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


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.