Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Recap: Top Ten Takeaways from Alt Summit SLC

Alt Summit SLC 2014 has come and gone. You may or may not have noticed, but leading up to this year's conference, I tried very hard not to become singularly focused on Alt (unlike last year). In marketing, one tends to define product cycles in terms of events (those fixed milestones that you count down to and focus all your efforts on), so it's hard not to suffer from tunnel vision.
Since returning from Salt Lake City I've been flipping through my notes and revisiting my proposed outreach and promotion tactics for the blog. And, I've been struggling with how I want to wrap up Alt and share highlights from my trip. So here goes the first of two "recap" posts, my top ten takeaways.
Regardless of your clothing, bad things can still happen.

Takeaway 1: "If the first thing you do isn't embarrassing, you're moving too slowly."
- Jen Hansard, Simple Green Smoothies

Somewhere between when I graduated from college and recently, I began caring too much about what other people think. In fact, a lot of my career highlights didn't start out fully polished and might never have come to life if I first thought of them today.
I regularly tout the example of how Japanese video tape recorders beat out American video tape recorders, they got to market first and got feedback early on what was needed. And yet, I'm frequently finding myself suffering from perfection paralysis and not taking enough risks.
When was the last time you did something perfectly from the beginning? Probably never, so why hold yourself to that standard? While you're trying to perfect your idea, someone else could be imperfectly executing and getting mind and/or market share. I understand we only get one chance to make a first impression, but if we never get out of the starting gate, we're not making an impression at all.
Simply creating great content

Takeaway 2: "Simply creating great content is like throwing a party without sending out invitations and hoping people come."
- Salem Stanley, Founder of Vacation Races

Another point from the same panel as the first takeaway shattered my idea that "If you build it, [they] will come." I've always had a hard time with promoting my own posts on Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere. I thought if I could grow an audience through earned media coverage and SEO it would speak to the quality of my content.
Well, when you compare content to a party, it makes absolutely no sense not to send out invitations ("self-promote"). Who throws a party and doesn't invite guests? As long as you maintain an 80/20 content distribution on your social media channels, you can invite followers to engage with you elsewhere. They have voluntarily followed you because they like what you have to say and/or they want to know more about you.
Engage in a different, unexpected way

Takeaway 3: "Engage in a different, unexpected way."
- Erica Domesek, P.S. I Made This

Many of us have visited, and/or stayed a little too long in corporate America. Depending on the industry, uniformity may be exalted above all else. Managers may advise "Don't rock the boat." But, in reality who gets the promotions? Who gets noticed? Those who don't conform.
Being visible is scary. When you succeed, you're front and center, and everyone knows who was responsible. But the same is true when you fail, and depending on company culture, you may not be in an environment of fail early and often. You may be faced with the reality of one strike and you're out.
But here's the problem with blending in, with always following industry best practices: you'll never be better than average. Best practices became best practices because someone tried something new and it worked. It worked really well. So, what happened? Everyone else copied them. Are they still doing what got them noticed? Probably not. Try something people aren't expecting, do something that becomes tomorrow's best practice.
Picking a small subject

Takeaway 4: "Picking a small subject is a great way to talk about big important ideas."
- Garance Dore

In the past, I often found myself apologizing for my interests or for my career. I felt guilty that I liked fashion; it seemed to me that a technology marketeer in corporate America shouldn't "waste" time on fashion and that my time should be directed towards other endeavors. I sometimes feel that way when people find out I can code yet I chose Marketing over Software Development. That's probably why Garance's quote really resonated with me.
Context of messages is key. As is approachability. With "small subjects" readers and listeners are less likely to put up their defenses when you start taking about "big important ideas." For me, fashion has been a way to start talking about wanton mass consumption. Marketing has been a way to investigate why and how people engage with technology, whether as something to be consumed as is or as a tool that can be molded, shaped, and reshaped.
Photobooth at the Bremen Clinical Mini Party

Takeaway 5: "More upsetting than an unsettling conversation is a boring one."
- Garance Dore

I don't know who said, "Be anything, anything but boring," but it came to mind when Garance was talking about how to engage your audience. She was saying that if we always tell people what they want to hear or publish what we know works, we run the risk of becoming boring.
How? Because if we're not exploring, we'll be bored. If we're going through the motions and not passionate about what we're doing, not only are we bored, but our audience is bored or will be bored shortly.
Let's Shine Together!

