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Old School Social Networking: Meet Some People in Real Life

It’s been about a year since I made a major change in my professional life. Last summer, with another Celtics season behind me, I remember walking home from work and wondering to myself, “What am I going to do with myself this summer?”

Working for a professional basketball team means late nights, 70-hour weeks, watching three or four games a week, and scarce free time for the better part of six months — eight months if you make a run to the NBA Finals. So when the offseason arrives, it’s something of a relief, but there’s a bit of a void as well. You’re not used to 40-hour weeks and if you’re like me, you can often find yourself, well, bored.

But boredom was only part of the equation. More than anything, I realized that I worked in digital media, an environment that changes almost daily, and yet I knew very few professionals who had similar lines of work in Boston. While I had made plenty of contacts across the sports industry, my digital marketing/social media network was non-existent.

And sure, you can learn about the digital industry by reading and tweeting every day. But you can learn a lot more by talking to people. In person.

While I’ve always been outgoing (some would argue I’m borderline obnoxious), one thing I’d never been completely comfortable with was going to networking events. I always felt like my free time shouldn’t be work-related, precisely because it was so limited in the first place. And talking to strangers in a forced setting never appealed.

But I’d decided I needed to make that change. I went to a few networking events thrown by the gang at BostInnovation, a group of young entrepreneurs who are all involved with a host of different startups here in the Boston area. And after meeting some interesting folks at some of those events, I actually started looking forward to the next gathering. Then I started to actively seek out new events, while continuing to stay involved with the gang at BostInnovation.

Between going to networking events and getting more active with social media for my own “brand,” if you will, things started to change and change quickly.

Launching peterstringer.com and finally activating my professional twitter account (@peterstringer) led in part to speaking about the Celtics’ digital marketing efforts and success at conferences around the country, something I’d never even considered in the past. After each panel or presentation, another opportunity was knocking. And suddenly, my eyes opened to the power of networking.

Real world networking, that is.

In the past year, I’ve probably met about 100 professionals I didn’t previously know. That number may not be very impressive, but for someone who actively avoided networking events in the past, it’s a sign of a sea change in my own career. It hasn’t been a 100% positive experience; by becoming more visible, I’ve made myself very accessible to pesky vendors who’ll use every possible angle to approach me with their miracle social media software.

Overall, that’s a small price to pay.

So if you’re not doing it already, get out there. Meet some people in real life. Just like the good ol’ days. It won’t hurt. I promise.

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I Will Follow: Social Media Lessons from U2

Seeking a few friends who wanted to join a band, Larry Mullen Jr. started U2 by posting a note on a message board in the Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin in the fall of 1976, almost 35 years ago.

If that’s not old school social networking, I don’t know what is.

Yet, had Mullen decided to start U2 in 2011, you could presume he may have posted a note to his Facebook wall, or perhaps tweeted his intentions to form a band. And once the guys got together and started jamming, Island Records might have been out of luck; these days they could have just gone Bieber-style and released I Will Follow on YouTube.

Either way, since the mid-80s, Mullen’s creation still reigns as the biggest band in popular music. A corporation unto itself, U2 has grossed millions of dollars on platinum albums and wildly successful tours. Although their underwhelming PopMart tour almost sent the band the way of Friendster and MySpace, nearly bankrupting them in the process, they’re survivors in a dying industry. With all of the transformations and reinventions U2’s undergone along the way, there’s a lot to be gleaned from the history, music and marketing of Ireland’s most famous export.

U2

U2 has always been out in front of technology, and they can teach us a little bit about social media as well.

With that in mind, here are a few lessons from Bono — by the way, how the hell is that guy not on Twitter? — and the boys about Social Media courtesy of some of their most famous tracks, as well as a few deeper cuts for the superfans out there.

Out of Control – The band’s first single in 1979, this tune is a reflection on the idea that the two biggest events in life, your birth and death, are out of your own control. Pretty heady stuff for a bunch of 18 year-olds. But the song’s message rings true in social media: Some things in life can’t be controlled; brands need to realize that as much as they want to, much of the conversation around their product/team/celebrity will be out of their control in the social media space.

Your brand will be discussed across multiple social platforms, and while you can try to influence customers and “choreograph “the conversation by asking questions of your followers or pushing hashtags, you really can’t manipulate them and they’re much more likely to let you know when they’re upset. You’d be best served accepting this reality.

