Thinking Before Blogging: A Case Study In Bridge Burning At SXSW

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There’s never a convenient time to get sick. Quintuple the inconvenience when at a conference such as SXSW and you can imagine how difficult it is to function in 80 degree weather in Austin when you’re sweating through your dress shirt from a 100+ degree fever. Between shakes, chills and a wicked sore throat, I was in no shape to talk about social media data.

Easy way out was to call Eric Swayne, my panel moderator and tell him I couldn’t make it. I had every reason to do so and I think he would have been understanding. See I’ve earned his trust through years of camaraderie. Besides, we already had a last minute cancellation: Olivier Blanchard.

Olivier had foregone his entire trip to SXSW without giving Eric reason. As the author of the book “Social Media ROI” he was really the centerpiece of our panel in my opinion, and I for one was severely disappointed he chose not to attend. For those who have never spoken on a panel, balance is key, if not critical to the success of the discussion at hand. We had an eclectic group of marketers and communications professionals but with Olivier not participating, we were out a true SME to help steer the conversation. Thankfully Matt Ridings accepted the spot and filled in admirably.

Still, I’m of the mindset that when you commit to something you follow through with it. Eric is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and to see the frustration in his face was heartbreaking when told of Olivier’s no show. What bothers me about last minute panel cancellations, especially ones like SXSW, is that you have attendees who were in the audience expecting to see you, as a thoughtleader. They took time out of their day to choose your panel over others. To show blatant disregard to those in attendance who sought your opinion is quite frankly more insulting than letting down your fellow panelists. Given our panel was in the afternoon, a day trip to Austin should have been feasible. Furthermore, there was the publicity of participating. SXSW had names in their panel guides, websites, etc. There was a media investment made by SXSW to promote participants. Outside of a tragic event, the obligation of attending after making a commitment is simply the professional thing to do.

But more so, let’s talk hypotheticals for a moment and lost opportunity regarding ROI.

You’re the author of a book on the topic, have an hour to sell in your POV on how to measure it to a room that was overflowing with attendees – at least 500 were in attendance and that’s a conservative number. The moderator was more than generous to provide a platform to you to create awareness of your book with the audience as a thank you for participating as a panelist. Strategically, by working with your publisher to create a unique coupon based on the hashtag #SMROI, there was a direct opportunity to sell to both the in-attendance audience as well as the virtual one following the conversation online. Just doing a quick and dirty analysis of the #smroi hashtag, there were:

408 tweets generated, 1,609,336 impressions, reaching an audience of 779,219 followers within the past 24 hours.

So again, being assumptive, if we were to take reach x’s conversion, and let’s use a quarter of a percent interested in buying the book, and multiply $12.04 (current price of the book with a 20% discount using coupon) x’s .15 (royalty to author), you’re looking at $3500 in gross revenue. Assuming travel costs around $600, your single day ROI is 483%.

And what of missed opportunity? One of your panelists works for a Fortune 10 in social media. With over 160,000 employees in 70 countries, the chance to build a relationship that could lead to a paying opportunity was more than feasible. Just ask Chris Boudreaux, Brian Solis or C.C. Chapman how willing we are to knowledge share through investing in reading material and consulting.

In reviewing tweets from attendees it looks as though a number of concepts discussed weren’t conveyed well or misconstrued. I will shoulder my portion of the blame for that since it wasn’t our intent for attendees to walk out dissatisfied. Thematically i believe we touched on:

-Aligning business goals with social media measurement
-Horizontal/Vertical reporting
-KPI’S (I provided a brief case study on how our Ford Explorer reveal on Facebook lead 500,000-plus 2011 Explorer site visits versus daily average of 7,000 for 2010 Explorer)
-Current landscape of reporting tools and the maturity of the industry

In retrospect we should have stopped the banter And gone deeper.

