Adobe Tech Comm Enterprise Summit, Keynote: Technical Communicators as Management Consultants, for Content

Technical communicators are now “management consultants for content,” Content Wrangler Scott Abel recently observed, at the Adobe Tech Comm Enterprise Summit, in Boston, MA. In his keynote, “Understanding the Role of Technical Communication in Enterprise Efficiency,” Abel  noted that technical communicators are now in the business of creating content (not books), which can be repurposed for multiple devices, audiences, formats, and languages.

Abel further explained how “automating enforcement of writing rules is one easy way to gain efficiency,” and how software can now encode rules to prevent authors from making the most common and costly writing mistakes.”

In Abel’s view, content creation is science, not art. For the technical communicator, Abel suggests, the art lies not in creating content, which can now be manufactured, but rather in deciding how to make content fit, in different scenarios, and in optimizing every part of the content creation process, eliminating redundancy and other waste, through the
application of structure and consistent terminology.

Abel pointed to Autodesk’s WikiHelp, which embeds videos, as an example of socially-enabled support content, and the efficiency gains of directly connecting and listening to customers, in this way.  He also pointed to the iFixit community, which provides repair information, not documents, which community members can directly edit. He further stated that every piece of generated content in these examples can be tracked and directly tied back to sales.

To advance similar initiatives, Abel recommended evangelizing efficiency gains and marketing achievements, within your company. He further advised partnering with
product management, with the objective of breaking down silos.

Resources on Structured Authoring

For more information, Abel pointed to Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy by Ann Rockley.

At the Enterprise Summit, Adobe’s Thomas Aldous offered a compelling value proposition for Adobe Technical Communication Suite, 3.5, suggesting that it makes a lot of sense for technical communicators, even those who are currently using the unstructured FrameMaker version, to set themselves up from the start, on a multi-channel publishing platform, which offers both unstructured and structured authoring options, and which can evolve with changing and inevitable market requirements.

Your Turn:

Do you agree with Abel’s keynote, that technical communication today represents more science than art? What might be the possible exceptions? Can you recommend additional resources or tools, for structured authoring?

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

May You Live in Interesting Times (and Places)

Last week, the hubby and I stepped out on the town together, for “Boston’s 2nd Annual MegaTweetup,” hosted by Boston Tweetup’s Joselin Mane, at the Microsoft New England Research and Development (N.E.R.D.) Center, in Cambridge, MA.

A Year’s Worth of New England TweetUps and Social Media Networking Events

It was a great time, with plenty of opportunities to network, as well as an opportunity for the Boston community to celebrate what organizers noted as a “Year’s Worth of New England TweetUps and Social Media Networking Events.”

Lots of appetizers & beverages, live entertainment, and a generous raffle supporting the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, also contributed to the evening’s success.

So too, did a Social Media Listening Command Center, comprised of local college students and Kid Critic Lane Sutton , who tracked, monitored, and reported all the evening’s social media activity, with some help from Radian 6 and TweetReach. (At “Boston TweetUp,” stay tuned for case-studies, on the impact of the evening’s social media activities for event sponsors. You can also drop by Drew Bennet’s MegaTweetup Recap for additional links as well as his fun collection of event photos on Flickr.)

Microsoft N.E.R.D. Center’s 500th Event

Especially cool were the 500 cupcakes and festive cake on hand, in honor of  the Microsoft N.E.R.D. Center’s 5ooth event. With its accessible parking and close proximity to public transportation, the comfortable and spacious center is beginning to feel a bit like a home away from home for me.

Since June, I’ve attended the Raise the Flag Linchpin Meetup there, some Boston WordPress Meetups, and Podcamp Boston. Tue. of that week, I had visited the N.E.R.D. Center for an event on Web Personalization Strategies, sponsored by the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX).

Balancing Act: In-Person and Online Events

Of course, when I got home from the MegaTweetup, I received the full babysitting report, on what the kids had been up to, while Mom and Dad were out. (…when the cat’s away sort of thing…) As I’m sure other parents may especially understand, it’s not always possible for me to get to in-person networking events, juggling my three kids’ busy activities and other childcare issues. It’s still sure worth the time and effort to connect in person, when I can.

