without our help
How to talk to a room full of strangers for 3 hours
I gave a talk at the Hotel Sierra in Fishkill, New York, for the Dutchess Regional Chamber of Commerce last week. On blogging and branding in social media. It was part of my effort to follow the same advice I give my clients: Engage your community.
I didn’t used to know what that meant. The experience of living and working in a city like New York differs drastically from the interweaving that takes place in region like the Hudson Valley. In New York we were single faces among millions. In Millbrook, we discovered what can happen when you are one among hundreds.
When we moved our business here in 2004, we knew almost no one. It occurred to us that to survive, we would have to become visible. So how do you become involved in an area where most people have known each other since childhood?
Oddly, we managed that through blogging.
I guess like anything, if you’re going to blog it needs to be about something that interests you enough that you would do it whether or not you have a reason. Alex and I focused on culture and agriculture.
The Hudson Valley complied nicely. It has more historic sites per square mile than anywhere else in the US. It has a developed arts scene that focused strongly on local community. It has a long agricultural legacy with an increasing interest in the artisanal. And it is a darned beautiful place to be outside.
In 2005, we started a weekly blog and podcast called Virtual Hudson Valley. We twisted a few arms and convinced Leslie Land, garden Q&A columnist for the New York Times, and Cari Swanson, a local horse trainer, to be on the show every week. We also invited Ilana Papelle (now Nilsen) to add her weekly list of things to do. We had guest writers and artists.
Every week we went somewhere new and talked to someone about what they did under the premise of doing a show. We were asked the same questions a lot.
"What’s a podcast?" was the most frequent.
"How does it make money?" always seemed to follow.
I’m of the belief that no good effort is wasted, and that was the case here. People showed an interest in us because we showed an interest in them. They started to listen. They started to know who we were. They started to contact us because they wanted to be included. Then the Dutchess County Arts Council asked me to give a talk on marketing and new technologies with the podcast as an example.
That was a breakthrough moment, a transition from the outside in. Because after that, we started to get calls for business, including one from SUNY Dutchess, which became an excellent client.
Virtual Hudson Valley, with the exception of Ilana’s essential list, has been defunct for a while now. We took a break to do other projects and later decided to leave it be. But even three years after we gave it up, it continues to have an effect.
I now sit on the board of directors for the Arts Council as their vice chair for allocations. That, in turn, gives me the opportunity to meet all kinds of people: business, political and cultural; leaders, thinkers and doers. People who engage their community.
Community is no different from the web. It’s a network. That’s the point I tried to make during my talk at the Hotel Sierra. Sure there are all the critical elements that go into doing something well like research, planning, design and persistence. But contribute something worthwhile to your community, virtual and actual, and you will find you get something in return. You might even stop asking the question: "How does this make money?"