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.

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.

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. 

Events, Interviews, and Features: Oh My!

My life has been a whirlwind of activity these last few weeks, and there’s still more to come (brother’s wedding is almost here!).

Before I get swept up in the next swirl of busy-ness, I want to take a few minutes and just share some of the highlights.

Zontee speaking

Incredible Attendees at Social Fresh and Content Marketing World

At both Social Fresh and Content Marketing World, I had the opportunity to present in front of world class marketers who are interested in achieving more in their daily digital marketing efforts. Whether it was about social media measurement or creating engaging content in a regulated industry, I had great conversations with attendees who were eager to put my concepts to play in their own companies.

I also had time to hang out with friends and colleagues like Jay Baer, Daniel Lemin, Lisa Loeffler, Christin Kardos, Ann Handley, Tim Washer, Phil Mershon, and many many more. It’s always a pleasure to be in a room full of people that you can learn from.

Creating Conversations Online

Following Social Fresh, I was gratified to find out that LinkedIn’s marketing blog picked up my slide presentation from that event as one of their “Top Trending Content” pieces.

I was also delighted to be interviewed by Kate Volman for Convince & Convert’s “Talk Digital to Me” series.

Coming Up…

I’ll be heading to Buffalo next month to speak at the AAF Buffalo. If you’re in that area, I hope to see you at the event!

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.

My SXSW Film Picks

A photo posted by Zontee Hou (@veritablyzontee) on

Some of you may remember that during last year’s SXSW, I was on the edge of my own sanity. It was too much stimulation, not enough hours, too little sleep, and just terrible transportation. With that experience in mind, I tried to get my life in order for this year’s experience. I rented a place in East Austin on AirBnB with my brother Tim (solving the distance issue) and got a week’s pass on B-Cycle (solving the transportation issue).

Then I set out with a much more streamlined approach to both sessions and film. I think I saw somewhere around full-length films and probably a dozen short films–lots of good stuff, a few that were not exactly my cup of tea (but I can see how they are likely to be indie darlings), and lots that I’d recommend. Here are just the ones I can remember at this moment. (Four days back in NYC, and I’m still pulling myself back together!)

SXSW Film Documentary Picks

City of Gold – This excellent documentary on food critic Jonathan Gold (pictured above center) explored his relationship with the food scene in LA and how his uniquely human approach to food criticism has affected the level of conversation around food culture in America. Food lovers will definitely want to check it out.

Mavis! – Jessica Edwards’ first full-length feature explored the fascinating life of singer Mavis Staples of the Staples Singers, her start as a young woman in her family group up through her recent work with Jeff Tweedy. Touching, interesting, and fun.

Made in Japan – The story of Tomi Fujiyama, a Japanese country western singer with a heart of gold who hopes to sing one more time at the Grand Ole Opry, this documentary was charming and fun to watch. Plus you’ll fall in love with Tomi.

Other top documentary picks: “Knock, Knock, It’s Tig Notaro”, “Brand: A Second Coming”, “Deep Web”. Documentaries are my favorite, so I saw a ton that I really liked.

Drama Picks

Gloria – A biopic about the Mexican pop singer Gloria Trevi, whose rise was as meteoric as her personal life was turmoiled, this dark and captivating film was masterfully directed. (Director Christian Keller pictured above bottom.)

Mr. Robot – Not a full-length feature, but the first episode of an upcoming series, Mr. Robot plunges us into the world of hackers in a way that is neither trite nor too technical. Plus Christian Slater hits the right notes as a mysterious hacker boss who may or may not be trusted.

Comedy Picks

The Little Death – This super-quirky Australian film explores 5 couples’ relationships through the lens of sexual proclivities and, along the way, challenges our expectations of romantic comedies. Definitely worth seeing!

Trainwreck – Amy Schumer’s first full-length film with Judd Apatow is everything you’d expect. It’s just crass enough, but it ends sweetly (but perhaps a little too earnestly). Lots of fun little performances from many great comedic personalities.

Get Hard – I know. It’s a big budget movie with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. Really, Zontee? But yes, I actually rather enjoyed this film the way I enjoyed my burger and fries from the McDonald’s SXSW tent–with the knowledge that I should be remorseful, but with joy at the pleasant taste of free guilty pleasures.


Phonetography: Food and Happiness Edition

If you’re viewing this blog post on an RSS reader or in your email, I recommend that you click through to see it on my website, since the photo collage will look better there.

Sometimes you just have to take a moment to be grateful and to appreciate all the good things in your life. This last year has been quite the roller coaster ride, but it’s been one of the most rewarding and exciting years of my life. Still, it’s the little things and the wonderful people that make all the difference.

