Girl Geeking, Not Bra Burning

Last week my eyes were opened to a little world sustained by events called Girl Geek Dinners.

bostongirlgeekAt first, I was intrigued:

Girl? Why, yes.

Geek? On my good days.

Dinner? I eat.

So, I had to go.

The Boston chapter gathered for an evening sponsored by HubSpot and hosted by The Brahmin on Tuesday, December 3rd from 5:30pm-8:30pm EST. In true geek fashion, I arrived on time, or, socially speaking, too early.

Listen, I know we all love to hate networking. But my level of networking averseness extends beyond a phobia of small-talk with strangers. Put me in a room with my closest friends and tell me I have to talk about “what I’m doing right now” or “my interests” and I’m running to the nearest exit.

Which is why I was floored to find myself having actual, unfeigned fun at the Boston Girl Geek Dinner (BGGD). And sure, this may be the point, but lately I’ve attended some events (I won’t name them!) that failed miserably in accomplishing what it is they set out to do.

So why was last week’s BGGD a sold-out hit and why is the organization gaining speed? Well, after speaking to co-organizer Rachel Murray (Green Bee Web Consulting), it appears that it’s BGGD’s fluid (though contained) definition of its target audience and purpose that is making it a growing success.

Events often feel forced because people are told exactly who should attend and what they should be discussing/watching/doing. According to Murray, the target BGGD attendee is, “a woman who wants to interact with other women who love talking about anything from Game of Thrones to where they got their cute sweater.”

Boston and Cambridge are cities filled with new ideas, budding industries and motivated people. “There are networking groups that are focused on tech, those that are involved in startups, those that are tech startup focused, and women’s groups as well,” continued Murray over email. “We’re a bit more niche in that we’re not specifically ‘tech’ nor are we startup-focused, any self-identified female geek is welcome.” In other words, their niche is not having a niche.

I can vouch for this. During my two hours there I met a motley crew of women. One started a freelancing job that very morning. Another had just graduated. While yet others had their hands in multiple start-ups or were CEOs of their own ventures.

Murray put it well when she said, “It’s about bonding over commonalities first. If relationships form from that, then great.”

But all of this leaves me wondering: why does an organization have to be female-only in order to achieve these things? After some thought, I believe the answer may lie less in gender (or feminism) and more in the fact that BGGD has called upon something other than what people “do” to unite them.

“I think it’s important for women to have a safe environment where we can feel no judgment about anything we want to talk about… because it’s really about carving a personal space for us,” reflected Murray.

The “Girl” is what makes it personal; the “Geek” is what made it fun.

Now a global organization that began in London in 2005, Girl Geek Dinners began a Boston chapter in 2008. It started as a series of small dinners planned around Boston and Cambridge then faded away for a bit before picking back up again with an event this past June, sponsored by VMware.

With the help of event platforms such as Eventbrite, Connect and VentureFizz, BGGD has grown organically since June and more companies have reached out to sponsor and host events. A small ticket fee ($5) has been added to promote attendance. All proceeds go to Science Club for Girls, a local organization that helps to educate girls in STEM.

For more information on upcoming events or how to become a sponsor, please visit: http://www.bostongirlgeeks.com/

Long live long form

Long form content

With every cyclical web trend, there’s an equal and opposite re-trend. The latest: publishers, entertainers, and content creators diving full force into long-form content… and mobile and design have a lot to do with it.

Mobile, the heavyweight champion

We often hear people say, “no one would ever want to do that on mobile!” for a variety of reasons and assumptions.

News flash: a rapidly growing percentage of the population uses mobile for nearly their entire internet experience. At An Event Apart Boston, Karen McGrane shared that approximately 31 percent of Americans who use their mobile phones to go online only or mostly access the internet from their phones.

In other words, internet and mobile go hand-in-hand, and for these users, they expect a full web experience on their version of the internet – a mobile device.

Part of that full web experience moves away from the immediacy of mobile and the necessity for short bursts of information. Many mobile users rely on their device to read books, watch movies, and engage in other time-intensive activities. Long-form content can and will have a place on mobile. “There’s no such thing as ‘how to write for mobile,'” says McGrane. “There’s just good writing.”

Beautiful examples

When content developers and designers work together, beautiful long-form designs emerge. Much like a magazine feature, these long-form pieces of content utilize layout and visuals to enhance the story. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Trent Walton: The founder of Paravel, Trent’s blog posts utilize small illustrations and basic art direction to enhance his content. Even simple implementations of design can help with long-form posts.
  • The Dissolve: A new film web site from Pitchfork. President Chris Kaskie says “At the end of the day, our goal will be to redefine how people read long-form magazine publications on the Internet.” Keep an eye on this one!

