Foodies, Bloggers & Brands Create Magical 2015 Food and Wine Conference

Family Foodie and me

Family Foodie and me

Prologue:  In July 2011, I was talking with a woman about social media at a networking event when I asked, “Are you @FamilyFoodie?” Her eyes flew open wide and she replied, “Yes! How did you know?” I answered, “I don’t know (because her Twitter image was a chef’s hat then), but I follow you.” Her eyes got even bigger and she asked, “You DO?” I replied, “Yes, you have like 7K Twitter followers!” (She was a local Tampa Twitter rock star imho.) She said, “I know.” “So what are you doing here?” I asked. She looked at me quizzically. Later I remarked, “Think you’ve found your next thing with Family Foodie.” No truer words were spoken. In 2011 she started In 2012, she created an army of bloggers ready to work with food brands to bring families back around the #SundaySupper dinner table via In 2013, she launched her very first Food and Wine Conference. That is tremendous growth (and hard work!) in a very short time, especially while raising four kids. Missed the first #FWCon while moving back home. Missed last year because of other commitments, too, but really wanted to go after seeing all the food in my Facebook newsfeed! So July 17-19, I went, I saw, I Instagrammed/Facebooked/Tweeted, I ate, I learned and I grew!

What is the Food and Wine Conference? To quote the website: “The Food and Wine Conference brings together bloggers, small business owners, winemakers, chefs, PR professionals, traditional media, new media, authors and brands.” For what? To talk about (and eat!) food & wine, to discuss what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, to create road maps for success, and ultimately to work together in win-win scenarios. It’s a beautiful thing.

View from my room at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort

View from my room at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort

Speaking of beautiful, Rosen Shingle Creek Resort is that and much more. Have you ever heard if you’re doing the right thing everything will just serendipitously fall into place? One day Isabel and her best friend Lou Anne went there for lunch, they met Mr. Harris Rosen, and a beautiful business relationship was born. It is a stunningly gorgeous conference center and resort, with top-notch chefs, and it’s an absolutely perfect setting for #FWCon! Their customer service is excellent.

Here’s a fun Good Day Orlando video taken Friday morning before the conference, which shows just a few of the goodies we experienced over the weekend.

The food. The wine. Bring an eating buddy! You just can’t eat it all, and it is *ALL SO GOOD!* One thing I learned: Get your food first, talk later. I spent too much time talking Friday night and missed yummy things I wanted to try!

Saturday was jammed packed. The opening Keynote: “Everything is Subject to Change” was about how life and careers are a journey where one thing definitely leads to another, especially in retrospective. Think of your own and you’ll connect the dots between people and places and how one leads to the next.

If you think bloggers are just “little women who love food and want a part-time job” then the session with Liz Latham from Hoosier Homemade and Stephanie Parker from Plain Chicken might change your mind. Liz and her husband both quit their FT corporate jobs to work the blog, which fully supports their family. Liz and Stephanie discussed the need to create a LLC for your blog, work with lawyers to trademark your logo, use Quickbooks, and covered all financial aspects of running a successful blogging business.

Lunch was sponsored by Wisconsin Cheese and Idaho Potato: *POUTINE* in four different varieties!! Here’s when I discovered I needed an eating buddy. #FirstWorldFoodieProblem: I want to try everything, can’t eat three lunches, and hate wasting food!

Kale & Spinach Poutine in Mushroom Gravy with Three Cheese Sauce

Kale & Spinach Poutine in Mushroom Gravy with Three Cheese Sauce

My two favorite sessions after lunch were panels. The first was brands discussing working with bloggers. The brand reps really impressed me with their honesty: “Please don’t send me a pitch telling me how great your blog aligns with our Beef brand, but then I can’t find one blog post with beef in the recipe, but do find “I hate hamburger” in your ‘About’ section.” (News flash: Hamburger is beef!)  They were as down-to-earth as the bloggers, and very real about their connection to their product, their audience, and their bloggers. I learned not all brands are created equal when it comes to bloggers: Some use them as an extension of their marketing team, others use them sparingly. It’s all about finding ones that best fits you and your blog.

My other favorite panel was Eat.Travel.Blog.Business, which was a panel of travel bloggers. Sounds heavenly, right? To travel about, eat, stay at beautiful places, post and write about it? It’s a lot more work than you think and not really just lounging by the pool with a cool drink! Ann Tran, who was a part of the social media panel, recently tweeted “How to Make $150K as a Travel Blogger” which drives the point home that blogging can be “a real job.”

After a very fun live rendition of “The Price is Right” with Saucy Queen Michele Northrup, we had a bit of time before dinner.

