Social: IRL and Callahan Creek – Announcing a New Partnership

A personal announcement about the future of Social: IRL from agency principal, Ben Smith.

Social IRL Logo (large)Social: IRL launched in the summer of 2010, after I left the media industry in which I had worked for 10 years prior to that.

At the time, social media was reaching a point of acceptance as a serious business tool, but relatively few businesses were looking beyond its most obvious marketing function.

My goal with Social: IRL was to help businesses understand the true impact and potential of social media: engaging consumers throughout the journey from prospect to customer to advocate, and connecting and empowering employees and fostering innovation and collaboration. Also to help businesses move beyond their social marketing goals to aligning social media with higher-level corporate goals.

The “IRL” in the company name stands for “In Real Life,” reflecting a key belief that while it is an online media, the true potential with social is to sync online and offline communities to the point where they seamlessly overlap and co-exist, with a very tangible “real life” impact on individuals, businesses, organizations and communities.

Over the last three years, Social: IRL has been fortunate to work with a diverse group of national brands as well local and regional businesses. In addition to the client work, a key focus has been on education and advocacy. We developed a national conference series featuring acclaimed experts such as Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis and Jason Falls, in event formats going well beyond the typical keynotes, focused on providing attendees with depth of learning and practical takeaways that empower them to drive change within the organizations they represent. Most recently, we conducted a series of workshops that provided free in-depth training for over 700 nonprofit attendees within a six-month period.  On a personal level, I am also proud to serve on the Global Board of Directors of Social Media Club, a nonprofit organization focused on providing digital education and advocacy through a network of more than 300 local chapters.

Much has changed in the three years since Social: IRL launched. The focus is less about channel or media-specific solutions, and more about overall consumer engagement and experience. It has progressed beyond social engagement to digital engagement, and ultimately simply “engagement.” All businesses must evolve to not only “do social” but to “be social.

Callahan Creek Logo LargeWith this imminent shift, I am excited to announce my new partnership with Callahan Creek, a full-service marketing agency that has spent the last 30 years working with national and regional specialty brands. As Callahan Creek’s social media director, I will help grow the agency’s social media service offerings and at the same time continue to build the Social: IRL business.

The challenges and opportunities for specialty brands are unique. Their products and services are distinctive, often more expensive and sometimes harder to find. Callahan Creek has developed an unparalleled understanding of those brands’ challenges and their unique customers: category enthusiasts. It has learned how to connect specialty brands with the passions of the category enthusiast and needs of the trade while crafting strategies and messages that help brands not simply engage those consumers, but grow them from enthusiasts to influential advocates.

Callahan Creek is headquartered in Lawrence, Kansas, with additional offices in Torrance, California, and additional staff onsite at several of the national brands they represent.

I’d encourage you to subscribe to their blog and weekly email updates for valuable brand insights, and to connect with them on Twitter and Facebook.

The partnership between Social: IRL and Callahan Creek will provide a true focus on integrated consumer engagement and experience.


Taking It Offline – A Recap of Recent Social: IRL Events, Plus Two Events To Attend This Week

It’s been a busy few months for Social: IRL. In addition to our regular client work and speaking engagements, we’ve been privileged to host and attend some great events.

Thanks to the support of our sponsors and speakers, who enable us to offer the event at no charge to attendees, we were able to continue our social media for nonprofits workshop series with additional events in Springfield and Kansas City. Since we started this workshop series back in May, over 450 nonprofit attendees have participated.  We just announced the next workshop for Jefferson City MO, on December 4, and are working to announce a final 2012 event date in St. Louis MO.

Becky McCray speaking in Lawrence KS

We also enjoyed hosting our good friend Becky McCray here in Lawrence KS, for Small Business Survival and the State of Now.  We’re looking forward to seeing Becky again later this week at the State of Now conference in Hutchinson KS.  If you aren’t familiar with the State of Now, formerly known as the 140 Conference, you can learn more from our interview with Becky and conference organizer and co-host Jeff Pulver.

