How Female Bosses Made It Possible for Me to Live My Dream

I’ve been ramping up my speaking schedule over the last year, and in 2017, I’ve been traveling from coast to coast speaking at events of all sizes and shapes. I enjoy it because it’s such a strong corollary to the work that I do in the classroom with my graduate students, as well as with my clients.

Recently, I led a workshop at Innovation Congress, where I was also interviewed by the awesome Paige Wilhide of NYC-based video company Paige Media. I love talking to other women about entrepreneurship, mentorship, and how I got lucky enough to do what I love doing every day of the week. I also got to see the amazing Cindy Gallop speak about diversity in the workplace, and she was so incredibly kick-ass that I can’t cover all of her speech here, so bop over to my Twitter feed for some of her best quotes.

What I’ve realized as I’ve built my own company, taught dozens of graduate students, and worked with brands big and small is that having role models who are strong, smart, female leaders has made me feel like it’s only natural that I could and would do those things too. If we can keep bringing young women into workplaces to see what’s possible for them, mentor them, and lift them up, we’ll get to a world where gender parity in the workplace will just be expected.

If you missed my events this spring, you can still catch me at Connect to Convert or Content Marketing World later this summer/fall.

The CMWorld link is an affiliate link, so if you purchase a ticket, I get a small percentage of the sales. 

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. 

Lessons from the Road: 3 Important Ideas for Marketers

This past fall, I traveled all over the country to Orlando, Cleveland, Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, Fargo, and Austin—mostly for business, but I also got some family time in there as well.

As a professor, as well as a marketing consultant, I often find myself looking to my experiences for examples and case studies to share with my students and clients. Here are three from my fall travels.

Make it Easy and Fun for Employees to Showcase Culture

While I was in Austin, I visited my brother at the Indeed offices, and I was struck by their great usage of the Inside Indeed social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to showcase corporate culture, fun, and personality. I also loved the way they showcased some of that fun through digital displays around the offices. It’s a great way to encourage employees to showcase their everyday experiences.

I often talk to clients about how they can build cultures of advocacy within their organization, and I believe it’s about empowering your employees to let them tell their stories in their own ways.

Create Learning Opportunities for Everyone in the Crowd

I gave workshops in several different cities this fall, and at one, I was struck by a conversation I had with a colleague who said that she didn’t often attend this organization’s events because they had a “creative side” bias. In other words, she wasn’t on the creative side of agency work, and she felt their programming tended to reflect the makeup of the organization’s board which had a large contingency of creatives.

Within the graduate course I teach, I often talk about biases as informational shortcuts that we unconsciously employ, but that can hinder our observations of the world. In this case, the board’s confirmation bias regarding the relevance of their programming for their membership may have been caused by the fact that most of the board comes from similar backgrounds.

Whenever we create programming or content, we need to make sure that we take into consideration all parts of the community, offering options that speak to varying needs. Not every program/piece of content needs to speak to everyone within the community, but there should be enough variety that community members see their own needs reflected back.

Change the Setting to Change the Energy

At another event that I spoke at, I found myself in an unusual setting for a talk about content marketing: a local craft brewery. But the truth is: holding the event in a bar created a more convivial, energetic space than perhaps a conference room might be. I got a lot more questions and had a lot more conversations with the crowd than at some of the more formal conference-based speeches and workshops that I am invited to facilitate.

Sometimes, “the medium is the message” as McLuhan said, and the setting for an event (or context for a piece of content) can truly change how the audience interacts with it.

In one famous experiment, the lauded violinist Joshua Bell played in the subways of New York. He may not have gotten the hushed reference of Carnegie Hall as people whizzed by—perhaps stopping only for a moment to enjoy his music—but neither would he have gotten the smiles on faces young or poor or more accustomed to “The Voice” than classical music. In the subway, you can dance and laugh and take pictures—I doubt you’ll see patrons dancing in the aisles at Carnegie Hall.


As we enter the new year, I plan on continuing to travel and learn and observe. And I hope you’ll take moments in your own life to observe what’s around you and see if there are lessons to be shared from your experiences.

Join Me at Social Media Marketing World in March

Looking ahead to 2017, I’m already psyched for upcoming events. One that I’m pleased to announce is that I’ll be presenting within the Analytics track at Social Media Marketing World this year. I’m excited to share useful tips on how metrics should be the key to your content marketing planning process.

Join us March 22-24, 2017 in sunny San Diego for three days of learning from industry experts.

Click here for more information and to book your pass!

My Session: Create Content by the Numbers

Zontee Hou at Social Media Marketing World 2017Like most marketers, you may be busy creating a ton of content for your social channels, sales teams, website, etc. But are you creating the most useful content for your company? Does your content align with your business goals?

In this session, we explore the key metrics that you need to understand and track in order to create better content. Find out what to measure in order to plan, publish, and track your content more effectively.

Why Attend?

In the words of Levar Burton: Don’t just take my word for it.

Disclosure: As a speaker and affiliate, I get a cut when you purchase a ticket via my link. 

Marketer on the Go: Adventures in Photography

As a marketing consultant, I have to prepared to do what it takes to make sure my clients have the materials they need for great communications and content. Whether it’s producing a podcast, overseeing a video shoot, or even photographing products, I always have to be flexible.

Over the years, it’s made me learn me a ton of production tools—and hey, even put those college photography classes to good use. Now, I’m all for having a professional take over when it’s possible, but as every small business owner and marketer knows, sometimes the job really is about doing 23 different jobs. So it’s always worthwhile to have some skills and key principles down—I’m a big fan of the Hubspot blog as a good resource for lots of how-tos.

The lesson here is to be flexible as a marketer and to keep honing techniques that will help you do more for your clients.

For example, while traveling with friend and client Patty Lyons, I shot some photos for some of her downloadable knitting patterns. Patty is a talented and in-demand knitting teacher and designer, and with such a visual product, clear photography is absolutely key. Luckily we had beautiful weather and fantastic models (including Patty herself) on our side.

Here’s a quick sampling of the photos from this shoot.

And if you’re interesting in Patty’s lovely patterns, here are the links: Clos Grapevine Scarf, Bacchus Cowl.

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

The Alchemy of Content Marketing – October 12 in Buffalo

In the last few months, I’ve been all over the country talking to people about digital marketing and content marketing. It’s always fascinating to learn what are the challenges they face and find out how they can use these concepts with their own professions/fields.

With that in mind, I’m excited to be the first speaker in the AAF Buffalo’s new Spotlight Speakers series. If you’re in the Buffalo, NY area, I hope you’ll join me for this engaging evening of learning and networking.

Marketing Your Customers Want: The Alchemy of Content Marketing

Content marketing can help you build your reputation, establish your expertise, and keep your clients coming back for more. In her talk, digital marketing strategist Zontee Hou will give you the low down on how to develop blog posts, videos, ebooks, infographics, and other materials to make your clients’ business sound more exciting than it really is. She’ll also go over ways you can use social media and email marketing to milk those content pieces for all they’re worth.

October 12, 2016
Networking happy hour: 5:30- 6 p.m. | Presentation begins at 6 p.m.

Learn more and get tickets. 

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