A Half-dozen PodCamps and No Signs of Stopping

It always takes me too long to write a post about PodCamp Western Mass.

We just put our sixth camp in the books this past Saturday, and I’ve spent the last few days mulling over the new things I learned, poring over posts, photos, and emails from other campers — some I’ve just met, some old friends — and generally glowing over the awesomeness of this event.

It’s truly one of my favorite days of the year, like Old Home Days with an extra-healthy educational and social component. I’m not one to overstate how great something is unless it’s warranted, and also not one to stay involved with something once it’s run its course for me. So, six years after signing on to launch PCWM along with Morriss Partee and seeing it evolve (this year under the lead organization of six-time camper Kelly Galanis, in her flame-haired glory), to be this jazzed about something and already looking forward to PCWM7 proves we’ve hit on something special.

Each year, PodCamp has offered some comfortable consistency along with welcome changes each time we’ve convened. It’s steadily gotten larger, for one, attracting seasoned campers along with first-timers who have no idea what they’re getting into, but jump in anyway. The t-shirts we give away look similar to those of previous years, but this Saturday session, listed more sponsors than we’ve ever had before on the back. The ‘Twitter Fountain –‘ the real-time flow of Tweets projected on the wall of the main room — was replaced this year by Eventstagram, projecting photos and videos of the day as it happened.

After check-in, opening remarks, and cups of coffee and muffins, everyone was sent to the evolving agenda board to see what sessions might be offered and also post what they wanted to learn about. Damn if those giant Post-its aren’t a thing of beauty every year, stuck to a random wall pointing people to various classrooms.

Another difference for me at PCWM6, compared to previous years, was that I decided not to present. Instead, I decided to use all of my time to attend other people’s classes, and I’m glad I did — I didn’t miss nearly as much that I wanted to see and was able to focus on the lessons at hand instead of thinking ahead about my own Powerpoint slides and bullet points.

That said, here are some of my thoughts from each session I was able to catch:

Creating Meaningful Content with Jon Reed

This was a session after my own heart — discussing various journalistic and editorial skills that can, and should, Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.04.45 PMbe applied to content creation and curation on the web. It’s not about having the most followers, the most Tweets, or the most photos posted on Instagram — it’s about the quality Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.05.06 PMof what you’re posting and how well it resonates with your core audience, whether that audience is ten people deep or ten thousand. Jon is the co-founder of another excellent nonprofit group in our area, Hidden Tech, marking one of many crossovers with other groups I noticed throughout the day.  Here are some of my favorite soundbites from the class… I plan on looking more deeply into the idea of ‘Design Thinking.’

Jon’s ‘Google this’ suggestion: Hubspot Pool Guy

Branding to Change the World with Chris Landry

This session looked at how all brands need to clarify their true message — what their mission is, what they’re really selling, and to whom — to succeed in today’s business climate. Chris works extensively with nonprofit organizations, but the lessons apply to any business: no matter how many marketing dollars you spend, they’ll Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.21.04 PMbe worthless if you’re not listening to and communicating effectively with your customers. It’s also key to define your niche and who it benefits, revisit what you’re putting out into the world frequently, and make edits as needed. The two big takeaways for me during this class were how nonprofits especially might talk to their audience in better ways (ever given $10 to a cause only to be thanked with an invitation to a $500 gala?) and how marketers can ‘brand for good’ without going to one of two extremes: depicting a utopia where everyone is happy and prosperous, or conversely, a distopia of starving children and wasteland. For the majority of us, the reality lies somewhere between the two.

Chris’ ‘Google this’ suggestion: United Breaks Guitars

E-mail Marketing Update Session with Liz Provo

This was a session I was particularly jazzed to attend because I use email marketing with a couple of clients regularly, and not only was I in search of some best practices tips, I also felt like I might gain some ammunition on some of the points I’ve been trying to convince them of (i.e newsletters need not be novellas).Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.40.11 PM

Thankfully, that’s just what Liz provided: Advice and stats to back up the notion that e-newsletters should be brief, to the point, and offer something to the reader, whether it’s a discount or a tidbit of information. She also offered some great reminders: 51% of us are reading newsletters we receive in our email on our mobile devices, for instance, so the amount of scrolling a reader needs to do amounts to how many times they have to touch the screen with their finger; brand consistency with use of colors, logos, fonts, etc. is important and easily achieved (try colorcop.net to match web colors with print colors), and a good baseline for a subject line’s length is five to eight words or 40 characters.

View Liz’s slides here!

 The Psychology of Social Media with Jennifer Williams

I was glad to see Jennifer revisit this popular session from last year, because it was one of the few that I missed and everyone was buzzing about it. The crux of the class was to get a grasp on the different ‘mindsets’ of each popular social network first in order to best use them as tools. For instance, Facebook asks us to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ with our posts. Twitter asks ‘Who am I right now?’ and Pinterest asks ‘Who do I want to be?’ in an aspirational way. Knowing what questions the networks are asking, figuratively, helps us know what to post and how… answering the question ‘Who am I right now’ might work some of the time on LinkedIn, where the question being posed is ‘Who am I professionally,’ but it’s not a slam dunk and can sometimes even backfire.

Jennifer’s session also offered a lot of tips about specific networks to build on this psychological base… posts with a list or strong visual component do particularly well on StumbleUpon, for example. Google+ is one of the few social networks more dominated by men than women. The average sale on Facebook, based on mentions of a product, amounts to $54. All helpful tips for individuals and business users.

Read more about Better Marketing Through Science here!

Social Gone Mobile with Alfonso Santaniello

The final session of the day for me was a roundtable (or, in this case, round-floor) on social apps, particularly those that are lesser known or more popular among teenagers and tweens. These kinds of apps are those that often come out of nowhere to lead a new trend, or for that matter, be purchased by Google or Facebook for billions of dollars, so they’re important to keep tabs on. We spent a good amount of time on some of the new ‘anonymous’ apps, for instance, like Whispr and Appsecret, which let people say things without being identified — be it about a person, and establishment, or just a thought. Clearly, these apps have strong pros and cons… we’ve already seen the damage anonymity can do when it comes to bullying and ‘trolling’ online, but conversely a lack of privacy has a lot of internet users feeling weary — and wary — of Big Brother. The good news is social apps are being used for good in all sorts of ways. High school students are making their own PSAs about topics that concern them using Vine, and Snapchat (a photo-based app wherein the photo disappears after a certain amount of time) is being used to offer ‘secret discounts’ to followers of businesses, especially restaurants.

Read more about anonymous apps in advertising here!


Some other perks of the day, thanks again to Kelly:

Awesome Podcamp computer bag schwag.

Hot Barbeque lunch for the WIN.

Flavored water pitchers throughout the day.

Live after-party entertainment.

…I mean really; why would you miss this? See you next year!


It’s Time for the Sixth Installment… PodCamp Western Mass.

Be part of the push: share the press release here!

A full day of lively discussion, info-sharing, and plenty of documentation via smartphone, tablet, or laptop awaits at PodCamp Western Mass. 6 (#PCWM6), this year slated to convene on Saturday, April 19 at Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Business Center.

The event welcomes anyone interested in learning more about social media and networking, from beginners to advanced practitioners. It’s one example of an ‘unconference,’ at which participants choose the topics they’d like to discuss on the day of the event. It’s the longest continually running PodCamp in New England, organized by local volunteers.

As a co-founder, this is my take on the day: it’s a democratic approach in line with the key tenets of social media and networking, which aim to involve everyone in a global conversation.

Our world has always been a social one, and while technology is moving the medium forward, it’s still a very human phenomenon. ‘Real-life’ events like PCWM highlight that fact, and offer all types of people – extroverts and introverts alike, opportunities to both learn and teach.

PodCamps also aim to promote education, innovation, and collaboration between new media enthusiasts and professionals of all types, including bloggers, social networkers, marketers, and the people who read, watch, and listen to them. Anyone can also suggest or lead a session, and topics often include overviews of current and emerging trends.

PCWM will be held on Saturday, April 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at HCC, with an after-party at Slainte in Holyoke to follow, with a special after party performance by country singer AJ Jansen. Attendees are encouraged to bring laptops, power strips, smartphones, and cameras, and can come and go as their schedules allow. The cost of the program is $30 and $10 for students, which includes a box lunch and morning refreshments, as well as a PCWM t-shirt as supplies last. Tickets are limited, and participants are encouraged to pre-register via EventBrite.
About PodCamp WesternMass
PodCamp WesternMass (PCWM)launched in 2009 to allow anyone interested in the online world to share ideas, hear from industry experts, and participate in discussions at their own pace. PCWM is part of a large network of similar events; the first PodCamp was held in September 2006 in Boston, and today camps are staged around the globe in response to this rapidly growing phenomenon. To learn more or to register, visit the PodCamp WesternMass website (http://podcamp.westernma.biz/).

Solid Gold Sponsor: HCC Kittredge Center

Timeless Classic Sponsor: Constant Contact

Front Row Sponsors: Winstanley Partners, RedHeaded Diva

Backstage Sponsors: Valley Gives , Epic Filmmakers

I Would Like, If I May, to take you on a PodCamp Journey.

Saturday, Feb. 25 brought with it the fourth installment of an annual event that’s become as ingrained in me as my loves for pasta and cheese.

PodCamp Western Mass. 4 convened at Holyoke Community College and welcomed more than 120 campers. Brings a tear to my nerdy little eye.

This is a holy day for me, and for many friends and colleagues, in part because much of the other 364 days of the year is spent answering the question ‘What’s a PodCamp?’.

As we’ve found over the last few years, though, the best way to explain PCWM is to show and tell. So, with some bold-faced emphasis on new or cool tidbits I noticed throughout the day, enjoy my PCWM4 Wrap-up and please chime in with any questions or additional tips in the comments!

The day began with check-in at the gorgeous Kittredge Business Center at Holyoke Community College. My co-organizers and I can’t thank HCC enough for this beautiful, technology-hip space.

Leslie and Kelly at the check-in table

That’s Lesley and Kelly manning the check-in table, armed with coffee and an iPad check-in system. Attendees only needed to scroll down to their name, press a green button, and move on to collect their official PodCamp Western Mass. t-shirt.


That’s me explaining said shirt and pointing out the ‘Trail Blazer’ sponsors printed on the back: HCC, New England Promotional Marketing, The Businews Channel, and Winstanley Partners. We stayed with the same QR code design for the shirts as in years past – the code on the front leads anyone to the PCWM website. BLTees in Palmer, Mass. is the brainiac print shop behind our shirts. If you’re anywhere between Worcester and Pittsfield — or even if you’re not — use BLTees. Their work is impeccable and their shop is way cool:


QR codes were everywhere at camp this year, though. Presenters placed QR codes leading to online copies of their slide decks, white papers, and helpful apps and software next to the session board or in their presentation rooms. I was also handed more than one business card with a QR code printed on it.

Campers got swag bags contributed by sponsor NEPM and filled with goodies from Lesley Lambert Realtor, Julianne Krutka Realtor, Finck & Perras Insurance, Cambridge Credit Counseling, Grow My Company, and Bacon and Wilson Attorneys at Law. The bags were a new treat this year and uber-cool! They’re the kind of little backpack-style bags that are great for day hikes.

We placed the session board on a first floor wall this year, but attendees  quickly realized they could see the whole day’s schedule from a better vantage point on the second floor and the stairs. The session board is an agenda that doesn’t exist until that morning because it’s based on what campers want to learn about and/or teach —  I love this photo of everyone taking a bird’s eye view.

Checking out the Session Board

Session board eagle's eye view

After a quick gander at the sessions, I started off with a presentation on Augmented Reality (AR) led by PCWM co-founder and overall mensch Morriss Partee.

Essentially, Augmented Reality refers to apps or software that add a new layer of information to our surroundings. Think Arnold Schwartzenegger’s bionic eyes in Terminator; not only can you see the burly biker in front of you, but also his measurements, how much gas is left in the tank of his hog, and whether or not his sunglasses will fit a cyborg’s head. Theoretically.

Existing AR apps aren’t so far removed from this scenario, though. Here are a few we discussed during Mo’s session:

Yelp’s Monocle, which uses the phone’s GPS and compass to display markers for restaurants, bars and other nearby businesses on top of the camera’s view. Read more at ReadWriteWeb.

HistoryPin.com connects the past with the future — users can scan their surroundings to see what they used to look like. Say you’re sitting in the library; through user-submitted photos and video, iPhone and ‘droid users can point their phones at the stacks in front of them to see what they looked like 20 years ago, or if they were even there 60 years ago.

Star Chart. This app allows users to point their phone at the sky day or night, inside or out, and see a map of the stars complete with constellation outlines. Smart Person Tip (thanks Christine): Point the phone at not just the ceiling, but the floor. The sky is above and below us.

You can see more examples on Mo’s blog here.


The next session I checked out covered Pinterest, the current darling of social media. Led by my friend Lesley Lambert, who also happens to be one of the most social-media-savvy Realtors on the planet, the hour offered an overview followed by a deep-dive look at ways to best use Pinterest as an individual and a business. Rather than try to rehash LL’s brilliance, I’ll simply direct you to her slideshow here. The big takeaway: show you’re human, and the humans will flock.

12 p.m.: Lunch. Bistro Boxes. Nom.

HCC’s catering group provided the lunch boxes, which ranged from Boursin cheese and veggie wraps to roast beef and tarragon sammies, along with sides, drinks, and cookies for dessert. The cranberry-orzo salad side was my personal fave.

Shortly after lunch, WGGB, an ABC affiliate, interviewed a few of us for the nightly news. While my segment is akin to Malcolm Jamal Warner’s on the Cosby Show episode in which he finds a dead mobster in a pond (seen here at the 8:20 mark), I’m still super proud and I love the Etsy shout-out of LL’s Twitter Earrings at the close.

Next on deck: The Speak Up! Audio Session with Mike Thompson and Drew Thompson Hooke of The Workshop. For the first time in PCWM history, Mike and Drew had to repeat their session three times throughout the day to meet camper demand.

Audio Session with Mike and Drew

They covered everything from the pros and cons to different types of microphones (cardioid vs. omnidirectional – look at my lingo!) to production tricks when creating vids, podcasts, commercials, and more. Plus, they ended their presentation with demos of two technology-based instruments – a MIDI glove and a propane-tank drum wired to a soundboard. If that’s not a cool factor IDK what is.

Mike and Drew hope the developing prototypes have potential in the gaming industry, and I can’t see why not. Thanks to them, I now know what it sounds like when I flip the bird. (It’s kind of like traffic jam-meets-Rosemary’s Baby.)

Me and the Music Glove!

After listening intently to Speak Up!, I switched gears and led my own session – Social Photography. Make it Work. (My thanks to Tim Gunn.)

My presentation was geared toward the novice and intermediate social media user, and looked at different ways SM can be used to improve visibility online for individuals and brands. I reviewed some of my own tips and tricks, and attendees offered some, too. Here are a few:

BigHugeLabs.com. Whether you want to create a masthead for your blog, a facebook landing page, a Twitter background, or find complementary colors for the trim in your bedroom, BHL is the place to start. It’s a hotbed of easy-to-use photo editing tools that are as fun as they are useful.

PhotoFetcher. A WordPress plug-in that allows for easy set-up of photo galleries. I had not heard of this before… thus the awesomeness of PodCamp.I must also admit I haven’t yet figured out how to add it to my blog, but when I do, I’ll report back.

Picnik/Google+. Picnik is moving its creative tools over to Google+ in April, but I suspect the features will remain largely the same. For now, anyone can use Picnik’s premium tools at no cost.

Thanks, Seth Kaye for this HappyJax photo.

At this point, there’s one session to go at PCWM4, and we’re all a little punch-drunk with knowledge. For me, that means there’s no better place to go than a session led by web-channel creator, Creative Strategy Agency owner, pizza-lovin’, loud-laughin’ Alfonso Santaniello.

Al led a discussion on Google+ that included instructions on how to claim your Google+ vanity URL (go here) and a lot of tomfoolery. He’s a good sport to lead one of the last sessions of the day that nevertheless welcomed about half of all of the day’s campers.

Al and Julianne

Here’s Al mulling over what he’s going to say while Julianne Krutka and Thom Fox mug for the cameraphone.

That’s the long and short of it… overall, our largest year ever, with a few constants (it snowed again) and a few surprises (Robo-Glove comes to mind, not to mention the impromptu Happy Birthday song for Republican reporter Patrick Johnson.)

Were you there? What’d you think? Did you miss it?