The Power of Participation: Scenes from SXSW

It’s day 4 at SXSW, and as always, it’s a seriously dense, information-packed and highly experiential event. Look out for my SXSW diary post after the event on the Convince & Convert blog.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of cool experiences where I actually got to participate in the experience.

Make the Audience Work for Their Supper

On Friday night, I attended a Facebook Live broadcast of @Midnight, the comedy game show from Comedy Central. Chris Hardwick and the comedians were fantastic. And they invited the Facebook Live audience to use the reactions emoji to vote for the contestants to award bonus points during the broadcast. It was a great way to get the virtual viewers invested in the game.

Acknowledge The Audience

At a panel featuring the ever-insightful Carlos Gil, as well as Snapchat influencers CyreneQ, Danny Berk, and Shaun Ayala, Danny shot a Snapchat video featuring the audience itself. This got people in the audience excited and, I’d bet, got them to follow his account to see that story and others from him (I know I did).

Turn Them Into Collaborators

At a session with creative agency, 1st Avenue Machine (and a virtual Flula Borg, comedian and DJ), the audience got to participate and help make a music video in less than an hour. Not only was it fun, but it made us want to spread the word about the experience.

This is one session that stands out in my mind from the festival so far, and I’ve told dozens of people about it already.

Engage Them with Each Other

At the Columbia University (alma mater, what what!) digital storytelling lab session with Refinery29 on their “Empathy Lab” project, the facilitators had the audience interview a stranger in the audience to evoke empathy and deepen our understanding of each other.

It was a great exercise to demonstrate the kind of work they were doing. Exercises to frame your thesis and build relationships within the audience can be powerful tools.

Ask Their Opinions

At the premiere of American Gods, I was interviewed by Rotten Tomatoes as part of their “fan reaction” piece. Getting validation from fans (third party social proof) helped to showcase the initial thoughts and feedback from real people, not just the critics.

Create Reciprocation

As author Robert Cialdini said in his session, one way to persuade people is to build reciprocation. If you give me something, I’m more likely to do something for you.

All of these different types of participation get the audience to spread the word and be invested in the experiences.

Submit Your Best Work to the CMAs!

As we head into February, I’m starting to look forward to spring, and with that comes the annual Content Marketing Awards from Content Marketing Institute. I’m excited to be a judge for the second year in a row, and I’m always psyched to see what creative concepts my fellow marketers bring to the table.

The Content Marketing Awards honor the best projects, agencies, and marketers of the year and include 92 different categories from distribution to editorial.

If you’re a content marketer, I hope you’ll submit your work, and I hope to read it in a few months’ time.

And if you’re not ready to submit yet, but you’re looking to hone your marketing skills, I hope to see you at this year’s Content Marketing World, where I’ll be presenting a lab.

Good Things Come in 3s: Retreat, Podcast, Webinar

I love the beginning of the year because I always feel energized to take on new things and look ahead to new projects. In 2017, I’ll be teaching for the fourth year in a row at the City College of New York. I’ll be speaking at events across the country (look for me in March at Social Media Marketing World). And I’m excited to be working with new clients through my marketing agency, Media Volery.

As always, lots of things are in the works, so here are a few quick takeaways from the last 7 days.

Make Time to Grow

Earlier this week, I spent a couple of days with the crew at Convince & Convert. It’s always incredibly invigorating to be in a room with savvy marketers, content producers, social media gurus, business development specialists, and writers—all working towards one goal.

Working with them reminds me that we have to make time to take ourselves to the next level. Even if you’re busy with your nose to the grindstone, you have to systematically make time to get better, analyze where your deficits are, and make a plan for the future.

(And you should also make time for a little fun.)

Shout It Out

This week, I had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts on content marketing as a pillar of thought leadership on the Platform Giant podcast with Shane Purnell. It’s a great reminder that thought leadership is built upon creating content that people benefit from and building a community who trust you and your story.

In other words: To build thought leadership, you have to tell your story in a compelling way, build content for them, and create a space for others to connect with you and each other.

Don’t Just Make Content; Get the Most Out of the Content You Create

Finally, I’ll be speaking for the Mutual Fund Education Alliance next week on content marketing and best practices for distributing content. Instead of creating lots more content, spend 2017 focusing on how to get the most out of the content you already have.

Join me at Wednesday, January 25, at 1pm for this discussion.