I think my greatest regret was the fact it was implied I said social media isn’t measurable. This is false and if I gave that impression then again I’m sorry. What I meant to say was that the current landscape of measurement platforms are still very nascent. The calculations to derive social media ROI can be incredibly subjective. I’ve experienced what it’s like to take the same Boolean using two different tools and seeing completely different results which is why human analysis is critical. This is where Olivier’s opinion would have been welcomed.

But alas, was Olivier really missed? I’m not certain since he was tweeting throughout an event he was invited to participate in, voicing his opinion on how appalled he was over the content of our panel. Masterfully, he decided to contribute by amplifying the negative tweets in his disgust, at one point insisting he would have walked out.

Sadly he never had the opportunity because he didn’t show up in the first place.

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23 thoughts on “Thinking Before Blogging: A Case Study In Bridge Burning At SXSW”

    1. Nice one Mike! I believe Olivier when he said he couldn’t make it and I think that being involved in the back-channel (if they weren’t going to be able to link up via Skype) was the right thing to do. He’s entitled to his opinion and it doesn’t matter what you wanted to say or even what you said. It DOES matter what people walk away with. So, indeed, who burned the bridge?

    2. Mike, admittedly both. His decision to not participate was a small part of a larger issue. It’s his perogative if he decides not to show up. It was the fact he was making every effort to derail a panel he was invited to speak at that has me questioning motives and quite frankly his professionalism. I respected him. If my public bashing means I lose personal credibility based on hypocrisy then I accept it. I simply don’t agree with instigating and I’m calling him out for it.

      1. Craig, I appreciate your honesty here and while it sounds like the panel was pretty much a shitshow, being part of a SXSW panel is a huge deal, and he shouldn’t have committed to it if he couldn’t make it.
        Even if “most” people are there for the party, some have paid good money out of their own pockets to see the people billed to appear.

        I respect both of you and think there’s plenty to learn here from everyone, both from this situation and you as people.

      2. Thanks Paige. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment. We are all very passionate people. This is a example of emotions getting the best of both of us.

  1. Craig, I sat in on the session and thought it was actually a good discussion. I wish it would have gone deeper, but the bigger issue to me is Oliver’s response to the whole thing. For someone who wrote a book about “Social ROI”, maybe he should measure the back-lash on his inappropriate behavior before, during and after. Thank you for being a part of the panel.

  2. Craig, I am sorry that you feel that way.

    I’m also sorry that you felt the need to throw me under the bus personally in a blog post, but I get it. I’m not angry about it. I’m not even disappointed. I understand your reaction completely. Your blog, your opinions: It’s all fine by me. It’s how it works.

    If you feel that bridges were burned or that they should be – or that there was even a bridge to burn in the first place – that’s unfortunate. In the end it’s 100% your decision. I am sure whatever choice you make will be the right one.

    Best regards,

    Olivier

    1. I think we both should take a hard look in the mirror Olivier when it comes to throwing people under the bus. Your tweets and post seemed more calculated than my outburst. ; )

      Truth be told, I sympathize with your need to self fund trips to conferences. As an entrepreneur in a previous life there were moments where I had to choose carefully what I participated in. However the panel wasn’t a fly by night request for attendance. This was months in advance notice, when flights were reasonable and hotel discounts were plenty. While I suppose you can question the cost-benefit analysis of attending SXSW, you were on the bill and had months to make alternative arrangements.  More so, you had an opportunity to steer this conversation. Yes, the panel was all over the place, but there were people, many who approached me afterwards who were appreciative of the effort. To take a subset of negativity, disregard the positive mentions of the panelists, is subjectivity for the purposes of telling a story YOU wanted people to hear. Quite frankly, the fact you were supposed to have participated in person made your tweets and blog post feel like 19th century carpet bagging. Could we have better performed for our audience? Without a doubt. Did tangents take away from the conversation? Absolutely. Would your participation have greatly improved the panel? Unequivocally yes, and therein lies my frustration with your decisions Olivier.  

