Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Alfidi Capital at iFabbo Conference 2013 in San Francisco

I obtained a rare opportunity to peek inside an industry totally unfamiliar to me - fashion and beauty.  I attended the iFabbo Social Media Conference in San Francisco this past Saturday.  I heard about it through the Meetup social media group I monitor and I couldn't turn down the chance to check it out.  I also couldn't turn down the chance to check out the very attractive women who work in the beauty sector.  Merchants Exchange Club, here I come.

The intro from Sinead Norenius and Tonia Korakis gave us all the lowdown on the social media handles to use  (namely #iFabboSFCon) and how to tune in to the live Web stream on Spreecast.  Right there was my first lesson in something other conference organizers need to provide.  I've attended finance, mining, energy, and tech conferences since 2005 and none ever conducted Web simulcasts with messaging even though the enabling technology obviously exists.  The beauty sector is ahead of them all.

The PR panel was up first.  They mentioned their favorite perfumes, and I had no idea women like to have a "signature scent."  The panelists were fond of guest blogging, which isn't my preference as it would dilute my brand, but it probably adds star power to beauty blogs that are cognizant of celebrity status.  PR people are also very cognizant of the "verticals" of specific cosmetics.  Not every eye shadow is created equal, and high-end positioning requires very different messaging from something aimed at the Wal-Mart crowd.  I noted the importance of a media kit and it dawned on me that I've never made one.  I shall remedy that in the near term with the template the panel suggested.  A good media kit contains downloadable PDFs covering a blog's editorial policy, marketing value proposition, professional bio, corporate fact sheet, target demographic, third party testimonials, success metrics, and video newsreel.  I may not need all of those elements but I'll have fun with the ones I can do.  The panel also expects beauty bloggers to build relationships with marketing and advertising agencies so they can be brand advocates, but that also means they need to meet their partners' publishing deadlines.  Apps like Muzio and RebelMouse can curate content that's easily shared in social media.

The social media panel featured the product managers from major platforms like Facebook and Google.  Those two platforms have analytics to help improve a blog's SEO but IMHO Facebook's page statistics just aren't as deep as the stats from Google Analytics.  The most useful thing I get from my Facebook page stats is a breakdown by time of of day, so the timing of article publication throughout the day probably has some merit for bloggers writing in English for a North American audience.  My stats from Google show me getting hits worldwide, so timing doesn't matter as much for me if people in daylight hours somewhere else are reading something I publish at midnight in San Francisco.  The Google rep said Google Search now shows content getting more +1 rating on Google+, so they've adapted their own algorithm to cross-sell another platform feature and incentivize users in Google+.  Smart move, Google.  Hashtags also appear in Google Search and Google+ hangouts "on air" can broadcast live conversations.  I did not know much about Google+ Communities but it seems that some are fertile ground for blog posts that match their interests.  Google's rep also said that multiple photos in a blog post work well with their ad buys, which Google's algorithm really likes.  Well, of course it does.

Our social media panelists did offer general insights in between pushing their respective platforms.  Using "call to action" language when republishing blog posts gets people to engage with content.  "Angry at Wall Street's corruption?  Press +1 if you agree."  That's an example of a call to action I would use with my finance blog articles.  The panelists like it when bloggers promote their posts across all platforms but they advised tweaking the "intro link" somewhat because followers are smart enough to notice identical things.  That's a mistake I sometimes make on Twitter.  I have noted that many bloggers like to engage their followers by enabling comments but that was something I gave up long ago because it added little value to my content.  I will probably disable comments for any other platform I use but other bloggers are welcome to allow comments if it adds value for them.  The panel mentioned that WordPress has a plugin to tweet old posts; I hope Google comes out with something comparably useful for Blogger.  I was dismayed to learn that Google Analytics cannot at present monitor or analyze Google+ traffic, which is odd if their algorithm works so well with the other platform features I mentioned in the paragraph just above this one.  They need to fix that capability gap.  The brand panelist advocated following Twitter users who follow you, retweet you, and respond to you but I think that can be unwieldy after a few hundred followers.  I use my Twitter feed to track new information from valid primary sources (central banks, government agencies) and bond fide thought leaders.  There's no way I can follow every Joe or Jane who RT's my stuff because my feed would then be cluttered with their random life observations and I would miss news that is critical to my financial writing.  It's a style preference on my part and I've noticed that many Twitter power users with huge followings also keep their own follow lists small enough to be manageable.

