March 20th, 2010 — Marketing, Tech
Robert Scoble had an example at one of the SXSW panels on how the “check-ins” we were all getting from Gowalla and Foursquare (“Jim Wood has just checked in at the Blogger’s Lounge”) could be made useful, instead of annoying.
Suppose he wants a recommendation for a barbecue place in Austin. He’s going to browse among his thousands of contacts for the handful of people who have completed the Gowalla BBQ hunt, requiring them to check in at six different BBQ spots. He can assume they know more about BBQ than 99% of the rest of us, based purely on their activity stream.
Of course, we don’t know if these reviewers have good taste in barbecue, but there are tools for that as well. It’s what is done on Amazon and Yelp, where reviewers gain authority based on how active they are and how useful their reviews are to others. Combine an authority ranking system with check-ins and you’re getting some pretty good info, all auto-generated.
The biggest user of check-ins will soon be Facebook, the 800 pound gorilla that nobody at SXSW wants to talk about even though they reccently surpassed Google as the #1 Internet destination on the Web in terms of daily visits. Facebook users are already conditioned to share their activity streams with their friends anecdotally, and Gowalla and Twitter are adding links to make those streams geographically meaningful (Gowalla through geolocation, Twitter through its newly added “location” feature). You’ll know how popular your local Starbucks is with your friends and how often your best friends can be found there.
And wouldn’t it be great to add to this a coolness factor, what the smart and savvy kids are recommending? Well, that’s what Yelp is for. How about adding a Yelp tab at the top of your Facebook page where, after you visit a place, you can Yelp it? How about assigning reward points for the frequency of Yelp reviews; wouldn’t that be at least as satisfying as feeding the animals in Farmville?
Facebook also gains a bunch of new users (plus many already on Facebook who will become much more active) and a sales force trained in micro-targeting local businesses. It’s just too good a fit not to happen.
March 16th, 2010 — Customer service, Marketing, Words and writing
Your CEO/boss/client wants to have a blog (or maybe just be on Twitter), and that’s a fine idea. An informal but authoritative voice for the company is a great way to engage customers, especially if it’s on an otherwise dry corporate website. Unfortunately, your boss’ blog posts are REALLY DULL… or, worse, sound like best of breed innovative corporate b.s. What to do?
I asked this question of the panel in the fabulous “Marketing Goes Social” panel at today’s South by Southwest Interactive. And got some great answers. Here they are as quick as I could transcribe them. As you’ll see, most are clever gambits to get an egoistic executive to take an objective view of their work. DMS=David Meerman Scott. NB=USAF Capt. Nathan Broshear. MB=customer service specialist Melanie Baker.
1. Ask them to sit down and show you how they use the Internet… what sites they visit, whether they’re on Facebook and what their update stream looks like, who they follow on Twitter. This gives them the opportunity to realize the content of interest to them may be very different than what they’re putting out. [DMS]
2. Find ANOTHER blog or site that is very similar to your CEO’s and critique it together. Through this third-party bashing you can make valid points without making the boss defensive. [DMS]
3. Take two highlighters of two different colors and track a printout of your CEO’s blog. Put everything that’s self serving in one color, everything customer focused in the other color. Review it with the CEO. [DMS]
4. Ask them why they want to have a blog in the first place. The person writing should be the one who has the story… in the military that would be a sergeant in the field vs a general officer. In a company it might not be the CEO, especially if they’re writing for their ego gratification. [NB]
5. Show them some of the resources the Air Force has produced on how to intelligently engage with the public through social media. If it’s good enough for our armed forces, it should be good enough for your boss. [that’s mine, but I got a fist pump from NB when I mentioned it.]
6. Ask CEO to tell you what questions people ask about the company. Then suggest blog posts on that. [MB]
March 15th, 2010 — Marketing, Tech
Here’s a good strategy for working a conference as unpredictable as South by Southwest Interactive. Give yourself an assignment, e.g. a resource you need to find or a topic you learn about, then refer back to it whenever there’s a choice to be made in your activity flow.
