I travelled to Toronto and back with 8 wonderful women. Thanks to GM Canada , in particular Adria Mackenzie, we drove down in style. My sole complaint about the Chevy Traverse I drove there and back: there isn’t one parked in my driveway right now.
Before the conference was over there were a lot of opinions shared. Some positive. Some negative. Some thoroughly enjoyed their experience. Others were disappointed. ShesConnected took a risk by offering one of the first opportunities for digitally connected women to engage with brands. These events are in their infancy and we don’t know a lot yet about what they can offer or what might come of them. Irrespective of your experience I think its important to remember that without our support and encouragement, its unlikely there will continue to be these sorts of opportunities. Thank you to Donna Marie and Mark for offering me the opportunity to connect with others. And for the food. Normally I am happy to eat anything that I don’t have to (a) prepare (b) clean up after. The fact that I was fed breakfast, snacks, lunch, and appetizers, was a bonus. That the food was delicious and plentiful? Even better. Losing weight or not, a girl has to eat.
For me, the highlights of the day were the presentations by Johanne Thomas Yaccoto, president and founder of the consulting firm The Thomas Yaccato Group, and Sidneyeve Matrix, Professor in the Department of Film and Media at Queen’s University.
The idea of companies looking at everything they do through a gender lens is new to me. I learned that gender intelligence is as much an attitude as it is a set of operating instructions: retailers can’t just translate gender balanced perspectives into policies and hope for the best. Gender intelligence needs to permeate the core competencies and attitude of the company. Read more in this excerpt from Johanne’s book, the Gender Intelligent Retailer.
I was so enthusiastic about Sidneyeve Matrix’ presentation I did something totally out of character and introduced myself to her after lunch. She was personable and enthusiastic and I can’t wait to learn more about her research. I had never heard the term “Millenial Moms” or any of the statistics about Facebook, twitter, and Youtube use. I had not realized what a powerful platform social media sites are: the time people spend using them, the information they share. Lara and I immediately started plotting how we might take one of Sidneyeve’s classes at Queen’s.
Through the presentations and panels the same words kept popping up and tying all of the speakers together. Normally ‘buzz’ words make me twitchy. People use them without understanding them, diluting whatever value they might have. But today, being ‘authentic and engaged’ were used to describe brands and bloggers alike. The words were used to connect us, describe our relationships, and clarify our expectations. We expect each other to be authentic: that our opinions are our own, that we are truthful, genuine, and real. And engaged: involved in real conversations with companies, consumers, readers, and other people involved in social media. That we are part of dialogue, that the information does not flow in one direction, that questions are answered, information is shared.
In my first post about ShesConnected I shared a few of my opinions about the 10 brands that were involved. What brands were of particular interest to me. What concerns I had. Any personal connections that I felt with a brand.
I wanted to write a follow-up post for several reasons. To share my observations about the day. To reflect on questions that were answered / left unanswered. 10 hours of learning is hard to condense down into one post.
Kobo started the day off right. Each conference attendee was given a brand new wireless Kobo ereader, in their choice of colour. Mine is lilac, shockingly light, and I strongly prefer the e-ink on this device in comparison to my Sony reader. The Kobo representative was enthusiastic. She genuinely believes in the exceptional nature of their product and had a lot to share about the company and the device’s, history. She spoke to the attendees first thing in the morning, to introduce the Kobo, and then again after lunch, as part of the “brand presentation” portion of the day. We also had the opportunity to speak with her during the round table discussions. But I still feel a huge opportunity was missed. 100 digitally connected women were presented with a wonderful product and then there was limited discussion of what meaningful ways the brand and bloggers could support one another. The possibilities for connection are endless: Twitter/Facebook-based book clubs; blog-based book reivews; creation of blogs and online communities based solely on the genre of book preferred or specific topics (e.g., parenting books, biographies). What about the promotion of new authors? Most of the bloggers I know are avid writers and readers. Whether in written or digital form, they are masters of the mighty pen (or keyboard?). What I had hoped for: to hear how Kobo hopes to use social media to promote its product. How they envision partnerships with women in social media. What opportunities might exist for bloggers to work with their company and products. Authentic but not yet engaged.