I did notice a common theme emerging from these first two panels.  Pinterest and Instagram are emerging as sales and branding tools in the fashion and beauty sector because their aesthetics enable displays of visually oriented brands.  The social media platform reps really like Instagram's design-oriented creative ethic.  Instagram content that is authentic, thoughtful, and genuine should get noticed.  Now I see why PR people like bloggers who personally use products they endorse.  Photos of attractive "power users" of beauty products shared on Instagram will probably go viral within the beauty community.

The next panel on photography and videography was a topic I've rarely touched in life, other than some random shots I've thrown up on this blog when I've attended special events.  I wish I had photographed some of the attractive women at this conference but I don't think they would have granted me permission.  I'll just have to cherish the memories.  Anyway, the panelists noted the availability of apps that enable embedding of metadata into photos and videos.  Hot diggity dog, that's the kind of tech that enables the geojournalist projects I blogged about recently.  One photographer said taking photos during the "golden hour" just after sunrise or before sunset captures a soft light tone.  I'll try that the next time some attractive woman agrees to be my photo subject for a financial blog post.  You may be wondering how I would work an attractive gal into a blog article about the Federal Reserve or investment banking trends.  Me too.  I think it would just be a cool way to get a gal to pose for me.  Anyway, back to the panel.  They like "how-to" content that generates good vertical use case data, so I'll have to begin more of my blog articles with "How To . . . " in the title.  I did not know that Adobe has moved many of its programs into the cloud.  I guess they learned from watching Salesforce that customers who don't need entire software packages will pay piecemeal for limited use.  They noted that viral videos are either inspirational or strange and quirky (but not creepy).  I would like to see someone write the equivalent of Cloudonomics for media production that quantifies the inputs (production time, equipment) and outputs (marketing channel action, ROI) of a viral media piece.  The experts said lighting matters.  I really dislike those YouTube selfie webcams in dark rooms.  Get some lights, YouTubers.

BECCA Cosmetics gave us a fireside chat and product demonstration.  Gentlemen, you haven't lived until you've seen your womenfolk discuss the application of their favorite makeup.  They have it down to a science and they even know how different types of application brush hair will interact with cosmetics.  This was all very educational for me as a heterosexual male who has never been married because I have no previous experience with how women approach personal care.  I only know that they worship me for my extreme manliness.  Okay, whatever.  I did learn a little about how foundation makeup relates to bone structure.  I also learned that this stuff about cosmetics is very important to women.  I don't ever want to get between a woman and her beauty goodies.

The legal zone panel wasn't your typical boring seminar.  Their perspectives were absolutely necessary for bloggers who want to stay out of trouble.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates advertising and has guidelines for bloggers on disclosing sponsored content.  "Endorsements" sometimes look like personal opinions, but if there's a material business connection (even for one-time product swag in a gift bag) then it falls under the FTC's advertising rules.  Bloggers must disclose their relationships with products they endorse every single time on their blog or Twitter, so it pays to know Twitter's hashtag rules.  These attorneys said that commercial speech does not enjoy full First Amendment protection and the FTC's intent behind such requirements is to discourage false advertising.  BTW, I noticed that the FTC's operations have been subject to shutdowns and sequesters due to the budget shenanigans in Washington.  That does not mean Americans can break trade laws with impunity.  It means that regulators will work hard later on to find violators of current laws.

The attorneys thought that bloggers should trademark their blog's name and logo, provided they are unique and fanciful.  Bloggers can protect their visual content by putting the copyright symbol of their own watermark on photos they own.  It is extremely important to copyright only owned photos!  I will not ever copyright someone else's photo.  The panelists mentioned that stock photo archives (I'm thinking the likes of Getty Images and Corbis Images) make huge money collecting from violations of cease and desist orders their attorneys send to unauthorized photo users.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) enables social media sites to instantly report copyright violations.  Always have permission to use an image before you publish it.

