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Points to Ponder from @Midwest Social Media Conference

Points to Ponder from @Midwest Social Media Conference

I went to @Midwest Social Media Conference this past week (June 6-7, 2013)  in Bloomington-Normal, IL.  It was my first social media conference, so it was cool to get a survey of what other social media professionals are thinking and doing.  I also got to hang out with local Chambana peeps Amy Snyder, Jan Kijowski, and Laura Bleill.
Here is my breakdown of the conference with some key takeaway points I left with (in tweet form).
Opening Session:
The opening session featured musician and American Pie actor Thomas Ian Nicholson (@TINband).  Thomas reminded the audience that social media really is about listening and engaging with your followers.  He used the analogy of social media being like a pair of headphones to listen to followers rather than a microphone to broadcast your message.

He gave examples of how he used social media to interact with fans to fund his UK tour via Kickstarter.  Thomas gave good examples of how to interact, listen and entertain your followers on Twitter.

However, as a few people like Laura Bleill rightfully pointed out, celebrities have a different leeway to say and do whatever they want on social media to create engagement.  This is evident by the latest social media headline of the past week - that is,  Hillary Clinton joining the Twitterverse.  Having only tweeted a few times since getting on Twitter, the political figure has already accumulated over 5oo,000 Twitter followers in just a few days (which begs the question: Does this have 2016 Presidential campaign written all over it?)  The point is,  the world of celebrity social media is different from ours, and their advice has to be taken with a grain of salt.
Breakout session: Hyperlocal w/ Laura Bleill
The conference included hour long breakout sessions that participants could choose from.  I went to listen to Laura Bleill share about the importance of local businesses leveraging social media in their community. She used her extensive experience in co-founding ChambanaMoms.com as the case study for her workshop.  She talked about the potential social media has to be the digital corner store for small businesses and the importance of restoring a place for neighbors to talk and gossip about what's happening in their town.
In Laura's own words,

I think Champaign-Urbana's social media community is a really good picture of this.  Twitter users like Laura Bleill and Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (CUMTD) recognize advocating for everything local - or being hyperlocal as the core of their brand identity. Laura did a great job of explaining how local businesses should take advantage of engaging with local community evangelists on social media to get them to advocate and promote their businesses products or services.

This is a big deal. In my experience, I love it when small businesses and brands engage with me and respond to my tweets.  I love to tweet, foursquare and instagram whatever I eat or wherever I go in Chambana to spread the word about good deals and great experiences. It's part of my way of giving back to the community and supporting all things local.  I know there are many other people in the community who also want to put in a good word for local businesses. Unfortunately, many times small businesses fail to engage their customers on social media and lose out on a valuable customer service experience.  Don't make the same mistakes. If you are a small business, take time to check your social media notifications and respond to the users in your community who want to be word-of-mouth evangelists for your great services or products.
Laura also gave a brief history of the Chambana hashtag.
Other highlights from @Midwest included learning about the role of  videos, links, and blogging in influencing search engine optimization (SEO) and how all these components play an important role in a brand's social media strategy. There was also a great lunch panel on the importance of telling your story though social media. Here is a link to all the tweets tagged at the @Midwest Social Media Conference.  The tweets serve as the cliff notes version of the conference and provide plenty of memorable sound bites and tips to improve your social media usage.
Closing Session
The closing speaker Melissa Schenk helped put the information we gained at the conference in perspective focusing on sharing the significant role that video plays in social media and SEO.
Video remains the #1 tool for SEO Universal Search Results—If you're not using video you are missing out! @ms2weathergirl #atMW

The reason that videos so strongly impact search results is that YouTube is owned by Google and therefore carries a heavy percentage in the search algorithmon Google Search.  This means the more engaging videos you have on YouTube, the more likely someone is to find your website or product when searching on Google.  Melissa gave incredible insights on how to create engaging content and even gave advice on how to create viral videos - the fleeting ideal of so many small business owners and marketers.  She put it simply in saying that the best way to make a viral video is to create "how to" videos because they are the consistently the most viral type.

So if you are a small business - this is an easy way to get your feet wet in video.  Show your audience how you create your products, how to solve a problem, or how to do simple every day tasks that you or your business do well.

Again in my experience, creating how to videos and tweeting more frequently will not make you an overnight success in and of itself.  But I have seen how these elements can be a part of an intentional social media strategy. Create compelling blog posts, record simple how to videos, and then use social media to link to the content you have created.  But at the end of the day, you have to remember to consistently interact on social media and show you really care about what you do and why you do it by prioritizing others. Here is Melissa's social media success formula echoed in what others at the conference mentioned as well:

If you want to be successful on social media listening and caring about others before promoting your own agenda is the key.  So here is my final take away.  We know the Golden Rule says treat others as you would wanted to be treated.  So follow the Social Media Golden Rule: Tweet about (and platform) others as you would want to be Tweeted (and platformed).

Engage with your community by listening and responding to their tweets.  It will go a long way. Don't just go about broadcasting about how great you are and what your daily specials are (although these are also great things). Listen and respond to customers/followers as you would want them to  listen and respond to you.
So that's my breakdown and some of my own thoughts prompted by the @Midwest Social Media Conference.  It was a great conference that helps raise the level of social media awareness in Central Illinois. That is always a good thing.  Looking at their website today, it looks like they are aiming for another conference sometime in the Spring of 2014.  So be on the look out for that!
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