When I can’t, I’m always grateful for online professional development, training, and virtual networking opportunities, listed through services like Boston offers a host of virtual choices: MarketingProfs online seminars, Awareness Inc.’s webinars, and weekly installments of HubSpot TV, to name a few.

Recently, I’ve also started tuning in to the Pulse Network, for Chris Brogan’s Kitchen Table Talks, which are broadcasts on innovation for small business consultants, especially like myself, just getting started.

Through Twitter, I’m able to continue networking and extending relationships, with those I meet, at in-person or virtual events. It’s a win, win situation.

Boston: New Media Hub

To sum up, Boston offers so many great networking and professional development opportunities, available, often for free or at a modest cost, right here, in our own virtual and real backyards. We’re lucky to live not only during interesting times, but also in the location we do.

Analysts agree. For more on Boston as a center of new media innovation, see Josh Bernoff’s What’s at the intersection of marketing and technology? Boston or Brian Halligan’s Can Boston Become the Silicon Valley of Marketing?.

Networking skills a bit rusty?

Check out Joselin Mane and Justin Levy’s tips for networking events, at the MITX blog, or the Human Business Works newsletter, for Chris Brogan’s tips on personal development and business growth ideas.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Gilbane Conference Boston: Industry Analyst Discussion

Last week, I attended keynotes from the Gilbane Conference Boston at the Westin Copley Place, visiting with several vendors, on a complimentary technology pass.

Gilbane Boston is focused on the business impact of content management solutions, including sessions on customers & engagement, colleagues & collaboration, content technology, and content publishing. In a lot of ways, attending the Gilbane Boston event felt like coming home for me, with its cross-disciplinary and holistic focus. (There were marketing and IT professionals there, as well as technical communicators.)

If you couldn’t make the full conference, then you couldn’t go wrong with Gilbane’s complimentary technology pass, which provides the spirit of the conference’s themes, through open access to the keynotes and product labs, as well as unlimited networking opportunities in the vendor exhibit. There, I spoke with reps from places like 1io, Crowell Solutions, Inc., “Alterian,” CrownPeak, and nSight Works. The vendor exhibit drew a particularly engaged and busy crowd.

The second keynote included a cross-section of industry analysts, on “What’s Real, What’s Hype, and What’s Coming” in content technology.

Here were the participants:

  • Moderator: Frank Gilbane, President, Outsell’s Gilbane Group
  • Hadley Reynolds, Research Director, Search & Digital Marketplace Technologies, IDC
  • Ned May, VP & Lead Analyst, Outsel
  • Scott Liewehr, Senior Consultant, Web Content Management, Gilbane Group
  • Tony Byrne, Founder, The Real Story Group & CMS Watch
  • Kathleen Reidy, Senior Analyst, 451 Group

According to the analysts, the most important developments in 2010 included SharePoint 2010, innovation in public web search (including mobile search, real-time search, Google Instant, and social intelligence integrated with search results, via Bing and Facebook), the shift to the cloud model, computing embedded in our real-time lives (for example, the smart pen), and web engagement management.

There was also debate between some analysts about whether web engagement management is just another acronym, or if it represents something broader than traditional web content management. Gilbane’s Scott Liewehr describes web engagement management, as enabling cross-channel engagement, and providing a single view of your customer, incorporating online marketing, search, and e-mail campaigns.

The audience asked lots of great follow-up questions. Additional responses included predictions for 2011, including projections about social media in the enterprise.

It was hard to leave, with  so many great speakers still in the que. Next year, I plan to stay for the entire event. (Given this blog’s themes and my Boston locale, it was especially hard to miss the session, How to Build a Content Strategy – Practical Principles for Influential Web Content, by Colleen Jones, Founder, Content Science and Margot Bloomstein, Principal, Appropriate, Inc. For this reason, I was especially glad to see Jeff Cutler’s conference write-up on that session.)

