Posted on June 12, 2009|by: Mahdi Gharavi| 11 Comments

Today, MetroStar is attending BlogPotomac! We’re here at the State Theatre in Falls Church, VA, ready to listen to some great presentations and learn from the top personalities that the blogosphere has to offer. Tickets to this event have been sold out for about a month, and since we have the privilege of being here, we’re blogging the event live! So, if you’re watching us in realtime, keep refreshing!

BlogPotomac @ the State Theatre in Falls Church, VA

BlogPotomac @ the State Theatre in Falls Church, VA

We are ready to go. First talk is set to begin at 8:45am. Caffeine fixes until then…

For anyone who may not already know, BlogPotomac is an unconference on Social Media in general, and Blogging in particular. Their “About” section says it quite succinctly:

“BlogPotomac is this year’s premiere social media marketing event for
greater Washington DC. Attendees can expect a one-day event with
nationally renowned speakers and advanced discussion of best social
media marketing practices.”

Event url:

Twitter handle: @blogpotomac

Twitter hashtag: #blogpotomac

The energy level is as high as the speaker list is impressive. For our readers who are viewing this post live, a big thanks in advance for reading! You can access the full schedule here, and we’ll keep you posted on the goings on. Do share your thoughts with us and post your comments!

First up:

Opening remarks with Geoff Livingston and Jen McClure

Geoff Livingston:

Jen McClure


Our program openers are members (and founders) of the Society for New Communications Research. Jen McClure introduced to us the keynote speaker, one of SNCR’s founding members, Shel Holtz.

“Keynote on Integration Challenges”

Shel Holtz, Distinguished author and speaker:

Shel Holtz

Shel Holtz

His talk is on the cultural aspects of integrating social media. But before culture, the question is: What is legal? Answer: Whatever your organization’s general counsel tells you is legal, is legal.

In times of crisis, organizations who acknowledged crisis, and spoke to the problems (publicly) saw a bigger drop in their stock prices at the outset than organizations that kept silent. But months into the crisis, the tables turned, and only those organizations who engaged their communities (rather than sterile press releases) were able to see their stock prices rise back up to above pre-crisis levels. Those who didn’t, never recovered.

Ownership of Social Media: Who is responsible for social media? Leadership must express the importance for organization-wide ownership. A good example of organic growth in an organization’s social media model is seen in the web presence of the employees of Zappos.

Everyone needs to take ownership, top-down, ground-up. A major cultural barrier is the restriction of voices. Any organization that speaks only through the voice of its leadership fails to realize that people want to have conversations with the organization. Everyone in the organization should know the organization’s stance, what the org wants to communicate. Then everyone can participate in engaging the community.

So, what rules apply in the social media-sphere? The same rules that apply in all other forms of organizational communication. Don’t go against any regulations, don’t communicate any information over the web that you will not do via any other form of communication.

SoI (Sphere of Influence) is the new RoI.

Q&A Time:

  • Is there ever a time when one should give up? Or stop trying to get the message across when the barriers are too numerous and too strong? Shel’s answer: When ethical boundaries are being crossed.
  • Are there any situations where one voice is good? Shel’s answer: No. Next question. (my paraphrasing)
  • But who wants to give away power? Shel’s answer: Sharing responsibility in communication is not about relinquishing power. Communicators are working for their superiors. They have their interests in mind.
  • Some argue that the blog as a tool has reached its saturation point. Everyone has one and no new blog can be useful. Shel’s answer: As a tool, blogs are not out of date. Blogs are still useful, especially as rapid response. Case in point, United Airlines crises. They failed to respond quickly enough, namely when Bloomberg news announced that they have filed bankruptcy (when United had not). They went through the traditional means of press release, which took too long, and in the meantime, they lost 70% of revenue! A simple blog post could have dispelled the rumor.
  • What does one do when they are ordered by leadership to take a strategy that completely goes against the principles of social media? And can be counterproductive vis-a-vis their community? Shel’s answer: “How many billable hours are you getting out of it?”…But seriously: demonstrate the reason not to go with that strategy. Show how competitors will win out with it. Offer alternatives. If they are still not receptive to a new and more productive strategy, then there comes a time when enough is enough… “I’ve fired clients before, because they wanted to go down a road that I did not want my firm associated with.”