In addition to our own events, we participated in some pretty amazing events hosted by Social: IRL sponsors and friends, including the Expion Social Business Summit in Raleigh NC, the Spredfast Social Summit in Austin TX, and Brian Solis’ Pivot Conference in New York City. Thank you to the event hosts, speakers and sponsors for the many incredible insights and valuable learning experiences.

This week we’ll be attending two local events  and would strongly encourage you to join us. In both instances the event organizers have given us discount codes to share, making registration a truly affordable and valuable investment.

The State of Now, Hutchinson KS, November 8: Expect to hear from dozens of great speakers from across the U.S. sharing stories of the personal and professional impact of social media and how the “state of now” is disrupting business, education, agriculture, media, celebrity, music, politics, public safety, and our culture. Presentations are all 10 or 15 minutes long, and PowerPoint is not allowed. Much like a Twitter message, speakers have to get to the point. It’s less of a “how-to” conference,  more of an idea conference.  Use promotion code friendofST12 and registration is just $40. Visit the event website to learn more and register.

Compute Midwest, Kansas City MO, November 9:  Learn about what’s next in technology – straight from eight tech leaders from companies like Google, Box, Github, Joyent, Dwolla, AgLocal and more. Hear the inspiring stories of these innovators who are building companies that change our life, our work & our business. Gain insight into their vision for the future, learn where technology is going and discover how Kansas City can capitalize on Google Fiber. Discount code SOCIALIRL for limited time 30% off regular conference ticket price. Discounted tickets are also available for startups, entrepreneurs, nonprofits & students.  Visit the event website to learn more and to register.

We spend a great deal of time online – learning, doing business, creating valuable networks and connections, and enhancing existing relationships.  But the value of these offline networking and learning opportunities can not be emphasized enough.  It’s part of our own business philosophy and even, of course, the IRL (In Real Life) in our business name.

Zena Weist Joins Expion Leadership Team

Those of us in the Kansas City area know Zena Weist as a founding member of the Kansas City Chapter of The Social Media Club, a great wife and mother, loyal Jayhawk, and  a passionate supporter of autism awareness.  Professionally we’ve admired her work leading digital and social teams at Sprint, Hallmark, Embarq and H&R Block. Most recently she was Vice President of Strategy with Edelman Digital Chicago.

Zena has also been a great supporter of Social: IRL and has attended and participated in a number of Social: IRL conferences.

We’re excited to share news of Zena’s latest career move, joining the leadership of social software company Expion.  Zena has joined as the firm’s Vice President of Strategy, and will report directly to Expion’s CEO, Peter Heffring.

“Zena has operational leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies and a solid reputation as an enterprise digital strategist, social media catalyst and brand thought leader,” said Peter Heffring. “As Vice President of Strategy, Zena will work with our clients and demonstrate how Expion’s platform can be utilized as a solution to specific organizational and market challenges they face today. With her experience, Zena brings industry-specific knowledge, and big brand experience that we will rely on to ensure Expion’s platform continues to be the leading social media management software solution for the world’s largest brands.”

“I’m excited to tap into Expion’s unparalleled combination of business intelligence and social media-based technologies to help evolve how brands interact with stakeholders in social channels,” said Zena, “and to empower brands to be more strategic in the digital arena.

Expion is also a Social: IRL partner, and we’re looking forward to the new opportunities this brings us to work directly with Zena and the Expion team.

Congratulations Zena and Expion on this exciting news.

You can also read Expion’s official press release here.

Spredfast – Helping Companies be Great at Social Media Management

We’re excited to welcome Spredfast as a new sponsor. In addition to being part of the Social: IRL conference series, they will also work with us closely over the coming months to provide valuable content and learning opportunities, and of course to share more about the powerful Spredfast social media management platform. Check out some of the white papers and social media best practice resources already available on the Spredfast website.