Make sure to check out additional video coverage from the conference at the “Gilbane Video Page” or for highlights of various sessions at the “Gilbane Boston 2010 Conference Coverage at The Gilbane Group’s Press Releases and Announcements Page.”

Thanks to the Gilbane Group for the free technology pass. See you next year, at the full conference.

Related Links

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Touchdown: Inbound Marketing Summit at Gillette Stadium

Oct. 6th and 7th, at Gillette Stadium, I attended the Inbound Marketing Summit, sponsored by New Marketing Labs LLC. It didn’t disappoint. It was a great venue, with great speakers, and I came away with some valuable nuggets, on curating, developing, and managing online content.

Here are some key takeaways, from sessions that were especially relevant to my interests as a content developer.

Is that Content Marketing in Your Pocket or…? by Pawan Deshpande, CEO at HiveFire

According to Pawan Deshpande, CEO of HiveFire, an online content marketing technology company,  inbound marketing starts with content. Fresh content feeds hungry search engines and drives traffic to your site, but the effort to develop that ongoing content can be difficult.

To make content marketing easier, Deshpande advised pulling together various online content, through content curation, which involves selectively identifying, organizing, and sharing content online. In the process, Deshpande explained, you can make publishing content much easier, draw in more customers, and stand out from your competition, as an authority on a topic that interests your prospects.

As an example, Deshpande pointed to Airvana’s, an industry resource on femtocell technology (see the Airvana Case Study from HiveFire) For more information, also check out HiveFire’s Content Curation: Taming the Flood in B2B Social Media.

Secrets to Content Marketing Success by Maria Pergolino, Director of Marketing/Demand Generation at Marketo

I especially benefitted from the “Secrets to Content Marketing Success” session, by content marketing expert, Maria Pergolino. In her presentation, Pergolino shared ways to “effectively engage the right prospects, with the right content, at the right time.”

Pergolini described how the various pieces of content map to the buyer decision process (awareness, consideration, decision), with product documentation correlating to the consideration and decision phases. She also provided invaluable advice about how to get more SEO benefit from PDF documents (how some product documentation is delivered), using Flickerbox.

I look forward to checking out Marketo’s Creating Content That Sells: A Guide to Content Marketing for Demand Generation.

Why You Should Be Using a CMS to Manage Your Website and Content, Panel Discussion

This session was a panel discussion, with Ron West, Director of Product Strategy/Professional Services at PaperThin, Brett Zucker, Chief Technology Officer at Bridgeline Digital, Byron White, Chief Idea Officer at ideaLaunch, Vern Imrich, Chief Technical Officer, at Percussion Software, and Joe Henriques, Director, Client Services and Partner Development, at Sitecore.

The open discussion described how various applications are making it possible for Marketing to manage both the content and the application, where that content resides.

Panelists maintained this trend eliminates bottlenecks and empowers marketers to more quickly make site changes, based on analytics that come packaged with the CMS. According to one panelist, this trend is creating opportunities for Marketing Technologists, who know both the marketing and CMS lingos. A different panelist observed the more structured the existing content is, the easier it is to migrate.


These sessions especially complemented my focus on content strategy, development, and management, but they are only a sampling of the many excellent sessions and additional topics available, at Inbound Marketing Summit 2010. ROI was a recurring theme.

I would recommend this conference to anyone interested in a fast-paced tempo, with a broad cross-section of industry and other thought leaders, in a highly distinctive Boston setting.

Other benefits: free parking, high quality food (roasted turkey couldn’t have been any better), and a uniquely open facility layout, which made it easy to listen in on speakers, while simultaneously speaking with vendor reps, or meet with others, in the Demonstration Zone. (I also appreciated that you could see the presentation slides, from any number of overhead monitors.)

For more information, make sure to see New Marketing Labs TV, available on the Pulse Network, which livestreamed many keynotes and interviewed various speakers, through fireside chats.

Postscript: Special thanks, by the way, to the Marketwire rep, for the Nerf football souvenir, which my six-year-old at home, greatly appreciated, his first week of Flag Football.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

The 140 Character Conference, Boston: Perfect Tapestry

For the last year and a half, Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver on Twitter) has been hosting 140 Character Conferences, all over the US and globe, including NYC, LA, London, Tel Aviv, Barcelona, SXSW, DC, and San Francisco.