“Every employee is a front line representative of the organization.”

Well that was a great talk! I’m very eager to hear your comments on Shel’s words.

On to the next speaker…

“Government 2.0/Political Blogging”

Shireen Mitchell, Political blogger:

Shireen Mitchell

Shireen Mitchell

Shireen was one of the many bloggers involved in the 2008 presidential elections. In particular, she chronicled the two women running at the time, Hillary Clinton for President, and Sarah Palin for Vice President. She actually took part in both conventions.

She noticed the difference between the two conventions: openness. She was able to take her laptop and cell phone to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) but at the Republican National Convention (RNC), there was an atmosphere of a “police state.” They weren’t allowed to be present with laptops.

One thing they (the bloggers at the RNC) noticed was that the TV news media were not displaying the large screens behind the speakers. So they began taking pictures of the screens and publishing them online. They blogged, they tweeted, they “cross-polinated” the blogs.

The RNC did not use Twitter, they did not engage the blogs, and the result? We now have a Democratic president.

And who was at the forefront of this effort to tweet/blog/cross-polinate? Women bloggers, and women’s organizations.

Shireen’s methods, even today, is to advance these debates and discussions with hashtags. There is a hashtag for each group (or political affiliation). And using these hashtags, she has been able to engage people on all points of the political spectrum.

  • Conservatives: #tcot (Top Conservatives on Twitter)
  • Liberal: #rebelleft
  • Libertarians: #tlot (Top Libertarians on Twitter)
  • Progressives: #topprog or #p2
  • Political voices of women: #pvow
  • Feminist groups: #fem2 and #fem2pt0
  • Transparency: #transparency
  • Gov 2.0: #gov20

This dialogue made it possible to make change possible from the ground floor. Or at least, the potential for change was beginning to be realized.

She used the example of President Obama, and his model of using text messaging, twitter, his website, etc. to help gather more supporters and volunteers throughout the campaign. And during that time and into his presidency, his method of not following the media, but making the media follow him.


  • How are blogs being effective in comparison to newspapers in forwarding the political ? Shireen: Many blogs are gaining some momentum. The New Haven Independent has been a good example of a very successful blog.
  • How do you feel about the Harvard study on Twitter? Shireen: Basically, the study says that Twitter is a boy’s club. Men link to and follow men, women link to and follow women. Yes, that may be true, but that’s the case in any forum, not just online. This is something we have to change outside of Twitter first.
  • What do you think will happen to Twitter in 5 years? Shireen: Any projection of 5 years into the future in technology is going to be wrong. But…Twitter will go by another name. It has now become a giant chatroom. The chatroom has evolved from a closed-walled forum into an open-walled community chat open to all. “I’m not sure that it’s going to go completely away. I think it’s going to change, it will be different…I think that if we let it be open to the people, then it can [continue to grow]. The minute that they decide how it’s going to change is when it’s going to go away.” The great thing about social media is that it can change the way the community wants it to, and it will continue to grow. If they try to change it (Twitter) it will go away.
  • If you’re a candidate running for political office, what are the dos and don’ts for blogs and social media? Shireen: All facets of government are trying to enter the Gov2.0 arena. The discussion has opened up into “what should be open?” Two women in politics who stand on different sides of this are Claire McCaskill, who follows only her own staffers, and keeps a close handle on things. The other is California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, who is open about every issue under the sun. Having public conversation is the most authentic way of having (sometimes uncomfortable conversations) that will allow us to move forward.
  • When should one use hashtags to define a message and direct it to a specific community, and when not to, and to be broader in the target audience? Shireen: We need to be careful how we engage communities. If we’re not engaging, but just want to talk at communities, it will not be effective. Her experience has been successful when she engages the communities from within, but across groups. Her followers know: “I’ll have a debate with anyone at any time.” She’s doing this to engage in conversations with people of opposing views. “When there’s a debate, I’ll also make up hashtags…a lot.” This not only cross-polinates the community, but she can later pull the hashtag and make a full blog post out of that, and it will even grow from there.
  • Some say social media is a great way to get to a lot of people in a short amount of time. Elected officials are often reading and replying to everyone who connects with them. What do you think we can make of this? Shireen: Social media has been a great way to engage our elected officials. Almost anybody can express their thoughts and concerns with them at any time. But the important thing to keep in mind is that they are dealing with politics all day, and are people after all. Different tools have made it possible for constituents to connect with officials in more ways than just political discourse.