Next up was the monetization panel, and I must say that the Disqus gal was extremely attractive.  I recognized her from the Disqus booth at the DataWeek Conference I attended a couple of weeks ago.   Disqus is more than just the widget I've seen on news sites and other blogs that allow comments.  It links commenters to other media they may find relevant and offers revenue sharing from recommended content.  I had wondered how they monetized their platform.  VigLink monetizes links to merchants and Luvocracy monetizes endorsements (just remember the FTC's mission from my discussion above).  I noticed The Mad Video's exhibit at iFabbo showed how it installs an embedded data layer over an online video that can link to product information or a vendor's storefront.  I might use the services that monetize text links but visual overlays are probably more useful for bloggers pushing mainly visual content.  I also wonder how these services will display on mobile devices if they are used with Pinterest and Instagram visual product endorsements.

The best lesson I took from the monetizers was that search engines give higher rankings to blogs and media pages with video content.  Videos are shared more often and are more likely to be on Google Search's first page of results.  I have my own YouTube channel and one of the first things I did when I set it up was to enable the ad display function.  I admit that I don't have many videos posted but I can make time to record some finance-related monologues once I find a decent camera.  The panel also mentioned that the most important content must be at the start of the video because that medium has a high abandonment rate online.  I can attest from experience that they're correct.  I've given up on many YouTube videos before they finished playing because they took too long to load.  If audiences like authentic content, nothing is more authentic than me running my mouth about Wall Street to a camera.  I used to consider comments to be authentic but I took them off my blog when they became havens for abuse.  I may try Disqus comments on my Alfidi Capital website pages as an experiment.  The Disqus gal assured us that her service's users are among the most content-engaged people on the Web and are often other bloggers.  I'm a frequent commenter on Disqus myself.  One panelist advised us to make our blog ads look more like our content by adjusting the ads' color schemes and borders.  Okay, but some ad services may not allow that.

More hot women appeared on the final panel to discuss the future of fashion and beauty.  Remember all of those really imaginative futures we should have had by now, with flying cars and moon colonies?  Well, they haven't happened yet and I'm still waiting for a time travel conveyance or something.  I'm also waiting to see some futuristic Star Trek fashion become real today.  I would love to see the fashion industry's interpretation of the wearable technology movement, because that will be the next big thing attracting venture funding once VCs lose their infatuation with social media and Big Data.  Anyway, enough of my wandering.  The panel said web content is so heavily re-blogged that original content matters.  Getting your blog on networks and aggregators reaches new readers who follow major brands (look no further than my presence on Seeking Alpha, which got me my first big waves of Web traffic in the finance sector).

It will eventually dawn on technologists that the emergence of Pinterest and Instagram, and the Google Search algorithm's configuration to favor videos, mark the dawn of post-literate culture in the developed world.  Those two platforms are almost entirely visual.  Text, data, and links are embedded but appear minimally intrusive.  I can't see myself using either platform because I have to publish business commentary in a text-based format.

Keynote speaker Jacqueline Wales inspired the audience with her Fearless Factor approach to motivation.  She had plenty of great advice about presenting an authentic self, having a good attitude, being focused and disciplined, knowing your audience, and recovering from adversity.  Her most memorable observations were that people fail when they play small rather than big, and that the biggest failure is the failure to try.  Lots of struggling bloggers can probably relate to Jacqueline's personal history of overcoming obstacles.

You may be wondering how I'm going to tie all this in to the finance sector.  Wonder no more.  Here we go. I haven't written much on apparel companies but I did publish my analysis of Frederick's of Hollywood a few years ago when they were executing a turnaround strategy.  Bulge bracket investment banks do plenty of corporate finance work in the fashion and beauty sector.  The bigger i-banks usually consider fashion and beauty to be a subset of their consumer/retail practices.  California Apparel News tracks fashion sector deal flow on its finance page.  Just-Style also carriers fashion finance news and market intelligence.  There's even potential for entrepreneurial disruption in the fashion sector right here in The City.  Macy's Union Square sponsors Fashion Incubator San Francisco (FiSF), where aspiring designers can launch clothing lines.  I truly believe those incubating designers should connect with the wearable tech sector and make wonderful things happen.

This iFabbo conference for fashion and beauty bloggers was really something else.  I stepped outside the pinstriped finance sector for a day and wore one of my own more daring ensembles, red shirt and everything.  I met quite a few very attractive women but only time will tell if they find Yours Truly to be intriguing.  Normal women can't help themselves around me so I have reason for optimism.  Most importantly, I got a brief education on a business sector I've never experienced before.  The blog success tips were way cool, and success is always in fashion.