The #xPotomac14 Compendium

xPotomac 2014 or #xPotomac14 was held last Friday at Georgetown University’s Copley Formal Lounge. Speakers include keynotes Robert Scoble, Jim Long, and session leaders Lauren Vargas, Toby Bloomberg, Peter Corbett, and Allyson Kapin and Danielle Brigida.

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Early reviews show a successful event. Mike Schaeffer wrote, “The 2014 edition [of xPotomac] brought it strong, with an array of presenters, that all told one major story: Success in communications and technology will be predominantly based on strategically taking advantage of opportunities in front of you.”

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Monica added, “What I found interesting was the fact that none of the speakers used extemporaneous PowerPoints. Instead, they used handhelds with colorful mind maps to remind them where they were in their talk (kudos to Kathryn Garrett for first pointing this out via Twitter). The result was more eye contact and audience interaction than you typically get when speakers are stuck in a pre-personal computer = overhead transparencies paradigm.”

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As you can see, people tweeted about the content throughout the conference. And tweet they did. xPotomac trended for 35 minutes on Friday making it the 68th most popular topic in the country that day, according to Trendinalia United States.

xPotomac14 Word Cloud

Official xPotomac influence partner Zoomph tallied more than 3100 tweets and Instagram updates with a reach of more than 20 million people were posted last week and through the weekend. Not bad for 100 people coming together for a few conversations. The above Zoomph word cloud shows the 50 most referenced words in all those tweets.

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Who was the greatest influencer of them all? Tinu Abayomi-Paul rocked her smartphone and took the prize, says Zoomph.

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Most folks said they had a lot of fun (including emcee Shana Glickfield, who photo bombed me), and enjoyed the conference more than last year’s. Further, it seems we’ve transcended the increasinly distant BlogPotomac series that served as a foundation for the current xPotomac.

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Co-founders Patrick Ashamalla (above), Shonali Burke and myself will bring xPotomac back next year at the Copley Formal Lounge thanks to our relationshiop with Georgetown’s Communications, Culture and Technology program. Look for more great speakers like Robert, Jim, Danielle and Allyson (pictured below), Toby, Peter and Lauren. In the interim, you can see all my photos from the event here. And we will roll out videos of the individual speaker sessions over the next month or so.

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Thank you to everyone — attendee, sponsor and of course, our speakers — who made xPotomac happen. What did you think of #xPotomac14?

P.S. Since publishing, Brian Conlin published his “Six Brain-Bending Ideas from xPotomac 2014” on the Vocus blog. Check it out.

When Things Matter More than People

The Internet of Things is beginning to drive the tech industry and soon the marketing and media sector. You need look no further than this year’s CES to see the trend unfold. At the same time, social media is losing luster in the eyes of traditional technologists and marketers.

Before we get into that, let’s discuss the Internet of Things trend. The Internet of Things incorporates Internet capable sensors into many objects in day-to-day life, including current electronics but also new unthought of ones (like refrigerator magnets).

iStrategy Labs’ Peter Corbett recently noted that Internet of Things trend was becoming a powerhouse in marketing: “If you’re a communicator and you’re not at least conversant in what’s going on in that space you’re at a dramatic disadvantage. With this technology you can build anything from a James Bond style bookshelf opener to a Spongebob Skill Crane that you can play with over the Internet.”

Silcon Valley investors like Marc Andressen are focusing on start-ups that leverage sensors. And with good reason. The market opportunity for this new layer of smart things is huge.

From a marketing perspective, the Internet of Things allows incredible new possibilities for precision. Connected ads allow brands to serve content based on someone’s demographics as determined by their physical body or the data they willingly surrender via social media, mobile phones, and web cookies. Unique applications can be created (like pizza delivery by pressing the aforementioned refrigerator magnet), or apps like Nike’s sensor-driven Fuelband.

Really, we are just beginning to learn how the Internet of Things can be applied to marketing. It will certainly allow a level of personalization that heretofore had only been imagined in science fiction novels (and believe me, I do have a related novel concept brewing).

This kind of precision demands a new series of capabilities, including the abilities to analyze data, and deploy relevant products and content. This skillset group — from marketing automation skills to data analysis — is in great demand within corporate marketing departments.

That’s why young professionals looking to break into marketing would be wise to learn data analytics, and its application to customer segments, lead paths, and yes, conversion. The data analyst is this decade’s lucrative position in marketing departments. Social media, well, it’ll get you a decent job, but not like this.