Hess Collection wines served with Certified Angus Beef meal

Hess Collection wines served with Certified Angus Beef dinner

Saturday night dinner sponsored by Hess Collection wines & Certified Angus Beef

Saturday night dinner sponsored by Hess Collection wines & Certified Angus Beef

Ah, dinner. Nothing says you’re about to dine well like multiple wine glasses lined up at your place setting!  After food all day (most of it not shown here), we sat down to a family style dinner of Certified Angus Beef with roasted garlic, asparagus, collards, fingerling potatoes and the most heavenly whipped sweet potatoes. Here’s a photo of my first plate. (Yep, you read that right!) Later, I just spread the roasted garlic like butter on top of the beef. #PleaseSirCanIHaveMore While I enjoyed all three of the Hess Collection wines, the Hess Treo really stood out and was scrumptious with the beef. #YesPlease [Wait, is there a job where you get paid to be a professional eater? I may have that one covered hands down!] I didn’t have room for dessert, so enjoyed watching folks do the Idaho Potato Spuds singing game while being taped, which was hysterical fun. But when the blogger I roomed with told me Rosen had made the top two winning recipes from the Dixie Crystals blogging contest for dessert and I missed Tiramisu, one would think I hadn’t eaten all day! I was truly sad. #FirstWorldFoodieProblems

Cabot & Hess Pairing

Cabot & Hess Pairing

Sunday was at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, right next to their resort. The sessions were like classes, where you picked from four for any given time period. The problem? Some sessions I wanted to go to three of the four!  I ended up in the Cheese & Wine Pairing sponsored by Cabot and Hess Collections. Thought I already knew a lot about cheese; I was wrong. Did you know cheese is graded in some of the same terms as wine is (acidity, fruitiness, etc.)? And that different cheeses with different wines can make one or the other taste really bad? I learned that and a lot more.

Beef ... It's What's For Dinner!

Beef … It’s What’s For Dinner!

My other favorite session on Sunday was sponsored by Certified Angus Beef, where we saw a live demo with Chef Michael Ollier and got some great advice on preparing beef. #1 tip: Do not cut meat while cooking to see if it’s done! Use a meat thermometer to reach the desired state of doneness (130 before resting for medium rare).  Another great tip is to sear both sides quickly to seal in juices, and then finish cooking slowly.

Live Cooking Demo

Live Cooking Demo

I loved my three days at the 2015 Food and Wine Conference! Why? Because I saw people sharing best business practices, learning a great deal about food and wine, and celebrating their entrepreneurship, regardless of where they are in the journey. Learned I really need to up my photography game if I ever want to make money from a blog!  What a lot of people don’t realize about blogging is you have to know and do everything: from web technology/platforms, to social media, to marketing, finances & accounting, and everything in between. If you want to learn how, and talk to people who are doing it, then plan to attend the 2016 Food and Wine Conference because you will meet them, and they will share their secret recipes! I met some truly wonderful people at #FWCon … Foodies are great people!!

Isabel asked, “What was your favorite quote from #FWCon?” Both of mine came from @SaucyQueen: After “Johnny” told every Price Is Right winner what they won, Michele added, “And a bottle of hot sauce!” (Did I mention I love me some hot sauce?)  She also said, “The best advice I can give you is if you have a good idea, ‘Don’t Hesitate!'” Sound advice for life! Bon Appetit 🙂

My Facebook Food And Wine Conference Photo Album.

The complete 2015 schedule.


Social Fresh East 2013: Back to Basics Baby

Recently I was lucky enough to attend the Social Fresh East conference for the third year in a row.  I love Social Fresh because it’s an intimate conference (300-400), always features some of the best social business thought leaders, and it’s local. Win. Win. Win.  It was a jammed packed two days! Here are photos and highlights of each speaker (click on their name for deck or contact info):

Courtesy of Stacey Acevero Twitter @sacevero

Courtesy of Stacey Acevero Twitter @sacevero

Tom Webster Social Fresh 2013

Tom Webster of Edison Research spoke first; a bit daunting since the WiFi was down.  His presentation was on data storytelling and the 2012 political elections.  “We don’t need data analysts; we need data storytellers.  There’s too much data repukery.”  (Nice word Tom:) “We are becoming less skilled at being social with people we don’t agree with.”  God’s honest truth and Tom’s clarity was a gut check.  Katie Richman tweeted Tom is where “psychology meets statistics.”

