convergesouth bannerConvergeSouth is the annual Web, Blogging, Social Media conference held in Greensboro, NC. In its ninth year, the conference is known for its ability to attract both local and national powerhouse speakers and experts.

In years past Robert Scoble, Craig Newmark and Vivek Wadhwa have been featured speakers and the caliber of this year’s keynote speaker was no different. Forbes Magazine “Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer”, Glen Gilmore (@glengilmore) gave an in depth presentation on avoiding the legal “landmines” present in social media. Glen is an internationally-recognized digital marketing strategist and practicing attorney and teaches Digital Marketing, Crisis Communications and Social Media Law at Rutgers University.

If there is one consistent thing about ConvergeSouth, it is that you will be exposed to more information than you could possibly absorb in a single day. So with the help of some tweets from fellow attendees, here are some things I learned that were worth sharing.

Social Media & Legal Issues

Glen Gilmore in his presentation “How to Be ‘Social’ Without Stepping on Legal Landmines” described several opportunities for companies to get in trouble over their social media use, ranging from the obvious, slander and defamation, to the more obscure; running foul of the F.T.C. for failing to disclose a material relationship.

You can also avoid being sued or ending up in legal hot water by avoiding “Monumental Stupidity“. Arguing on Facebook with someone who complains about your product or service, that’s just regular stupidity. Finding their picture on Facebook, posting it on your page and making obscene and disparaging comments about them: Monumental Stupidity.

Snagging images from someone else’s website, or using stock photos without paying for them: Monumental Stupidity. It’s too easy to find images that are being used without authorization. Gilmore pointed out that the $300 Getty Images charges for a stock photo seem like a bargain when you receive a $3000 demand for payment after you’re caught improperly using one of their photos. Just because you take the offending image down, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

Blogging & Content Marketing

Many of the conference’s speakers talked about leveraging blogging or other forms of content marketing as part of your personal or brand’s social strategy. Jayme Soulati (@soulati), blogger, author and PR Specialist, presented on how content and authenticity can build community. Plain-spoken and engaging, Soulati was a picture perfect example of how authenticity can capture and captivate an audience.

It takes a while for a blog author to develop the unique voice that creates reader loyalty and brings repeat site visits. It’s even harder to develop your voice when you aren’t using your voice. The key to blogging success is being authentic…which means writing for your audience, not for the search engines.

During her presentation, Soulati talked about her own progression as a blogger and some of the challenges she still faces today. Becoming a good blogger takes time and effort, a point that she underscored in a few different ways. There are tools that can help in the process of promoting your work or building community (Triberr, Hoop.la, etc.), but at the core is the writing.

3C’s and 3E’s

David Horn (@_davidhorne_)of Magnetic Ideas gave practical guidance on using content to market and promote your business. He gave several examples of businesses doing this effectively on the web, and provided us with the 3C’s and 3E’s of Content Marketing.

It’s 2013 and there are still companies that don’t understand that there’s no upside to berating customers or the competition online. Whether it’s directly through your website or through a social property, you should not Complain, Condemn or Criticize. The blowback and bad publicity that arise can be intense.

On the other hand, your Content Marketing efforts should strive to Entertain, Educate and Encourage your visitors. It seems logical that a positive message would be more attractive.

“Taking Advantage” of Social Media in Your Organization

Many people miss opportunities to use social media effectively, or to maximize their efforts. Christopher Craft (@ChrisQueso), author of O.P.E.N. Routine: Four Components to Personal Branding Excellence encouraged attendees to take advantage of “Wild Card Opportunities” when they arise. Wild Card opportunities are the unexpected connections and events that bubble up through your social media channels. Engage with new people, comment on what’s current, and be prepared to act on the opportunities that present themselves.

Craft detailed how a few exchanged tweets led to being quoted in a best-seller from noted Marketing Consultant Mark Schaefer, increased speaking opportunities and acquiring a new mentor.

Systematic Social Media

Social media consultant, Dorien Morin-van Dam (@moreinmedia) recognizes that many individuals and small businesses are overwhelmed with managing social media. She makes that point that “Combining Outsourcing with In-House and/or DIY Social Media Management is a WIN-WIN combination.” Whether you plan on doing it all by yourself or getting help with your social media, she offered several suggestions for building a system to maximize your efforts.

Morin-van Dam offers a quick check regarding whether you can afford paying for help with your social media. She asks the question “Do you have a marketing budget?” If you don’t have a marketing budget, and many small businesses don’t, you can’t afford paid social media. If you do have a marketing budget and you can allocate 20% to social media, you can consider outsourcing.

If you can’t outsource your social media efforts, there are many tools you can use to help manage publishing content and analyzing its effectiveness. Content tools like HootSuite, Buffer and the Facebook Scheduler can help you manage your time, and tracking tools like Social Mention and Talkwalker can provide great insights. However, it’s important to remember that in your effort to make social media more automated, that you don’t overdo it.

One way of keeping it real is to make social media easy for both you and your employees. Buy a device dedicated to capturing and publishing your content and have your employees take turns gathering photos, videos, and testimonials. Both the quality and consistency of your efforts will improve.

Attending national and regional conferences like ConvergeSouth, InternetSummit and WordCamp are great ways of getting new and actionable ideas for improving your business. They provide the opportunity to learn while interacting with thought leaders. While the next ConvergeSouth is a year away, you don’t have to wait that long to get great information that can help your business. You can start today by following the people mentioned in this article.