Kraft Canada Foods
I am a big fan of Kraft Recipes: they are simple and easily modified. In an effort to use more whole foods and prepare our own snacks and meals, we use fewer of their products in our home now but I’m always surprised at the sheer number of products they produce (not all under the ’Kraft’ brand). They’ve made a lot of effort to engage with their consumers using digital formats: ‘What’s Cooking’ magazine (in print, online), email newsletters (recipes), an ifood app (for iphone, blackberry). Their use of traditional message boards is somewhat archaic and Kraft Canada is not yet using Twitter or Facebook (their American counterpart is). I think interacting with consumers, on bloggers, on both these platforms, will allow them to better engage. And they promised that its coming! I appreciated that their focus during the round table was on what partnerships we could envision with Kraft and their products. There are so many opportunities for product promotion, brand ambassadors, as well as learning opportunities related to healthy eating and food preparation. At our table, people suggested hosting an event in the Kraft kitchen where the cooks could help bloggers with specific meal-time challenges they face. Promotion related to lunch-time products and recipes was also suggested. They are in the infancy of authenticity and engagement and I feel made good use of the ShesConnected conference to learn from all of us.
I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t drink coffee: Diet pepsi is my vice of choice. But I will substitute Coke Zero when necessary. The focus of CocaCola’s brand presentation was on their Live Positively campaign. Their focus for the ShesConected conference was their relationship with ParticipACTION and how social media might be used to promote the program. A lot of questions were raised about the challenges surrounding the relationship between a physical activity campaign and beverages, which many don’t see as ‘health-promoting’. Information about High Fructose Corn Syrup, and its relationship to obesity and other health problems, has been prevalent in the news recently. While programs like ParticipACTION can’t survive without corporate support, how do you promote a partnership that many might question (exposing children to a brand of products that might contribute to poor health, if over-consumed). My only thought by the end of the day is that a relationship between Dasani (CocaCola’s bottled water product) would be the only way to move forward. CocaCola is using the different forms of social media but by virtue of its size, the engagement feels one-sided. They believe strongly in their products and Live Positively Campaign but what I felt was lacking was a two-way connection. That might be possible through focusing social media efforts on individual products or campaigns.
I am a big fan of Smashbox Cosmetics. Their make-up team did a great job providing make-overs to all the participants as well as promoting the different products but there was no opportunity to engage with any of the brands representatives. They didn’t participate in the presentations or round tables. Their involvement was one-sided and didn’t offer any opportunities for the women present to connect with the brand. Because I use their products, I was disappointed by this lost opportunity.
Egg Farmers of Ontario
The Egg Farmers of Ontario has undertaken a lot of research in an effort to understand public perception of eggs and what people want to know. While in the infancy of using social media, their genuine enthusiasm was apparent. Because I didn’t get to participate in a round table with any of their representatives, I’m uncertain about their foray into partnerships with bloggers and women involved in social media. I would be curious to hear about any conversations other attendees had with respect to what they are looking for from involvement in social media. I appreciated their ability to engage with attendees and their willigness to acknowledge this is all new to them. I think there are opportunities, particularly for bloggers, to develop a relationship with the Egg Farmers of Ontario, especially related to healthy eating and recipes.
Maple Leaf Foods remains in the spotlight following the Listeria outbreak in 2008. What I think I appreciated most about their precense at the conference was the honesty and enthusiasm of their Executive Chef, John. He shared his love of food, and the company, and answered questions about the outbreak, nitrates, and product packaging (BPA contents), without getting defensive. He acknowledged the errors that have been made and what is being done differently now. I would have liked more details about whats being done to prevent another outbreak but I also realize this was not necessarily the appropriate forum. The representatives that met with us during the round tables had a lot of questions. They were primarily focused on the products although we were also happy to share what possibilities we felt existed for relationships and promotion. I really appreciated that their social media is handled internally, rather than by a third party. I feel like that demonstrates a commitment to engaging with consumers and integrating social media into all aspects of the business. Maple Leaft was authentic and engaged today. I’m curious to see what comes next.