The Silent Majority: Facebook developers at SXSWi
Here are my two. First, I wanted to find out about Facebook and SXSW. Specifically, I wanted to follow up on my hypothesis that while it is a vast online community, people in the geek world don’t want to talk about Facebook because it runs on a proprietary platform. I started by putting up a #Facebook #sxsw hashtag search in TweetDeck and watching the traffic. Yep, not a lot of it. I did run across the Facebook Developer Garage off site event and spent a couple of hours there yesterday. Show of hands requested from the audience: how many of you are Facebook developers? (almost everybody) How many actually use Facebook? (quite a lot fewer.)
We all love Twitter because it’s an erector set, but meanwhile Facebook is Dad’s muscle car (or maybe Mom’s) idling in the driveway. You can’t ignore 400 million users indefinitely. Josh from Gowalla got cheers on the stage and everybody loves Josh/Gowalla and how they now have their Facebook Connect check-in. So what happens in a few months when Facebook introduces its own check-in feature?
Meanwhile, my second assignment was related to the fact that several folks have recently asked me about being a social media consultant for them. I’m not sure it’s a good fit because social media marketing requires constant attention (similar to good P.R.) and as a freelance copywriter I sometimes need to hole up for a couple of days at a time. So I wanted to find folks who actually are social media consultants and are good at it. Through the #facebook #sxsw tag I ran across the the folks at The KBuzz. I went to their mixer to meet them and talked to some of their clients and was impressed. Mallorie Rosenbluth is their Director of Small Business which is what most of my inquires would be; for $1000 they will design a Facebook page for you and do a detailed analysis of your business and your social media opportunities, then provide recommendations which you can execute on your own or through a monthly contract with them.
Check them out. UPDATE: Mallorie contacted me to say that if you use the code OTIS10 they’ll give you 10% off above pricing.
March 12th, 2010 — Everything else, Marketing, Tech
Breadcrumbs are those little links you see on a website that help you to retrace your steps; “social breadcrumbs” is a phrase Jeremiah Owyang came up with (new to me anyway) a few minutes ago to describe the cumulative record of your presence you leave in social media that can be followed up by your friends or others interested in your activities or wanting to know what you would recommend. This was from the best panel I attended today, except it was in stealth mode. Supposedly Brian Solis as sole speaker but @jowyang, @comcastcares and some heavy dude from FourSquare were all up there unannounced talking about how to listen to the customer in social media.
This is what is so frustrating and fascinating about South by Southwest: the unpredictability. Before I got to this panel, halfway done, I had walked out on two completely packed rooms presenting astonishingly basic insights on how Google developers work long distance and what web content is all about. You just don’t know.
My other accomplishment so far is to run into and spend time with the folks from The Startup Bus: “25 strangers board a bus in San Francisco – and at 60 miles an hour and over 48 hours – they are to conceive, build and launch 6 tech startups in time for a SxSW party in Austin.” In other words, you got a free ride to the show in return for agreeing to put together and pitch a concept with several other people you’ve never seen before. The teams are presenting their ideas to a panel of venture capitalists tonight.
Also, the registration process is much less stressed this year, even though anecdotally there are more people. Stay tuned and I’ll report if I run into anything else interesting.
March 6th, 2010 — Everything else
So I am going again to South by Southwest Interactive, and glad of it. As I mentioned last year, this is the conference where everybody has something interesting to share and everyone is interested in what YOU are doing. The days (and nights) are packed and it’s frustrating if you happen to miss out on anything because of logistical problems. Here are a few tips from a last year first timer:
- If you have a car, you can park for free along one of the frontage roads near the freeway below the convention center. It’s a 10 minute walk from there, probably faster than paying for parking and waiting in line to get in/out of the garage. UPDATE: on Saturday and Sunday parking in metered spots near ACC is FREE.
- The check-in process was horrendous last year and I hear there is 40% more registration this year. It’s a mystery to me why you should register in advance and still have to wait for an hour or more to get your badge. Bring a fully charged iPhone (hopefully the ATT network is not overloaded like LY) and strike up a conversation with your line mates. UPDATE: vastly improved for 2010.
