When you attend a conference that begins with a clutch of zombies reenacting the dance from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, you come to one of two conclusions: either someone slipped a mickey into my espresso, or this is not going to be your typical conference. Fortunately, the espresso was fine and SWOMFest (put on by the Society for Word of Mouth) turned out to be not just a refreshingly different conference but an event that provided some great insights and an opportunity to rub elbows and socialize with people from a wide range of locations and industries.
The speakers were all great, and each brought a different side of WOM to light (Trey Reeme in particular has convinced me that credit unions are not only sound repositories for my money, but they are cool) and the setting in the Long Center felt like you were attending a stand-up comedy show without the two-drink minimum. Yaphet Smith’s presentation on how to develop story around what you’re trying to say really opened my eyes as I had never thought of applying the same elements that a screenwriter would when thinking about word of mouth.
One of the fantastic ideas that hosts Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell put into action was providing several extended breaks between speakers and an extended lunch for all of the attendees- providing plenty of time to socialize and talk with the other people in attendance. It’s a natural extension of the concepts behind word of mouth that were the focus of the conference; get people talking, and you will find that the conversations lead to great things for those participating. Need some social lubrication to get things started? Social networking kits were provided to each attendee filled with stickers (to tag yourself, and more importantly, others with fun descriptors) and buttons reminiscent of the flair from Office Space. I don’t believe that I saw anyone manage to make the required 15 pieces that Chotchkie's management asks for, but there was definitely a lot of self expression taking place.
Going into the conference, I assumed that the discussions around WOM would primarily be about how they apply to large businesses like Southwest and Wal-Mart (and Haley Rushing’s presentation did not disappoint) but I was amazed at how well the same ideas worked for small business. One of the activities was a case study of local Austin start-up Mamboberry, with founder Jacob Boone on hand. We all had a chance to help brainstorm ideas for Jacob on different WOM techniques he could employ to help his business- it was a great chance to take concepts and apply them directly to a real world scenario.
I spoke with some really cool people like Rob Williams from Orangejack, Ted Wright and Amy Thomas from Fizz and Bill Wheaton from Fellowship Technologies. The people at SWOMFest really did cover a broad spectrum from small business to large companies, marketing people and entrepreneurs, those new to social media and old hands at it. One of the most refreshing things about SWOMFest was the atmosphere- it was relaxed and casual, and not at all what you would expect for a “business conference”. It felt much more like attending a party; sharing conversations with friends old and new over some food and drink with the occasional event provided by our hosts to help keep things moving along. There was enough variety in the backgrounds of those in attendance that it seemed impossible that you could ever run out of things to talk about.
And when you get right down to it, talking is really what word of mouth is all about.