Live from the beautiful Loudermilk Center in the heart of exotic downtown Atlanta, we’re bringing you the breaking news as it happens.
After a lovely drive, a short train ride, and a lot of walking, the OnWired crew is coming to you live from the Webmaster Jam Session 2008 in Atlanta. We’ll be posting throughout the day and keeping you updated on the happenings, the quotable quotes, and the tidbits of wisdom we pick up while we’re here.
10AM — Managing Your Personal Brand
Brian Oberkirch, marketing consultant and founder of Small Good Thing, led this session.
“Do epic shit.” Yes, that’s right — that’s what he started his presentation with. Ought to be a good talk.
“Raise your hand and repeat after me: Do not be a douchebag.” Seriously, the typical over-the-top marketing type does a lot of craptastic stuff that just irritates people. Let’s not do that.
“You don’t need a ton of people. You need the right people. If you had 10,000 people who are really into what you were doing, you’ll be ok.”
“Fully embrace your own unique quirkiness. Just put it out there.”
“You trust that the network is going to lead you to the right place and present opportunities to you.”
Check UGA.edu for a study on detecting narcissism via Facebook profiles.
“It takes longer than you think. Be ready to invest yourself.” As Gary Vaynerchuk always says, you have to hustle your face off.
11:15AM — Marketing, Branding, and Reputation
This session is being led by Chris Perry, Jason Ford, and John Moore. It’s a Q&A session, not a prepared talk.
How do you deal with a big branding change within an organization? Start internally. Excite your employees and the customers will follow. We focus too much on creating a better logo, but we should really focus on creating a better business.
Why are you changing your logo? What is the goal? Are you trying to change some core message about your business? Does it look to old-school or corporate or stodgy? What are your feelings toward the company based on the logo alone?
Who are the people who currently use your business and like your business? Empower them to tell their friends and colleagues about you. Once you get in contact with those new people, you can explain what it is you’re doing and how you can help their businesses.
Don’t focus on the foundational elements — although you still need those things that everyone else has. Instead, focus on the attributes that make you unique in your market. Then make sure your entire employee workforce understands the brand message and knows what to say about your business in public.
Picking the vehicle to get the message across is much more important than getting the ad just right. Test. Try new things. See if they work. Then make the tough decisions about whether to divert money and energy from somewhere else into the new project. The worst thing you can do is to not experiment and stick to the things you’ve been doing for years just because that’s the way it’s always been.
Think about the audience’s interests first, and then use all the tools available to reach them.
And now, it’s time for lunch…
12:30PM — Amazon Crowdsourcing
This presentation was done by Mike Culver from Amazon.
I don’t have great notes here because I was busy stuffing my face, but Mike gave a demo of Amazon’s crowdsourcing service, the Mechanical Turk. This is a low-cost service providing access to human workers who can perform some simple tasks much better than a computer can. For example, if shown a picture of a table and a picture of a chair, a computer can’t tell the two apart, but you can pay someone a few cents and they can tell you within seconds. This comes in very handy when trying to do a high volume of simple tasks like that — comparing photos of products for an ecommerce site, checking photos for inappropriate content, transcribing videos, etc. It’s not really something I would have a need for on a regular basis, but I can definitely see the benefit of a low-cost service like this.
1:30PM — Going Social
This session is being done by Chris Perry, Executive Vice President at Weber Shandwick, the world’s largest PR firm (although Chris says he isn’t a PR guy).
The kneejerk reaction when you think about social media is blogging, but people don’t think about what all goes into it and how to use it effectively. Next, people think they need viral videos, but they are just following trends. Next, they want to advertise on social networks, but just don’t get it.
One of the biggest areas of importance from a mythbusting standpoint is businesses saying they need to build their own social networks, but they don’t understand the cost and work, especially when there are plenty of existing services that will do exactly what they want.
Spend more time working on the package, not on the social media stickers that you slap on the package.
“Google is the lens into brand reputation these days. The front page above the fold is the new shelf space for brands.” Independent websites are rising above the big businesses themselves in search engine rankings via blogs, social media, etc.
“Business is socializing with purpose.”
“Key lesson learned: social outranks celebrity.”
2:45PM — The Web Planning Process
This session is being done by Jason Ford, Director of Interactive Services at Tocquigny.
Planning is important to get everyone on the same page and collaborating effectively.
Content Strategy — the first thing that happens when you work on a site to figure out exactly what you’re building. What are the content buckets? What is the functionality? Who are the users? What are they trying to accomplish? These are the deliverables:
- Comparative Analysis — screenshots with call-outs to see what people are doing that really works, things to emulate, etc. Don’t just look at competitors; look at those who are going after the same audience or who have similar goals.
