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Event: If You Build It, Will They Come? (Yeah.)

by Joe Loong on January 17, 2009

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In a couple of my previous entries, I referenced an event last week, If You Build It, Will They Come?, a look at how Frank Warren of PostSecret, and Rohit Bhargava, author of Personality Not Included, used social media tools to build communities and a measure of stardom around their now-successful blogs.

Event sponsors were Network Solutions and Johns Hopkins University – Montgomery County Campus, with support from marketing blogger Mayra Ruiz. The event was held at the JHU campus in Rockville, Maryland.

Here’s my event recap; there are few holes in my notes, so you can use the power of distributed social media to get a near-complete transcript of the interesting bits by looking for items tagged “#socstardom”, including photos, Twitter posts (don’t miss Mayra’s posts, @marketingmisfit), blog entries and more.

Here are some highlights. First, here’s Frank Warren:

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If you’re not familiar, PostSecret started as an art project a few years back. People mail Frank their secrets on postcards, and of the 1,000 he receives weekly, he chooses 20 that he posts every Sunday to the Web site.

PostSecret doesn’t follow the traditional blog model. It’s very minimalist — Frank doesn’t have commenting, archives, or ads on the site — nothing that would distract from the primary content (the secrets).

He acts as a curator for the content that people send him, and he hasn’t tried to guide the community that formed around the secrets, save by crafting the narrative that comes from choosing the 20 weekly cards.

Also, by posting only 20 secrets every Sunday, he enforces an artificial scarcity (by not including archives, he keeps people from gorging themselves on secrets — they can always buy one of the book collections), and he turns his weekly update into appointment programming.

Since the main PostSecret site is all about the secrets, a lot of the other community interaction you’d expect happens on related sites — PostSecretCommunity.com, the Facebook page and MySpace profile, each of which serves a different purpose.

Other observations from Frank:

* He used to see ebbs and flows of secrets, depending on media coverage, but now it’s a constant flow, so perhaps he’s reached media saturation.

* His biggest mistake: Not collecting e-mail addresses from visitors for the first 2 years, so he couldn’t keep them updated on new developments.

* He ends every week’s posting with a question, sees that controversy can be good, and incorporates interesting feedback into the posts to provide an example, as well as an incentive and notoriety for commenters.

Frank’s a tough act to follow (and apparently even worse to precede) but Rohit Bhargava was game:

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Rohit is a blogger from a more traditional mold, though he also has a book — Personality Not Included.  Some of his insights:

* When he posts, being useful is more important than anything — he doesn’t try to entertain or provoke thought; he uses a lot of lists

* He always thinks of potential posts in terms of titles (which he spends a lot of time thinking about.)

* One of the first techniques he used to build traffic and attention around his blog was writing posts that he thought influential people would find interesting, and sending them the posts.

* A popular early post was 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization. Instead of trying to become the “SMO guy”, he leveraged that traffic to blog what he really wanted to blog about (marketing stuff in general)

* He entered a presentation contest (winning an honorable mention) to get the attention of Guy Kawasaki, whom he got to write the foreword to his book.

* The main drivers of traffic to his blog early on were accidental and viral; now, they include Google, Twitter, and StumbleUpon. Also, getting a high percentage of traffic from e-mail forwards is great, because it shows people are e-mailing the links to others.

* In order to keep up with new social media platforms and tools, Rohit will sign up to try new things during boring conference calls. This keeps him current, as well as reserving his username. The next tier of tools are things he actually uses, like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. And he knew he was getting serious about Twitter when he found himself thinking before posting, “Is this worth a Twitter post?”

* An ideal blog week for him is 3 posts — the first posted by Monday at 1am (to catch international readers), with two more half-written posts that he finishes over the week.

Both talks were lively, as was the Q-and-A period. As I said, you can get a fuller feeling of the questions and content by searching for items tagged with “socstardom” (I’ll do a roundup post of these items later on).

Lastly, in terms of the event title — if you bring in speakers like Rohit and Frank — yes, people will come.

If you’ve got your own event writeup, thoughts on the speakers or photos you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.

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