The SMC of Louisville met last evening (April 15, 2008) at The Fox & Hound. It was a very large group, and everyone seemingly had an excellent time although the actual presentation was hampered a bit by the loud music in the adjoining rooms. That’s no-one’s fault, and it didn’t negatively impact my experience one iota. Then again, bars are more of my element anyway. ;)

General Overview

Jason Falls played the role of “MC” for the event, and he started the evening with an excellent point–there is a lot of Social Media and Internet talent right here in Louisville, KY. The ‘Ville sometimes gets a bad rep from other locales as being backwards, country, redneck, hillbilly, etc., but there is a LOT of Internet talent in the River City, and a lot of people are stepping out and really leveraging social media in a big way. I couldn’t agree more with Jason’s opening statements. Next time you’re chatting with someone “in the know,” ask them to list the best people they’ve come across for doing something online, and chances are you might hear of someone from Louisville mentioned in the top 10.

Joining Jason on the “panel” for the evening were: Rob May of BusinessPundit fame, Chris Pearson, and Michelle Jones. All are very influential in their space and extremely talented. Each person shared their experience of how they came to blog and join the social media landscape along with some keys to success from their perspective.

Rob’s main takeaway for the evening could be summed up with Jim Rome’s radio show tagline for callers–”Have a Take and Don’t Suck!” Rob encouraged everyone attending to get involved online by being different. He said the key is to share personal experiences, controversy and/or strong opinions, or something that provides value to the reader. There are far too many “me, too” blogs and websites out there, and standing out requires being unique while contributing value. I concur with Rob’s core message for the evening.

Chris Pearson spoke next about getting people involved and engaging with you. If no one is contributing to your efforts with comments, links, or reviews, you’re essentially yelling into the wind where no one is listening. When you write or create online content, Chris contends, make it engaging and encourage participation through feedback or SOMETHING. Again, an excellent point.

No offense to Michelle, but it was most difficult for me to hear her (I was in the back of the room) so my notes are rather hazy. I did gather that she’s very passionate about Louisville, and that’s what propelled her to do something online in the first place. I believe one of her keys was to seek out something you’re passionate about and run with it because the passion will guide you in the right direction. (Michelle, I welcome your correction if I mis-heard you). She also encouraged the audience to give comments and feedback to get it. Another great point–a lot of bloggers or content creators think that if they create a great piece of content that floods of traffic will come flying in, and it doesn’t quite work that way. Believe me, I’ve learned this the hard way on several occasions, and I’m still wrestling with it.

Keys to Success

Jason then added more informative nuggets including:

  • Network regularly with someone that has a large following; eventually their followings’ curiosity will get the best of them, and they’ll check you out.
  • Try to network with your on-line contacts off-line, too. This can be extremely powerful!
  • Spread others’ messages to your following–”sneeze” their takes and opinions; this is in-line with the give to get philosophy; if you find something worth sharing, share it!
  • Have realistic expectations when you attempt to leverage social media for your business; don’t expect to enter the social media universe with the unrealistic expectation of generating a flood of business in short order–it takes time to build relationships off-line, and on-line is no different. This was one of my favorite points of the night because I’ve had similar conversations with potential clients, and they look at me like I have three heads when I say “your social media initiative ROI likely won’t be very good for awhile, but it could really pack a punch down the road.” Those aren’t popular words with executives, but they’re realistic if nothing else. Glad to hear Jason reiterate the point to the group although I’m guessing this particular audience already “gets it.” It’s their bosses that may not understand yet, and they need to hear this if they have aspirations of on-line/social media success.

Monetizing Social Media

The panel went on to discuss ways to make money with social media which was very interesting. Rob suggested building a valuable site (high PageRank, lots of visitors, a mini-community, etc.) before trying to leverage it as a profit center.

Some other takeaways:

  • Run your social media (blogging in particular) initiatives like a business–you have to invest resources just as you would a new division of your company. This is no different. I concur wholeheartedly, and I believe this is where a lot of companies miss the boat. They believe in the field of dreams approach and don’t understand that a consistent effort is what it’ll take to become successful online within the social media world.
  • Overall, there was a repeated theme amongst the panel of find those with a following and work to appeal to them. Do your homework and make sure it’s relevant. Also, make sure your style and overall approach meshes with the people you’re trying to appeal to. For example, it makes little sense to pitch PC related products to passionate Apple users.
  • Give to get was another popular theme amongst the panel, and that’s a great approach regardless of the business endeavor.
  • Be consistent with your frequency, tonality, and general message.
  • Be transparent and genuine–don’t hide behind anonymous handles or names or try to pretend to be something you’re not. People on-line can sniff out a fake rapidly, and the repercussions could be very damaging and costly. Word travels at light speed on-line, and you don’t want to draw the wrath of an upset and motivated community.

Off-line Socialization

Among the people I met for the first time:

  • Sarah Sapora of corecubed who moved here from Las Vegas and is excited to be involved with core and Louisville in general. Sarah was making her maiden voyage into the SMC so please welcome Sarah!
  • Stephen Harmon of HarmonWeddings.com–Stephen is a wedding photographer that also does business related photography.
  • Susan Gosselin of Gosselin Communications–Susan is involved in Public Relations and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with potential and existing clients.
  • Ed Bennett who is a freelance copywriter and used to work for the Courier Journal for several years. Ed and I had several great conversations about social media, the apparent direction of the CJ compared with the days of old, events from Louisville’s past including the tornadoes of 1974 (I was only 3 years old yet remember the day vividly believe it or not), and we freely admitted to each other that neither of us is comfortable in front of a camera so writing is a much better outlet for us.

Personal Experience & Summary

Overall, this was a great evening and event. I had a lot of fun, met some very neat “new” people (they’re technically not new just new to me), and learned something. The beer was very good and the staff at Fox & Hound was attentive, friendly and attractive which never hurts.If you didn’t get a chance to attend, I hope you make it to the next meeting. This is a growing community that is taking on a personality of its own. If you were there, I encourage you to share your thoughts on anything you’ve read here or anything I may have missed.

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