Last week, Pulver’s conference came to Boston, and I was lucky enough to attend.

Boston’s own Laura Fitton (@Pistachio) and Joselin Mane (@joselinmane |@BostonTweetup) helped Pulver host the all-day event, at the Back Bay Events Center.

Perennial Boston favorites Chris Brogan, Bobbie Carlton, C.C. Chapman, Jeff Cutler, Steve Garfield, and Christopher S. Penn, were also all on hand, among the various speakers, to talk about the impact of the real-time Internet on life and work.

Voices Rising

At Boston Tweetup’s June kickoff for the 140 Conference, Pulver noted that we are in the midst of a revolution, in which social platforms have disrupted every business sector, including “real estate, public safety, the music industry, video, politics, celebrities…” The way we connect with people has changed fundamentally,” Pulver explained. Importantly, he added, companies today realize they have to listen.

A Tapestry In Progress

As I sift through my conference notes, trying to capture the spirit of last week’s 140 Character Conference, I’m finding there were way too many vibrant voices, to single out a few sessions or speakers, without losing some sense of the whole. It was like a perfectly woven tapestry, that I’m reluctant to unravel too much, as its impact was cumulative.

Are You Ready To Be a Superhero?

Christopher S. Penn framed themes for the entire conference, in the session “Awakening your superhero“, with the power of social media. In his talk, Penn reminded his audience, of the ethical responsibilities that come with new social media capabilities.

“When you see someone in need, you have an obligation to help,” Penn observed. To be in a position to make that difference at the personal, institutional, and societal level, Penn advised actively building your network every day.

Social Media for Good/Social Media for Everyone

The following sessions are just a sampling of the ones that inspired me, or illustrated how social media has gone mainstream:

  • Real-time Education: This was a panel discussion on educating children for the world to come, with Kirsten Olson (@bhsprincipal) – Author of Wounded By School and the principal of Old Sow Educational Consulting, Patrick Larkin (@bhsprincipal) – Burlington High School (MA) Principal, and Tony Baldasaro (@baldy7) – Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Chief Human Resource Officer Personalized Pathways Administrator.
  • My Family’s Incredible Story: How the Real time Web Is Helping Us Share Our Story: Nelson de Witt (@dewittn), Chief Story Teller at Ana’s Miracle, shared his familiy’s story about separation during El Salvador’s civil war and their journey to reunite. He also talked about how they are using social media and the real time Internet to share their story.
  • Lemonade – The Story Behind the Story
    Erik Proulx (@eproulx), from Please Feed the Animals, described how his blog for the unemployed advertising professional evolved into a documentary film on how these professionals are reinventing themselves in a layoff economy.
  • The Need for Innovation in the Military
    TroopSwap co-founder Blake Hall (@troopswap) described how Enterprise 2.0 can benefit the military, in combat.
  • Real-time Web and Public Safety
    John Daley ( @Boston_Police,) Deputy Superintendent, Boston Police, explained how Twitter is allowing the Boston Police to communicate information and be more responsive.
  • Leveraging Vulnerability in the Real-Time Web
    Geo Geller(@geogeller), Artist, Inventor, Photographer, Andy Dixon (@andydixn| @breakouttour) singer, songwriter, author, and Jessica Murray (@JessicaRMurray), Community Liaison for Social Media Club, introduced the BreakOUT Tour ~Breaking Kids Out of Prision Before They Get In.
  • Crowdsourcing Cancer
    Alicia C. Staley (@stales), 3 time cancer survivor, discussed a new site for Crowdsourcing Cancer, coming Dec. 15th, which will provide a network for cancer survivors, committed to seek, source, solve, and continue to survive cancer, together.
  • How I Became an Entrepreneur
    Lane Sutton (@kidcriticusa), Social Media Strategist/Entrepreneur/Writer (and a 13-yr-old kid), described his site, at KidCriticUSA, where he critiques movies, books, activities, and restaurants , from a kid’s perspective.