Spredfast was created to help companies “be great at social media management.” When the company was started in 2008, it was already clear how chaotic social media management could be. Since then, social has only gotten more important. It is now a primary channel for customer and market communications.  Spredfast SCRM, a software as a service (SaaS) solution, was first introduced in 2010 – combining listening, publishing, managing and measuring social activity all from one system for the first time. The idea of Social CRM became a reality for marketers.  Today, Spredfast works with companies and agencies of all shapes and sizes from around the world. The Spredfast Social CRM platform helps social media practitioners gain Social Advantage by monitoring, engaging, coordinating and integrating social media with one, robust application.

You can learn more about Spredfast on CrunchBase, by visiting their website, or by connecting with them on Twitter or Facebook.

Also, join Spredfast’s Director of Social Media Jordan Viator and Austin Lytle for one of their weekly webinars and learn how enterprises are using Spredfast to improve their social media programs.

We’re excited to partner with Spredfast and are pleased to welcome them as part of the Social: IRL community.

The concept and philosophy behind the Social: IRL conference series

I wanted to take a moment to share a little of the concept and philosophy behind the Social: IRL conference series.

From the day Social: IRL was launched, we adopted a philosophy of working with our clients, not simply for our clients. We believe in creating collaborative partnerships. Working with our clients to help them develop a true understanding of the social web and its impact on both their own operations and on their customers and community. To understand its impact on corporate culture and customer engagement. To identify opportunity and assess and protect against potential risks.  And to empower our clients with quality training, relevant knowledge, a business goals first approach to developing strategy, and tools and techniques needed for successful execution.

This is the exact same philosophy we extend to the Social: IRL conference series and I would hope anyone who has attended a Social: IRL event has experienced something pretty different from a “typical” conference.

Something we don’t believe in is the standard conference keynote. We don’t want attendees to simply come and listen, then leave inspired but not empowered.

We work with respected industry experts such as Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis, Sarah Evans and Jason Falls.  Those experts, our speakers for want of a better word, work with us to create events that go well beyond the typical keynote presentation and in to a very hands on learning experience. More of a boot camp format. An opportunity for each speaker to really impart knowledge in a much more in-depth fashion.

Each event has a limited number of attendees to allow our speakers to really work with their audience, not just talk to them, and to allow for quality interaction and a high level of accessibility.  And importantly to allow for a real day of progressive learning where attendees don’t just leave inspired but leave truly empowered with knowledge, understanding, tools and techniques.

Community and networking is also an important focus for our events. We strive to connect attendees online prior to each event, provide quality networking during the event, and encourage continued dialogue and ongoing relationships after the event. Our goal is for the conference to be the start of an ongoing conversation between attendees and for our attendees to continue networking and learning well after the event has ended. It has been incredibly rewarding to see ongoing Twitter conversations between attendees, and to see some very real relationships that have been formed from connections made at our events.

Finally, we also strive to make each event as affordable and accessible as possible. Obviously each event has a cost. That cost can be substantial. We are a business and need to cover costs and time and make a profit. But with each event that profit is very modest, especially considering the time commitment involved. We set registration fees to be just as affordable as we can make them. Those fees vary based on the expenses incurred in hosting each event. Typically the fees are substantially less than comparable events with the caliber of speaker we work with and hands on learning experience we strive to provide. We believe we are able to provide a great return on investment and really appreciate the number of attendees we see who attend multiple events to learn from different speakers.

Non-profit organizations and full time students always have discounted registration opportunities for our events, and whenever possible we award no-charge registrations to at least a couple of students.

That’s the basic concept. Taking top level industry experts, taking them beyond the typical keynote to create an in-depth learning experience, creating a community between attendees, and making each event as accessible and affordable as possible.

I’d welcome feedback from anyone who has attended a Social: IRL event or questions from those interested in future events.

And of course, thank you to the experts we work with who have embraced the more engaged format of event we create, and to all of you who have supported these events to date.