The Social Star Loses Luster

I have a sneaking suspicion that 2013 will be remembered as the year that social media marketing peaked as a trend.

What?!?

While still the stuff of social media expert conversations, marketing blogs seem repetitive, and industry publications like Advertising Age are moving on.

It’s not a big surprise, afterall 73 percent of online adults in the United States now use at least one social network site. Really, the only big things that happened last year in social were private messaging (which seems like a reaction against public forms of social media) and video social networking.

It’s not that businesses won’t continue spending on social or that PR people/community managers will be out of work. Far from it. Social isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s a primary driver of data needed for contextual media and word of mouth trust. Social remains a valuable asset for companies.

It’s just that, well, social media marketing is not new anymore. You could argue that companies are in the learning phase, but last I checked they were still determining how to build a decent website, too.

Plus companies just seem to fail when it comes to connecting with people online. The native advertising boom acknowledges that brands would rather pay to play than do the hard work of scaling social media communities.

Such is the way of things. What goes up, must come down.

What do you think?

You can learn more about the Internet of Things at xPotomac this February 28! Use my first name as a discount code to get 20% off.

Featured image by catalysis_comms.

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have written a defining book for the big data marketing automation era, the Age of Context (read my review). The two teamed on similar book in the early social media days called Naked Conversations that accurately predicted the forthcoming impact on business.

Given their many successes over the years and the powerful ideas in Age of Context, Geoff decided to interview successful blogger Robert Scoble for Vocus. You’ll find an insightful interview on marketing, media and society as a whole.

GL: What prompted you to write the book?

RS: Rackspace pays me to interview innovators, usually startup founders,
but also people who are doing leading edge work inside big companies. Back in early 2012 I saw a bunch of new patterns, due to that work. Sensors were increasing exponentially. So were social data, big data, and wearables. That led to discussions with Shel and eventually to the book, “Age of Context.”

GL: Will the age of context last longer than the age of conversation?

RS:Yes, I think so. Why? Because I’m seeing sensors inside R&D labs that won’t be able to be productized or perfected for consumer market for eight years or more.

GL: Context seems to be about taking the data from sensors, phones, location, etc. and creating useful offerings and information from that data. You discuss this as precision marketing. How important are data skills for marketers +today and +tomorrow?

RS: Well, the big trend is that we’ll need to know 100x more about our customers than we do today. So, yes, data skills are huge. But so are skills in building systems that use that data in a non-freaky way. If I walk into your business and you know everything about me you could easily freak me out, or miscast me and serve me poorly. So we’ll need humans to make sure that the databases don’t enable poor customer service too.

GL:What’s the best way to learn how to analyze data?

RS: The companies at the leading edge have people skilled at machine
learning. That’s what I learned when I visited Prismatic, which is a news service. Learning how to do what those very advanced people are doing? Very hard. Probably requires going to Stanford and getting a computer science degree. But you can start to think about data analysis — watch what journalists do with data and start learning how
to push around data in databases.

Gary Vaynerchuk says he built a database of everyone who tweeted about him. That seems to be a good place to start. Do you know who is tweeting about you or your competitors? If you don’t, then you need to get there and get there
fast (in my industry we already have teams of people and specially-written software to do that, so I have to be far more
advanced than that to keep ahead).

GL:What outcome do you see for communicators who can’t/won’t learn data analysis?

RS: When we wrote Naked Conversations eight years ago we predicted a world where marketers would have to be on social media otherwise they would limit their career opportunities. That absolutely has happened today. The best marketers are on social media and/or run teams that do it.

Tomorrow? If you don’t know your customer in very deep detail you will be run out of the marketing world. Why? Because customers will tend to go to where they are being served better. Uber will beat taxis unless taxis respond. Why? Uber knows its customers in far deeper detail than taxi companies do (down to the point of knowing where you are standing
in the street before they arrive).

GL:You touched on the importance of permission in the 12th chapter on privacy. What’s the future of permission?

RS: I look at Uber. I gave it permission to know a LOT about me, even where I’m standing and my phone number. Why? Because I get a LOT of utility out of that. So, the future is “give utility first, then ask
for permission.” In the book Marc Andreessen calls this “free ice cream.” People will hand over their private details in exchange for a metaphorical free ice cream. I agree.

GL:I remember giving the DNC permission to email me, and I still get spammed despite opting out from their lists numerous times. Is giving permission really just the death of “quiet?”

