How do we communicate online, and what does that mean for businesses? That was the central question posed by last week's J.Boye conference.
Held May 4 through 6 at Philadelphia's Down Town Club, J.Boye's Philadelphia 2010 Conference suggested a fistful of ways to examine topics like online community building, content management, and e-commerce in light of the ever-changing role the internet plays in our culture. In addition to a series of pre-conference tutorials, attendees had access to eight tracks, with four on each main day of the conference: higher education, online strategy, user experience, web content management, intranets, e-health, online communication, and web project management.
Keynote speaker Peter Kim of the Dachis Group opened the conference with a presentation that characterized social media as a return to the participation economy that existed before the industrial revolution. Yet while people were once expected to communicate with a handful of compatriots, companies are now expected to share their public faces with the entire world. But that can create other problems. "People don't scale," says Kim, who wonders how involved a businessman can be in social media while also running a business. He concluded by emphasizing that social media should be used for business value -- not just to keep up with the latest trend.
Tony Byrne of the Real Story Group (formerly known as CMS Watch) dusted off his crystal ball and took a look into the future of web content management. According to Byrne, content management is no longer about managing web pages; instead, it's about managing multiple communication channels in multiple contexts. He predicted that company intranets would become increasingly open to business partners, while also casting doubt on the notion that records management would become a key facet of content management. Lastly, Byrne thinks that companies need to embrace intermittent users of intranets and social business. "The casual contributor is not going away," says Byrne.
Bob Johnson of Bob Johnson Consulting and Jay Collier of Bates College discussed the ups, downs, and methodology of moving traditionally print publications into a digital environment, using university alumni newsletters as the foundation for their talk. "You have about five seconds to get people's attention," says Johnson, who emphasized the differences in format between the two mediums. People need to be able to quickly scan a webpage the same way they would a print publication, and anything that interrupts the experience or delays the reader - such as confusing organization, PDFs, or "flip technology" - needs to be done away with. Otherwise, the reader is lost.
Wednesday wrapped up with Web Idol, a competition that gave a collection of vendors 7 minutes each to present their product -- no more, no less. Enterprise web content management developer Terminalfour managed to wow the judges and win the competition thanks to a lively presentation and a Benjamin Franklin hat.
On Thursday, Eric Karjaluoto of smashLAB asked attendees if they could "speak human" - if their marketing, advertising, and messaging would actually appeal to people, or just alienate them. According to Karjaluoto, with the advent of social networking, being "human" has become more important than being professional. Although smaller companies have an easier time connecting with customers on a personal basis, many attempt to copy big corporations through their messaging, advertising campaigns, and demeanor. According to Karjaluoto, that leaves them "broke, boring, and invisible." He advises companies to seek to connect with people, rather than simply trying to advertise.
Cupcake entrepreneur Mari Luangrath described how her business, Foiled Cupcakes, used Twitter to kick its sales into high gear. If that doesn't sound like anything out of the ordinary, consider the fact that Foiled Cupcakes did it entirely by accident. Luangrath began tweeting about her business for fun, rather than in an attempt to move more product. Like Karjaluoto, she emphasized the importance of connecting with people instead of simply trying to pitch a product.
Thursday also featured a keynote by Mary Jo Foley, author of the Microsoft Watch blog for ZDnet. Foley discussed Microsoft's corporate culture, development strategy, and forthcoming projects and programs, including Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.
In many ways, founder Janus Boye's brief opening speech hit on the central theme that emerged throughout the conference: focus. According to Boye, his company suffered last year because they tried to be all things to all people and pursued too many separate endeavors: blogging, reports, conferences, and many others. At the same time, the company wasn't doing enough things that actually generated revenue. The same is true of businesses in this new age of technology. "You need a clear focus," says Boye.