Webcasts Grow Up

In one of the earliest posts on this blog I complained about the lack of social-media awareness and interactivity in most B2B webcasts. I haven’t seen much improvement in the intervening 18 months—until today. In an online event this morning, webcast service provider On24 showed off a new webcasting platform that provides the kind of multimedia and social-media integration that the technology needs to thrive.

If I were still an On24 customer (I last worked with them three years ago) I would be very excited about this new platform. One attraction for me is what appears to be huge flexibility in arranging the console for both the producer and consumer. As an event attendee, I was able to resize, rearrange, and close or open the various windows within my browser, and it appears that the producer has even more flexibility in the setup. There are a number of social media widgets that the producer can add to the console, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

One of my complaints about traditional webcasts is the dominance of the slides, which are rarely compelling, to put it politely. The new platform offers a number of ways around that deadly problem. First, it includes live video capability to show the presenter, using a setup as basic as a web cam, and allows for switching between speakers. Perhaps more importantly, it allows presenters to share their screens, so that a degree of spontaneity is possible.

There’s a lot more to the new platform than I can address here, and on the basis of a half-hour introduction, I’m probably missing some key points and being overly impressed by others. I’d recommend that you read more for yourself, both on the On24 site and elsewhere.

Nothing that On24 does with this platform is revolutionary, but it seems to integrate existing technologies and social-media tools smoothly and effectively. It’s no doubt priced at a level that puts it out of reach for smaller companies, but it may well set a standard for integration and ease of use that will spread to other platforms.

Now if only they could supply better waiting-room music. . . .


Social Media and Ethics: An Interview with B2B Editor Maureen Alley

Maureen Alley: Never tweet what you wouldn't say in person

In preparation for my talk in an ASBPE webinar on ethics next week, I’ve been speaking with B2B editors about how they use social media. Though it’s true that the trade press in general is decidedly behind the curve in this respect, there are notable exceptions. One is BNA Tax Management editor and former ASBPE president Steven Roll, with whom I spoke last week (you can hear some of our conversation on his latest blog post).

Another is Maureen Alley, the editor of Cygnus’s Residential Design + Build (RD+B) magazine. Like Steve, she is an outspoken advocate of social media and an active blogger and Twitterer. I sent her a few questions on the ethical use of social media by e-mail just for background research, but her responses were so insightful and revealing that, with her permission, I’m posting them here.

Do you use your personal twitter account (@MaureenEditor) in your professional role as editor of Residential Design + Build?

Absolutely. I don’t believe there is much of a distinction between personal and professional when it comes to the Web. It’s very fluid. There have been studies that show people respond better to people versus brands. Because of this, I manage the RD+B account as the place for news, events, articles, reaching out to readers, listening to readers, etc. But I use my @MaureenEditor account as the face of the magazine. I want people to know there is a person behind RD+B who they can connect with.

Do you manage a social media account for your magazine? If so, how is your use of it different from your personal accounts?

I do manage RD+B’s Twitter account plus my @MaureenEditor account. I use HootSuite to do that successfully and easily. As I mentioned, I use RD+B Twitter for straight reporting—little opinion. I’m also careful so it doesn’t look like I’m promoting advertisers/manufacturers. If I tweet something from the magazine’s account that is from an advertiser/manufacturer I make sure it provides value to my readers first—just like print B2B.

I also manage RD+B’s Facebook page. Facebook is a different animal from Twitter so I keep that in mind when posting anything to this page. My goal with the Facebook page is a place to provide more content than 140 characters—enhancing information that was provided in a tweet. I don’t want people who are our fans and follow us to see the same content and decide to only follow/friend one of the media.

LinkedIn is actually huge for my audience: custom builders, designers and architects. This is a high-level group where being with influencers is important to them. They strive to stand where the influencers are so they are recognized for their work, develop a reputation, and get word-of-mouth marketing. Our LinkedIn group is very active and important to these members. They use it to find what CAD software is best, and to share projects they’ve just finished, and even press coverage they’ve received.

How do you deal with potential ethical conflicts between your personal and professional use of media?

Well, I try to keep my opinions to my personal account and away from the RD+B account. Again, I try my best to keep RD+B to straight reporting. As for my own, people want opinions, so I do provide that on my Twitter account. For example, I live in Madison and there is a huge budget/political scene right now. I follow a lot of people in Madison and therefore I participate in the conversation regarding what’s going on. I would not share that opinion on RD+B’s account.

You talk about a wide variety of topics on Twitter, including your personal life, your work life, the weather, politics, pop culture, builders’ issues, and a lot more. Do you have any explicit or implicit guidelines about how you cover these topics on your personal accounts?

