My @Midwest Experience

These last two weeks have been such a fantastic eye-opener. I’ve reassessed both where I am and where it is I need to go in terms of everything from this website to getting back into the music scene. You know how it is when someone says something you really needed to hear? You don’t realize it until after the fact, but it breathes a sense of direction into your creative muscles. You want to jump head-first into a new project and instead, have to put on the brakes.

Thank you. Thank you all for reminding me that the words I share in this blog are part of a conversation. It is so easy. It is so quick–the ability to toss a thought out for the world to see. But you have to remember you’re going to get something back. A huge lesson I’ve learned is what I can do with that feedback to take it to the next level.

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I woke last Thursday after getting roughly four hours of sleep. In my book, that’s a pretty good amount. Adrenaline was making sure I was out the door in time. I had packed all my clothing the night before, my newly purchased tablet (specifically bought to take notes and tweet up a storm) was sitting in the purse as I wolfed down a quick breakfast.

This was my first time making the two-hour trip alone. Ironically, the conference was held in the same city as my last two work-related trainings. I had just carpooled with a coworker both times. Between cow-counting and singing off-key to my fellow commuters, I was at the hotel early. And by early I mean it was hours before check-in and I had to grow creative about killing time.

Did you know Wal-Mart sells crochet kits for iPhone cases? Yeah, me neither. And for $6, it was tempting.

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The @Midwest Conference is a two-day event that brings social media experts together with small businesses. You have the amazing opportunity to network with experts in a variety of industries and get specific tips and tricks to truly understanding social media–especially the social aspect. I heard about the conference in an email roughly two weeks prior. After just making the early bird deadline by 20 minutes (yeah, saw the countdown clock as I was registering), I proceeded to turn into a toddler waiting in line at Disneyland. There was no withholding of excitement. It was all I could talk about up until the moment I left.

Thursday consisted of a choice between four hands-on lab sessions. I attended Getting Started with Social Media & How to Build Your Brand with Google+Getting Started with Social Media was an overview of Constant Contact‘s services and presented by Steve Robinson. I use Constant Contact at work for newsletters and news alerts, so it was nice to get some troubleshooting questions solved as well as learn a few features I didn’t realize were available. I have to commend Steve on getting us participants started in networking. Thanks to him, I ended up conversing with one of my conference buddies for the next two days.

Glenn, you are so wicked with marketing.

My mind was officially in social media mode. Surrounded by fellow fans of the subject, it was great to be able to toss out terminology and swap contact information. Rebecca Wardlow‘s workshop on How to Build Your Brand with Google+ is one of my favorite discussions of social media. Period. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t buying into the idea that Google+ was something to really watch out for. Ever since the big social media boom, a new one seems to pop up every 5 seconds. And since you had a Google+ account by having a Gmail account, I had felt forced into using it.

What I loved about Rebecca’s workshop is that it brought home the idea of intention. You can fall into a really ugly habit of stagnation because things are working well. Certain aspects of promotion online work fantastic for me. And when I’m asked what I’m doing, it wasn’t unusual to say “I don’t know, really”.

Now, why I thought that was a good thing–no clue. And when you’re talking marketing, intent is key. Otherwise, how do you improve? At this point, my energy’s just rising. My eyes are opening so much that I’m starting to analyze everything and no longer sure where to start to really take off. Because this experience was as much about personal growth as it was what I can bring back to my job. Just as I’m a reflection of my job, I’m my own brand by default–even without a business.

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One of the events that drew my attention to the conference was what occurred Thursday night. Any registered conference attendee had their name added to a V.I.P. list for a concert by Thomas Ian Nicholas, one of our keynote speakers for Friday. I don’t even have to explain to you all my love for music, let alone live shows.

First of all, what a down to earth person. He personally introduced himself to everyone and the group of about 7-10 of us sat down for a good half-hour before the show just talking. How he got into the industry, social media, etc. It was just an amazing opportunity and I enjoyed myself so much. Since I’ll do a separate post on the concert itself, I’m just going to say check out his music as well as Bottle of Justus–the opening act. Both are phenomenal and will be in my music library shortly.

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Having crashed in my awesome hotel room (fantastic customer service at this place), I was ready for round two. And it so exceeded expectations. This was the main conference. 2 keynotes, 13 breakout sessions and 3 lunch panels to choose from. Busy day.

Can you believe this was his first keynote? Great job!

Can you believe this was his first keynote? Great job!

Thomas Ian Nicholas started off the morning with a great opening keynote. How often do you get to hear the celebrity side of social media straight from the source? Relating was his big focus. We heard about the entertainment industry’s use of social media and how performers tie into it. But we were also able to hear his grassroots approach for the music side. Did you know he started everything (and continues to) through social media? Everything from booking shows to crowdfunding for tours.

My first breakout session was Leveraging Social Media for SEO by Travis McGlasson. For years SEO has been a subject I knew little about except it was important and I had no clue how to study it. This was the kind of crash course I needed. I now understand why keywords are so important & what “organic” searches are. Also, Google is getting really good at blending the paid ads in with search results.

Ironically, my next breakout session was chosen after another had been cancelled. It proved to be something I should have signed up for initially. The Challenges of Social Media for the Multi-Location Business by Sean McGinnis spoke to what I have to think about at work since I do assist in some of our marketing. Having a literally pro’s vs. con’s discussion is helping me layout what I’d like to bring to the table and push my program towards.

The lunch panel I chose was so popular, a few people were sitting on the floor. Storytelling & Writing featured feedback from experts in videography, radio, SEO marketing and journalism. Although there were lead-in questions, we attendees could also pose specific questions. Listening to each industry’s approach to similar issues enraptured me.

Sean McGinnis is an awesome speaker. Seriously go to one of his workshops if you ever have a chance. I unknowingly signed up for a second session with him at the conference that was my other favorite. Managing Your Personal Online Reputation: Interpreting & Influencing Search Results touched on my marketing and analytic passions. Who knew Google algorithms were so intriguing (over 200 of them)? And that there were simple techniques to showcasing your brand front and center?

The conference concluded with an interactive keynote by Melissa Schenk called Thrive Online: Your Secret Weapon for Social Media Stand Out Success. Melissa’s the type of speaker who doesn’t just make you listen. She makes you see yourself where you want to be. Her keynote touched on how video comes into play, with a lot of discussion and examples from  YouTube and Google.

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I left this conference with 60+ pages of notes, new people to discuss my passion for social media with and experts to look towards on getting better with intention and being relatable. I feel like I’m strong with the latter, but now understand and want to succeed with the former. I’m a Millennial. Reaching out to the world online is comfortable and part of my normal day. What I hope to do is allow you all to see more clearly how I continue to grow as you reach out to me in different ways.