Spike Jones Social Fresh 2013

Spike Jones of WCG World presented Word of Mouth.  “It is not – nor will it ever be – about your product.”  Some brands forget it’s about their *community* as they blather on about their products or themselves.  “Influence can be created; passion can not.” “Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”  Check out slide 44:)

Morgan Johnston Social Fresh 2013

The WiFi came to life during Morgan Johnston‘s Jet Blue presentation.  “Inspire Humanity.” Here’s how JetBlue does social:  Monitor -> Engage -> Inform -> Humanize.  So simple.  He spoke about how they handled Hurricane Sandy, no small feat.  The audience really engaged; not sure if it was because the WiFi came back to life or because a lot of people fly Jet Blue!

Ian Schafer Social Fresh 2013

Ian Schafer from Deep Focus spoke on Mobile First. “60% of active users access Twitter via mobile …”  And then we had our Beyonce Super Bowl moment, when we zapped the power – apparently crashing the entire block.  350 people with phones, laptops and iPads all charging just might trip a hotel’s circuit breaker!  Amazingly, it was back on in about 5 minutes.  Ian’s main message:  “The best mobile ad is a brand’s most engaging content.”

Chris Tuff Social Fresh 2013

Chris Tuff of 22Squared tackled how to achieve ROI via content, analytics and paid:  “Art & Science:  Right content & right people & right time = success.”  Hyper target sub tribes. Value of Impressions: Twitter – 15 mins, Facebook – 1 hr, Instagram – 2 days. Tumblr sticky for 9 days. ROI = Return on Impressions as well as Return on Investments.

Christopher Penn Social Fresh 2013

Last speaker on Day 1 was Christopher Penn, from Shift Communications, who addressed Earned Media.  “Earned media is anywhere people talk about how awesome you are (or aren’t)!” Love Chris’ Marketing Circle of Life (slide 8).  The difference between Owned, Paid and Earned is clearly defined on slide 12:)  The goal: Do social business well, achieve earned media.

Jim Tobin Social Fresh 2013

Jim Tobin from Ignite Social Media kicked off Day 2 by talking about the Power of Organic on Facebook.  “Earn it.  Don’t buy it.”  “Tobin’s Law:  The size of a brand’s network is always smaller than the size of its network’s network.”  Say what?  Simply:  You want the people who are friends with your network to engage with you.  The T-shirt photo below left visually depicts Jim’s concept.  Real success is when you have more shares/interaction from your network’s network than your network itself.

Your friends' friends, babyAdam Kmiec Social Fresh 2013

Adam Kmiec from Campbell’s presented an Insights Driven Organization.  “We’re data rich and insight poor.”  “Strategy, Community Management, Content, and Insights are all required to do social business well.”  Slide 40 is his prescription for success.  Many of the SMB attendees drooled over the idea of having the resources to employ some of the tools Adam uses!

Ted Rubin Social Fresh 2013

Ted Rubin of Collective Bias talked about the Return on Relationships: “Social is just a facilitator of relationships.” “Listen.  Make it be about THEM.  Ask “How can I serve you?”  Aim for ongoing engagement.”  “Relationships are the new currency.”  Based on the number of tweets generated, the crowd really liked Ted.

Ryan Cohn Social Fresh 2013

Ryan Cohn from Sachs Media Group spoke about CEOs and social business. “16% of CEOs are on social — expected to rise to 57% within 5 years!” “LinkedIn is the only platform with more CEOs than general population.”

Chris Brogan Social Fresh 2013

It was my first time hearing Chris Brogan of Human Business Works speak, so I was enjoying Friday afternoon at Social Fresh.  Chris’ basic prescription for success:  1.  How do I add value?  2.  How do I make my buyer the Hero?  3.  How do I equip my buyer for success?  4. How do I attract more audience?  And then build them into my Community?

Jay Baer Social Fresh 2013

Jay Baer from Convince & Convert presented Youtility, the subject of his new book. “If you help someone, you create a customer for life.” “Answer every question via your various forms of content and engagement media.” “Youtility is a process, not a project. The ‘We’re awesome, click here’ is short-term, not long-term.”

Katie Richman Social Fresh 2013

Katie Richman from ESPN talked about creating “reskinnable content.”  “Consumption is less about reflecting who we are … more about who we want to be.” – Paul Mullins.  Loved Katie’s description of Pinterest:  It’s magazine collages 30 years later!

Kevin Vine Social Fresh 2013

Kevin Vine from Dunkin’ Donuts finished the conference on a high note when he spoke about Encouraging User-Generated Content.  “We don’t own our social media channels – our fans do.”  “Listen -> Learn -> Engage -> Celebrate”  “A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is.  It’s what consumers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook, Co-Founder of Intuit  “Make your fans and followers Stars.”