      1. Craig, my reason for cancelling is really none of your business. Whether I was having open heart surgery, fixing a serious client emergency or dealing a death in the family, that’s for me to worry about, not you or the general public. If I say I can’t make it, there must be a damn good reason. Let’s leave it at that. Eric didn’t give me any grief over it. I’m not that flaky. Eric knows that and by now, you should too.

        Take a step back. It’s a panel, not a keynote. Panelists come and go. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked to fill in at the last minute for someone who had to cancel. It’s disappointing for everyone, sure, but it’s usually not a big deal. As long as everyone on the panel knows what they are talking about, that is.

        When you’re done blaming me for how badly things went, here’s a thought: One panelist shouldn’t have to carry an entire session. If the session turned into shambles just because “the expert” wasn’t there, don’t blame me. If I was supposed to carry the panel, what were you guys there for? Stage time? SxSW cred points? What? You guys understood that you might have to actually talk about ROI on this ROI panel, right?

        Which leads me to my next question: Has Google been broken for the last four years? It’s a real question, by the way. I am genuinely trying to understand why this ROI thing is such a stumbling block for you guys, panel or no panel.

        One last thought: my participation, as you suggested, should have brought depth to an already intelligent, focused discussion on ROI. Here, we agree completely. Unfortunately, that intelligent discussion never happened. Having me in the room would not have changed that. I am not a panel fixer, Craig. Or is that my new job? I do all the talking and you guys sit there and throw in a few comments here and there? Is that the plan?

        Paint me as the bad guy all you want, that’s fine. You don’t like what I have to say? Okay. I get it. But I’m not the problem and deep down, you know that.

      2. Mike said it best. I would have loved to have had you participate with us Olivier. The panel took some twists and turns but as I mentioned, you weren’t there so your context was based on a subset of those who were. You were invited to participate and instead you used back channels and acted out. As I said, it’s your prerogative as to why you do or don’t show up. The excuse of it not being a keynote and only a panel doesn’t hold water with me however. They doubled the size of the conference room to accommodate everyone who came. We were speaking to an audience that was in effect, as large as the keynote rooms.

        So yeah, maybe you’re right, I’m putting too much importance on your contribution, but as I mentioned, panels are about balance, and with you there I feel we would have had it, stayed more on topic and discussed data. We didn’t, so what will be will be.

      3. In order to “throw someone under the bus”, don’t you have to give a name? I have only seen one person do that in this situation.

        But both parties should understand that criticism is best dealt out in a constructive manner if you are truly trying to affect change. When I coach tennis, I start by telling my kids what they’re doing right and build from there…

        So Olivier could have tried to steer the conversation towards serious, meaty topics during his tweet-only participation…but didn’t.

        And Craig could have addressed the criticism itself more as opposed to making this an ad hominem. If you truly believe that Olivier’s behavior was that deplorable, why stoop to his level?

        And for the record, I don’t think it was deplorable knowing the source. I look for Olivier to be that instigating fly in the ointment…the guy that will call me out out for being full of crap. Between him and Spike Jones, I have a pretty accurate social media bullshit detector.

  3. Interesting topic and follow up discussion. If I may, I’d like to offer a 3rd party opinion. I wasn’t at the panel, online or in person, nor do I have any ties to either individual so I consider myself safely neutral.

    I first came upon this topic through someone linking to Craig’s post. I had zero background on the issue, panel, or Olivier. While Craig’s post made sense factually, I thought it came off as extremely petty (hence my original comment above). I then looked up Olivier and found his post from yesterday.

    That post also made sense factually and I could see why he received so much support in his comment section. From the reviews I’ve read, many of Olivier’s frustrations (as a panel observer) were probably warranted. HOWEVER, Olivier was not merely a panel observer. It’s one thing to buy a ticket to a ball game and complain your team lost. But it’s an entirely different thing to be on the team, decide to take the day off, and then blast your teammates for a poor performance – going as far as to say “If I was playing, I would have taken my ball and gone home by halftime.”