Click here for more information.

3 Books to Become a Better Business Person

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I’m busy to a fault—which in 2016 meant that I didn’t as much reading done as I might have liked.

But of the books I did manage to read*, there are three that truly stand out as great resources for anyone looking to become a better business person, a more effective marketer, a more comfortable presenter, and just a better and more empathetic person in general.

Thank You For Arguing by Jay Heinrichs

We all need to make our case at work, at home, with our friends and loved ones, and with clients/customers. If you’ve ever found yourself having trouble persuading people or you just want to be a more effective communicator, be sure to check out this funny and enlightening book by Jay Heinrichs.

With a combination of Aristotelian methodology and pop culture references, it should keep your attention and teach you a thing or two.

Steal the Show by Michael Port

I’m pretty comfortable in front of a crowd. My earliest memories of speaking in front of 100+ people was at the tender age of 5. But even so, I found that I learned quite a few useful techniques from this book by Michael Port.

From structuring speeches to working on your vocal techniques, there are lots of specific skills for even seasoned speakers.

Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

As a professor and as a consultant, I constantly have to give and receive feedback. And as we’ve all experienced, sometimes there are miscommunications or misunderstandings. This book shares some great frameworks for how to better reframe conversations. And it also shares advice on recognizing communications issues so that you can head them off.

This is definitely a book that just about everyone can benefit from—from parents to business people.

As we head into the new year, I look forward to reading lots more books. I hope that you’ll check out my 2017 picks. Do you have book recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments! 

*I did manage to read both Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Hamilton: The Revolution…so you can see what might have captured my interests this year. Other books I read included some Neil Gaiman, the helpful Locavore’s Handbook by friend Leda Meredith, and the excellent Hug Your Haters by friend Jay Baer.

This post contains affiliate links; when you purchase one of these books, I get a small commission. 

See You in Fargo! November 15

It’s the fall of AAF! After an awesome session at AAF Buffalo (thanks to Luminus Media for writing such a fun recap of the event) earlier this month, I’ll be in AAF North Dakota for a talk in November.

In the Fargo area? Be sure to join me for an exciting lunch and learn. As always, I’d love for you to tweet your questions at me (@zontee_hou).

More about the event »

November 15, 2016

11:30am – 1:00pm

Courtyard by Marriott
1080 28th Ave S, Moorhead, MN

Further Reading & Listening: Augmented Reality Trends

At the end of most of my class sessions, I include a “Further Reading & Listening” materials slide for my students. Occasionally, I will share blog posts that do the same for blog posts I’ve written elsewhere. 

If you read my blog post for Convince & Convert, “3 Augmented Reality Trends Marketers Should Watch“, you may be interested in learning more about AR and how it’s impacting gaming, shopping, and technology. It’s a topic that I think is particularly relevant right now because of the runaway success of Pokémon Go, but also because camera, GPS, screen, and facial recognition technology is all getting more advanced.

Here are a few additional resources that you might find interesting.

The Future of AR is Already in Your Pocket

From 2015’s SXSW, this panel talked about Niantic’s (makers of Pokémon Go and Ingress) CEO discussing the successes and lessons of their first hit game.

An Augmented Reality Mirror Lets You Test Makeup Without Putting It On

In the blog post, I discuss how AR is already being used in retail locations. See it in action, in a video demo in this article from Gizmodo.

The Car Windshield is Turning into a Computer Screen

Bloomberg shares some really interesting insights into how AR is being integrated into car and vehicle technologies, in this article with video.

Upcoming Workshops & Events: Social Fresh, Content Marketing World

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be speaking at two great events this summer: Social Fresh and Content Marketing World. I’ll be presenting workshops at both events—details forthcoming.

Social Fresh: August 18-21, Orlando, FL

A great event for social media professionals, community managers, and digital marketers, Social Fresh features 4 days of hands-on workshops and case studies.

Content Marketing World: September 6-9, Cleveland, OH

With a wide variety of breakout sessions, keynotes, and workshops, CMWorld showcases the content-first approach to marketing, in action.

Stay tuned for additional summer and fall events.

Reading List: 3 Business Books on My Shelf

I seem to have an ever-growing pile of books to read. Luckily, I happen to love reading and learning. Often, my grad students ask me for recommendations on further readings related to our lectures, and so I am forever pulling together reading lists. Here are a few books that I’ve gotten on my summer list.

