There’s a room full of people at the main ballroom at the Harbert Center in Birmingham, Alabama on a warm June Friday morning and I’m more than a little intimidated. Professionals with a clue mingled with each other and ate from the breakfast buffet in advance of the opening session of the 2014 version of Y’All Connect, a social media, digital storytelling, and networing conference that was the brain child of Wade Kwon. In its second iteration, Y’all Connect has become the place to meet and network with Birmingham’s social media royalty and to learn a thing or two from some of the country’s biggest social media and digital storytelling gurus. This was, perhaps, a gathering of the most connected people in the Birmingam social media/blogging scene. The average age couldn’t have been more than 38. At 47, I feel like their dad.
I feel like a poser. I’ve convinced Wade to grant me media credentials in order to explore this strange new world. Sure, I have a blog, I was podcasting when podcasting was in its earliest years, and I’ve been on Twitter since 2008. Beyond that I hadn’t a clue about the world of social media professionals and how they do their jobs, much less those who travel the country speaking to them.
I’m dressed in my hippest, quasi professional, casual-hipster outfit of Jeans, black shoes, black sportcoat with an open collar shirt. Wielding a moleskine, no less, I sauntered into the room and found a safe spot way in the back. From that vantage point, I could observe the room, stay out of harms way should I be discovered as a digital pretender, and soak up the atmosphere of a conference of something other than college professors in navy blazers. Two men who shared a table with me confessed that they always sat in the back, “we’re Baptists.” One young woman, fresh out of college told me she was there on her own dime as a blogger, but hoped that her boss would pay for the conference fee if she returned with useful information for the company. Her enterprising attitude was a far cry from the stereotypical (unfair, I might add) self-centered slacker millennial that so many older people complain about.
For my generation, the elders of Generation X, social media came late to our lives. We’ve dominated facebook and twitter, but have we used them in the most effective way possible? Much of this conference was about just that. How do you not only manage a company’s social media presence without creating problems or enbarrassment, but also use social media as a valuable source of data about followers, consumers, and yourself? How do you effectively tell your story while also building a bond with your fans and customers? If your company doesn’t have a sound strategy for presenting yourself digitally that reflects the way people access social media or websites, then you do yourself a disservice. For example, consumers ever increasingly acccess websites and portals wth their smart phones and less so with laptops or desktop computers. If your digital presence isn’t set up for mobile optimization then you make it harder for them to find the information or product that you want them to locate. Have you ever tried to register for a newsletter from a company or buy a product using your phone on a website that wasn’t set up for that screen size? Pinching and resizing and pulling the page left and right, up and down. It’s enough to make you want to not buy from the brand.
Do you use or search hashtags? Why not? It is the easiest way to locate those who share your interests or to locate customers and clients. Until this conference, I had no idea that twitter has a search page. Do you see what more successful blogs or companies are doing with their online presence? Do you adopt those best practices? How do you even determine what those practices are? Are you a blogger who is trying to find your niche while not losing the passion that led you to write your digital stories in the first place? This was the conference for you.
It seems that social media strategy isn’t that difficult to do well if you pay attention to audience, don’t get lazy with your content, and remain aware of best practices and horrible mistakes of those who came before you Remember: what you find humorous may fall flat and backfire once presented to the public. (Amirite Dave and Busters? Good news. You’re not alone.)
Whether a small personal blogger, a college professor, or a large multi-national company, social media strategy has to reflect the passion of the person or entity it represents. What is your passion? Share with the follower the passion and value that you got from whatever it is you write about, whether publicly held power company or a fitness blogger with a mac. I half-listened to the presentations because I was so consumed with watching the people in the room. Everyone seemed hungry for an edge to make their blog or company just a little better, more effective, more valuable to readers and consumers. I left with 8 pages of notes, a handful of new contacts and friends, and a renewed zeal for presenting my digital story.
I was struck by the image of the young woman next to me wearing a cool knit cap with monkey face on it that she received as a door prize from one of the meeting’s sponsors, Mailchimp (mental note: find some way to get one of those awesome caps!). She typed furiously on her laptop, taking in all the information she could, excited about expanding her brand or growing her blog. I wanted to ask her what she did and why she was there, but I dared not interrupt her typing. She was enraptured by the information and how she could make her dreams a reality. She couldn’t get the information fast enough. There’s nothing more fun to watch than passion as it was being nourished. This is why I’ll go back next year.
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