Today, I just want to take a moment to share 5 photos from my recent escapades (clockwise from top-left corner):

  1. Doggie treats baked by my lovely friend Megan: I visited Megan and her boyfriend Daniel in DC recently, and not only did they welcome me into their home, but they showcased their hospitality towards their neighbors too with Megan baking treats for all the dogs who live on their floor in their apartment building.
  2. A copy of Vegetable Literacy which was gifted to me by my friends Patty and David: Through thick and thin, my friends Patty and David have been there for words of wisdom and appreciative palettes. I can always count on them to share lovely foodie treats like this beautiful book.
  3. An absolutely delicious flan my mother made for Thanksgiving: My mother’s bank teller is always sharing stories of her cooking acumen, so when she mentioned that she makes a mean flan, my mom had to get the recipe. Maria (the banker) first proffered a sample flan, and when my mom insisted that it was amazing, she shared the recipe. My mother and father whipped one up for our Thanksgiving mean, and it was just fabulous.
  4. A rosemary, gin, vinegar, and cava concoction at Rappahannock Oyster Bar: Megan, Daniel and I stopped by Union Market in DC, where we sampled lots of delicious things. One was this cocktail that had a splash of vinegar that really brought out the herbaceous nature of the gin and rosemary. Not sour and not even really a savory cocktail, it was just right. Plus, with snow coming down outside and good company inside, it was the place to be.
  5. Dinner cooked by Daniel: A veritable feast was prepared by Daniel for Megan, myself, and my friend Josh. Daniel roasted Brussels sprouts, created a spicy roasted butternut squash dish, and made a cauliflower and potato purée that was excellent. To top it all off, there was flank steak cooked to perfection. I love a good home-cooked meal.

I’ll be talking more about what this year has meant for me in the coming days, but in the meantime, thanks for stopping by, reader. I appreciate it 🙂

Animal Parade: My First NY Sheep & Wool Festival

This past weekend, I got to spend time with my friend Michelle and our friend Patty Lyons (knitting teacher extraordinaire) at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival. It was my first year ever going to the event, informally known as Rhinebeck because of its location, and Patty, her husband, and Michelle were the consummate guides to this lovely and fiber-filled shindig.

I know that my crafty friends and readers will be wondering about what yarn I purchased, but sad to say, the answer is “not a whit.” I’m currently all stocked up on fiber for myself, so instead I purchased some food for gifts, fancy goats’ milk soaps for gifts, some stockinette stitch earrings from Jennie the Potter, some wine from Tousey Winery, and a Crippenworks case as a gift too. (Can you tell I mostly ended up gift shopping?)

After the festival (and an extremely long and arduous drive of less than 15 miles—don’t ask), we also went to a lovely dinner at Miss Lucy’s Kitchen in Saugerties, despite the blood-thirsty zombies outside. Then Michelle and I braved the rain to get back to my parents’ house, where we crashed. This morning, we got up and picked some cherry tomatoes in their garden before heading back to New York, which is basically my idyllic Sunday ideal.

Basically, it was a great weekend, filled with good company, adorable animals, and that first touch of true autumn cold. All’s well.

Easy Weekend Getaway Idea: Canadian Wine Country

GrapesIn the summer, we all like to plan weekend getaways during which we can enjoy the great outdoors. Personally, I love a day at the beach, but I also love hiking or biking and exploring a new place. This summer, I’ve been lucky enough to go on two wine country trips: one to Napa & Sonoma Valleys and the other to the Niagara wine region.

You may not realize it, but a 45 minute drive from Buffalo is a little wine valley in Canada that has some lovely vineyards. My friend Brian and I explored the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake by bike ($30 CAD for an all-day rental at Zoom Leisure) and had a great time, but leisurely walking is sure to be enjoyable in this scenic area too. With lots of little markets around town, you can pick up fixings for a lovely picnic by the river or in a vineyard. Alternately, you can eat at one of the many wineries with dining options.

At Inniskillin, we snacked on freshly shucked oysters and roasted corn before a tour (only $5 CAD) that ended in a 3-wine tasting. We also enjoyed an extended tasting ($15 CAD) and cheese plate ($10 CAD) at Reif Estate Winery, where the pleasant service and reasonable prices meant that we each went home with a few bottles. Since we were on bike, we made a plan for the wineries we wanted to revisit for shopping and swung back at the end of the day.

It was a lovely day trip, but it would also make a great weekend trip, with more information (including lodgings) to be found at the official tourism website.

Flights from JFK to Buffalo are about $150-$200 each way and take just under an hour.

Greetings from San Francisco

Painted Ladies of SFI’m back from San Francisco, where I had a lovely time with some girlfriends. We stayed in Noe Valley, where I really enjoyed shopping at WinkSF, Chocolate Covered, 24th Street Cheese Co. and Ambiance.

In SF, we also spent a good deal of time at the Ferry Building, including a fun afternoon with Natalie Zee Drieu of the wonderful fashion blog Coquette. I’ve known Nat a few years, and she was kind enough to take us around not only the Ferry Building but to Japantown’s Kinokuiya bookstore to check out some interesting knit, crochet, and sewing books and magazines. It was really inspiring to talk to Nat about different ways to look at crafting drawn from different cultures. For instance, I’m always surprised and inspired by the innovative ways in which the Japanese look at construction, multi-functionality, and shapes when it comes to clothing. I hope that if you enjoy crafting (or cooking or travel) and you’ve never looked at books from other cultures and countries, you will do so–it’s fascinating to look at these beloved hobbies through the lens of another culture.

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