I also really liked Julien Smith’s soulful session, “The Primal Diaspora,” which provides tips from the co-author of Trust Agents (@julien), on finding happiness and forging more authentic relationships, in a Web 2.0 world.

For a more complete description of speakers and sessions, see the #140conf Boston schedule.

A Life Conference

If you still don’t “get” social media, I highly recommend attending a 140 Character Conference near you, to hear about first-hand the impact and pervasiveness of social media, across all aspects of life.

The power of the 140 Character Conference ultimately lies in the collective patterns that emerge from the various speakers’ individual messages… and how these stories add up to something greater than one person or industry, and even the moment at hand. As Pulver said, “This isn’t a technology conference; this is a life conference.”

Related Links

Keynote: The Frontier Is Everywhere – the Impact of NOW on New Economies, by Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) – Author and President, New Marketing Labs

Recap on Enterprise 2.0 Boston: Workshops (June 14th, #e2conf)

Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston: Workshops, June 14th

I have been going through my notes and the presentation slides from the various workshop sessions I attended on June 14th, at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference— a TechWeb Live event, held recently at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel (connected to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center), from June 14th through 17th.

(I attended the Workshop Day on a free media pass; I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference, due to scheduling conflicts that very busy week in Boston, and at my own work-place. Next year, I will try to schedule more time off, for this very worthwhile four-day event.)

According to the E2 Boston Conference site, “Enterprise 2.0 is the term for the technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email.”

“It provides business managers with access to the right information at the right time through a web of inter-connected applications, services, and devices. Enterprise 2.0 makes accessible the collective intelligence of many, translating to a huge competitive advantage in the form of increased innovation, productivity, and agility.”

Cutting Edge Sponsors, Presenters, and Participants

Through sponsored presentations and keynotes (still available online), I am in the process of learning how major vendors like Cisco, IBM, Infosys, and Microsoft are making Enterprise 2.0 a reality in the work-place through their respective products, as well as learning about the significant innovations of many smaller, up and coming companies.

All I can say is—wow, the depth of information I received, and the quality of the presentations I now have access to through the Enterprise 2.0 site, is really first-rate, and takes time to absorb, because of the sheer volume of information, and its comprehensive nature.

1,400 Business and IT Professionals in One Place

According to TechWeb’s Natalia Wodecki and Joylyn Tanner, Enterprise 2.0 Boston was “a successful event, presenting [its] largest program yet, with 120 speakers in over 60 sessions, and welcoming nearly 1,400 business and IT professionals.”

[Enterprise 2.0] had more than 40 exhibitors, 27 of which were brand new to the event, from the leading start ups to the big-name vendors, including IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Novell, and Cisco.

As you know, Cisco made major news at the event demoing Quad’s capabilities, while other vendors also made some major announcements, proving the Enterprise 2.0 Conference was the choice event to introduce their innovative products that are helping businesses transition to Enterprise 2.0.

In addition to attending the workshops, I also met some very smart, fun people, in a lively environment, with lots of opportunities to connect, over lunch-time, or after hours, at various events for attendees, including cocktail receptions (sponsored separately, by Microsoft, Cisco, and Saba), not to mention the opportunity to take an early summer cruise on the Spirit of Boston (sponsored by IBM).

Given all of the above, I understand why Dion Hinchcliffe (my favorite workshop presenter) praises the event, so enthusiastically, at his Web 2.0 blog:

I’ve been attending (and speaking) at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston since before it was called that (years ago, it used to be called the Collaborative Technologies Conference.)  It remains the only must-attend event in the enterprise social software space for a number of reasons.  It’s not that there aren’t plenty of good Enterprise 2.0 conferences out there that compete, there certainly are. Yet none of them has quite achieved the iconic status of the Boston edition of the event, which has gone on in the last year to spawn West Coast and online instances.