From blog to business. Introducing Social: IRL

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new business, Social: IRL, an exciting new chapter in my career and an opportunity to help businesses and organizations develop and implement comprehensive social and new media strategies that generate tangible results.

When I started this blog I had no idea of the changes that lay ahead. The blog was intended as a personal space to discuss my thoughts on social media and new online technologies. To have more of a personal perspective than my corporate blog at the World Company.

I joined the World Company in January 2000, soon after moving to Lawrence. Over the last ten years I’ve had opportunities to be involved in many unique and interesting projects in both the print and online divisions of the company.  The last twelve months were perhaps the most personally rewarding for me –  serving as social media manager, creating the company’s first dedicated social media department, and overseeing the company’s moves to integrate social media in to all aspects of its internal operations and external client services.

It was an exciting challenge to take a very forward thinking media operation with print, online, cable and broadcast television assets and look at how social media could be integrated across all divisions.  A lot of time was invested in educating management, developing strategies, creating a corporate social media policy and best practice guidelines, building in social tools, developing online communities, providing social media services to our advertising clients. We also worked closely with individual departments in developing strategies and providing ongoing training and support, one great success being with Sunflower Broadband who initially had some pretty vocal skeptics but now fully embrace social media as a powerful communications tool and do a tremendous job of providing service to their customers via Twitter.

I also enjoyed sharing my passion for social media through speaking engagements locally, regionally and nationally. It’s been great to see a number of people who attended presentations now actively engaged online. I was particularly pleased at the opportunity to work with the Suburban Newspapers of America organization, both helping them with their own social media efforts as well as speaking at their annual conference. I have a real desire to see changes in the media industry and for more publishers to truly embrace the shift from print to online, social and mobile.

Of course, another big highlight was Free State Social. I was fortunate that the World Company supported my vision for creating a major new social media event here in Lawrence, and allowed me to make that a reality in April 2010, with an event featuring Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Brogan, Sarah Evans, Gowalla co-founder Scott Raymond and other nationally acclaimed  social and new media experts.

After more than ten years with the World Company, I decided it was time to move on and go out on my own. It was a tough decision to leave, but it was the right decision. I feel like I am leaving on a high. I have a great relationship with the company and look forward to seeing what they do next. At the same time I’m excited for this next chapter in my career.

My new business, Social: IRL, will go live July 1.  I will be providing services to help businesses integrate social and new media in to all aspects of their daily operations. Not simply running Facebook pages or Twitter accounts or providing “social media consultancy”, but working with business and organizations at a much deeper level to find real solutions. To develop and implement comprehensive strategies and to generate tangible results.

I’ll also be doing work focusing on onlline-offline interaction and relationship building including brand engagement, community management, and social-based event marketing.

Education and outreach are also important to me, so expect to see more events. My first event is planned for September 2010, here in Lawrence, and will be a boot camp style event with Sarah Evans. Apart from all she is doing in the national spotlight, Sarah was one of our most popular speakers at Free State Social. I’m looking forward to welcoming Sarah back to Lawrence. Details of the event will be posted soon, or you can join my email list to get details sent to you.

And of course, I still have a real passion for the media industry I’ve spent the last ten years working in. I am a firm believer in the future role community news organizations have to play and have a real passion for developing social and new media strategies to help redefine their role in their communities and develop new opportunities for audience engagement. Also to explore new revenue streams through both online and social advertising and client services.

When I named my blog Social: IRL I explained, “Social: IRL stands for Social: In Real Life. The name reflects my belief that the real power of social media is in its ability to make a difference offline. To create online communities that impact the offline world around them. To create online engagements that have a tangible offline benefit to an individual, business, organization or community.”

That name and description worked perfectly for my new business so the name stuck.

This blog will transition to company wesbite ready for the July 1 launch. You can also connect with Social: IRL on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for our secure email list.

So here goes, I’m excited to see what the future holds and am truly grateful for all the advice, support and good wishes I have received in making the move from employee to business owner.