Seconds – “It takes a second to say goodbye…Push the button and pull the plug…say goodbye” – Seconds…that’s how long it takes an accidental tweet or poorly conceived status update to do its damage. Once published, you can’t put the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube. Sure, you can delete the tweet, but it really only takes one person to retweet it, and it’s saved forever. Just ask Chrysler. Your brand and its sullied reputation will be front-page news on Mashable, and these days, CNN as well, and the collateral damage could include someone’s job — perhaps your own.

Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World – While this tune’s presumably about a hangover (having been to Dublin a few times, this feels accurate), the title is appropriate for social media marketing managers who are tasked with maintaining communities across disparate sites and platforms, and new services are popping up every day. So how do you decide where to establish a presence? You can’t be everywhere all the time. I’d suggest dropping anchor (at the very least, reserving your brand’s username) as services pop-up, and to periodically check in on them to see if they’ve gathered critical mass.

For instance, in the photo-sharing universe, there are plenty of fledgling platforms, but the Celtics have caught on quickly on Instagram with a little bit of effort and by reaching out directly to the nascent platform’s creators. The result? At 10,000+ followers, the Boston Celtics are already the biggest sports property on the service and rank among the biggest brands delivering regular content to Instagram.

Mysterious Ways – Do you have any idea how Facebook’s news feed Edge Rank works? Why does Twitter decide you’re similar to certain people? And how the hell does LinkedIn know whom you may already know (typically, with scary-good predictions until you hit the 500 connections mark) outside of your network? There’s a lot of math behind most of it, with algorithms, data and some common sense logic influencing the suggestions and results. The average user probably doesn’t think about any of this stuff, but there’s some sophisticated science involved.

Elevation – For digital marketing professionals, the advent of social media has brought with it a favorable shift in the personal brand building landscape. Speaking from my own experience, social media has opened the door for speaking and panel opportunities in the past year at multiple conferences around the country. Used correctly, social media can really help elevate your career and professional reputation.

Then again, re-read the Seconds paragraph and remind yourself of how fast you can damage it with a careless tweet.

With or Without You – Simply put, if you’re not creating a presence in the social networks, especially Twitter and LinkedIn, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunity. Professional and career opportunities surface daily on these platforms, and if you don’t have a presence, they’ll pass you by. If you’re not taking advantage of them, your colleagues and competitors are.

Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own – When it comes to social media, you’re not supposed to make it on your own. And if you’re trying to, you’re missing the point. You should be connecting with people you cross paths with in the digital world, both online and off. There’s no harm in making some new contacts and branching out a little. These platforms have helped me make valuable connections in Boston, around the country and across the globe at multiple companies and in various industries where I’d otherwise have no exposure or access.

Unknown Caller – That’s not to say you should accept every random LinkedIn request that comes your way. While most people have no problem with following or being followed by randoms on Twitter, it’s another thing to be expected to accept a LinkedIn request from a total stranger or someone you’ve met only in passing. A LinkedIn connection implies endorsement – and I’m not willing to vouch for someone I’ve never met in person, unless they really bring some serious value to the table online. And even then, I’m unlikely to do it unless there’s really something in it for me in the offline world.

Even Better than the Real Thing – To hear some social media and digital marketing “gurus” tell it, you’d think virtual goods, LBS check-ins, game layers and augmented reality were not only the next best thing, but that they’re even better than the real thing. But you can’t lose sight of the fact that whatever your business is, you’ve (hopefully) got a valuable, real-world product or service that needs selling. And if you don’t, isn’t now a good time to take that $6 billion offer from Google before somebody figures it out?

Either way, the question you need to ask is simple: Will these digital bells and whistles actually help you move the needle, build your database, or accomplish your marketing goals? The good news: If you ever need a reality check, there are just as many naysayers (don’t get me started on LBS/check-ins) as evangelists for most of these trends. So read up…there’s plenty of information and opinions out there.

Miracle Drug – It seems marketers are looking for a secret sauce when it comes to social media success. The truth is, there’s no miracle drug that will grow your social presence. What will work? Building an actively engaged audience takes time and patience, as well as a solid strategy, not to mention some trial and error along the way. But perhaps most importantly, you have to be dialed in to emerging trends and ready to be flexible, as the rules of engagement are constantly changing with little or no warning. Given how new social media is, there’s plenty of unknown to deal with, and we’re all learning as we go.