RS: Google and Apple are working on contextual operating systems. These will know what you are doing. Who you are doing it with. Are you in a meeting? Google knows, it’s on your calendar. So it can shut up any of these lame advertisements. In fact, look at the new Gmail. That DNC email already is going to the promotional folder. It knows about the context of that email and that it’s not from a trusted friend. So, no, I think context is the rebirth of quiet. You’ll get these kinds of messages when you want or need them, not earlier.

Marketers will need to learn to be far better about serving these messages out, too. In a perfect world the DNC would add a feature to its emails like Facebook has “show fewer of these messages” or “show these messages only during
the month before an election” or something like that. But marketers don’t think about customer service so Google will force the issue, just as it has with Gmail’s promotional folder that removes this kind of stuff from the inbox.

GL:What about algorithms? What happens if someone is “abnormal” and breaks the routine assumptions of an algorithm. Will they break the machines, so to speak? Will they be forced to conform to an algorithmic path?

RS: The system is crude right now. It won’t work for everyone. My son is autistic. He isn’t able to give these systems enough of a pattern for them really to serve him. Well, I take that back. He already loves YouTube and Netflix and both keep serving him more videos that are associated with the ones he already likes. He loves that feature.

I don’t see these things “breaking.” I do see them as serving back poor choices. For instance, when using Saga last year, it kept telling me about golf services. Why? I live on a golf course but I hate golf. It didn’t have a way to correct it. These early attempts will seem quite quaint in a few years. The better ones are correctable. I’m also finding that I’m changing MY behavior because of these systems.

Why? I put addresses on all my Google Calendar items now, for instance. That’s because the newer apps like Google Now and Tempo work better when I do that.

GL:Is the ultimate luxury of the future going dark?

RS: The ultimate luxury of the future is to have exclusive experiences that demand your full attention. Burning Man is one that a lot of my rich friends say is pretty great. High demand sports like skiing or surfing are others (try skiing while looking at your smartphone or even the wearable computer in your Oakley ski goggles — I’ve tried and it’s impossible, but once the run is down everyone reaches for their digital devices).

Even with Burning Man I noticed that lots of people were using Waze to get up there and using photo sharing services and social networks to keep in touch back home, even though far lighter than usual.

But, yes, a real “vacation” for your mind is to go dark and discover new experiences. Once you get home, though, you’ll retrain your contextual systems pretty quickly. Say you go to Bali for three weeks. Try a lot of new food. Discover you like sushi. Well, when you get home you will start looking for sushi restaurants.

GL:What do you think the impact will be on thinking? Will we be limited because the machine suggests outcomes for us?

RS: Do you remember phone numbers anymore? I don’t. Our thinking has already been changed by modern machines. In the future we will have to remember less of even more things in our lives. Even how to drive. But
that will give us more time to spend our mental energy on other things. Maybe watch another TED video and learn something new? So, I’m not worried that we’ll get to be dumb. We’ll use these technologies to make our lives better and we’ll spend our mental energies in areas the machines aren’t good at.

This interview originally ran on the Vocus blog.

The Permission Trap

After reading the Age of Context (read my review here), I could not help but think about how this era is removing most concepts of privacy. In turn, it is causing an incredible amount of intrusive spam. A tension builds between brands who market to the niche, and consumers who unwittingly gave them permission to do so.

The Age of Context theorizes that successful companies will need to taper their shotgun approaches to marketing. I admired Robert Scoble and Shel Israel‘s hope, but at the same time I had my doubts.

Then I interviewed Robert. He made some interesting comments about filters possibly resolving invasive marketing, and providing an end ceaseless spamming.

Before diving in further, let’s discuss the permission trap.

Permission Abused

Most companies and nonprofits don’t care about permission marketing. When individuals sign up for a list, it’s an exchange for a free piece of content or another one time transaction. Permission also assumes the ability to unsubscribe.

If an organization’s ensuing outreach is so annoying that you feel compelled to unsubscribe or remove yourself from said list, then that means remove. The moment an organization fails to obey an unsubscribe request, it becomes a spammer. But organizations will gladly sacrifice good will for a 2% growth transaction rate.

This is the permission trap. Someone gives a company permission in exchange for free content or a deal, and then receives unwanted spam for the rest of their email account’s or phone number’s life.

Even as media and data allow brands to become more precision oriented, I see the trap holding steady. And that means spam not only on the dektop, but on all media devices.

I have given money to the DNC during the past two presidential elections, only to find myself added to an unbelievable amount of Democratic email lists and the occasional phone call. No matter how many times I unsubscribed, I found myself continuing to receive emails. After years of hitting remove, I still get the periodic Democratic email. Al Franken has been by far the worst of the lot, with the Obamas a close second.