We’re taking a break here at BlogPotomac. I’ll be back with you shortly, to update you on the next speaker. Do share any thoughts you have on what Shireen and/or Shel talked about. Next up is…

To sum up what’s been said so far:

Shel Holtz: Organizations/People should engage

Shireen Mitchel: Organizations/People are engaging

“Social Media in a Crisis”

Scott Monty, Ford social media lead:

Scott Monty

Scott Monty

JFK used both sides of the Chinese symbol for crisis: One side danger, one side opportunity.

During Ford’s recent troubles, Scott and his team were active on Twitter and blogs to engage people.

During a particular crisis, which involved an outcry over Ford suing a Ford Range Rovers enthusiasts’ group site (for selling counterfeit Ford products). While using Twitter and blogs to clarify the situation and let people know the reason behind the lawsuit helped to connect with people, what really allowed growth was when Scott spoke with the site’s owner over the phone, and came to an understanding that was published. Lesson: Use social media to engage, but then go beyond the tools of social media for the most growth and progress.

Everyone is talking about driving Ford cars. Good and bad. But they want to share their opinions and people want to learn from others. Ford does this by opening that discussion to people on their own platform.

“The tools are irrelevant. They will always change. By giving these people guidelines and a process, we are creating a culture of open communication, letting them get out there, and speak openly.”

By basing their written guidelines on ethics and openness, Ford aims to make its image more people-friendly.  This is something every organization should learn from. When you do this, you can reap its benefit:

You don’t have to respond to every tweet, comment, or blog post. Let the community defend your brand, and correct inaccuracies.

In response to the tendancy of some organizations to vet all social media communications by their community managers: “Do they vet your phone calls? Your e-mails?”
If you engage people who speak out against your company, and can get them on your side, they will share with others, and can become your best advocates.

Next up:

“The Business Aspects of Blogging and Social Media”

Liz Strauss, SOBCon organizer and blogger:

Liz Strauss

Liz Strauss

“The two things every company needs to provide their customers: More things to buy, and more opportunities to buy them.

A great discussion she has opened up: The RoI on Relationships. We now have new social media tools to do this. We don’t need to see people face-to-face to have meaningful relationships with them. This is the same thing we’ve been doing for years.

If you want to use Social Media well, don’t lead with the tools, lead with the relationships. Start by knowing you who you are, which is more important than what you do (because what you do is just a subset of who you are). Different departments do different things, but if all departments know who the organization is, they can sit on the same side of the negotiating table.

While Liz uses social media tools to connect with people, she often takes that offline, and gains a lot from going beyond merely engaging online. “It’s really hard to form an [us v. them] relationship when you’re looking eye-to-eye.”

It’s lunch time, and we’re going to take a break. DC Central Kitchen (@dcck) is providing our lunch today. Check out the great things they’re doing for our community!

Thanks for sticking with us. Check back with us at 2:00pm (EST), and we’ll keep updating. Until then, check out some more photos and highlights from BlogPotomac at (thanks to team member, Todd Pitt).

