers, let alone gaining their wallets, is still a very uncertain science with poorly designed metrics.

2. Firms are oddly reluctant to directly hire Web 2.0 talent. I was intrigued by Jenny Cisney‘s story about how she ended up blogging for Kodak [EDIT: Original version said Xerox, my mistake.]. Essentially, she was the only known blogger at Kodak, so she was tasked to blog for Kodak, and became their chief blogger. Just a little prior Web 2.0 experience makes a big difference in avoiding rookie mistakes and knowing how to promote content online. Instead of relying on a business consultant who 10 years ago was pushing ERP, why not actually hire people who have been a success on sites such as Youtube and WordPress as well? Many of them are young and rather affordable, I believe.

3. Who influences the Passive Consumer of Social Media? On the Web, often the loudest voices get heard. People pay the most attention to the most ridiculous comments in the Democrat and Chronicle comment section, correct? However, what do we know about the stay-at-home mother of two who quietly reads the website every day,  but never leaves a comment and never clicks on an ad? This type of reader, who quietly absorbs social media but never even updates their own Facebook status except to announce their engagement or death of a family member, tends to get overlooked. Yet they outnumber content creators and commenters.

4. For being so innovative, Web 2.0 can have all the quirks of the “Old Boys Network” that it supposedly replaced. EDIT: I did not know full details in first draft, my apologies. Re-written for clarity.

One of the stories told during a panel discussion helped reinforce some of my own experiences on how one gets ahead in Web 2.0. In my opinion, just having good content is not enough and is often over-rated. Eric Miltsch, who is the Internet director for, pointed out that a major key to his success was merely interviewing and interacting with people who were more popular than he was on Web 2.0, and thus benefiting from their reputations. (Please see his comment below under this blog for additional insight. My original draft made it seem a bit too easy, but I also had wanted to stress the critical importance of Web 2.0 networking to success).  Obviously, if you are boring or bring no value to these influences and leaders, you will get no benefit from interacting with them.  However, my point is, for all the talk about search and Wikipedia supposedly bringing knowledge to the masses, you still have to work with the influencers in order to get noticed. Also, it is necessary to properly separate early adopters from innovators from lead users; each one plays a vital role. Look up the details…or I’d tell you more about this if you take my class at RIT (Cross-promotion is also very important on Web 2.0.)

5. Hybrid, balanced teams will own Web 2.0. My experienced colleague, Dr. John Ettlie, is studying the performance of teams in his classes. For certain problems, he finds that balanced teams, which contain a mix of business students and engineering students, are most successful. I got the same feeling about what it takes to be successful when watching the presentations. An artist may create beautiful visual content, but may lack the promotional and technical skills to get it noticed online. A business person may know good content that customers like when they see it, but struggle in creating content themselves or understanding the mindset of a Web 2.0 content producer. I believe that too many  Web 2.0 efforts are led by individuals, when the key is to have a balanced team of content creators, content promotors, and technical specialists. Firms that construct such teams and are willing to go outside their comfort zone to, say, hire a 19-year-old Youtube star to create promotional videos full-time at their firm, will own Web 2.0…once we figure out via #1 why it’s worth owning!

Bonus! #6 Being a curator of best content and creating original content is not an either/or choice. Unfortunately, too many companies and blogs tend to focus on one of these two roles. Either they work as curators to collect the best content elsewhere on the web and link to it, or they work as content creators and post their own original talent. But it’s not an either-or choice.

First, a company can have its own blog writers instead of relying on outside content. Too many companies delegate such responsibilities to interns thinking that somehow the very act of being young conveys with it technical and Web 2.0 expertise. (It’s a fallacy I must devote an entire blog post to in the future.) However, a wise company will actually have several bloggers writing daily, then create one page on which to feature the best blog post of the day from all writers. This is why the curator role is so important internally as well as externally. It is much easier to give your people total freedom initially, then use an editor or curator to control what is released to the public.

Second, companies need to be less concerned about who they link to and be willing to accept outside content. From a competitive standpoint, if you fail to provide searchers with useful information in a category they desire, they will go elsewhere to find it. Why not instead link to that information from your page, so that other companies cannot make you pay for the gap in what you provide? Naturally, such cooperation can go too far. But in my studies of cooperative game theory and reading books such as Co-opetition , I’ve discovered that there are many more opportunities for cooperation than you may think. Gaining trust and being respected as a source of information can lead to future sales. It’s a bit hard to quantify this, and I return you to my point #1, again, but I believe it.

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5 Responses to “Five Observations from Social Media Conference (SMACS) at RIT”

  1. Tweets that mention Five Observations from SMACS at RIT -- on December 9th, 2010 3:58 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Angelis, John Angelis. John Angelis said: #smacsrit My observations. [...]

  2. Eric Miltsch on December 10th, 2010 3:47 pm

    Hi John,

    Sorry we didn’t have the chance to meet face to face.

    From my experiences, it seems the uncertainty around the science/art of gaining the loyalty of followers and viewers (& wallets) is a function of users not mastering the tools needed to leverage the opportunities SM can offer. More importantly, users are not creating compelling, & unique “stories” to tell within the space. Sharing the same boring message that every other company is already telling via traditional channels isn’t going to cut it online. (Too much familiar – not enough new)

    (You referenced me in #4) That’s also a definitely an interesting take on the “OBN” – I can agree that there is in fact a new-school type of online network being created, very quickly.

    However, the goal isn’t merely to “ride the coattails” & become popular, rather, it’s an efficient way to connect, develop relationships and learn. (Popularity doesn’t equate to success, trust does)

    Merely interviewing someone w/greater influence & presence without creating a mutually beneficial relationship is just an exercise in futility.

    My ultimate reason for reaching out to anyone online is to offer the real, human-element of the connection. People don’t become friends with a logo, but they will connect with the face & personality of the person behind the logo.

    Nice re-cap; kudos to Mike J. & RIT for an excellent event.

  3. johnangelis on December 10th, 2010 5:02 pm

    Hi Eric. I so agree with your first major paragraph–the cookie cutter approach will not make it work. For example, I’d love to see restaurants introduce secret menu items via Twitter that you can only order if you follow their Twitter feed. There is so much room for creativity, one should never follow another user’s lead too closely.

    I’ve observed how linking to the right people and even picking fights with the right blog writers can help lesser-known content creators and companies to rise. You are right when you say providing no value to an interviewee is no way to build influence and trust. There is a news reporter I dearly want to interview for this blog, but I’m holding off until I can be sure that I can firmly tell them that the coverage she would receive would make it worthwhile for them as well. Until I believe it, it’s unfair to take her time to essentially donate to charity, ha.

    However, I believe an improper narrative is being sold that “anyone can be successful”; more and more I see that stars are becoming stars by climbing ladder built by previous influencers and content creators. I’d be happy to talk shop about this via email as well if you want to continue the discussion. Thanks so much for your well-thought-out points, and apologies that I did not know your name on first write of this blog. I wanted badly to write this within 24 hours of conference, and thus rushed production much more than normal, but that is not enough of an excuse.

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