Social Schmoozia - Third Tuesday, Shel Holtz, Mesh Preview...

Heading off shortly to the preview schmoozefest for next year's Mesh Conference with the Gang of Five and a crowd of others.

With last night's Third Tuesday event featuring the outstanding Shel Holtz, this will make two social media meetups in two days - both of them happening in Irish pubs. Éirinn go bloggy Brách!

I didn't have my laptop with me during Shel's talk last night, so I didn't capture the kind of notes I might normally have done, but here are a few interesting snippets I did manage to scribble into ye olde moleskine...

If there was a theme to Shel's comments last night, it was that the first purpose of any podcasting initiative should be to build community. Amen to that.

As Shel pointed out, this is something so often missed in the superficial view of podcasting - many businesses approach it as if it's simply a form of niche broadcasting or nifty downloadable audio. Not the point.

It comes up a lot in discussions of this emerging medium, but it's worth restating: if you're going to podcast, host it on a blog. Let people comment, in text or audio. Create a gathering place for the community you're hoping to reach.

Once you've got this going, you can then let your listeners start to drive your content. People will be quick to tell you what they like and don't like - if you only give them the forum in which to do so.

There's a thread here that runs close to one of the pieces of advice I give people whenever they ask how they should go about "breaking into" the blogosphere (eek!). It's a simple, oft-stated point: read first, then write. Or in Shel's words: "listen first, before you jump in". Makes sense.

Shel also shared some memorable ROI examples, in response to a question from the floor. I'm always keen to hear these great stories of blogging and podcasting initiatives driving measurable results - it's a big part of what I do for a living now.

Shel talked about the Butler Sheetmetal company in Colne, Lancashire - very much a traditional bricks-and-mortar (or tin and steel) business, who have been using blogs to drive community engagement with their clients. By their own reckoning, they've seen a fourfold increase in sales - a growth rate they attribute mostly to their blog and other online marketing efforts. I found some more info on the story on Christina Kerley's blog, here. Excellent stuff.

For a more podcast-y ROI story, Shel also mentioned an internal communications initiative at IBM. They have switched from a massive conference call, featuring three senior execs telecasting to 5,000 employees spread out across the globe, to a podcast - allowing employees to time-shift their listening, and really engage with the discussion. Plus - not incidentally - they've saved more than $200,000 per year on conference call costs. Stick that R in yer I, missus.

In short: Shel gives good talk. Genuinely charming, smart, business and PR-savvy, knowledgeable bloke. Loved it.

Right. Mine's a Guinness. I'll be right there...