Why did I include “Back to Basics Baby” in my post title?  While I recapped 14 speakers in < 900 words (a miracle:), I could have done it in much fewer:  Tell Stories.  Make it About Them.  Humanize.  Mobile, Mobile, Mobile.  Return on Impressions.  Earn It.  It’s about your Network’s network.  Use insights to inform business decisions.  It’s still just all about the relationship.  Make your customer the Hero.  Help someone and create a customer for life.  Don’t reinvent the wheel every time.  Encourage participation; make them Stars.

Here’s how I know Social Media has grown-up into Social Business:  It’s no longer about how to use Facebook or Twitter for business, what the latest and greatest platform is, if you need a Pinterest or Google+ profile.  It’s back to being about your customers and how you can help them move forward.  It’s back to the heart of your business – those humans you call customers.

Speaking of Humanizing, Jason Keath, CEO of Social Fresh, celebrated his birthday around Social Fresh, so here’s a photo of his surprise cupcake.  Happy Birthday Jason and many, many more!

Jason Keath Social Fresh 2013

Another human touch?  The Tweets So Fresh mug I won for being one of two people who’ve attended four Social Fresh conferences.  I love my mug:)  It makes me feel like a Star!

Tweets So Fresh Mug

All photos courtesy of Social Fresh and Spherical Communications

P.S. Learn to Write

“Bad writing is killing America. Learn to write well.” ~ @petershankman

Recently on Twitter, I ran across a Livestream link to Peter Shankman speaking at a conference; heard him speak at Social Fresh last year and loved him.  Peter is funny, gets social, wrote a book called Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World, and just makes you feel good.  So I listened to him while doing other things, but when he got to his rule: Learn to Write, I clicked over to watch the Livestream.  He had written down some of the classics:  Your vs. You’re and Their, They’re and There, etc.  Decided then I’d write a blog post titled P.S. Learn to Write. (Get the double entendre? Ooh, I’m funny, n’est-ce pas?)  It actually took a few more things to make it happen, but first, my English teacher impersonation:

Your:  Indicates ownership or possession, e.g. “Put your shoes where they belong.”  Meaning:  Those shoes belong to you, but they sure as hell don’t belong there!  (See English can be fun!)

You’re:  Contraction for you are, e.g. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”  Meaning:  Flattery will get you everywhere.  (See English can be fun!)

Their:  Indicates ownership or possession, e.g. “Their yard is amazing, isn’t it?”  Meaning:  “Why doesn’t our yard look that good?” (wife) or “Jeez, I wish our yard looked like that!” (husband)  (See English … OK, you get my drift!)

They’re:  Contraction for they are, e.g. “They’re spending the summer in the south of France.”  Meaning:  Um, they’re very lucky!

There:  Usually a place, e.g. “I’ll see you there.”  “Put them over there.”  “I would love to go there!”

The one that’s bugging me enough to write this post (before the mishaps below) is how people caption their photos on Facebook and Twitter.  A basic rule of thumb for when to use I or Me:  Say it without the other person and you’ll instinctively know the right grammar!  For example, “I’m going shopping.”  “T and I are going shopping.” “T invited me to go to the south of France with him.”  (Yes, please!)

So for pictures:  Let’s say we’re at the beach, the caption would read, “T and me at the beach” or simply, “T and me.”  It’s never “T & I at the beach.”  If T weren’t in the photo, I wouldn’t write, “I at the beach.”  If it’s a picture of me alone, I can write, “Here I am at the beach,” or “Me at the beach,” or simply, “At the beach.”  Most photos I see have captions that read, “Dick, Jane, Spot and I.”  Correction:  “Dick, Jane, Spot and me,” because if you remove Dick, Jane and Spot … it’s just me (not I)!  Unless you write something like, “Dick, Jane, Spot and I went to the park and had a blast!” because removing them would still result in proper English, “I went to the park and had a blast!”

OK, so while that has made me want to go all Grammar Police, the following things happened in May:

1.  A friend posted this headline from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper to his Facebook profile.  I immediately spotted the mistake and commented, “Where have all the editors gone?”  The headline was published with the word ‘Politically’ spelled wrong.

2.  An agency advertised a freelance social media position, so I checked out the website where I found the word ‘Article’ spelled ‘Artcile’ and the hyperlink didn’t link to the intended article.  It immediately made me question the agency’s quality of work.  When I recently rechecked it, the entire segment was gone.  Not linking here though because my copywriting skills could help them!

3.  Someecards posted this picture to Facebook yesterday and while I liked the sentiment, I couldn’t help but correct the grammar before reading the other comments.  Turns out half of the comments related to the grammar!  Affect = influence, effect = result; sign should read, ” …. affect me … affect you.”

4.  The coup d’état of grammatical/editing errors occurred on Mitt Romney’s mobile app where America was spelled ‘Amercia.’  Either Mitt was giving a big shout out to the role the CIA will play in his government, or somebody working on his mobile app clearly wasn’t paying attention!