Ok, we’re back!…

“Personal Branding, a Dialogue”

Amber Naslund, President of Altitude:

Aaron Brazell, Founder/Lead Editor of

Aaron Brazell and Amber Nazlund

Aaron Brazell and Amber Nazlund

For some, a personal brand has become a replacement for developing a real reputation. Like any kind of brand, a personal brand is not what you decide it is. It is what others decide it is.

The personal brand has come to be more about ego. But when that person wants to move on to something else, or is no longer at the forefront, the brand suffers. A brand should be bigger than one person. The “personal brand” should definitely not eclipse an organizational brand. A good example: Lee Iacocca had quite the reputable personal brand. But he put that aside when it came to rebuild Chrysler.

If an employee focuses too hard on personal branding, it can hurt the organization who is, after all, paying that employee to do a job that he is partially shirking. A personal brand can be productive only when the employee brings with her her reputation, develops it, and with that, promotes both herself and the organization.

Caution: You cannot separate a personal brand with your professional personality (in fact, separation is counter intuitive to what social media is).

You don’t build a brand. You build a great product, and you earn a brand.

Update 6/12/09, 3:46pm: Aaron Brazell just posted a followup to this talk on personal branding.

Next up:

“Network Solutions, A Local Success! How They Did It.”

Shashi Bellamkonda, Network Solutions’ “Social Media Swami”:

Shashi Bellamkonda

Shashi Bellamkonda

Network Solutions fell into the social media world, when they realized that they were receiving bad press on the web related to domain name front running. They needed to manage their reputation , to connect with customers, and to the community, and to add value to that community. Through diligence and thoroughgoing research and subsequent engagement, they were able to bring down negative press online from 60% to 20%. In one instance, even when Shashi didn’t have a full understanding of the issue that was unfolding, simply commenting that he was looking into it was enough to tone down the level of discourse to a from an angry atmosphere to a quasi-friendly one, until he was able to address the issue and respond again.

A social media practitioner should be independent, free thinking, and always active.

How to sell social media to your boss:

Most people in management are skeptics. But as long as you show positivity and communicate your point effectively, change is still possible.

The purest form of marketing is customer service: treat your customers well and they will share with others and promote your organization.

How Shashi defines his title (the “Swami”) –

“Network Solutions pays me, but I work for the customer.”

When asked how we can use the tools we have now (as opposed to the generic question “what is coming up?”), his answer: Don’t use the tools just for the sake of using them. They should only be a means to come into contact with people. We need human contact, both for ourselves psychologically, and to move closer to our organizational goals. Also, what everyone unanimously must do with respect to social media tools is to put them aside after a while. We need sleep more.


“Social Karaoke”

Rohit Bhargava, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Marketing, Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence Group:

Kaitlyn Wilkins, Senior Strategist, Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence Group:

Doug Meacham, Founder of SMC-Richmond, Blogger, Consultant with IBM:

Rohit Bhargava, Kaitlyn Wilkins, Doug Meacham

Rohit Bhargava, Kaitlyn Wilkins, Doug Meacham

Approaches to engaging offline to strengthen brands:

  • Leveraging experiences for people who cannot attend. “Have a ‘ninja-team’ on the ground to get the word out there.”
  • Facilitating experiences for “passionistas.” Capture a niche that people are passionate about. Then, go beyond the product to create/facilitate experiences for the customer. A great example is REI‘s REI-Adventures and REI Outdoor School.
  • Be approachable. You never know who you’re going to meet, and what opportunities your connection with them can generate for both of you.
  • Avoid executing events as one-offs. Find a balance between an outreach and an inbound event.
  • Invite customers and fans to meet up, spend time together, and share experiences with one another.
  • Form in-person relationships, because people whom you’ve met in person can be strong advocates.
  • Create a global and shareable experience. Form a creative way that will involve you and your customers in a different and novel experience that is exclusive to your organization and your customers. “If content is king, creativity is queen.”