To Sell is Human

by Daniel Pink

I’m a big fan of Daniel Pink’s books (and his appearances on the excellent Hidden Brain podcast), and this fast-paced, practical book is one that I’ve not only read–and plan on rereading, hence its appearance on this list–but also teach in my classroom.

Content Everywhere

by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Most marketers face the challenges of creating enough content for the ever-expanding universe of websites, portals, and apps that exist. However, the battle isn’t just to create more content, it’s also to use our content wisely. Enter this book, which tackles the structural questions as well as the overall strategies.

Learning to Succeed

by Jason Wingard

As the new dean of Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, my alma mater, Jason Wingard has already enacted bold new strokes in the short time that he has been there. I’m also excited to read his book on a new, integrated approach to corporate education. I’m also intrigued by his vision of corporations as “learning organizations.”

I received free copies of Content Everywhere (from the publisher) and Learning to Succeed (from Columbia University), but received no compensation for the above. All of the above thoughts are my own.

What I Learned from My Broken Ankle or 3 Lessons for Marketers

It’s been almost 6 months since my climbing accident, and I’m still in the midst of physical therapy, but for the most part, things are back to normal. Even so, I’d like to think that I’m a little wiser from my experiences.

And as I like to draw parallels between various topics and marketing, here are a few thoughts I’ve had about what marketers can learn from my broken ankle.

Use it or lose it

Having been in various types of casts for 8 weeks, I lost pretty much all range of motion in my ankle and my calf withered away to a very sorry state. It made me realize for the first time in my life that muscle mass is incredibly easy to lose and that I didn’t appreciate it enough when I had it.

In marketing, we often create profiles and marketing presences on a variety of channels. But those communities will atrophy if we don’t nurture them. Don’t create profiles only to abandon them. Either close them down completely or be thoughtful about where you start them in the first place.

Ask for help when you need it

As an entrepreneur, a self-starter, and a boss girl, I found it difficult to need so much help for everyday activities. From washing my hair to getting groceries, I really relied on friends and family during the first couple of months of my experience. It made a huge difference to me.

What I often see with my smaller clients is that the marketing activities can get in the way of the other business activities, and I often counsel business owners and executives to find supportive, thoughtful outside marketing help to run their social media presences and create content. It can be hard to let go, but it can make all the differences.

Scars can be strengths

Now that I’m further along, my orthopedic surgeon has encouraged me to invest in some good scar cream—in time, the surgical scars on my foot and leg should fade. At the same time, I don’t mind the scars. For me, they remind me that there’s a lot that I can bear.

When I talk to companies about honing their brand stories, some business owners and executives want to pull focus away from failures and what they see as “the ugly stuff.” But the ugly stuff can also be the experiences from which your company draws strength and differentiates itself.

That’s relatable. That’s human. That should be embraced.


I’ll be done with physical therapy soon, but there’s much more recovery ahead. Thanks for your support.

Advice for My Students: Make the Most of Your Informational Interviews

Each year, I spend time speaking to students and mentees about their career goals. For many, I recommend informational interviews as an important tool to help clarify what potential career paths might look like. I also believe that informational interviews are an incredibly powerful way to build connections in an industry that might be new to them.

But as someone who has conducted quite a few interviews and have worked with many young professionals, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to use the precious half hour or so (a good length) that you might ask a potential connection to spend on the phone with you.

Don’t waste your interviewee’s time

Be sure to plan ahead. Research them so that you know exactly what you want to say. Prepare questions.

Get on their calendar. If they’re particularly busy, make it a phone/video call instead of an in-person meeting. When you get on the phone, confirm that it’s still a good time for them to speak.

Learn about them, their company, and the industry

I always recommend that you start with the 1-minute elevator pitch of who you are and why you wanted to connect and then to focus the rest of the time on the interviewee. Find out how he/she got where he/she got.

Find out what’s important to his/her company, how the company recruits, and what he/she values in team members.

Find out what are the areas of opportunity within the industry as he/she sees it.

Use it as an opportunity to network outwards

Use these interviews to fill the gaps in your own network. If you just spoke to someone about working in marketing automation but want to learn more about agency life, ask the interviewee if he/she knows someone at a digital agency.

If you were a thoughtful, considerate interviewer, he/she will most likely be happy to oblige.


%d bloggers like this: