What I Learned From My Panelists at #BlogathonATX

I’m on the executive planning committee for a sweet little 1-day annual blogging conference in Austin called #BlogathonATX.  It started a few years ago when my friend Ilene tweeted out that she wanted to get a bunch of her friends together for a whole day of blogging and eating, and has morphed into… well, exactly that.  Only now we have legitimate panels and workshops and stuff happening during the day as well.

blogathonatx2013-bannerWe usually have between 100-150 people attend each year and food is always sponsored by amazing local restaurants and businesses.  Even though it is a lot of work for our team, we look forward to it because the people who come are simply the best.

This year I got to moderate a panel called “Social Media You Can See” about using visual content on various social platforms. I was interested in moderating this panel for two reasons: First, because I have very little skill in the visual arts, but I recognize how important it is in getting your message across online. As a digital media strategist some of the first advice I give to anyone is ‘show don’t tell’. But of course, that advice is much easier to take if you have either graphic design or photography abilities, which (aside from my legendary selfie skills) I do not.  The second reason I wanted to moderate this panel was because of the panelists themselves. We were lucky enough to get four very talented bloggers, all of whom are amazing with visuals on social media. I knew I’d have a chance to ask them the questions I wanted answers to as their moderator. They did not disappoint!

My panelists were Cathy Benavides of Austin Slave to Fashion/Slave to Social, Kay Marley-Dilworth of ATX Food News, Lydia Fiedler of Understand Blue, and Jane Ko of A Taste of Koko… and here are some of the takeaways I got from these talented ladies:

Stop being a passive user on Instagram & Pinterest

This is probably a no-brainer for most people but for some reason, I have personally had a hard time using both of these platforms as social mediums. I follow and am followed; I post pictures and I *heart* others’ photos like there’s no tomorrow. But I rarely engage in any back-and-forth with other users, and rarely do I tag friends or leave comments. Which, after thinking about it, is kind of odd– because I’m obsessive about doing these things on Facebook and Twitter.

The visual media that people are posting on Instagram and Pinterest, however, are perfect jumping off points for conversations that go well beyond the typical ‘oooh nice!’ or ‘aww, cute!’  I resolved to myself while the panel was still going on and I was up there interviewing them that I’d change my ways.

Give More Than You Get on Social Media

This isn’t rocket science either, and it’s advice I’ve given to others repeatedly; but Cathy Benavides actually put a number to it and it made me rethink my whole strategy. She said she spends 80% of her time engaging and promoting others on social media, and only 20% promoting herself. That’s pretty incredible if you think about it, but it makes a lot of sense. Obviously you don’t want to spend all your time shouting about yourself online because that just makes you an obnoxious jerk; but when you spend more time reading and engaging around what others’ are doing it doesn’t just make you a nicer person to be around…it allows you to develop real insights into your audience/market, and  learn to communicate in ways that are sure to reach directly to them.

Ask Permission, Or Risk the Consequences

All four of the panelists brought down the hammer on this topic. You don’t ‘borrow’ anyone else’s media unless you ask permission FIRST.  Else you will be at the mercy of the Blogging Mafia, and from what I hear, they will ruin you. (I might be a little scared of Kay & Jane now.)

Untitled designYou Don’t Have to Be An Artist to Make Beautiful Media

This was music to my ears because my artistic abilities are tragically limited. But Lydia Fiedler passionately defended visual art as something anyone can do. Cathy recommended using free apps like Canva & PicMonkey which make it easy for non-designers to come up with attractive web-worthy graphics. Jane confessed that she has no shame when it comes to getting a great food picture and has been known to stand on chairs at restaurants for the right angle. She also recommended never using a filter app for food pics, but does use Snapseed & VSCO cam for minimal processing of other types of photos.

The bottom line is that you can’t get away from using visuals in your digital media… that is, unless you want to be ignored.  Pinterest is now the second-largest site driving traffic on the web; Facebook posts containing photo content get 100% more engagement; and Tweets that use visuals gain 35% more re-tweets than those without.  So even if it feels intimidating, take the plunge! Try some of these apps out and have fun with making images and graphics that represent you, your site or your business.

Thanks again to my awesome #BlogathonATX panelists for sharing their knowledge and encouraging me (and the rest of the BATX attendees) to get visual.  If you’d like to follow these ladies on social media, you can find them here:

Cathy Benavides

Twitter: @SlaveToFashion

Pinterest: @SlaveToFashion

Instagram: @atxslavetofashion

Kay Marley-Dilworth

Twitter: @ATXFoodNews

Pinterest: @ATXFoodNews

Instagram: @kaymarleydilworth

Lydia Fiedler

Twitter: @understandblue

Pinterest: @understandblue

Instagram: @understand_blue

Jane Ko

Twitter: @atasteofkoko

Pinterest: @atasteofkoko

Instagram: @atasteofkoko

Amanda Quraishi

Twitter: @ImTheQ

Pinterest: @ImTheQ

Instagram: @ImTheQ