The political example highlights my point, but I have had the same experience with many companies. Unfortunately, because there is so little choice when it comes to political parties, I am likely to donate again. That means I will be ceaselessly spammed for the rest of my life, even though I would do so without prompting.

One would think that yielding results in the single percentages isn’t worth the negative equity and bad word of mouth. But tell that to corporate leaders, investors, owners and Wall Street who all need or want to deliver maximum ROI.

Until there are enough alternatives out for customers, we’re screwed. In this new era of contextual media driven by automation, pinpoint marketing and permission, most companies won’t do the right thing. They’ll still damn the 98% of uninterested stakeholders for that two percent who buy.

Can Filters Combat Spam?

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I took the opportunity to ask Robert about this issue in my interview, “I remember giving the DNC permission to email me, and I still get spammed despite opting out from their lists numerous times. Is giving permission really just the death of “quiet?”

His answer was insightful, “Google and Apple are working on contextual operating systems. These will know what you are doing. Who you are doing it with. Are you in a meeting? Google knows, it’s on your calendar. So it can shut up any of these lame advertisements.

“In fact, look at the new Gmail. That DNC email already is going to the promotional folder. It knows about the context of that email and that it’s not from a trusted friend. So, no, I think context is the rebirth of quiet.

“You’ll get these kinds of messages when you want or need them, not earlier. Marketers will need to learn to be far better about serving these messages out, too. In a perfect world the DNC would add a feature to its emails like Facebook has “show fewer of these messages” or “show these messages only during the month before an election” or something like that. But marketers don’t think about customer service so Google will force the issue, just as it has with Gmail’s promotional folder that removes this kind of stuff from the inbox.”

Robert brings up a good point. Soon filters will get more powerful and smarter, allowing us to block specific types of conversations and keywords. To some extent these filters already exist.

For example, you can filter email by keywords. I have a special folder for Google+ updates (that I almost never look in). Other filters include the ability to mute people and conversation topics (such as presidential elections, please?).

Once algorithmic intelligence picks up on preferences, we can expect to see filtering happen wholesale. It’s likely a tug of war will occur with marketers figuring out loopholes around filters, and software providers developing new protection mechanisms. And one can expect all sorts of filtering mistakes, too. For example, I might want to read my client’s Google+ emails but can’t because of the filter.

Perhaps we will reach a point where it is just easier for brands to garner permission, and treat customers well. Wouldn’t that be grand?

What do you think?

Featured Image by WhatWhat, Scoble pic by NEXT 13.

Robert Scoble Discusses Women In Tech

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Following up from the joint blog post, “Why Tech Already Has Women…” co-authored with Danny Brown, noted tech blogger Robert Scoble felt the critical remarks in the post were unfair. After discussion and sharing our source material, he agreed to answer five questions and clarify his views. Thank you, Robert, for addressing this criticism directly, and for taking the time to answer these questions.

Q: Please state your opinion on these statistics: 40% of U.S. companies are started by women, but only 10% of VC backed companies are led by women. This is in spite of statistics that show: Women-run tech startups generate more revenue per invested capital and fail less then those led by men, according to New York Entrepreneur Week. “Companies, including information technology, with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66%,” according to research by Catalyst. Making matters worse, Silicon Valley seems to be contracting on minority and women leadership. Why is this happening?

Scoble: I focus on fact #3 in Why Men Get VC Money and Women Don’t... and the thing that I’ve noticed is that people who are technical get ahead in Silicon Valley (and in China or India or Israel, for that matter). The problem is that we’re graduating fewer women in Computer Science than ever before and THAT is the #1 problem we need to take on. And let’s not even talk about other traditional minorities. There the story is even worse.

There are a number of reasons for that, but #1 is happening in our engineering schools. If women continue to choose non-tech careers this problem will continue no matter how much we yell and scream about it.

The other things are definitely influences we need to pay attention to.

But let’s go back to 2001. I held an open-to-the-public dinner for bloggers. Nearly everyone in the industry showed up, but only two women did. This was an open-to-the-public dinner, not some private boys club. In that small room at Dana Street Coffee were also Biz Stone and Ev Williams, but also Mena Trott, co-founder of SixApart. Also Dave Winer. Brad Fitzpatrick. And lots of others who went onto great careers. This was the event that if you were there, you got access to people who went onto change the world. But mostly men were there. Can we change that? I don’t know how, especially when the numbers of women coming out of college just aren’t high enough.