Kicking Off an Enterprise 2.0 Series

Here are the workshops I attended on Monday, June 14th:

  • Implementing Enterprise 2.0: Exploring the Tools and Techniques of Emergent Change #e2conf-2
  • Insider’s Guide to Evaluating and Selecting Social Software #e2conf-5
  • The Microsoft Social Computing Workshop: Everything You Need To Know #e2conf-7
  • Evening in the Cloud #e2conf

I’ll be sharing information from these and other excellent E2 keynotes and presentations, in a series of related posts this summer. Stay tuned.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Recap on Linchpins Are Everywhere: Raise the Flag Meetup (6/14, Cambridge, MA)

Linchpins Are Everywhere: Raise the Flag Meetup

In anticipation of seeing Seth Godin at the Live on Tour! event in Boston, I participated in the worldwide-meet-the-tribe-of-Linchpins day, on June 14th last week, in Cambridge, MA.

On Mon. night, about thirty attendees gathered at the Microsoft New England R&D Center (N.E.R.D.) to meet fellow linchpins and to discuss all things Seth Godin.

Godin announced the one-time worldwide meetup at his own blog, where he stated that one of the first linchpins he ever knew was his 3rd grade teacher. The teacher’s daughter was born on Flag Day, and in her honor, Godin selected June 14th as Linchpin Day.

Godin described the purpose of the Linchpin Meetup in this way:

“Here’s a simple, fast and free way to find other Seth fans in your community. Meet other people who talk about this blog, read the books and want to make an impact on the universe. Find people who ship.”

Attendees mingled awhile, before the more formal part of the program began. In introducing ourselves, the most common reason participants expressed for coming was wanting to meet other people who think like linchpins.

Organizer Lorenzo Geraci soon broke the group down into three interest groups: entrepreneurs, professional services, and education|general. (For volunteering to lead a group, I received an autographed copy of Linchpin to join my growing collection of autographed books. Very cool.)

The educational|general interest group launched an impromptu and lively conversation, on what each of us found of value in Linchpin. Topics were fluid. On education, the group agreed that the new economy requires a  different kind of education than the compliance-based programs of the factory-age. Instead, problem-solving and leadership must move to the center of the curriculum. We also discussed various challenges facing linchpins in organizations and referred to Godin’s advice to start small and build on incremental success.

Other topics included a discussion on how the organization and promotion of the Meetup and Live on Tour! event later in the week, fully illustrated Godin’s principles of permission marketing and tribes. There were also good insights related to blogging, networking, Seth’s blog—and how Godin often answers e-mail…(Good to know.) We also had time to tangentially mention our respective business goals. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each others’ initiatives, both personally, and as examples of linchpins in action.

So far, there have been 792 meetups, with 5,844 attendees, in 90 countries. You can still catch 100 upcoming meetings, so make sure to check out the Meetup site.

For Boston linchpins, plans are already in the works for future meetups. For information, see the Boston Linchpins site.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

What I Did Over Summer Vacation: PodCamp Boston 4


PodCamp 4 Boston

Along with about three hundred others, I attended PodCamp Boston 4 (#pcb4) this weekend, August 8th and August 9th, at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Harborside Campus Center. If you are interested in podcasting, want to learn from seasoned practitioners, welcome the opportunity to meet others from all walks of life and a diversity of fields, and can spare $50, then next year you can’t go wrong attending this informative and engaging event.

My Goals for Attending PodCamp

My main reason for attending PodCamp was to begin understanding the mechanics of delivering information via podcasts. Whether for purposes of technical communication (for example, see Tom Johnson’s podcasts) or marketing communication (see Christopher Penn and John Wall’s Marketing over Coffee podcasts), podcasting seems to me an information-distribution mechanism that no forward-thinking communicator can afford to ignore.

I was looking especially for specifics on how to get started podcasting, and PodCamp delivered those introductory details, with plenty of resources for further reference. In addition to the nuts and bolts of podcasting, there were also sessions on general social media topics, including SEO and how to measure the value of social media. (The range of topics was probably the biggest surprise of my experience this weekend. I thought podcasting would be the major focus, and though it was a well-covered topic, I would say the spirit of PodCamp Boston is much broader.)