So, does any of this concern you?  Is it just the overzealous English major in me?  Or journalist in Peter?  Is it simply that everyone is moving so fast to meet a deadline that no one reads their final version?  Or is it indicative of a larger shift within our culture?  Sure, people’s Facebook pages and Twitter profiles are their own, but these other examples are from major brands:  a newspaper, an agency and the Republican presidential candidate.  What’s really weird is the analyst in me identified that the three examples above all involve the letters I and C … so should we change “mind your Ps & Qs” to “mind your Is and Cs?”

I wonder if in ten years we’ll officially use ‘your’ interchangeably like people already do?  Will it become acceptable for brand documents, websites, apps, etc. to contain grammatical errors/typos?  Am I just being a priss ass?  Or is my brother Jeff right; I should have been an English teacher?  The truth is, I agree with Peter:  We all need to learn to write well!

Please comment below:  Is our country in dire straights when it comes to writing or are we just communicating at such a pace there are bound to be errors?

The Beauty of Facebook Groups

In February 2011 I joined Social Fresh Tampa’s Facebook group, which became the Social Fresh East group this spring.  This experience has shown me the beauty of FB groups up close and personal.  Facebook groups are a very versatile way for people to communicate, where the members don’t have to be FB friends.  Groups go a step beyond ‘Liking’ a brand page, which posts status updates to your news feed, because you receive FB notifications when anyone posts to the group.  While Facebook’s original intent for groups may have been for families or close friends, there are some excellent organizational uses for groups that everyone, not just marketers, can use.  Here are some ideas:

Conferences & Events

After registering for Social Fresh Tampa,  I received a confirmation email with all details, along with a link to their open FB group requesting I join.  Prior to the event, there was a lot of activity in the group, which generated pre-conference excitement.  I was getting to know people ahead of time; names, faces, positions and could follow them on Twitter, etc.  During the event, the FB group was an excellent method for communicating logistics.  Have you been to a conference recently?  Many people aren’t on their email constantly, but they are on FB and Twitter.  The group provides an easy method for all logistical info:  “Please use the Twitter hashtag #socialfresh if you’ll be live tweeting; We’re having boxed lunches delivered at 12:30; More water is on its way ~ you all are a thirsty bunch!; Is it too hot/cold in here?; We need more Power strips! and last, but not least, Reminder: cocktail hour begins at 4:30 sponsored by Chevy.”  But it was what happened after the conf ended that amazed me; the year between SF Tampa and SF East the group remained very active.  People would ask app questions:  What app do find easiest to run FB contests?  Peeps also post jobs, make comments on changes within the industry, give shout outs and props to peers, make career/book announcements, etc. The FB group made Social Fresh Tampa much more than a 2 day learning event.  Before this year’s conference many speakers, whose topics were already announced, posted, “Scheduled to speak on xyz; but what do you really want to know about this topic?”  Yes, the group was used to gather customer requirements before presentation preparation.  I flat-out loved this;)  It’s so special to go to an event where you know people will give you information you really want!  Any conference or event that’s not using an open or closed FB group is really missing out on an amazing tool for creating synergy.

User Groups

Many software companies have user groups set up by region, etc. for their products.  These groups often meet every quarter or year.  Using a closed FB group for your user group doesn’t replace forum software per se, but it would combine all the advantages listed above for events as well as provide a prompt communication vehicle for bugs, a way for users to help each other, etc.


I don’t advocate teachers being FB friends with students under 18, but I can’t in good conscience overlook the amazing power of groups for education.  As long as parents review their kids’ security settings on FB and know they’re tight, each member shows what you have set as your public profile.  So whether it’s English, Chemistry or Physics, there could be a closed group for each class, grade level, etc.  Again, they are such an easy way to communicate logistics:  ‘Don’t forget we have a quiz tomorrow;’ ‘Snow Day today!’ or any other information that needs to be communicated immediately.  Of course there are all the extracurricular school activities; clubs, sports, etc. that can use closed groups for the same purpose:  ‘Practice is cancelled; we’ve rescheduled to tomorrow after the rain stops, same time, etc.’  Facebook must agree because they launched Groups for Schools last month.


Whether it’s middle school, high school, college, recreational or professional, any sports team can benefit by using a closed FB group.  It’s particularly helpful when you’re in transit or at events; not everyone travels or stays together, people aren’t hooked up to email, but they have their smart phones and can communicate with everyone at once:  ‘Accident on 5 near Exit xx, standstill, get off before …’; ‘Let’s meet at 6 a.m. for a quick pep talk before the meet.’  Besides logistics, these groups are a great way to foster team spirit and pre-game energy.