- Client Brainstorm — business needs, audience needs, content/functionality ideas & mdash; mind-mapping.
- Audience Needs Map — break down site by audience needs and goals, not content.
- Content Matrix &mdash list out content and functionality — get all ideas in a chart and prioritize by effort, impact, and priority.
- Site Map
- Domain Model — what are the different objects of content that exist on the site (press releases, bios, marketing materials, photos, etc.) that we have to account for when we roll into a CMS? This looks an awful lot like that big database schema Brett was drawing in the office last week…
- User Flow Diagram — highlights tasks that the user must accomplish; i.e., they arrive at a landing page, fill out a form, etc. From a user’s standpoint, what are they doing?
- Use Case Scenarios — outlines a user’s step-by-step walk through a process
- Critical User Interactions — submitting forms, purchases, logins, recovering passwords, etc.
- Annotated Wireframes — map out what content will be on each page, how it works, etc.
Jason’s resources are here.
4:30PM — Design for Email 101
This session is being led by Ben Chestnut of MailChimp fame. I personally wanted to sit through this one because I used to work for one of his competitors.
The next obstacle is the number of email clients you must code for. There are roughly two dozen different email apps currently in use, and they all render HTML email differently. Trust me — I’ve spent far too much time over the years trying to get emails to display correctly in YahooMail and Gmail.
Most webmail services strip out your BODY tag, HEAD tag, CSS, etc., so you have to figure out how to work around those limitations. You end up resorting to things like TABLE tags, inline CSS, etc., regardless of how dirty it makes you feel.
Desktop email clients have their own issues. The latest version of Outlook uses the HTML rendering engine from Word, not IE (like previous versions of Outlook). Thanks, Bill…
Preview Panes in email apps create size issues — most preview panes are only around 600px wide, and a few are even more narrow than that. Outlook Express defaults to a lovely 247px wide. The “window of opportunity” to grab your reader is the 250×250 pixel square at the top left of the email template design. Lots of companies are sticking a strong plain-text line of sales copy at the very top to appeal to readers on mobile devices.
“Design like it’s 1999.”
The next obstacle is image blocking. All email apps block images by default because of porn spam. You should assume that your recipients have images off by default. Use ALT-text well — label images intelligently. If you can get on a reader’s “trusted senders” list, your images will be on by default, so that’s a big deal.
Spam filters are a big obstacle to your messages making it through to your recipient. Be smart, write good content, and have clean code. Search Google for Spam Assassin’s criteria for grading inbound emails. There are many server-based filters that are watching IP addresses for activity patterns. If you start sending out tons of emails on a previously inactive IP, you’ll be blocked almost immediately.
Feedback loops are yet another delivery barrier. When people click the “this is spam” button in their email client, the ISP will contact the Email Service Provider to take action. Email Service Providers obviously can’t allow clients with spammy-looking activity, because it will cause problems for all of their legit clients. If 0.1% of your recipients complain, you’ll get blocked. That’s 1 in 1000, so that shows how serious ISPs and ESPs are about spam.
When you’re re-contacting a very old list after a long, long time, you should send a re-introduction email in order to clean up your lists. You should also include a “permission reminder” — something like “You subscribed to this message via such and such website…”
You can measure the quality of your design via open rates, click rates, and ROI.
5:30PM — High Style and Low Fidelity
This session is being led by Eddie Vasquez.
Convey emotion with color. When you get away from reds, you get away from showing passion. Going toward yellow shows brilliance and happiness.
For example, to convey a cool, hip feel, you also go to cool colors — mostly blues and grays. Just take a look at most sites selling tech and electronics.
Gradients are light. They convey even more emotion than the color does by itself.
Color also gives depth. The closer something is, the more saturated the color is. The farther away, the more desaturated.
Play hot and cold off each other. Your eye is instantly drawn to hot, so use that to your advantage.
Regarding typography, fonts create attitude.
For inspiration, go to the biggest player in the industry. If a business’s goal is to be bigger, look to the biggest.
Due to a rather unfortunate rental car issue, we missed the Website Smackdown
11:15AM — Social Media on the New Internet
This session is being led by Jason Ford of Tocquigny.
Social Media vs. Web 2.0 — Social Media is interaction, two-way dialog, and communication, not funky AJAX.
People are already out there talking about your business. You might as well go out there and interact with them.
Benefit to marketers — Social media is targeted and self-selected, engaging, cost-effective, and measurable.
Communication should be the driver in social media, not the latest new technology.
