May 2010 – Let’s meet IRL (in real life)

We are Making it Great with Phil Gerbyshak, at SOBCon in ChicagoOne of the best ways to figure out how to navigate the online social Web is to take your learning and exploration offline.

Of course, in a world of constrained budgets and compressed schedules, conference-hopping is probably not the best use of your time if it is only for the sake of racking up badges, swag bags and stacks of business cards that you’ll never look at again.

We go to conferences to learn, certainly, but also in large part because you can’t replace the warmth and understanding derived from genuine human contact.

Often less appreciated is the fact that online networking can pleasantly enhance face-to-face meetings at conferences. You feel as though you already know people, which is very helpful in those first awkward moments of walking into a crowded room during an event.

As we follow tourism events via Twitter hashtags, we see the thumbnail avatars of a growing cadre of social media-conversant tourism pros, but we’d like to see more attendee diversity (like CVB/DMO representatives) at tech conferences. Technology is for everyone, not just wired geeky types.  Many smaller conferences are already springing up to bring tech to all niches; here’s the Small Biz Social Media Summit in Hutchinson, Kansas in June (Becky is one of the speakers) or a recent gathering of entrepreneurs in Oklahoma.

The major advantage for you as a tourism person in attending a tech-focused event is that you will be immersed in a group that is using all kinds of social media tools (especially on mobile devices and smartphones) in ways you probably don’t expect.

Your organization cannot make really smart decisions about destination marketing in a digital world unless you’re really smart about how your visitors function in that world.

Bonus – you’ll also get to do some visitor prospecting and represent your destination to a bunch of smart, wired people.

Here are some of the conferences where you can be immersed in the future of communications and marketing….right now….today….

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*** WordCamps, worldwide, year-round.  Keep an eye on the WordCamp schedule, because these conferences are usually inexpensive and are held for the thousands of bloggers who use WordPress publishing software.

There are very advanced, geeky workshops during a Camp, but also plenty of speakers and offerings for those new to blogging and online content publishing.

*** 140 Character Conferences, worldwide, year-round.  Yes, it’s true. A conference all about Twitter and the “State of Now”.

Becky spoke at the London 140 Conference; her panel was a multinational one on how small business is using Twitter.

Organizer Jeff Pulver has some incredible connections, and this conference is beginning to draw some truly intriguing and unexpected presenters.  Ivanka Trump, anyone?

*** SOBCon, Chicago IL, late April/early May.  We happily confess that this is one of our favorites;  organizers Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker keep things friendly, supportive, tightly focused and they limit attendance to a small group. It is a business-focused think tank about the social Web, and all sorts of visionary people attend from many backgrounds, including government and nonprofit. Their tech expertise is all over the map, but mostly, it’s pretty turbo-charged (get a Twitter account before you go if you don’t have one already.)

You can already register for the 2011 event – it’s not inexpensive, but lots of meals are generously provided, so if you share a hotel room and get a good price on a flight (or you drive) the out-of-pocket cost isn’t bad at all.

There are rumors of some shorter SOBCon events being planned in other cities, so follow @SOBCon on Twitter for the latest news.

Resistance? Try sharing this from Liz’s blog: What My Boss Doesn’t Get About Social Media

*** South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), Austin TX, mid-March.  This one is the total opposite of SOBCon – it’s kind of a sprawling nerd madhouse – but try to swing attending it at least once.  If there is resistance from the boss, hand him/her this post:  Top 10 Reasons For Your Boss To Send You To SXSW Interactive.

“South by” is also famously known as “Geek Spring Break,” and let us confess right here that there is a strong party-hearty element to it. We’ve both attended for several years and have each spoken there, but we go in very focused about what we want to get out of it and who we specifically want to meet, not how we want to get a hangover. We’ll drop in on some evening social events, but you generally won’t find us at Tech Karaoke till the wee hours.

The draw to this conference is that this is where you’ll find probably the greatest concentration of tech luminaries in one spot at one time; the tagline is “Tomorrow Happens Here,” and it does (this is where Twitter hit it big in 2007.) The hundreds of panels and speakers can be wildly uneven in quality, but no one denies that there is an insanely diverse smörgåsbord of them.  If there was ever a conference where a ton of the action happens in the hallways, restaurants, bars and blogger lounges, this one is it.  Most people leave saying some version of, “I can’t believe I met/had lunch with/shot a video with X Fabulous Person.”

Reserve flights and hotels EARLY, and be aware that Early Bird conference pricing happens every year in the fall, so snap up your lowest-priced registration then.  It’s amazing how many people fiddle around waiting to register as prices go up.

*** Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) location varies, annual/summer.  This is an intriguing little gathering for travel bloggers, now going into its second year as an outgrowth of the Travel Blog Exchange Ning group (Sheila is a speaker for #TBEX2010 .)

It sold out very early and as of this date has 130+ people on a waiting list for tickets – fortunately, there will be a livestream online of the panels.