    Both “experts” showed elements of poor professionalism. While I can’t really exuse either, I can sympathize more with Craig as I believe his outburst was done in self defense. Olivier’s, on the other hand, was simply an example of someone taking pot shots.

    1. Sometimes disruption is the quickest means to reaction. I chose my words carefully but to your point without context it comes off petty. Appreciate your observations, no winners here.

    2. It is constantly nescesary to measure outcomes (even on our day to day life).For a brand, at macro level it is nescesary to measure influence in behaviors (quick example: generating awareness) and economic success (quick example: cost savings / improve sales)ROI is the fuel of economy, thus while there’s economy, there will be ROI.

  4. Hi Craig,

    I come here with a bias – I consider Olivier a friend and this is my first interaction with you. So, leaving any personal rancor aside, as that wouldn’t be fair, let me just toss this out.

    Do we really want to end up in a battle where the focal point is, “Who is the worst professional in the social media space?”

    Rather than focusing on the ROI of social media, which really *should* be a non-issue, I’d like to explore why we have to go down these roads of “I know you are but what am I” swampy yucky blegh. You know what it accomplishes? It makes the author of the blog (in this case you) look bad. It makes anyone who participates in social media look bad, because, wow…this is what we do with our time?

    I don’t understand the point of posts like this. I guess maybe I’m just a differently programmed sort of person, but if I have a big problem with someone, I dial direct. I don’t need to air dirty laundry in front of an audience. As your name was not mentioned in Olivier’s post (or anywhere in any of the negative comments I’ve seen) I can’t really see this as a self-defense measure, which could potentially be understandable.

    These exchanges demean everyone. It’s a blasted shame. And, it seems, a waste of time.

    1. The point of the post was simple. By naming us or not naming us, we were attributed to a panel that to some, lacked value. When you have Olivier’s reach, a backchannel can sway opinion quickly. Had he have participated on the panel, one he was expected to, and formulated the opinions thereafter, I would have had no problem what so ever with this. Instead as Mike pointed out, he pulled himself out of the game and criticized the play of the team.

      This isn’t about participating. This is about etiquette. If I have to drag my name in the mud to point that out, as ironic as that may be, I’ll do it. Look, at the end of the day, I value his thinking. I’ve read his book and I attempted to keep topics on ROI as did our friend from Make A Wish. As I tweeted him during his lashing out at the panel, I tried to make him proud. Obviously we need to both learn to take collective breaths before speaking our mind moving forward.

      1. Sleeping on things is almost always a good idea, unless it’s on a bed of nails.

        A lot of social media is about responding to criticism. Obviously some of the criticism your panel got was pretty tough. What I would like to see is a response to the criticism that treats the problem, not that exacerbates the situation so that we end up with a mudfight. Were people right to be disappointed, even before Olivier’s post? Was the panel what you and the other panelists hoped for? What can be learned?

        If we could jump to that kind of stuff first, the world would be much happier (and I’d finally be able to ride my unicorn in public). Lashing out just makes it look like the criticism is valid and that it is being deflected.

        At least from my vantage point.

      2. Craig, I didn’t sway the back-channel. No one dropped a bomb on the panel.

        But what really bugs me about this whole affair is that you somehow completely missed that this paragraph was about you:

        “No offense to the couple of pros who were on the panel and whose comments were either not retweeted at all or simply not mentioned in this post. A few solitary bits of general, elementary ROI wisdom did find their way through the barrage of bullshit, but not nearly enough and certainly not driven by either adequate vigor or accompanied by concrete examples. So understand that I am not taking a blowtorch to the entire panel but rather to the balance of its outcome.”

        So no, I didn’t name names. I shouldn’t have to. Everyone ought to know who they are and where they fall in stories like this. If you read that post and can’t tell that it’s you I was giving a pass to, I don’t know what to tell you.

  5. in one place, on one post. Here are two examples I did that many poelpe told me they appreciated: On Bookmarking: Social ROI and Analytics and 51 Things to Blog About. Did they take me a while to research and write? Yes! But did it

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