HB and long-form content

In the coming months, we’ll launch a new section on www.hbagency.com, called “Features.” We’ll use our typical blog topics but give special attention to longer pieces of content that warrant a unique look. We’ll start with custom art and typography with sights set on immersive experiences including video. We’re in this for the long run.

To be 13 again…

Floating Cars

In honor of 2013, HB is introducing “Blog the 13th.” That’s right! On the 13th of every month, we’ll share a special post with you (we promise it’s not as scary as Friday the 13th).

I recently sat down with my 13 year-old son, Johnathan, to get his perspective on technology. I was looking for some riveting, insightful and potentially surprising answers about what he likes, expects, and desires from technology. I was “shocked” at the complexity and detail of his answers… well, I guess I wasn’t terribly surprised, so I went to my 15 year-old daughter, Jane, for backup.

Q: What do you find the most engaging and contagious technology?

John: Cell phone. Why? Talk to friends and play games. And go on social networks… I guess. What social networks? Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. They’re kind of addicting.

Riveting.

Jane: Twitter. Why? It has so many updates and I can follow people that I want (it’s selective) and they can follow me without me HAVING to follow them. Everyone uses it. What do you use it for? Basic life updates and sometimes texting in real time back and forth. I don’t do it that much because I don’t want to flood the twitter feed.

Q: If you had an app that could do anything, what would it do?

John: I don’t know.

Captivating.

Jane: It would learn everything about me and give me advice about anything I ask it. Totally personal to me.

Q: What do you think technology will do for you in 10 years?

John: I think it will be faster, lighter and more mobile. What do you mean? Smaller. I don’t know… floating cars.

Floating cars?

Jane: I think technology will be used even more in schools and throughout our lives. Touch screens and connected technologies to control everything in the house, my car, my life… from anywhere at any time.

Q: What would you do without technology?

John: Basketball. No, I mean what would you do without “technology”? Basketball.

Oh boy.

Jane: I grew up with technology so I have no idea what it would be like without it… read more. Play more board and card games. Have to find more ancient ways of communication. It would be less social because everyone would be less connected. Technology gives me access to other people’s lives.

“Ancient technologies”? I feel old.

These kids have far less wonderment about technology than people who didn’t have it growing up. It’s simply an ordinary part of their lives. Does that commonplace attitude forecast more innovation or less? As Jane says, we’re moving to a world where everything – and everyone – is connected. What will the world look like then? How will communications look? Will our books and libraries and keys to open doors and more everyday life staples become “ancient”? Is the future really “floating cars”? Maybe. Regardless, technology is an ever-changing, captivating and awesome part of our lives.

Burst the bubble: discover something new

UnPanel

At last week’s UnPanel at FutureM, the topic of discovery dominated the conversation. In a marketing world with strong social ties, folks shared their thoughts on today’s discovery tools – specifically how people find new music.

Spotify, iTunes, and other music services offer their versions of new music through “related artists” tools. A user might also find “listeners also bought” lists. These form our social “bubbles,” or groups of people with seemingly similar tastes, likes, and lifestyles.

The simple theory: like-minded listeners may also like similar artists, albums, or songs. That’s how we find “new” music. Seems simple enough, right?

Seriously, what is new?

HB’s CEO, Nicolas Boillot, raised an interesting point during the UnPanel discussion:

“How do we reach folks outside the bubble?”

In the world of music sharing, it’s not an easy task. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of music fans who would buy an album… but may never come in contact with the artist through their music service.

So is this considered “new” music? Does the definition require that the first introduction to the music be random and not through a recommendation?

Marketing to the new

Here’s the challenge: You need to market to groups that may be in your target audience but have yet to be reached. So what strategies will help deliver key messages?

  • New language: marketers can try reaching a “new” group through different words or key phrases. One group may like affordability while another like reliability.
  • An inch deep and a mile wide: cast the net wider but with more general tactics. Try promoting a product’s value – not necessarily that it’s up to certain technological standards.
  • Go old school: the delivery mechanism provides alternatives. Just because you’re offering a digital product doesn’t mean the marketing needs to be digital. How about a tried-and-true three-dimensional direct mailer?

To go beyond the bubble – to the true new audiences – we must be willing to try new tactics. The language, style, and delivery mechanism are only a few alternative solutions.

Reaching outside the bubble is possible… it just requires a “new” way of thinking.

What is the correct mobile strategy?

Responsive Design and App Development

Wearing a suit not required while using a mobile device.