The attendees and speakers are an incredible cross-section of travel writers, photographers and general wanderers, and most are tech-savvy.

The minute the 2011 conference opens for registration, jump in there.

*** BlogHer, location varies, late summer.  If you’re looking for parenting bloggers, smart businesswomen, foodies, travel nuts, crafters, political/public policy wonks, humorists, musicians and every other sort of female geek, don’t miss BlogHer (all the presenters are women, too, which is a change from some tech events with predominantly male speaker lineups.)

It sells out every year, so don’t dawdle registering.

These are people who know how to connect and communicate, so plug into the online BlogHer community before you go, to really get to know the players. They are super-welcoming.

Note:  Foodie bloggers descend on the separate BlogHer Food conference, now in its second year.

*** BlogWorld and New Media Expo, Las Vegas NV, October.  This is another large, incredibly diverse events in the mold of SXSWi, but BlogWorld is becoming a must-attend for social media gurus.

There are tracks featuring all sorts of bloggers: travel, sports, food, military, etc.  If you’re trying to figure out how to connect with bloggers, these are very rich waters for fishing.

Plans for 2010 include possible CVB-specific panels or events. We’ll keep you informed here about it!

Want more event ideas? Jason Falls lists social media events worth attending, and Mashable has a social media events category.

We are also intrigued by a new conference, tentatively scheduled for November 17-19, 2010, called the Social Media Tourism Symposium or SoMeT. RFPs are still being taken for its location, but it promises to be a more wired confab than some other tourism conferences.  Follow @SoMeTourism on Twitter plus the #SoMeT hashtag.

—->>  UPDATE:  Here is the power of social media connections….Jeremy Harvey, VP of Destination Marketing at Visit Loudoun, Virginia (the Loudoun CVB) saw this very post and caught the mention of RFPs still being open for SoMeT. Guess what? Loudoun submitted an RFP, they WON the hosting opportunity and today, Friday November 19, 2010, we just wrapped up the very first SoMeT conference (Sheila spoke there about better blogging and content production, and was able to meet Jeremy and hear this story in person.) Oh, yes, the conference will happen again in 2011. We’ll let you know through Tourism Currents channels when RFPs are open.

Also consider national tourism-specific events that attract digitally-savvy people, like ESTO (Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations) and the DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International) annual summit.

Don’t forget to look locally for gatherings that tend to attract freelancers and entrepreneurs, who are often very comfortable on the social Web. Start with Jelly Coworking groups (worldwide list here on a Jelly wiki) or your nearest Social Media Club or Social Media Breakfast groups.

***  Update:  We decided that this list was a bit too US-centric (other than the WordCamp, 140 conference, Jelly and Social Media Club mentions, all with worldwide presence) so we’re looking for recommendations on a few good social media or tech conferences in Europe and Asia.  We’ve heard of LeWeb in Paris and The Next Web in Amsterdam, but have feelers out to check for others.

Kevin Luke May over at travel tech news site Tnooz recommended the ENTER e-Tourism conference, last held in Lugano, Switzerland, and in Asia our Australia-based friend Des Walsh said that a lot of good tech events tend to be held in Singapore, and he’s asking around for some specifics.

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Since we talked about LinkedIn and tourism in last month’s newsletter, and this edition is all about where to network at conferences, maybe we can help you spiff up your LinkedIn profile a bit….

Building a Better LinkedIn Profile

Here are some quick tips to amp up your personal profile (besides the most important one of simply filling everything out:)

*** Your professional headline – This is your quick summary/elevator speech when someone asks, “What do you do?

You can can keep it plain (“AnyTown CVB staff member”) or fancy (“Visionary, award-winning public relations goddess”) or very punchy (we like the guy with “Entrepreneur. Business Leader. Combat Marine. Author.”)

Go with what’s comfortable for you, but be clear and succinct.

*** Your profile URL – Don’t leave it the default alpha-numeric URL of “http://www.linkedin.com/pub/1/121/559.” Instead, choose the option for your profile extension to be your name.

You may want to also consider adding that URL to your email signature.

*** Your photo – Yes, please have one, and make it a reasonably professional head shot.

A photo makes you more human (and if we’re connecting after a conference, it helps us remember you if we see a face.)

*** The Update or Status box – Think of this as a little billboard for you to update people on your professional activities.

Use it regularly, and call attention to things you’re learning, upcoming events and cool projects you’re working on.

*** Personalize your profile with applications –  You can add features to your profile such as your blog feed, your Amazon book recommendations and your SlideShare presentations.  Use the Application Directory to find out more.

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We are busily updating and polishing our Tourism Currents online lessons, videos, the forum, etc. and anticipate re-opening for class sign-ups later this month, at very reasonable rates for a variety of learning materials.

Stay tuned for more details!

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Thanks for visiting! Comments, thoughts and feedback are welcome in the Comments section below.

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