PodCamp’s Unconference Approach

Founded by Chris Brogan and Christopher S. Penn, PodCamp-Boston follows the “unconference” format—meaning that the sessions are provided as only a starting point for deeper and more interactive discussions on not only podcasting, but also general social media topics. In A PodCamp Primer, the organizers describe the event’s “unconference” approach:

If you’re brand new to PodCamp, you’ll find enough on the schedule to make you comfortable (or justify the expense to a boss who isn’t coming!) while letting you experience the unconference format at your own pace.

U-Mass-Boston, Harborside Campus Center

U-Mass-Boston, Harborside Campus Center

The venue itself, in this case UMass Boston’s spacious Harborside Campus Center, is part of the PodCamp approach, as the organizers deliberately promote “the Law of Null Space”:

We do our best to pick venues that have lots of open space, flexible seating, and opportunities for ad hoc discussions and conversations. The formal programmed sessions exist only as support for people not already engaged in great conversations of their own. If you and a few like minded folks want to talk about something, broadcast it on Twitter, yell it in a hallway, and gather people to the nearest convenient space to have the discussion you want to have.

Learning and Sharing

I can vouch for how comfortable the whole PodCamp experience felt to me—somehow being in a university setting made the event feel like learning and sharing, for learning and sharing’s sake…The weekend time-frame also gave the event a very relaxed, personal feel, making even the most high-profile speakers seem approachable.

In between scheduled discussions, I was able to ask a more experienced blogger for some free advice on my approach to blogging and do a bit of job networking with other attendees. It was also great to chat with other first-time PodCampers, who are also just coming up to speed in social media and to hear about the almost universal challenge of introducing these new technologies to their organizations. The most recurrent themes from these off-the-cuff conversations was just trying to figure out what social media means, learning how to convince the boss about the benefits of social media (despite the potential liabilities), and wanting more information on how to monetize.

Unscheduled Discussions (including “Gender Issues in Social Media”)

The sunny, clear weather, especially inviting on Sat., made it easy for anyone interested to join together on the lawn outside the Campus Center, in a sea-side, outdoor classroom that tops any “classroom” or traditional conference setting I’ve attended. Cooler and slightly overcast on Sun., I still noted other impromptu lawn-side and indoor “open space” discussions in progress. (One impromptu discussion, which I didn’t hear about until after PodCamp, has spilled over this week into various lively blog posts, concerning gender issues in social media.)

New to the “unconference” format, I realize in hindsight that I should have been checking the white board or wiki web page to keep better tabs on the unplanned discussions, which according to the organizers are the heart of the PodCamp experience (that serves me right, for arriving late and missing any possible orientation information provided during the opening session). As Twitter-savvy as I am, I also didn’t realize the organizers were tweeting information specifically to @pcb4, which may have helped me better keep my ear to the PodCamp wall, find more like-minded folks, and join more unscheduled conversations.

I almost think there needs to be a scheduled orientation session on PodCamp, on both Sat. and Sun. mornings, just for newbies, that would help reinforce ways to get the most out of the “unconference” approach. Perhaps, too, the white board/s where information was being centralized could be more prominently displayed at the Registration table (it’s possible I missed it somewhere), or some other more visible location.

An experienced PodCamper I talked to, who has attended all the previous PodCamps in Boston, agreed that it would also be helpful if there were  “tracks” in the scheduled discussions, from beginner to advanced, which might help people at the same experience and engagement level, better identify each other.

Scheduled Discussions – Excellent, Highly Recommend

Despite these suggestions, PodCamp was of great value, for the scheduled discussions alone…If you were able to attend even a few of those informative sessions, then your small $50 investment was reimbursed many-times-over. Here is a sampling of the sessions I attended:

Social Media Has Gone Mainstream

There was really something for everyone at PodCamp, and a way to engage in any way, or to whatever degree you were comfortable. And there was such a rich cross-section of attendees. I met folks from insurance, telephony, public relations, geography, science, education, and civic settings. I met men and women from all parts of the country, young to older, new to social media, to more advanced. According to event organizer Michelle Wolverton, a hand count estimated that 75% of attendees were first time PodCampers like myself. Most of us were eager to explore and define the direction of new media. We were all communicators that weekend, excited about collaborating and moving toward the future together.

