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A Day in the Life of a PodCamper

Last Saturday I attended a day-long event called PodCamp Western MA 3 (I built that site). This was my second PodCamp – I also attended PodCamp CT 1 last fall – and I have to say I’m hooked.

So what is a PodCamp anyway…

PodCamp is an unconference that started just a few years ago when Chris Brogan and some other folks wanted to learn about podcasting (hence the name), so they started a conference in Boston to get people to teach them about it.

Now PodCamp tends to encompass all aspects of social media, and generally also includes some sessions about business, marketing, websites, and all kinds of cool things!

The best part about PodCamp is that anyone can run a session, and many of the sessions pop up the day of the event. They’re designed for the exchange of information between peers, rather than the typical conference model of having “experts” talk at you. And you still end up with some heavy hitters with all kinds of knowledge who might otherwise be headlining conferences that cost several hundred dollars. All for the low-low price of $25 (breakfast, lunch, and a t-shirt included).

What my day looked like

I was part of an “elite group” of PodCamp Helpers so I showed up a little early to help set up. With breakfast (coffee, OJ, pastries, and fruit) set-up and people filing in to register this is a great time to network for those so inclined. People are generally friendly and you’re bound to at least have something in common in your interest in social media. And if you’re like me you’ll “know” a lot of twitter friends who you’ve never actually met.

Opening remarks

Morriss Partee gave his opening remarks (watch here) to let everyone know what the day would look like. You certainly didn’t need to know what you were doing when you got there.

Session 1: Social Media 101

Julianne Krutka and I ran this session. Who’d have thunk it – I only started doing this social media thing a year ago. We had some great questions from business owners, job seekers, and others covering twitter, facebook, linked in, and more. We had some great participation from people in the group when they could answer questions better than we could, which is exactly what’s supposed to happen at PodCamp. I even got to share my favorite social networking “trick” which is basically:

Social networking is just networking that happens to be online. The same rules apply.

There’s always something to learn in social media, and PodCamp attracts people who like to learn, so this session was one of the biggest of the day. If you want to get exposure to a large group definitely consider leading the Social Media 101 session at your next PodCamp!

Session 2: PR in Social Media

The next session I went to was about using social media to help with public relations and was led by Jaclyn Stevenson. You can watch a video of some of this talk here.

Jaclyn recommended some neat online tools in this session:

HARO: At Help A Reporter Out you can sign up for an email list where reporters send requests for interviewees, etc. Instead of randomly sending out press kits you can just contact reporters who are writing about something you know about.

PitchEngine: PitchEngine offers an “online newsroom” where you can post your press releases. As a web designer my focus in any social media endeavor is driving traffic back to a source I control (my website) so the viewer can actually do what I want them to do. Any content you produce should have the ultimate goal of getting people to contact you, buy something, signup for something – whatever you goal is.

So I was curious why I should be creating this content on some third part site when I could just as easily create it on my site (If you can’t easily create new pages on your own site you should contact me :D). What Jaclyn told me is that when you create a press release in PitchEngine you can select a category to put it in (like sports) and reporters are able to subscribe to RSS feeds for each of those categories. It’s kind of like a reverse HARO. Instead of you finding out about what reporters need, reporters find out about what you have to offer.

While I’d still really encourage you to make sure that press release links back to your site, I’ve got to say that PitchEngine sounds pretty darn cool! You get to borrow their audience instead of just relying on your own.

Press Release Grader: This neat little tool from the cool guys over at HubSpot apparently lets you paste in a press release you’ve written and then tells you how good it is and what you can improve. Sounds pretty cool!

Jaclyn had some other tips, so why not watch the video?

Lunch

How can you go wrong with free lunch (well, included in the ticket price)? This is a great time to do some more networking so choose you table carefully and don’t be afraid to table hop once you’re done eating to see how people are enjoying the day, and what they’ve learned.

Session 3: WordPress

I led this session. We talked about WordPress.com vs WordPress.org (self-hosted), Installing WordPress, Hosting recommendations, Themes (premium, free, and custom), and plugins.

I promised the attendees that they could have my notes from the session, so you can download them by clicking here. They really are just notes, so they’re probably going to be most useful to just see the plugins we talked about if you didn’t get a chance to write them down. If you’re curious about anything there feel free to contact me to ask about it.

Lesson learned: leading sessions, especially on your area of expertise, is a GREAT way to get exposure. People feel more comfortable approaching you, your session is bound to attract the people it would be most useful for you to talk to, and even the people who didn’t make it to your session might ask you about it.

Session 4: Value Viral Marketing

Steve Haase and Christiana Briddell are two of the three people behind a really cool marketing experiment that happened over the summer called The Influencer Project which took off like crazy and which they’ve used to get sponsorship for (and basically create a brand new company around) other similar projects in other industries.

They call this type of marketing “Value Viral Marketing” because it involves coming up with an important idea (the value) that’s related to something the sponsor company is concerned with and turns it into a viral marketing campaign by making it really easy to share.

One kind of rule I’ve come up with from sitting in on this session is essentially:

Get people involved in content creation who will also gain by sharing with their followers

Steve and Christiana also gave some other tips like giving many ways to share very easily, and running contests. For example, they gave away a spot on the influencer project to the best “spreader” of the idea through twitter.

The real lesson that they kept repeating was that it has to be value based for this kind of promotion to work. It has to be some big idea. It can’t just be marketing about the company, and it can’t just be a cat doing something funny. That might go viral, but it’s not going to help a brand.

Session 5: Social Media for Non-profits

My girlfriend Lori Satter led this session. She didn’t feel qualified to be the “expert” at the front of the room, so we both spent the day recruiting people we thought would have something to contribute.

What was really amazing about this session was the level of participation. In the true PodCamp spirit Lori treated it as a chance for everyone to learn from each other by asking questions to lead the conversation rather than getting up and talking.

The other great thing was the number of different types on non-profits represented from college admissions and alumni relations, to public schools, churches, the alzheimer’s association, and the non-profit Lori works with: The Emily Dickinson International Society

Wrap up

PodCamp finished off with a bit more networking as all the sessions wrapped up, and an some emotional closing remarks by Morriss that showed just how much he cares about PodCamp Western MA, and the sense of community it creates.

One Regret

My One regret is that I didn’t make it to the after party. Those of you who remember last Saturday will know things were awfully slick out there on the roads. So as we came sliding into the driveway (quite literally) those braver than I were networking away in Westfield.

Going forward

Now with PodCamp over the one thing left to do is to blog about it! If you do be sure to let Morriss and/or me know about it over at the PodCamp website so we can post it there and everyone can learn about the sessions they missed, and why they should go next year!