- Don’t get too wedded to the program list online. Many of these descriptions are off the wall and written months in advance. Plus, you may not get in some popular sessions. If you do see something you really like, get there early and grab a seat… near the aisle in case you are disappointed.
- The conference center is shaped like a U with no direct access from one end of the U to the other. You may end up walking 10 minutes or more between sessions so look at the map and factor that into your planning. Sessions in double rooms (eg 18AB) are organizer picks for those likely to be popular, as are those held in ballrooms. “Core conversations” are generally moderated audience participation and if the topic isn’t of passionate interest you may not be happy there. The sessions in the Hilton are very developer focused even if the title may sound somewhat general. CORRECTION: this year the Hilton sessions are on BUSINESS and the first I attended was very interesting indeed, see next post.
- UPDATE: the A, B, C ballroom sessions are developers and designers talking about their personal perspectives… essentially, why I am up here at the podium and you are in the audience. These have great attendance but the few I’ve seen are very basic.
- The parties really do have free food, booze and music but GET THERE EARLY… as soon as the doors open is not a bad idea. Late comers will stand in long lines and find many of the freebies gone.
Any more tips? Comment here or to @otisregrets, or just look me up when you get to the show. Let’s ride!
May 25th, 2009 — Marketing
My first DM Days in NYC is coming up since I moved to NY, and I’m debating whether to attend. (Crikey, it’s expensive, and I missed the early bird deadline!) I find that I am at least as fascinated by the sponsors’ warning against “suitcasing” as by the program itself.
Now, if you have young children in the house, please do NOT look that term up on Google. Stay here with me while we read on the DM Days registration page that “Anyone observed to be soliciting in the aisles, lunch tables or other public areas, or in an exhibitor’s booth will be asked to leave immediately.”
Now I guess it’s fair enough that a vendor who decides to stand in the aisle and distribute their brochures from a suitcase (I’d actually recommend an open carton on a luggage carrier, so you don’t have to constantly zip it open and shut as you would with a suitcase, but I digress) is stealing good money from this show which like others is probably financially strapped. But I’m worried that I, a freelance copywriter, might pull an article out of my pocket or use my iPhone to show a colleague a web page I’ve written—and be 86ed as a “suitcaser” who not only gets ejected, but is publicly branded in a very embarrassing way. (You did look it up, didn’t you? Then you know what I mean.)
I also think there’s a place for think-outside-the-booth trade show marketing of the type that Foodzie did at the recent South by Southwest Interactive conference. Foodzie is an up and coming mail order company “like Etsy, but food”—they find farmers and artisanal makers who are too small to have their own ecommerce site and they sell their food on the web. Their four partners were everywhere there was a line at the show, handing out samples of their vendors’ wares. Maybe they should have paid something for a both at the trade show at SXSW (which was extremely lame) but this is where they belonged, making their pitch to a captive audience of slightly buzzed developers and venture capitalists standing in line for free booze at some party.
Suitcasing? Perhaps. But also effective marketing.
P.S. After the colorful definitions at the top of my “suitcasing” Google results, I scrolled down and found that the International Association of Events and Events offering various anti-suitcasing tools including this poster which you can download here.
March 30th, 2009 — Everything else, Food and eating
Brisket with perfect smoke ring from Snow's BBQ, Lexington, Texas.
It isn’t hard to make good brisket. (Brisket = barbecue, at least for the purposes of this article.) You need a reasonably fatty piece of meat, USDA Choice or higher. You need a rub containing brown sugar for a nice crispy crust. You need a smoker with a good tight seal to keep the smoke in while letting air circulate so the fire won’t go out. You need moisture, in the form of well soaked wood or chips and a steaming pan inside the cooker. And most of all you need patience. Have all those elements at the ready and you can look forward to a tender and tasty piece of meat several hours hence, whether you use a massive smoker and aged hickory logs or a backyard kettle with chips on top of charcoal.
It is, however, hard to make great brisket. And that is why Texans of all ages and social perspectives travel considerable distances to taste the best that can be had. On a recent trip to South by Southwest I found myself on such a journey, repeating some of the same itinerary as when I coming down from Dallas in my college days not a few years ago.