Member Organizations

Zoos, botanical gardens, philharmonic orchestras, museums, parks or any organization who offers memberships, but who are also open to the public, can use a closed group as the perfect way to offer members extra perks and deals, such as reduced food prices, advanced notice of upcoming acts or events, etc.  Use the group to give extra perks or benefits to your full-time members.  Facebook marketing maven Mari Smith explores this concept in her article “The Secret Power of Groups” in the February 2012 issue of FB & Business magazine.

Facebook announced file-sharing for groups this month, which incorporates a ‘Dropbox’ like feature.  So now you can communicate and share docs too!  Clearly Facebook’s group functionality goes way beyond families sharing photos; the potential uses are as limitless as our creativity.

Do you participate in Facebook groups?  Do you like them?  Are you using one for another purpose?  Please share your ideas!

Are Women Better Leaders?

Michael Gray, COO of Champion Solutions Group, said, “I think women are better leaders,” during a leadership panel discussion at the Central FL Women In Technology International (WITI) meeting Tuesday evening at Mise En Place in Tampa.  Now granted, he was speaking to a room full of women.  Champion Solutions Group, an IT infrastructure consulting company, hosted a forum on leadership in IT, which was moderated by Kathleen Long, Director of Web Services at the University of South Florida.  Debbie Brenner, VP of Professional Services, and Mr. Gray shared the conversation they had about this on their drive up from Miami to Tampa that day.  (Photo L-R:  Debbie Brenner, Michael Gray, Kathleen Long, Kelly Oliver, Network Director of WITI Central FL.)  Michael said, “Since men are so competitive, and always want to win, they’re more:  ‘Ready. Aim. Fire.’  Women, like Debbie for example, take copious notes covering all the details, analyze the information and come up with a plan.”

Michael, a former IBMer of twenty plus years, spoke about how he always knew what position he wanted next at IBM.  Having grown up at Xerox, I understood; many Fortune 500 global companies have developmental action plans to grow their people.  It’s expected you advance every two – three years, depending on area and performance.

Debbie, who was the CIO at an all woman run company before joining Champion, said she never had the goal of becoming a VP or CIO; she just always knew she wanted to work with computers.  She attended community college, started as a programmer, and worked her way up through various organizations.  Or as she put it, “One day I looked up and realized I was managing forty people.”  What she kept emphasizing was how much she loved the work and wanted to do it; for her, it was all about the work.

The WITI event got me thinking about leadership and female leaders.  At a minimum, women are raised/socialized to always consider others; at a maximum, women are raised to take care of others.  Be it leading or managing, there are always people involved.  So it’s a good trait to be willing to listen to and consider the viewpoints and concerns of those around you.  But there’s more to it than that.

Hillary Rodham Clinton kept coming to mind as I thought about it over the week, specifically a conversation I had about her back in 2008.  One of my favorite female VPs at my last company and I were discussing politics before the election (always a no-no at work:  I’ve finally figured out why one should never discuss politics, religion, sex or even cat/dog preferences … because they’re all based upon childhood experience and no amount of logic or reasoning will ever dissuade people from what they were raised with.  What I find ironic is no matter what flavor, everyone thinks those who agree with them are ‘intelligent and reasonable people!’).  During our conversation, I said, “Obama will win and Hillary will become a part of his team.”  Michelle replied, “Karen, you’re crazy!  They just battled it out for a year; that will never happen.”  I replied, “It will; she may even be a part of his cabinet.”  Truth is, I never once thought about it before that moment, but I was saying HRC would be in ‘President’ Obama’s cabinet!  That night I analyzed it:  OK, so Obama’s smart and what do smart leaders do?  They always surround themselves with smart, capable people.  Hill knows the White House, foreign leaders, the process, hell, she lived there for eight years, he’ll definitely ask her.  The tricky part is will she accept?  So I thought about her:  a wife (who stood by her man), mother, lawyer, former first lady and NY senator.  Hmmm, is that enough for her?  No, she wants to make an impact at the national level (that’s why she ran!), so if he asks, she’ll accept.  After analyzing the situation, it didn’t seem like the craziest thing I’d ever said in my life.  But the truth is, even I was surprised when it actually happened.  I tell that story because it’s an excellent example of Hillary’s character and how she (and many other women) ‘put the work first’ over ego.  Other people who had just fought the good fight may have declined, but she wanted to do the work.  Plain and simple.  I’d also venture a guess that our fair Secretary of State, ‘the only woman at the table,’ may have had more to do with the capture of Osama Bin Laden than we’ll ever know, and while the President gets the win, she gets the satisfaction of knowing she helped to right a wrong.  I’ve read she’s sitting out the 2012 term; some speculate it’s so she can go be a grandmother, others that she’s resting up for 2016.  Either way, I say, “Hillary, you are a leader!  If you’re done, good work!  If not, I’ll vote for you in 2016!”