I know I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

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Social Media Insiders Summit Brings the Goods

It seems like everywhere you turn there’s a new digital marketing or social media conference popping up, and it’s hard to tell what you’re getting into when choose to participate in one until it actually starts and you’re in a large room with a bunch of strangers and vendors talking shop.

I just returned from the Media Post Social Media Insiders Summit (check hashtag #MPSMIS on Twitter for complete coverage) and was pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of content, the format for the event, and sharp and personable people I met over the course of the last three days in Key Biscayne, Florida.

The tropical setting didn’t hurt — especially considering the blizzard back home in Boston that I dodged — and I found this to be the most enjoyable conference I’ve ever attended. Resort quality amenities at the Ritz Carlton made things comfortable, but most importantly, the discussions, panels and roundtables were on topic, and well thought out.

I had the pleasure of leading a roundtable discussion entitled, “Seriously, Do Consumers Like Being Targeted?”, where we talked about everything from what Google knows about you to email segmenting and everything in between. At times it veered off topic, but I erred on the side of letting the conversation flow and keeping everyone involved, and I think everyone who participated walked away smarter for it.

Even the lunchtime sponsor presentations, which at most conferences are brutal sales pitches traded for a dry meal, were far more geared toward providing information, value and analysis than they were aimed at pimping out their services. And the food was top drawer to boot.

Representing a pretty unique and well-known brand myself, I had prepared to be accosted by vendors and sales guys at every turn. And sure, I exchanged a bunch of business cards, picked up plenty of Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections, but there was far more of a networking vibe than I might have expected. Maybe the onslaught is yet to come, but I feel like I made some very valuable connections with some of the smartest people working in the social media space today.

No conference is ever perfectly executed. The #MPSMIS hashtag wasn’t well publicized (although it did catch on by the end of Day 1), and there were no breaks between presentations and panels, which left you with no choice but to walk out mid-presentation for a bathroom break or just some fresh air. A few presenters need to work on their Power Point skills (littering slides with small text doesn’t work in big room) but that’s a minor complaint.

Over three days, topics like data privacy, Facebook advertising, social commerce, user generated content, Twitter analytics, location-based services/check-ins, “engagement” (by far the most overused bailout buzzword of the conference), Mommy Bloggers and niche social networks were all covered in-depth. I tweeted out over 50 notes, quotes, stats and observations and could have easily doubled that if I wasn’t worried about overwhelming people’s timelines.

All in all, it was a solid experience and perhaps the best conference I’ve been to date. I hope to return to next year’s Social Media Insiders Summit.

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Boston Sports and Social Marketing Tweet Up: January 18, 2011

It’s 2011. The world is changing. Industries are colliding. Social media is taking the sports marketing world by storm. Apps, tweets and digital media is changing everyone’s lives, forcing people to engage with their mobile devices and ignore their immediate surroundings, not to mention their families and pets. Everything’s bigger…yet smaller. Klout scores are up, newspapers are down, and ROI is still missing in action. Here’s a question: What the #%^@$ is Quora? Nobody knows what to make of any of it. And there’s no end in sight.

Thankfully, there’s still booze.

Mark your calendar for Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. We’re taking over the upstairs at The Fours on Canal Street, just steps from TD Garden and North Station in downtown Boston.

From the people who brought you sports, social media and hangovers comes the first-ever Boston Sports & Social Marketing Tweet Up (or BSSM if you’re into brevity, man). Social Media Marketer Cait Downey (@marketCait) and Peter Stringer (@peterstringer), Director of Interactive Media from the Boston Celtics, have joined forces to stage this first-of-its-kind mash-up mingling event.

It’s a perfect night for some offline, real world networking in the North End. The Garden is empty, the Celtics are off, and the Bruins are out of town. So come tweet up, meet up and watch the B’s battle the Hurricanes while engaging in person (for once) with some of Boston’s best and brightest in the converging worlds of sports marketing and digital media.

Boston Sports & Social Marketing Tweet Up
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
The Fours (upstairs)
166 Canal Street, Boston MA 02114