Original dining hall at Smitty's BBQ, Lockhart, Texas.
First stop is Lockhart, 30 miles south of Austin by a fast country highway. This is the home of Smitty’s and Kreuz’, two establishments with near-identical menus and customs. The tale is that the owner of Kreuz died and had a son and a daughter, and he left the business name to the son and the original smokehouse and market to his daughter.
For a proper Smitty’s experience you need to go in from the original entrance on a sidestreet, not the big parking lot next to the highway. You will pass through a long dark hall lined with hard wooden counters and benches. When I was young these walls had big dull knives hanging on chains. You would buy your meat by the pound, bring it to the counter, and hack it with a knife to your liking. I assumed somebody came along and wiped the knives clean at the end of the day. Even so they would not pass today’s health regulations and today the hallway exists only as a relic.
From this you emerge into the pit room, a dark smoky atrium which probably should be visited in summer heat for a properly hellish atmosphere. You will gingerly step past an open fire to get to the counter. In the background a butcher is prepping meats on a butcher block and a counter person will scoop up your order for “hot rounds” (sausages tied together at the end), brisket and ribs by the pound.
You’ll also get a few slices of white bread in case you want to make a sandwich, or crackers if you prefer. The counter person weighs your food and delivers it on a large piece of butcher paper atop a smaller piece of butcher paper (this is your plate) and you carry this into a big dining hall where you can buy sides and soda or beer. There’s sauce on the tables, not the sugary abhorrent “BBQ sauce” found in supermarkets but a thin red mixture that’s like a mild Tabasco.
I always take my first bite neat, no sauce. I am looking for a smoky dryness, an intense flavor of beef combined with the effect of long smoking. Even though brisket is a fatty cut, it has gone through hours of cooking and lost much of its original weight and the first taste and mouth feel should not be fat, pleasurable though that may be. And I don’t want chewy meat. Fall-apart tenderness is a plus, but not mandatory; what is essential is that the texture of the brisket should not distract from the taste.
My meal was a rib, 1/4 pound of brisket and a hot round. The rib was tender but the brisket wasn’t, and it had a row of fat across the top. (Even though brisket is sold as “fat meat”, a thoughtful butcher will trim off this layer before weighing.) And not a lot of smoky flavor. I’m not a sausage person, but the hot round was pleasant, a coarse grind of beef and pork with pepper flecks mixed in and (I think) a bit of grain for density. A side of cole slaw was forgettable.
Identical sausage twins in Lockhart, Texas. Kreuz is on the left (I think.)
Next stop is Kreuz’s which needs less description because everything is pretty much the same as Smitty’s except that the building and the smoke pit room are recently built. But you’ll find the same meats and the same procedures, down to the pair of straight-edged spatulas the server uses to scrape the meat from the butcher block onto the serving paper.
I can’t do a straight up comparison, however, because Kreuz’s was out of brisket! That’s right, they’d sold the last of it shortly before my arrival and no more would be ready for a while. So I had to settle for a slice of “lean”, or barbecued shoulder. It was surprisingly tender for “lean” and tasted fine on a sandwich. The rib was suspiciously light in color but had the smokiest flavor of anything so far. The sausage was fine and tasted a lot like Smitty’s—which isn’t surprising because they apparently come from the same source (see photo).
If you’re headed to Lockhart I’ll send you to Smitty’s, I think. The food is marginally better at Kreutz’ but not enough to make up for the atmosphere at Smitty’s. Still, neither one will give you the best barbecue I’ve had in Texas. For that you have to wait until Saturday and journey a little farther, in a different direction, to Snow’s in the tiny and out of the way town of Lexington.
Snow’s caused a stir in winter 2009 because it was named over the Lockhart twins as the best barbecue in Texas by Texas Monthly, and soon after that the lines were out the door on Main Street and the barbecue was selling out by 10 am. It’s a tribute that the folks at Snow’s (who have other jobs and only smoke for the weekends because traditionally that is when the ranchers brought their cattle to auction) kept their good humor and quality and perspective through it all. Now (4 months after the article) the lines are down to a manageable size again.