I’ve worked for both men and women over my career (and managed both as well) and see the pros and cons of each.  I’m not sure I have a preference over ‘smart, capable and fair.’  But I have met women, as recently as last year, who’ve told me, “I prefer working for men; they’re so much easier.”  When I ask why, it seems that the detail orientation that Michael Gray loves in someone who reports to him ’cause she always knows the answer, may not be perceived the same by those in a reporting relationship.

Michael stated he’s tried to promote women in his organization who’ve told him, “Thank you, but I’m happy with what I’ve got.”  That launched a discussion on the amount of time worked in concert with having/running a life.  Debbie mentioned, “I never knew how much my working affected my daughter until we were discussing college and careers and she said, ‘Mom, I don’t want anything to do with IT!  You work too much!'”  Her daughter plans to become a pharmacist.

So what do you think?  Do you think men or women make better leaders?  Do you think Mr. Gray was just being nice playing to the crowd?  Do you think it’s dependent upon area?  Please comment below!

What’s Your Business Objective?

The following question was posed yesterday to the Social Fresh East Facebook Group:  “Anyone have any thoughts on continuing education in our industry? Looking for an online MBA program, would love to hear some recommendations from the socialfresh crowd!”  It sparked quite a discussion, which included “What about a master’s program in social media / Internet marketing / digital marketing?”  To which one of my favorite social business minds replied, “No, no, no no. … the MBA gives you the broadest business background and strategy if properly taught. You need a strong foundation to build on first.”

This discussion reminded me of a conversation I had at Social Fresh East: “Social media is 1/3 customer service, 1/3 marketing and 1/3 PR.”  Vanessa, social media manager for a hotel chain, replied, “I think it’s 75% customer service.”

An analogy I like to use for social is this:  Remember working before Microsoft Office?  Well, MS software didn’t change what we did, but how we did it.  It’s the same thing with social media; it doesn’t change the what, it just changes the how.  Or for you Mad Men fans, they had switchboard operators and secretaries answering their phones & making calls (my mom was a switchboard operator in the ’70’s), in the ’80’s voice mail became standard, in the ’90’s cell phones and if a secretary answered your phone or screened your calls today many would consider it an invasion of privacy!  My real point is that whatever the reason for the call was back in Mad Men’s days is still the reason for the call today; set up a meeting, discuss specs / requirements, approve a contract, etc. … it’s just done via a different medium.

I was raised by a company who made Customer Satisfaction its number one priority.  Why?  Because of the old adage, “It’s far more cost-effective to keep a client than to gain a new one.”  The main focus of business is to make money and there are many ways to do that:  keep your current base through excellent customer service, create new products or services, get new customers, raise prices, etc.  Revenue flows from the specific actions and strategies businesses take based on their values and priorities.  In the traditional model, development creates the product or service, marketing creates the messaging, sales sells it and customer service provides after-sales support.  These are different people in different organizations.  In the social model, organizational lines blur and customer service, marketing, PR and sales can all be accomplished via social media.  One of my favorite social stories is Peter Shankman and Morton’s (video linked here); if you Google this you will find pages and pages of blog posts and articles discussing is this great customer service, marketing or PR?  All of the above, and the bottom line is their reservations increased 100% the first weekend afterwards and this one $300 gesture (food, time, driver, etc.) generated about $800K in paid media via viral, news and TV stories.

It’s easy to think just restaurants, hotels or retail can increase business via social, but in reality, any organization (business, non-profit, health care, education, sports team, zoo, you name it) can benefit from it.  What are your pain points?  Why do you receive the most calls or inquiries?  Write blog posts to answer these questions or give necessary information and distribute via FB, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, etc.  The added benefit is that post is now searchable via the web if your customer decides to Google before calling, emailing or tweeting.  What are the mission, values and objectives of your organization?  Once you’re firm on those, you create social strategies to address them just as you would any other internal program.  Wouldn’t it be great if cable companies had video blog posts, you could just tweet them, receive a link back and watch a video to solve your problem vs. sitting on hold and potentially having someone come to your house when it’s often a 3 – 5 min fix?  Wouldn’t it save them a ton in customer and technical service labor costs if they implemented this?  The application ideas go on and on for any organization.