Great question. I taught business writing to college students last semester and my number one rule was ALWAYS remember who your audience is. I have many different people following me: Madison residents, writers, editors, journalists, PR reps, builders, designers, architects, associations, teachers, and some of my past students. I try my best to post tweets that reach out to each audience. It’s a hard task when I have that many different audiences, but it keeps things interesting.

In regards to guidelines, I keep it professional at all times. I think of it like when you’re at a cocktail party—you never know who is who and you want to make sure you are representing yourself correctly. I never tweet anything that I wouldn’t say to someone in person. And I stand behind all my tweets. No passive aggression here.

I also try to keep some space between Twitter and my personal life—although it may not appear that way. I don’t tweet pictures from inside my house that show a lot of detail—for security reasons. I never tweet when my husband and I will be gone on vacation leaving our house empty. I never say exactly where I live, and so on. I try to keep it safe. I am a woman and this is very important to me.

To the extent you’ve thought about it, what would you say are the differences, if any, between traditional journalistic ethics and social media ethics?

Journalism ethics are important and they do cross over to social media ethics. I show an opinion in my tweets or, as I see it, personality. But not when it comes to reporting on my industry (home building): I keep it straight reporting. And I think that’s a must. Just because we have different ways to share information doesn’t mean we throw our journalism ethics out the window. Our readers need good reporters—even in B2B. And I would argue that B2B is easily becoming B2C. For example, I can send a tweet about an article I wrote on the housing market and a local reporter/news station can see it, pick it up and run with it. It’s important to provide good, quality content to our readers with good ethics backing them up. They deserve it.


Throw Away Your Slides! (Maybe.)

Whenever I attend a webinar, I find myself getting frustrated with the format’s limitations, occasionally to the point where I complain about it in this blog. Someone, somewhere has probably put together the perfect webinar, but I haven’t seen it. Though the causes will vary from one webinar to another, whether it’s a lack of interactivity or the failure to show the speaker, there always seems to be one insurmountable problem: the slides.

Though you can look for help with your slides from sources like Guy Kawasaki’s “10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint” or, more recently, Jesse Desjardins’ “You Suck at PowerPoint,”  most people don’t have the will, the time, or the artistic resources to make many improvements. Until yesterday, however, the most radically effective solution of all had never occurred to me: Don’t use slides at all.

Now before you conclude that I’ve lost my mind, let me share my experience with you. Yesterday I attended BtoB magazine’s Digital Edge virtual trade show, primarily to watch a leadoff keynote by Chris Brogan and a concluding one by Gary Vaynerchuk.

Brogan’s prerecorded presentation, on the “Rise of the Trust Agents,” was very good, of course. While he used slides, they were accompanied by video of Brogan giving his talk. I found, though, that the slides made me pay less attention to what he was saying. I tended to read ahead of or behind where he was, and to wonder whether he was skipping over some of his bullet points.

For him, too, I sensed, the slides were as much an impediment as a guide: he seemed to hesitate now and then, as though looking to see which slide he was on or whether it was time to advance to the next one. Though the distraction was subtle, it felt as though the slides were a wall between Brogan and his audience, preventing him from connecting as completely as he might have.

If I needed any reminder of how strong Brogan’s presentation was, distracting slides or not, a sampling of a few of the mid-day webinars provided it. Excellent content and presenters, to be sure, but they were sabotaged by disembodied voices, bullet-stuffed slides, and overly complex tables and charts.

Vaynerchuk’s end of the day talk, though, on “The Thank You Economy,” was in an entirely different, higher class. Like Brogan’s, his presentation was prerecorded, but he spoke without using slides or, apparently, any notes at all. Instead of being placed in the smaller presenter panel, his video appeared in the large panel where the slides usually are shown.

Without slides to distract me, I found that I focused more closely on what Vaynerchuk was actually saying.  It felt to me as though he was entirely focused on his audience throughout his talk, and that though he couldn’t actually see us, he was able to make a real connection. (It may have helped that he had a few people listening to him in the studio where his talk was recorded.)

The end result for me was that, although his content wasn’t necessarily more compelling than Brogan’s, I absorbed much more of it from him.

If you insist on being realistic, I’ll admit that Vaynerchuk is a special case. It probably helps that he’s spent the last four years or so doing daily video blogs, that he’s given many versions of this talk before, and that he’s a born talker who knows his subject cold. Few of us can ever hope to match his presentation skills.

But if your topic permits it, why not try going slideless? For most presenters slides are just an outline, a crutch to keep them on-topic. If it feels like tight-rope walking without a net, so much the better. Your audience will be riveted.

