Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Recap: Key Takeaways from Alt Summit SLC 2013 and Tips for First Timers

Before I left for Alt I had the feeling it was an indoor Burning Man. My conclusion now that I'm back in San Francisco and have had time to reflect? Well, I'll let you be the judge.
Alt Summit is a Mini-Indoor Burning Man
Weigh In: Alt Summit is a mini-indoor Burning Man.
I Agree. | I Disagree.

When I left for Salt Lake City, I had two goals (find collaborators and come away with ideas and concrete actions to improve my content and online conversations). Limiting myself to two goals proved a challenge in practice, but I was hardnosed about it.
Everyone had FOMO (fear of missing out), but you couldn't do it all. I had a little of it when I didn't choose Jasmine Star's session; reminding myself that one of the other sessions better matched my goals helped with that.
Apologies in advance for the long post, I know I could have broken this up into multiple posts, but I figure some of you are tired of hearing about Alt (there will be two more posts - one on Finca, an amazing Tapas restaurant we ate at, and one on what I wore that includes how much I spent on accessories and/or new clothes). Here are my key takeaways from Alt Summit:

Key Takeaways

  1. Create compelling, original, consistent content.
    Content that people want to read comes from knowing who you are and remembering that you're telling a story. Always keep making new content that you believe in and give a complete picture. Readers will fill in missing details. Be sure the story you're telling is the one you want to tell. (Tiffani Jones Brown of Pinterest paraphrased.)
    Be true to yourself. Cliche yes, but "if you're true to yourself, like minded people and brands will be attracted to you" (Merrilee of Mer Mag). Do you really want to work with people who make you throw up a little in your throat (Kathleen Shannon of Braid Creative's words)?
  2. Keep an editorial calendar regardless of whether you work with advertisers or brands.
    Whether we want to admit it or not, we're influenced by what we read and what we see. It is much easier to be true to your voice and your vision when you're planning what you're going to talk about ahead of time.
  3. "Start with what you've got."
    - Meg Keene, Publisher and Executive Editor of A Practical Wedding
    Don't sell yourself short! When approaching advertisers or other bloggers with collaborations, pick your best numbers and move forward with those. Look at whether or not your readers are engaged. Engagement is more than just comments. How long are readers on your site?
  4. "Be ready to release things when your intentions change."
    - Laura Mayes, Writer of Blog con Queso and one of the founders of Mighty Events and Go Mighty
    I'm taking Laura out of context, but her quote really drove home to me the point that you can't be everything to everyone. You have to focus, but more than that, you have to be ok with letting things that were once important go when they no longer support where you want to go. I haven't always believed this, but when I focused the blog around four key areas, Home, Family, Food, and Fashion, in November 2011, and cut a lot of off topic content, my bounce rates plummeted from 60% to under 8% while my pageviews skyrocketed 1000%.
  5. Find your community.
    This came up in more than one session. Meg Keene, Sandra Harris of Raincoast Creative Salon, and Jennifer Cooper of Classic Play, all touched on it. There's enough success to go around. By finding bloggers who are on the same arc as you, roughly the same starting point, you can get perspective. For example, are consistent bounce rates under 10% and average visit durations of 4 minutes common? Also, your community may not be the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis, aka in real life.

Dealing with the post-Alt Summit Blues

Alt Summit veterans warned us newbies that we'd experience the post-Alt Summit blues. They were right. Luckily my post-Burn depressions have prepared me for re-entry. So, I'm surrounding myself with members of my community and sharing my stories, instead of turtling.
And here's the funny thing. Last night as I was talking about one of my key takeaways -- specifically "find your community" -- I discovered that I'd made a false assumption about the homogeneity of my community. Not everyone thought my desire to feed and nurture people on the playa was secondary to making art. (I ran the camp that supported the artists who built Syzygryd. Yet, nowhere on the project site will you find any mention of either my team or me although we kept everyone fed, provided rides back and forth from BART so that people could continue building Syzygryd, and actually did work on Syzygryd (I helped solder some of the wiring that lit the cubes.)) They reiterated the importance of finding my community, even a camp, where I wouldn't feel like a second-class citizen. (Quick aside, I have found a camp: The Dustfish. We camped with them last year and one of my fondest memories was the joy fellow campmates had when I shared lox, Humboldt Fog Cypress Grove Chevre, and sourdough baguette. They get that everyone has different reasons for being at Burning Man and that we're all makers regardless of the medium we use to create.)

Tips for First-Timers

While these are fresh in my mind, I figured I'd share them. To anyone reading this in preparation for their first trip to Alt (I read through years of people's pre-first Alt posts in anticipation of my first Alt.), here's my advice for winning at Alt:
  • Start with a plan.
  • Find roommates.
  • Network via Twitter and Facebook BEFORE Alt.
  • Arrive earlier in the day on Wednesday and have lunch with online friends.
  • Sort business cards into sandwich storage bags and label by activity for easy follow up post Alt.
  • Realize that no matter how many days Alt is you aren't going to be able to do it all and meet everyone.

Were you at Alt?
What were your key takeaways?

Ciao Bella!
Credits: All layouts designed by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life. Images of dreads and fur taken by Brooke Dennis and available on Flickr: Dreads, Fur (left), and Fur (right).