So I believe @cspenn’s advice to get the MBA emphasizes the importance of understanding business overall rather than solely understanding digital or social techniques.  Clearly businesses that think social is just “something else to do” don’t understand its power, but it’s important for those who do understand its power to ground their activity in the overall goals of their organization.  Every time you hit FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest or any other network, ask yourself, “What is my objective?  Do I want to increase customer retention/satisfaction, or brand reputation, or the understanding of our messaging & values, or sales?”  It moves people out of the “how many Likes and Follows” and into working horizontally across their organization to see how social can help customer service, marketing, public relations, sales, distribution, etc. so that eventually your whole organization benefits.

How are you mainstreaming your social efforts into your overall business strategies?

Social Fresh East

Social Fresh held its East conference here in Tampa last week and I was lucky enough to attend!  It was my third Social Fresh in a year; attended Social Fresh Tampa last February and Social Fresh Charlotte last September.  Loved all three, and like all knowledge, each built on the next.  For the first two, I wrote posts covering each speaker and topic, but this is a more of a summary.

When I think back to my first conference (without rereading my blog posts), the big take away was that social media is the *how* and not the *what.*  My analogy is if you remember work before Microsoft Office, you know Office changed how work got done, but not the work itself.  Products were still made, marketed, sold, but Office changed how the business world worked.  Social is the same; it just changes the how, not the what.  The what in this case covers customer service, marketing, public relations and sales.  So now Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are the tools to reach people to provide customer service, to market your brand, to do soft public relations and to sell.

The Charlotte conference offered 18 speakers over two days covering a broad range of topics; what I remember most is how important blogging is for brands, the growth and popularity of video, and incorporating mobile into your plans.  The whole idea is to generate content that will attract your desired audience.

Initially I wanted to attend this year’s conference to hear the talks on Google+, launched last summer by invitation, and Pinterest.  My favorite take away from last week is more global:  “Figure out what kind of relationship you want between your brand & audience and *then* figure out tools, etc.”  Basically create your marketing strategy first and then figure out the how.  A little research doesn’t hurt.  Statistics tell us that two-thirds of the US is on Facebook, 25 million are on Twitter, and the new kids, Google+ is predominately male and Pinterest is predominately female (thus far).  What might be smart is to survey your existing customers / audience (hire a firm or use SurveyMonkey or Survey Gizmo and do it yourself) to see where your customers spend the most time!  If the idea of social media is to engage your audience where they are, why not find out where they are and then prioritize your activities accordingly (understanding that Facebook will always play based on saturation)?

Scott Monty from Ford spoke about being the first brand on Google+ and has found between its earned, owned and paid media, they’ve generated as much buzz as a SuperBowl commercial would.  Shauna Causey, formerly of Nordstrom, shared the top uses for Pinterest are: #1 recipes, #2 fashion, #3 inspirational quotes, #4 news, #5 home, #6 travel, #7 funny photos.  So, if you’re a B2C food brand or store, you may have the best results on Facebook and Pinterest.  If you’re a B2B small software company, it might be Twitter and Google+.  If you’re a B2C health care company targeting older folks, Facebook may be where you’ll have the biggest engagement since it has the largest 55+ community.  Matthew Knell spoke about fragmentation within social media, exploring the concept that some people prefer other sites like Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram and Tumblr, etc.  Restaurants can effectively use Foursquare by offering perks for checking in, in addition to Facebook and Twitter.  Who hasn’t heard the Peter Shankman/Morton’s Twitter story?  Grocery stores may have an opportunity to capitalize on mobile coupons via Foursquare.  Christopher Moody said, “Don’t try to know it all or do it all.”  That’s the key; figure out what works best for *your brand and audience* based on data and then customize your how!  Test, monitor, listen and measure along the way.  There are many avenues to pursue in social media marketing, but not all will be successful for all brands.  Google+ is probably worth the time investment solely for SEO reasons (prioritizing themselves in their search algorithm) even if a lot of your audience isn’t there yet.

Linked below are blog posts from other attendees; some highlight tweets from each speaker (love the Storify posts!), while others focus on select speakers and presentations.  Just like the diversification in social, I love reading what resonated with other attendees:
From Ashely Ray, Ballywho Interactive:  Social Fresh EAST – Day 1  Social Fresh EAST: day 2
From Barbara Nixon, PR professor:  The Best of Social Fresh East 2012, Day One
East Day 2 a.m. speakers:
Day 2 afternoon post:
From Jim Redmile of Accuform Signs:
From Matthew Knell of AOL:
From SocialMediaToday:
A nice video with Scott Monty from Social Buzz TV:
What I love about Social Fresh conferences is they’re always on top of the trends and you have the opportunity to meet, talk and network with people who are living & breathing social media!  Social Fresh changed their format to one annual conference for each coast.  Social Fresh West will be in San Diego September 27 & 28, 2012.  Since I love both San Diego & Social Fresh, I highly recommend it!  So … who’s going to SF in SD in September? 😉