IN-NW Shines Again

Analogue, Meet Digital

by Hanns-Peter Nagel

the Showbox, bursting with people and Twitter feeds Photo by Carolyn Higgins

The Showbox, bursting with people and Twitter feeds. (Photo: Carolyn Higgins)

If you think of it, tech conferences like (the excellent) IN-NW are behind the times. Why leave home when one can hear presentations and interact with experts via Google Hangouts (even the president does it). We can discuss, comment and share on Twitter or Facebook. We do networking on LinkedIn. We can do all this and more, yet more than 400 participants still got up early, braved Seattle traffic, and spent a day at the SODO Showbox listenting to presentations and panel discussion.

Sure, the assembled crowd twittered up a storm (check our Flip Twitter feed for an example) and second screening was second nature. But we went there for an experience, to meet other people, have conversations, and bring back stories to tell.

Brands face a similiar dilemma and several conference speakers pointed it out. Brands increasingly live on social media —Coca-Cola just declared the death of the corporate website–but to truly connect with customers they have to offer an authentic experience (buzzword alarm!). “As brands we need to be genuine and connect directly with the audience,” said Emily Agerton, Senior Brand Manager at LifeWise Healthplan of Washington. Aaron Blank, President of the Fearey Group even went a step further and illustrated his point of providing experiences as the key to social media success by picking four people from the crowd to get up on stage for some extra limelight.

Despite some great examples presented at the conference, this will be the challenge: how to create content that transcends its social media existence and touches us beyond our many screens.

Engagement: Keeping it Real

by Carolyn Higgins

Google's Amit Fulay  (Photo: Carolyn Higgins)

Google’s Amit Fulay (Photo: Carolyn Higgins)

This year’s IN-NW conference – the third – lobbed a satisfying mix of presentations and panel discussions to a packed room. The assembled marketers, techies, designers, and students responded enthusiastically. But then, we were being engaged by experts.

Google’s Amit Fulay kicked off the morning with his observations about engagement strategy. It definitely does not come down to a pat number, he told the crowd. “Katie Couric measures engagement as an interaction with one of her fans,” he said. “It could be a conversation that happens over Twitter, or a blog post.”

The Content Marketing panel – moderated by Weber Shandwick‘s Ryan Hodgson and consisting of King 5‘s Mark Briggs, Weber Shandwick’s Jason Kaufman and LifeWise Health Plan of Washington’s Emily Agerton – carried the theme of authenticity farther, with Agerton, health industry marketing expert, cautioning against heavy-handed content creation. “You need to be careful not to be so overt that you undermine the authenticity of the brand or discredit the trust of your market,” she said.

Briggs underscored the point. “Nowadays, marketing of our content is as important as producing that content,” he told the throng. Additionally, television is changing, and as social media becomes more common, its corporate practitioners are becoming more sophisticated and strategic in its use. King5, for instance, is developing a mobile app that stands on its own rather than simply providing a portal on a mobile device to access the same content users would find on the King 5 website.

author Rob Salkowitz Photo by Carolyn Higgins

Author Rob Salkowitz (Photo: Carolyn Higgins)

Everyone knows that Millenniala are true digital natives, and local performer, writer, and producer Hollis carries that digital élan into marketing her music and other content. Her enthusiasm – and her energy – were infectious.

MediaPlant‘s Rob Salkowitz, author, Communications Leadership instructor, and consultant, had news for those in the audience who might think that they have left comics behind in some earlier developmental phase. Comics, asserted Salkowitz, offer a compelling way for content creators to present messaging. Graphic novels have their place in great literature, he said, pointing out the somber Maus as an example.

All of this provided an excellent lead-in for Killer Infographics’ Amy Balliett, who used her own communications genre to show the power of visual messaging. If her listeners were nonplussed to hear that they have a smaller attention span than a goldfish, they got over it quickly and accepted the implication that this finding has for capturing a human audience: find a way to hook them in under eight seconds. And say it with pictures.

What do a police department PR chief and two disruptive entrepreneurs have in common? A great deal, as the audience saw during the Social Innovation panel of SPD‘s Sean Whitcomb, Uber‘s Travis Wals and Lively‘s Geoff Walker. All have used social media to bring a sense of community to their respective communities. Whether those communities are citizens feeling distant from the police in their city, people looking for more responsive taxi service, or music lovers, the principles are the same: authenticity and openness.

Local ad agency (and IN-NW cosponsor) 206inc.com fielded a panel of their own experts – D.J. Weidner, Katie D’Amato and Mark Dyce to talk about the options available for marketing and strategy for smaller budgets. Ingenuity doesn’t have to be costly, and small budgets can still produce great results, they insist.

Aaron Blank gave audience members a chance to create their own experience, and four of them were invited to do so on stage. “There are people here who would like to hire you,” he told the impromptu panel. “What’s your 90-second pitch?”

The day was capped by the Seattle Art Museum’s Sandra Jackson-Dumont, who in her words, is out to “connect art to life”. Through social media tools, she has engaged with the people of Seattle to form a vibrant art community. Her super-charged presentation ranged far afield, showing images of her heroes in politics, music and art from as far back as the 60’s. Her conversation with the audience was about artists and the great moments they create, and using that same commitment to create other “you had to be there” moments. “I’m an advocate for both analogue and digital – take me back! But I’m also excited about the new media and what it can do,” she told the crowd.

The event was emcee’d by the University of Washington‘s Hanson Hosein, head of the Communication Leadership program. The event was structured to allow attendees to engage with leaders in the communications field and with each other, he pointed out. The large, chatty crowd who stayed for the post-event happy hour did exactly that.

IN-NW 2015, the bar has been lifted.

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