Social Marketing has four aspects:
- Add — contributing content, comments, etc. to things that already exist.
- Create — build your own social channels: blogs, podcasts, etc.
- Message — get yourself out there on social channels and communicate who you are. Create engaging messages that entice people to interact.
- Participation — get involved on existing social channels where your audience already is.
Get outside your sandbox and get involved in the dialogue that’s already out there.
Make it easy for people to communicate with you. Add social bookmarks and RSS. Produce your own video content. Consider live chat.
A big way to get traffic and community is to add ratings and reviews to your site.
1:30PM — Behold the Power of Frameworks
This session is being led by Steve Stringer. He is starting with a warning that this will be code intensive and is not for the faint of heart.
We need tools that make things simple for us. Why recreate the wheel every time? If there is an off-the-shelf solution that will work without too many compromises, use it. For example, writing a rich text editor for the web is very difficult. Just grab TinyMCE — it is used all over the place. For example, WordPress uses it.
Advantages — leverage our work across multiple sites, take advantage of stronger security, and make site maintenance easier.
Disadvantages — ramp-up time, picking the wrong one for the project, etc.
How do you decide which to use? What kinds of projects do you do? What are you familiar with? How customizable is the system? How active is the community? Are you comfortable with the system?
2:45PM — Inside CSS Frameworks
This session is being led by Rob Jones, a UI expert from Two Sides Design.
Grids — Check out Grids Are Good by Khoi Vinh and Mark Boulton.
Typography — Read Compose to a Visual Rhythm.
Browser Differences — Use Eric Meyer’s CSS Reset because each browser has different default CSS settings.
Frameworks — a collection of files and code that allow you to do grid-based design, handle typography, and reset the browser’s default CSS quickly and easily.
- Blueprint &mdash the first popular CSS framework
- YAML — “Yet Another Multicolumn Layout”
- 960 Grid System — Offers a lot of external support for designers, including Photoshop templates, wireframing stencils, etc.
- Yahoo UI Library — can do almost anything, but it is big and complex.
- Tripoli — good for super-semantic mark-up, but is targeted at advanced CSS developers.
Pros — productivity, consistency, teamwork, cross-browser, grids and typography built right in.
Cons — extra code is added, not entirely semantic, you’ll have to really understand the framework in complex situations.
How do you choose which to use? Experts don’t need this. For novices, just pick one and run with it for a small site. For bigger sites, use with caution. For apps, it isn’t really recommended.
4:30PM — Increasing Your Web Visibility
This session is being led by Garrett Dimon, Jeff Croft, Dan Rubin, and Christina Warren.
You can use social media to market yourself and your business, but you can also use it as a networking tool to get yourself out there, to gain clients, to create a career for yourself, etc.
Great quote: “Twitter isn’t just for slackers with no real job and Obama fanbois.”
Twitter is about you — about people’s real lives. It appeals to our voyeuristic side. It isn’t just for pimping your new blog post. That’s what RSS feeds are for. Use Twitter to be more human. It makes it easier to connect and communicate.
Another great quote: “Potential clients WILL Google Stalk you. Have something worthy of stalkage.”
Popularity and business success doesn’t necessarily happen because you’re the best designer or developer on the planet. It happens because you’re visible. You say things. You’re passionate. You’re real.
One more great quote: “Wannabe Hollywood moguls have variety and THS. Wannabe web moguls have Friendfeed.”
If you’re active and visible online, when you meet someone in person, you’ve already got an in — and that works great for people who are introverted. Being active also helps cut through the small talk because you already know what other people are doing.
Social networking is still networking. It takes time to build relationships. You still have to work at it. A lot. But you can use it as a strategic tool in the way you represent yourself.
Twitter is a great place to ask for help — someone has probably already solved the problem you’re having — and it’s a way to give help as well.
Of course, what works in one medium won’t necessarily work in another. Don’t be too annoying or too spammy. Don’t push too hard. Different mediums have different rules, so you have to understand the medium.
It’s much easier to mock people online, so don’t do stupid things.
Be conscious of the separation between corporate and personal identities. In some situations, they must be separate, but in others, it isn’t as necessary.
Be genuine or be a really good faker. Be tactful, so you can build good, strong relationships. Don’t be a jerk unless that’s your schtick.
And that’s it…
We had a great time at WJS08, and we’re looking forward to coming back next year. And now, for a 7-hour drive back to Raleigh…
The author of this blog post never returned to home base after his last mission. He is assumed to have been either captured or killed in action, although it is possible that he turned rogue and is now working for the enemy. As such, we disavow all knowledge of his previous actions and whereabouts.