Takeaway 6: "A point of view is NOT mainstream."
- Garance Dore

Related to takeaway 5 is how to keep from being boring. Garance advised us to think of things differently. Don't just describe things, experience them and share that experience.
Garance thinks of her readers as her best friend. Her best friend doesn't need her to be perfect. She thinks of them having great taste and for them and herself doesn't minimize what she does.
One thing she cautions against is starting too early. If you start too early in your life, you take it all in and it changes you. Garance, stated when she was 30, when her personality was already set.
If you have a strong voice

Takeaway 7: "If you have a strong voice, whatever your focus, you'll get a following."
- Erica Domesek, P.S. I Made This

I was once called "disarmingly genuine," a personality characteristic I thought was rare until I attended Alt last year. Through Alt, I've learned it's ok to be yourself, to not go with the flow.
Depending on what your focus is, your following may grow faster than some and slower than others, but if you're unique, it will grow. (This maps to Alan Wilson Watt's philosophy on choosing something you love (What Would You Do If Money Were No Object) and becoming the best at it rather than pursuing money blindly.)
I've also learned that attendees help one another. If we're approached by a sponsor that's not a fit for us, but we know someone else who is, we introduce them. We believe there's enough success to go around. And that philosophy, rare outside of Alt, is why in enterprise software, I was labeled "disarmingly genuine."
When I first started this blog, I wasn't as clear cut with my opinions. I was afraid a corporate employer would see something I'd written and choose not to hire me. I was specifically worried about what employers would think about me attending Burning Man. (Search on my name and Burning Man and you'll find references to our Burning Man wedding and more.) But the more I let my guard down and was "me," the more likeminded employers and collaborators I found (as well as fans and followers).
This takeaway reminded me of why it's easier to tell the truth than lie: with the truth you have less to remember and you're able to tell your stories with passion. When you pick a voice and stick with it, you'll have a range of followers, some who agree and some who disagree with you. How you engage and treat your followers will determine whether or not they stick around.
You Are Exactly Where You Need to Be

Takeaway 8: "Look for patterns in what you're pinning. If your pins are all over the place, start narrowing to define your style."
- Susan Brinson, House of Brinson

Throughout Alt, many spoke about content creators as mini-brands especially when it comes to growing a community. Until a session on Pinterest Strategy featuring Celina Bailey of Petit a Petit, Mari Richards of Small For Big, Rachel Faucett of Handmade Charlotte, and Eva Jorgenson of Sycamore Street Press I'd never really thought of using Pinterest to communicate my brand or that it could do that.
The tips I found most helpful were to create a feed of inspiration where you want to repin everything you see and unfollow people who aren't pinning the right content for you; to put pins that were inspirational for you but had poor visual content in separate secret boards; and to switch content if it doesn't catch interest.
My pins are pretty much all over the place so I'll be doing some extensive editing over the next couple of weeks until my Pinterest profile is aligned with my blog's styling and my Instagram feed.
Mastering a Glue Gun

Takeaway 9: "Avoiding overwhelm comes at the intersection of courage and wisdom. Find your own sweet spot in the overlap."
- Hilary Rushford, Dean Street Society

I left Alt last year with a to do list a mile long. This year I left with to dos, but ones I'd identified before I caught a plane to Salt Lake City.
"Success" at Alt isn't in how many people you meet, the number of business cards you collect, or the sponsors you talk to. "Success" at Alt has its preparation before you arrive in SLC and after: knowing what you want (focus), tailoring your actions during Alt to support your goals, and following up when you return home.
Preparing for and attending Alt can be overwhelming. There are lots of potential opportunities. Our natural tendency is to be everywhere and do everything. It takes wisdom to realize that we can't do everything and do it all well. We need to be targeted in what we say yes to. And it takes courage to say no.
Self Portrait with Hilary Rushford

Takeaway 10: "When we have anxiety it's because our minds aren't organized. Organization and a schedule will keep content flowing."
- Erica Domesek, P.S. I Made This

One thing that really helped me after last year's Alt Summit was establishing an editorial calendar. This year in advance of Alt I began tracking how long various tasks took me. Why? I wanted to develop an editorial calendar that worked with the time I had available because I often find I have more ideas than I can publish in a year.
Garance Dore had advice about how to pick what you write about. When you think about a post idea, think about the amount of time it will take to develop a quality post and consider the amount of feedback you'll get in return. If the post will take a lot of time, but yield no comments, re-evaluate or elaborate on your goals, maybe the interaction won't be through comments but via pins. If you're doing a post for recognition, monitor the post to learn where the content resonated and how it was received so that you can be more efficient with similar types of posts in the future.
The Grand America Courtyard at Twilight
Were you at Alt this year?
What were your key takeaways?

If you'd like to see what other attendees' got out of Alt Summit SLC, check out my Alt Summit SLC 2014 Recaps board on Pinterest.
Ciao Bella!
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Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.