Thanks to PodCamp Volunteers: The Democratization of Media

Many thanks to the volunteer PodCamp organizers and discussion moderators who made such a community-building and informative event available to so many, at such an affordable cost. In particular, co-founder Christopher Penn set the tone of the “unconference,” offering that we all have a window of opportunity in social media to make connections which would otherwise be closed to us, or at the least, a lot more challenging to make. In the ballroom, at some of the more highly-attended discussions, CEOs were rubbing elbows with more rank and file attendees, and people from all disciplines and fields were engaging, debating, and willing to share their passions and concerns about new media. What Penn refers to as “the democratization of media” —a leveled playing field for information exchange— is, more than anything else, the beauty of the PodCamp ideal, and something to strive toward, while social media is still in its infancy. Penn encouraged attendees to seize the opportunity to engage, while there’s still room to more easily stand-out, based on ability.

Related Links

Did you attend PodCamp 4 Boston? How did you like the “unconference” format? Do you have any impressions, take-aways, suggestions, or links to share? Here are some helpful links I’d like to review more closely:

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MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2009 ~ re:invent, re:charge, re:engage

I came away with so much to consider from my last two days at MarketingProfs’ Business to Business Forum, hosted at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, that it’s not easy to know where to start. What I can do is jot down a few initial reactions, as much to remind myself as potential readers, of the many parts of the forum that I’d like to explore more fully in my own continued reading and professional development, as well as I’m sure, in coming posts.

That’s how you should feel at the end of a conference–not as if it’s the end of the learning, but rather the beginning. I have so many ideas to review, actionable steps to incorporate into my own work, and new contacts available to me now, as a resource. I also have a better vision of the marketing profession as a whole, and digital trends that are of particular relevance to my skill-set and interests.

And inspiration! If a conference can both inform and inspire in such an enjoyable way (the food was great, too, and there was a magician at dinner and a game show finale the next day), as well as provide the right environment to encourage new professional connections (including a cocktail reception Tweetup), then it’s really done its job well. MarketingProfs’ Business to Business Forum most certainly did all of that for me, and the many other participants who reported their positive experiences on Twitter, under the hashtag #mpb2b.

My favorite sessions from the two days included these timely Business-to-Business topics: search marketing, developing online communities, measuring the ROI of social media efforts, and mobile marketing. In addition to traditional panel sessions and business case studies, MarketingProfs provided an interactive round table discussion and one-on-one consultations on SEO, e-mail, web usability, blogging, and Twitter. A full range of sponsor and exhibitor tables added to the educational and networking diversity of the event.

I also hugely enjoyed the luncheon keynotes. On Monday, Steven Johnson (who happens to appear on the cover of Time magazine this week, in the lead story “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live”) spoke about “The New Models of Innovation.” In his talk, Johnson likened social networking to the late 17th/early 18th century coffee house. (Be sure to check out his interview, with MarketingProfs’ Kyla Cullinane, about Twitter, what it means for businesses, and why he thinks Twitter shouldn’t be dismissed.)

On Tuesday,  Barry Schwartz, Professor at Swarthmore College, presented “Practical Wisdom and the Remoralization of Professional Life” to the lunch-time crowd. (For Schwartz’s appeal to virtue in business, see his MarketingProfs interview, as well as  his recent Ted talk: Ideas Worth Spreading. To Schwartz, practical wisdom is “a combination of moral will and moral skill,” which gives us the judgment to treat others well, both in life and business. Schwartz notes in his interview that “if you treat customers well, they tend to come back.”)

I don’t have the space here to go on as much as I might like, but both speakers connected life (including history, culture, and current issues) to business, in such unexpected, powerful ways. Long after the trends and technologies of the informative, but more time-sensitive B2B sessions have passed, I think forum participants will remember the solid business principles, rich humanity, and good humor of these keynote presentations–all of which I have come to appreciate and regularly expect from my MarketingProfs’ membership.

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