Q: From remarks you made in the Facebook Group Tech Leaders and Influencers (Nov. 20 and 21) it’s clear that opportunities like O’Reilly conferences and your interview series are not interested in highlighting women unless they are CEOs of hot startups, currently . Yet you admittedly say, “What I do is the feeding system for conferences like the O’Reilly one” and in your words exactly, ‘I am not willing to overrepresent one group just to fix this problem.” How can women succeed in tech if the conferences, media and bloggers don’t give potential CEOs an opportunity to shine?

Scoble: I didn’t realize that succeeding in tech required conferences, media, or bloggers? Instagr.am, done by two guys, has been very successful and would have been successful without any of that. They didn’t announce their product on stage. I never knew about them before they showed me their product (and I didn’t write much about it the first few days, yeah they got into Techcrunch but they would have been successful anyway — many apps get successful without being in the blogs. GroupOn’s CEO said he even avoided blogs and conferences and he built a company with a value of billions in 18 months.)

So, I challenge your assertion. Conferences usually REWARD success. Look at SXSW. Does anyone get on stage BEFORE they build a world-changing company? No way.

My show? It’s a bit different. I’m looking for new companies that no one has heard of before. But that means talking to the founder or the CEO. Why? Because they are the ones responsible for the vision of the company and that’s what I want to talk about. I’m not a show about the janitorial staff. Or the marketing department. Or the accountants. I want to understand how the company is going to change the world. Only one person should speak about that on behalf of a company: the CEO and founders. Now, sometimes they bring others along to help explain their vision. A high tech company might bring along an engineer, for instance, to further explain the technology in a chip, or something else.

Q: If a woman is employed in a tech company, but is not a CEO or not a programmer does that make her any less a member of the industry or qualified to talk about the business of technology?

Scoble: Yes. The CEO or founder is the keeper of the vision and has the best view of the business. No one else does. It’s why I don’t speak for Rackspace very often. That’s the CEO’s job.

Q: When suggestions in the aforementioned Facebook thread were made about how you can help women in tech, you said, “To be honest, though, I am not that interested about the topic… I’d rather interview the few women that are running companies.” Totally understand this. As a blogger and entrepreneur, it’s hard to get told what to write or do. Given the time that has lapsed since the thread, have you decided to do anything in the immediate future above your current content direction to help women in tech?

Scoble: Yeah, since that thread happened I started a party series to help networking happen (it’s private and small, but 70 people showed up to the second one) and I’m doing that with two women and we’re working to keep the gender mix as equal as possible. Also, there are other groups I’m involved with who are bringing women and men together for better networking.

I’m looking for what I can do in education, too. I have two young sons and our education system sucks, even for boys, so this will be something I’ll spend more time on.

Q: What are your suggestions to better the glass ceiling in the technology sector?

Scoble: Promote better role models for women (I’m always looking for great CEOs. Look at Victoria Ransom, for instance. She’s doing great). By the way, we’ve had women CEOs at HP, eBay, and Yahoo, so I don’t think the problem is a glass ceiling. It’s more nasty than that. Many of the men in this industry treat women with disdain. Just look at the comments on some of the YouTube videos with women in them. Solving that problem is something above my pay grade, although I try to fight those attitudes when I see them.

By the way, one way I am helping is being open to all. I’m sharing a car ride down to CES with an influential woman in Silicon Valley (she runs a fabulous networking event here) and that happened because I put my phone number on my blog (it’s +1-425-205-1921 ) and my email is scobleizer@gmail.com — I’m looking for companies who are building world-changing technology and hope more and more of those in the future will be done by women.

About Robert Scoble

Cited from Wikipedia: Robert Scoble (born January 18, 1965) is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. Scoble is best known for his blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technology evangelist at Microsoft. He currently works for Rackspace and the Rackspace sponsored community site Building 43. He previously worked for Fast Company as a video blogger. He is also the co-author of Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers with Shel Israel.

The El Show Episode #2: Trolls and More!

Warning: There’s significant profanity in this podcast.

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Richard Laermer and I hosted our second show today. The El Show (follow us on Twitter) was a wee bit outrageous today, focusing on:

Trolls

  1. Loren Feldman and his Puppets
  2. Michael Arrington and his Libel Suit
  3. Amanda Chapel – Hottie bombalody troll
  4. Us as Trolls

Tr.im/Friendfeed

Mass markets without newspapers

Scoble’s mass unfollowing

Socializing content – It doesn’t mean anything.  Now it means get slimed! Nothing social about it

GI Joe

Download and/or listen to the El Show today.