Even if we never feel ready to throw away our PowerPoints,  we can aspire to be less dependent on them. By using fewer slides with simpler content, we can spend more of our presentation time focusing on our listeners. In the end, if they just wanted the content, they could read your presentation by themselves. What they really want is to connect and interact with you. Throwing away your slides is one way to start that process.

Managing Your Career in the Social Media Era: Sources

As part of a webinar for B2B editors on September 23, 2010, I’m speaking on “Managing Your Career in the Social Media Era.” (The webinar, “Enhancing Your Career in the B2B Press,” is sponsored by the American Society of Business Press Editors.)

Since the webinar format isn’t particularly conducive to embedded links, I’ve listed here the main sources cited in my talk. I’ve included key quotes from most of the sources below in the hopes that even if you haven’t heard my presentation, you’ll be interested in exploring the originals on your own.

Future of news: Insider Dave Morgan touts new media

“Tomorrow’s companies will build empires based on the value that they deliver to their users and advertisers every day, not on their ability to finance and manage scarce bandwidth or expensive printing presses or exclusive distribution networks.”

“No longer is the media world one of a publishers-top editor-section editor-subeditor-journalist hierarchy. Today, audiences are in charge and they want direct access to, and interaction with, journalists.”

What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis

“Even if the Wall Street Journal reports a scoop behind its paywall, once that information comes out—quoted, linked, blogged, aggregated, remixed, and e-mailed all over—it’s no longer exclusive and rare.”

Gary Hamel: Hierarchy of Employee Traits for the Creative Economy

In discussing the employee traits valued by old media and new media respectively, I invoke Hamel’s “commodity” traits of obedience, diligence, and intellect and his “creative economy” traits of initiative, creativity, and passion.

The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model

“‘You can take something that is thought of as a creative process and turn it into a manufacturing process.’”

Can Robots Run the News?

“To the chagrin of sports reporters everywhere, a team from Northwestern University’s engineering and journalism schools has created a program that automatically generates sports news stories. Stats Monkey uses the box score and play-by-play—even quotes, if they’re available online—to compile articles that follow one of the system’s pre-defined narrative arcs.”

Paul Conley: The seasons, they go round and round

“My working life is now completely consumed by content marketing. As recently as December, most of my income derived from traditional publishers practicing traditional B2B journalism (although mostly on the Web, rather than print.) That is no longer true.”

Crush It!, by Gary Vaynerchuk.

“Everyone—EVERYONE—needs to start thinking of themselves as a brand. It is no longer an option; it is a necessity.” “Your latest tweet and comment on Facebook and most recent blog post? That’s your résumé now.”

Joe Pulizzi’s Blog: Seven Ways to Position Yourself for Unlimited Work

“I don’t hire anyone that doesn’t blog.”

A Brief Guide to World Domination, by Chris Guillebeau (PDF here)

I cited Guillebeau’s personal manifesto as an example of one kind of e-book B2B editors could aspire to.

Book Notes: An Interview with Seth Godin.  (On the publication of Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.)

“Cogs see a job, linchpins see a platform. Every interaction, every assignment is a chance to make a change, a chance to delight or surprise or to touch someone.”

Can Webinars Get Hip? Three Radical Ideas for Change

Between old and new media in the B2B world, there is a class that might be called middle-aged media: e-mail newsletters, webinars, and digital magazines. Though digital in nature, they have been in use for years and are starting to show their age. Like print, they will always have some role to play, but their glory years are fast receding. So as a savvy new-media type, should you write them off as tools for the future? Not quite yet—if you’re willing to try some radical surgery, at least.

What brought this topic to mind was a webinar on digital magazines earlier this week. Although I signed up to learn what the future might hold for digital magazines, my focus ended up elsewhere. For most of the presentation, I was thinking instead about the future of webinars, and how they might be made more effective in the age of social media.

The reason behind this train of thought wasn’t any particular problem with the webinar. It was as good as virtually every other one I’ve sat through. But there is the root of the problem: one webinar seems just like another. A robust medium, like print or video, should allow, if not promote, innovation and creativity, and hence diversity. Most Webinars don’t.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is nothing inherently restrictive in the technology of webcasting (of which a webinar is one specific type) that should impede creativity. The problem lies in the way this type of webcasting is typically implemented.

So here are three radical ideas for making webinars more relevant in today. I make no claim that these are practical ideas. Having sat on both sides of the screen, whether as producer, organizer, or moderator, or as an attendee, I understand the daunting nature of the hurdles.

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