What makes Snow’s the best? First, the brisket is sublime. Mine had a perfect smoke ring… pink around the edges of the meat and also pink inside along a layer of fat separating two layers of muscle. (Brisket is the “chest” of the animal, in the very front between the two front legs where a number of muscles come together in a criss-cross arrangement.) And not only was it fork-tender, it fell apart at the first touch of the fork.
Ribs were at least as good as Kreuz. (You may have guessed that pork ribs aren’t really my thing. If made from a commercial pig, they have a pleasant and not very complex flavor and you really can’t go wrong so long as the excess fat is cooked away.) And the sausage was crackling with goodness, cooked until the interior fat was boiled through the skin leaving it crispy and the interior hollow in spots.
Aside from the meat, what makes Snow’s special is that they are good marketers of what they sell. And this is important. It is one thing to bite into a perfect apple in a farmer’s market, something else to dine in a restaurant where a good chef has taken the trouble to ensure that everything is coordinated for a satisfying experience. Snow’s does this where the other establishments don’t.
You can get a plate with sides (solid Texas renditions of mustardy potato salad and vinegary slaw). You can have endless, very good, smoky pinto beans at no extra charge. You can take it outside and dine on picnic tables surrounded by barbecue pits and assorted rolling smokers which I assume are used to cater events in other locations. And you can even get it mail order since they’ve discovered if you smoke once a weekend you might as well smoke again (on Saturday, while the counter is open) and freeze that meat and send it around the country.
But Snow’s does have a weakness and it is their sauce, a sour blend informed by the insidious Carolina influence which has spread across Texas in recent years like Johnson grass. (Thank goodness there is no “pulled pork” at Snow’s.) . Do not under any circumstances put it on your food until you have tasted the meat naked, followed by a trial squirt of the excellent Cajun Chef hot sauce on the table. This should be all you need, especially because Snow’s meat tends toward the salty side and the hot sauce acts as a corrective.
It’s nice to know that the best barbecue store in Texas still has room for improvement. I will be back.
March 23rd, 2009 — Everything else, Tech, Words and writing
What’s so different about Twitter? And how do you use it to best advantage? One wonderful SXSWi panel, featuring rhetoric professors from the University of Texas, answered these questions by going back to Aristotle, the original documentarian of the use of words as a persuasive medium.
The original rhetoric, as Aristotle described it in 330 BC, was temporal: arguments were oral and words could only be processed in the order they were spoken. Once the written word came along, texts could be read in any order but there was a new limitation, spatiality: once words were put on paper, the printed information itself could not be moved. The web has made possible easily movable written information and Twitter carries this to the logical extreme with a constantly moving stream which is in essence a personal newspaper with an audience of one. (Here I am brutally paraphrasing the segment of Prof. John Jones which can be seen on ZDnet.)
No two people will ever see the same Twitter stream, and you yourself will never see your stream in exactly the same way twice. Yet it is very easy to control and edit your personal newspaper through the people you choose to follow. My experience is that if you start with a few people you find inherently interesting, like @guykawasaki or @broylesa (the terrific food columnist for the Austin Statesman, who stokes my interest in eating and makes me feel like I’m still at SXSW) and then check out @ tags in their tweets to see who THEY correspond with, you will soon build a fascinating stream. And if you’re interested in a topic, whether news or personal curiosity, a # search takes you in another satisfying direction.
Back to the panel, they said the best way to write your own tweets is to take into account the possibility of modularity and reuse. Prof. Jim Brown observed that every tweet has both an intended audience (the person you identify with an @ tag at the beginning, plus your known followers) and an unintended audience (everybody else, now or in the future.) A corollary of this is that the often-levied charge of Twitter narcissism is bogus. “Narcissism isn’t in the status update, it’s in the person annoyed by the update. If you’re annoyed by the tweet, it wasn’t meant for you.”