Event Recap

Before I give you my quick thoughts on the event as a whole, I want to thank everyone who tuned in to our liveblogging of BlogPotomac.

The value of the event cannot be pinpointed to one source. The speakers were great, the atmosphere was energetic, and the audience was active.

Let me be brief in the recap, and just express the prevalent themes of the day:

  • Be open, internally and externally.
  • Every member of an organization is a PR representative.
  • Smash silos; cross-polinate discussions using various hashtags. Bringpeople from different sides of a debate together.
  • Engage people through social media, then go beyond that and connect further.
  • Use social media to make your brand people friendly.
  • You don’t need to respond to all comments/tweets/blog posts. If you have connected with your community, they will stand by your side.
  • The two things every company needs to provide for their customers: more products to buy and more opportunities to buy them.
  • It’s about the relationships, not about the tools.
  • You cannot separate your personal brand from your professional identity; don’t let your personal brand overpower your organization’s.
  • Our organizations may pay us, but we work for the customers.
  • Strengthen bonds by engaging customers offline.

Many thanks to organizers Geoff Livingston (@GeoffLiving), and Jen McClure (see @SNCR), all the speakers, the participants, MetroStar’s own Todd Pitt (@zerostrategist). The event was solid.

Share with us your thoughts and comments! Until next time,


Filed in: Community, News, Our Culture


  1. June 12, 2009 at 10:01 am

    It’s interesting that, through the lens of social media tools, the culture of an organization seems to be not only identifiable but magnified. It would seem, since consumers are gravitating towards ‘real people’ (rather than the corporate line), companies with an empowering social structure are going to come out winners.
    – Janis

  2. June 12, 2009 at 10:35 am

    wow! great job so far Mahdi, impressive live blogging content so far :)

  3. June 13, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Hi Mahdi,

    This is a great recap and thank you for mentioning the Network Solutions strategy in such detail. It was great to meet you and Todd Pitt and chat at #blogpotomac. I hope we can run into you soon.


    Shashi Bellamkonda
    Social media Swami

    • June 16, 2009 at 1:01 am

      @Shashi: Thanks, you gave an excellent talk. It was a pleasure meeting you. If you’re ever in the Reston office, do drop a line and stop by.

  4. LongHairSteve
    June 14, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Shireen Mitchell, seems to have promoted the self-serving Mass Media Myth, that the media sways people’s vote: “The RNC did not use Twitter, they did not engage the blogs, and the result? We now have a Democratic president.” Not true!

    The big vote shift to the Democratic Party was due to the disastrous events following Republican decisions again, and again for 8 years. Media only helps people express their storyline for their vote change!

    • June 16, 2009 at 1:04 am

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right to say that social media did not win the election for the Democratic Party. Shireen didn’t say that either. Her implication goes much deeper than a simplistic statement.

      Recall one of the day’s themes: “relationships, not tools.” Social media was just a tool for engaging prospective voters; i.e. a means, not the end. But as a means, the Democratic Party used it well, and engaged the masses that brought many young and undecided (or both) voters out and ran one of the most successful grassroots campaigns in recent memory. Basically, they used the tool, but with their focus on relationships.

      Right of center, social media was used, but by everyday citizens (and citizen-journalists), not by the RNC itself (at least not effectively). But notice how so many prominent members of the Republican party have now rushed to Twitter et al, and are connecting with citizens much more effectively than before.

      Again, social media did not win the election for one side nor lose it for the other. But its impact cannot be denied. Even the RNC wouldn’t deny it.

  5. Kimba
    June 16, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Padawan, you covered this event so well! I felt I was right there. Great work! Your live blogging is excellent!

  6. June 16, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    @Shashi Thanks for giving the great talk @blogpotomac I enjoyed listening to your adventures in new media! It was great to meet you at the event I am sure we will run into each other at a barcamp sometime in the not-so-distant-future.

    – Todd

    P.S. Once again thanks for the swami shout out!

3 Trackbacks +

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