Booty Camp Fitness
Booty Camp Fitness read my blog post, including my ”perception of boot camp-style fitness is that its unforgiving, unwelcoming of those who are severely overweight, and doesn’t take serious injuries into consideration.” They contacted me directly via Twitter: “Would love to work with you and really show you how our brand is different from ‘other’ boot camps!” I wasn’t present for their brand presentation but did have the opportunity to talk to them during the round table discussion. They feel passionately about their product and their genuine enthusiasm is hard to miss. What I would like to see (or hear): concrete examples of how they envision involving digitally connected women with their business. I feel like their are great opportunities for bloggers, and others, to develop relationships for product / brand promotion. They are authentic and engaged. Ready to hear the next steps!
Look Good Feel Better
Look Good Feel Better made a heart-felt presentation to the attendees about the history of the program and its evolution. It started in 1992 as a charitable foundation and is the “only cancer charity dedicated to empowering women to manage the effects that cancer and its treatment have on their appearance, and often on their morale.” Given the power of social media for ‘digital good’, their presence was important today: a reminder about how social media can be used to promote social causes. However, their involvement was one-sided. Attendees didn’t have the opportunity to meet with representatives in the display area or during round table discussions. There was a lot of interest from attendees in this program but no opportunity to engage with them about how bloggers might develop a relationship with the program. What I had hoped for: Concrete ideas for socially connected women on how to partner with charitable organizations; the promotion of charitable organizations and social causes using social media.
Before ShesConnected I didn’t know anything about Bourjois’ products. Unfortunately, I still don’t know anything. Like Smashbox, their make-up team did a great job providing make-overs to all the participants as well as promoting the different products but there was no opportunity to engage with any of the brands representatives. Because I had my make-up done by Smashbox, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn anything about Bourjois’ line. They didn’t participate in the presentations or round tables. Their involvement was one-sided and didn’t offer any opportunities for the women present to connect with the brand.
Calvin Klein Fragrances
While the Calvin Klein representative was passionate about scent and perfume, she was a third party hired by Calvin Klein to make a presentation to conference attendees. No Calvin Klein staff or representatives were present, and although her pitch was enthusiastic and authentic, engagement was limited. I was keen to be involved in discussions with brand representatives and had limited interest in hearing a brand pitch. Hiring a third party expert to make a presentation limited the brands ability to be either authentic or engaged.
For me, the ShesConnected conference was a success. I had a chance to connect with friends. I met new people. I learned a lot about 10 brands that I’m honestly not that familiar with. And I left with more questions than I came with: to me, a true indicator that the day was thought-provoking.
What I would hope for future events:
- The opportunity to hear from fascinating speakers like Johanne Thomas Yaccato and Sidneyeve Matrix
- Smaller round tables: The tables during the roundtables were too large (10+ people) and too close together. I feel like we needed at most, 8 people, and at least 30 minutes, to meet with the representatives. Also, it would be helpful if representatives made it clear at the start of the round table what they are hoping to get out of the process.
- A round of ‘speed-dating’: With only 100 individuals in attendance, there was an opportunity to connect with a lot of new people. 2-3 rounds of ‘speed-dating’ style introductions would have been a great way to start the day. I’ll be honest, I was too shy to introduce myself to some of the bloggers present, despite really wanting to meet them.
- Action-based Presentations: I would have liked to hear from the brands about how they have used social media; what’s worked / hasn’t worked; what they would like to do moving forward. Brainstorming sessions, following these presentations, would be a great way to develop new and innovative ideas for relationships between brands and socially connected women.