Apparently last year was the year of Facebook at SXSWi, and 2009 was the year of Twitter. Many of the sessions were specifically about Twitter, and everybody everywhere was twittering away on the new TweetDeck desktop application. We SXSWiers seem to like Twitter very much. Savant and trendsetter Guy Kawasaki was asked in a session to confirm, “If they charged for Twitter you’d probably pay whatever they asked” and he responded “that’s right.”
March 21st, 2009 — Everything else, Tech
During the last World Cup commentators often referred to the “samba wave” or “samba style” of the Brazil team…. the idea being they were carried along by an undulating wave that propelled them forward and confused their opponents. I never did understand this as it related to soccer, but it’s a perfect metaphor for SXSW Interactive. Here are a few thoughts in closing.
- Unlike the typical tech or marketing conference, everybody is here because they want to be here. This makes them more engaged and passionate.
- Everybody I met is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. It’s like graduating as high school valedictorian (not that I was) and going to a college where everybody is a valedictorian.
- As a corollary, everybody is curious and wants to talk to you because they assume you’re as smart as they are. If you’re not, you get the benefit of the doubt. That’s a good thing.
- There’s no way to predict whether a session will be good or not or even whether it will be about the topic in the program. So sit on the end of the row and don’t be shy about getting up and leaving if it doesn’t work out.
- Best events for me were the brilliant “Did Aristotle Twitter?” rhetoric panel with U Texas profs, the two food panels for personal interest, and most anything on Twitter including of course the now infamous #tweethall which wasn’t an event at all.
- Core conversations are painful. You will be stuffed into a room like sardines and sit on the floor. Go to these only if you have a passionate interest in the subject discussed.
- PowerPoints are over. With a couple of exceptions even the most visually brilliant presenters had basically no ppts at all, just a few text slides they barely referred to.
- The Austin Convention Center was designed by a lunatic, in a U-shaped configuration with the tips of the U 100 yards from each other as the crow flies but a 15 minute walk on the ground. And the SXSW management,with gentle humor, tended to put interactive events at the very outside with the film events in between.
- When you go to the parties, pay attention to the music. You are likely to hear something seriously good. This is Austin, after all.
I hope to be back next year.
March 17th, 2009 — Customer service, Marketing
At the SXSW Web Awards on March 15, the Adobe presenter gave a shout out to “all the social media gurus in the audience” and a titter ran through the crowd. The reason it’s funny is that, certain people’s business cards notwithstanding, this whole business is simply too new for anybody to be an expert. Everybody is figuring it out as they go.
Here are a couple of examples of companies that are figuring it out. They’ll do as best practices until something better comes along, and they’re also good illustrations of why companies are so fascinated by the potential of social media.
1. Everybody in the US knows about the Oscar Mayer WienerMobile: a funky vehicle shaped like a hot dog that tours America and shows up in the oddest places. In years past, someone who saw the WienerMobile might have told a few friends about it. Now, they’re likely to Twitter to a much larger audience… and Oscar Mayer’s PR folks are regularly searching the subject #wienermobile so they can respond to these posters, thank them for their interest and offer a coupon or just a continuing relationship through mutual following. (This illustration was presented by their PR consultant in one of the SXSW Core Conversations. Didn’t catch his name.)
2. Steve Barnes writes Table Hopping, a lively restaurant blog on the Albany Times Union website. When he reported that Red Lobster was going to offer flame broiled fish, skeptical readers commented that installing a flame broiler is very expensive and they were probably going to just sear it with a poker. But then the Red Lobster president himself found the thread and commented that indeed they were going to install flame broilers with a plausible explanation.
Not only did this defuse the negativity in the comment thread, but it got a new post from Steve Barnes himself: “Check out comment No. 18 on the post below about Red Lobster. It’s from the company’s president — yep, the top guy of a 680-location chain — and it’s not a canned reply but one that addresses specific comments made by Table Hopping readers.”
That’s good PR you can’t buy, but you have to work for it. And what is happening here is that Red Lobster is monitoring comments throughout the social media space using a tool like radian6 or boorah, both previously mentioned on Otisregrets, to keep track of comments so they can be responded to.