Luke Wroblewski, author of “Mobile First,” makes the case that all Web sites should be designed for mobile before any other device or screen. The explosive growth in mobile web browsing calls for this sort of strategy for most projects.

However, several strategies and technologies exist for the development of your mobile site plan. Which one will work best?

Apps

The word of the year in 2010, the “app” became synonymous with mobile computing. Entire companies, like Zynga, built their empire on app development. Apps require custom development per platform (iOS and Android), but provide the user with a focused experience: their entire screen is dedicated to only one task.

Apps also offer financial growth opportunities through the iTunes Store or Android Market. If you’re a consumer-driven company, especially one with multiple locations, creating your own app is essential. The app should provide a simple, engaging experience for the user that provides the most meaningful information first. For example, a restaurant’s app should make their hours of operation, address, and menu available as easily as possible.

Responsive Design

The latest in design strategies, responsive design creates a mobile-specific web experience from your existing “desktop” site. The mobile browser relies on CSS media queries that call for a set of design rules based on the width of a device or browser window. This strategy does not require much custom development – only knowledge of CSS and an attention to detail.

Users would visit your website through their mobile browser and experience something different from the traditional desktop site. Responsive design also allows for custom queries for devices like the iPad. Instead of developing your app for several different devices, you can simply write a different set of CSS rules for specific browser window widths. As with apps, mobile web sites should also display the most important information to the user. Small businesses would gain much from using responsive design – it might not make sense to develop an app, but providing a mobile experience remains paramount.

Let’s do both!

It’s not uncommon to create both a responsive site and an app for a company. In our restaurant example, the responsive site might offer the hours, address, and menu, while a custom app focuses solely on nutritional recommendations.

In the end, responsive design and app development offer myriad opportunities to businesses. Regardless of the strategy used, owning a mobile strategy is critical to any company’s online branding and development.

Are data and measurement overrated?

Design and market trends operate in cycles – what was popular in the 1980s will most likely resurface (watch out for those acid wash jeans!).

The latest trend concerns big data and measurement. How many Twitter followers do you have? How long does a user spend on a web page? How many times was your article shared? Entire companies and products grew out of this trend – Google Analytics and Radian6 lead the way in analysis of web site and brand traffic.

Are these trends overrated?

Of late, there’s been a push-back amongst marketers and designers to rely less on digital statistics and more on human emotion. Aarron Walter, user experience design lead for MailChimp, recently published “Designing for Emotion,” a book that uses psychology and common sense to create human connections via design.

Likewise, there’s a famous quote from internet marketer Gary Vaynerchuk, saying “What’s the ROI of your mother?” in response to a question from a CMO. (Strangely, we now know the answer).

Art & science

Increasingly, marketing and design choices are coming from what feels right rather than a list of numbers. The sentiment was echoed in Walter’s latest e-newsletter, On My Mind.

Great design starts with an opinion, and a personal perspective. It’s not born from a metric-sh*t-ton of data but by principles you define and trusting your gut. That’s not to say there’s no room for listening to customer feedback to correct mistakes or discover ways to improve. It’s something I do everyday with my team. But that process needs to follow design vision, not direct it.

Walter’s point matches that of HB’s: data must work alongside design decisions to result in the best user experience. Finding the balance between art and science provides the key to a successful online solution.

Print Lives and Other Content Marketing Trends

Companies are realizing the power of creating and sharing “unedited” messages through channels that more directly reach their consumers, the need to infuse a strategy to support these branded content opportunities. We’re in a content marketing renaissance; HB suggests paying attention to the following trends:

  • Integrated marketing is back with a vengeance (and PR is part of it): Companies are choosing to work with firms that embrace and incorporate video, design, content marketing, search (SEO and SEM) and other creative tactics, coupling those efforts with public relations programs.
  • Video spreads like… a virus? Video is compelling, and websites and social networks now show and share video seamlessly. Companies are creating video at record levels, but not all video is good or accomplishes its intended goals. Successful videos tell good stories and move audiences to specific thoughts or behaviors.
  • Curation is not just for museums: Content curation is old school for the social media vanguard, but it is a new focal point for companies looking to develop independent “content centers” on their websites. These news and information centers can drive search, serve as educational portals and fill in the gaps between earned media (media coverage) and paid media (advertising).
  • Corporate journalists are in demand: Even the best executive blog posts can’t match the stories that trained journalists create. Larger companies have already started hiring journalists to frame their marketplace, share their information and define their industries through regular, in-depth reporting. This trend will continue as companies see the value in the independent and/or marketing content that staff journalists deliver.
  • TV is, well, TV: Broadcast outlets, television and radio, still aren’t capturing meaningful audience share to their websites. Master content creators for TV and radio continue to share redundant information through their websites, social media and branded content, ignoring the web’s major differences and opportunities.
  • Content marketing is seeing resurgence in college curricula: There is more hand-on classroom learning and internship opportunity for the next generation of content marketers. We hear about through our great interns and see it reflected in the online presence and savvy of new grads.
  • Content marketing budgets are increasing: According to a survey by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, 60 percent of companies are increasing content marketing budgets this year.
  • White papers are evolving: Moving beyond static, lengthy and dry pages, white papers feature more digestible content, parsed out in smaller nuggets, supplemented and shared using social media. Video is emerging as a slicker, content-rich way to disseminate white paper findings and knowledge.
  • Print lives: Despite the troubles within the U.S. Postal Service and the dominance of digital, print marketing has reemerged as a tactile, creative and multidimensional way of sharing stories.
  • Trutho-Meters are getting better: Socially networked audiences waste no time in sharing both good and bad content. Fact-checking, sentiment-creation, good and bad experiences race across mobile channels at unprecedented speeds. This keeps content creators up at night, and rightly so. With audiences so networked and willing to communicate, successful organizations must maintain uncompromising standards of truth and integrity in their communication, all the while keeping their audience interaction rapid and genuine – sometimes a difficult balance.

Interested in reading more about these trends? Please visit the Global Business Hub blog on Boston.com for Mark O’Toole’s extended post.

Renting vs. owning: A shift in content consumption

A recent Google+ post from Jeremiah Owyang read:

“You for rent: I can rent your HOUSE with AirBnB. I can rent your CAR with GetAround. I can rent your TIME and EXPERTISE with taskrabbit, crowdflower. What else can we rent in the future? What’s left?”

Owyang focuses on a shift in user behavior over the past couple of years: people no longer require ownership of their content – just access to it.

That’s a long cry from Steve Jobs’s discussion surrounding the iTunes Music Store in 2007:

“People want to own their music.”

Only six years later, Apple now offers iTunes Match which allows users to stream their music from any device, assuming it’s purchased through iTunes or resides on a home machine. Similarly, Spotify offers a seemingly-endless supply of music to its customers for a monthly subscription fee.

On the tube

RentLikewise, the television and movie models are shifting their business model from ownership to rental. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon provide content consumption without taking up precious space on your hard drive.

Even production companies are joining the fun. Without “ownership” of a cable box, folks can watch many of their favorite shows via a web site or app. The episodes no longer reside on a machine; rather, users stream content over the internet with relatively little setup.

On the horizon

Back to Owyang. What’s next? Magazines have slowly joined the movement, offering digital subscriptions – but mainly when the customer already receives a print version of the publication.

Instead of content, it’s commodities and services that are sure to see an uptick in “rentals.” Could there be a subscription-fee model for airfare? Or how about automobile maintenance? Will the book industry move to this model to service the millions of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads across the globe?

What do you think will come next in this world of renting?

Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

The way we collaborate has changed dramatically in recent years, mostly due to innovations in technology. We now have computers, mobile phones, tablets, email, various forms of social media and countless other capabilities that allow us to collaborate with people not only in our immediate surroundings, but around the world.

With social media you can connect with someone you’ve never met, from a place you’ve never visited, almost instantly, something that was unheard of not too long ago.

But has technology only had a positive effect on the way we collaborate? Are we becoming too reliant on technology and losing the physical, human aspect in the way we work together?

We want you to tell us what you think. Two heads are better than one but does technology help enhance this theory? Take this quick survey and share how you collaborate with us.

Campus Technology – Non-Traditional Learning Galore

I joined Account Director Perrin McCormick at the Campus Technology Conference this week for a meeting with an editor and a look at what’s new in educational technology. A vast number of exhibits focused on non-traditional learning: technology to enable online courses, tracking, grading, audio/video, archiving and search.

Perrin at the Campus Technology Conference 2011

While there were some extraordinary displays of technology for the online world, the most memorable for me was a fairly simple concept from Sony, which could be used in the office or classroom. The positioning statement (or question, as in this case) says it all: “What turns any wall anywhere into an interactive whiteboard?” To make it happen, Sony combines a laptop, a projector and an eBeam Edge to create an interactive whiteboard as large as 5’x9′.

How often have you wanted to add notes to your PowerPoint presentation in the moment and visible to all? Now, without touching the computer, you can tap a projected icon, start writing or drawing and your annotations appear right in the presentation — and are saved as well. The next addition to the HB strategy room? Check it out.