An Interview: Amanda McCormick of SocialFlow.com

Amanda McCormick has been published in the Village Voice, the New York Observer, Heeb magazine, and the Bellevue Literary Review. She honed her writing and online media skills working for big brands like Miramax, Bertelsmann and Lifetime Television, but she is driven by a passion for grass-roots initiatives, entrepreneurs and those working on behalf of the public good (she teaches nonprofits how to bootstrap social media-rich websites on onehourwebsite.org).

Amanda McCormick, twitter:@amandamccormick

She’s responsible for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s first blog, as well as a blog with longer pieces covering social media trends and best practices, Social Media at Work.  She was the architect of the first co-branded web destination for New Directors/New Films, a copresentation of the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Society of Lincoln Center, which yielded the fest’s best-ever online ticket sales. She created the first social media rich website for the New York Film Festival, and has been seen speaking in places like:

  • Social Media Week New York
  • Wordcamp NYC
  • OMMA Social Media Conference/Internet Week New York
  • The Arts, Culture and Technology Meetup
  • The British American Business Association Marketing Roundtable.

Just recently, Amanda teamed up with the startup SocialFlow and focuseson delivering social media optimization technology to publishers and brands.

SocialFlow applies science/math/analytics to drive engagement in social media.  What are some trends you’ve seen working for the company?

Lots of really interesting ones — as we have a top-notch data and research team who harness the full Twitter firehose as well as a number of other rich data sources to generate incredible studies. A few of the lessons that have made the strongest impression on me: we increasingly use social media to break and talk about news. We did two rather extraordinary stories–one about the way the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death filtered out via the well-timed Tweet of a gentlemen that you may not have pegged as an “influencer,” as well as an interesting data visualization of the spread of news about the East Coast earthquake in the late summer.

One trend that’s been particularly fascinating is how important language is in defining who a person is and how they will engage (or not engage) on the social graph. The old holy grail of marketers–demographics–really only skims the surface. When you are capable of looking at the language people use to talk about themselves and what they care about, you have an incredible edge on predicting their behavior and likeliness to engage. That’s something we are able to do at the massive scale of the social networks and in real time at SocialFlow.

What were specific strategies you used when you created the New York Film Festival‘s website?

When I arrived at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which produces the New York Film Festival each year, I knew there were tons of people, especially young people, who were out there who had heard of us and were highly receptive to our mission to present and preserve interesting world and art cinema, we just weren’t providing the tools that would make that happen. In my two and a half years at the Film Society, I developed their first blog and integrated presence across social networks, but when it came to marquee events like the New York Film Festival, I really wanted to do more, despite not really having any budget to work with.

In 2010, as we planned to world premiere David Fincher’s The Social Network at the festival, and I seized the opportunity to integrate cutting edge social tools on the web to create a new experience for festival-goers. In WordPress I found a framework that I could rapidly develop a flexible platform for our programming that easily integrated Facebook and Twitter in-page. While Facebook Open Graph was relatively new, and most film festivals were slow to adopt it, we were able to offer our audience easy, seamless sign-in and live updates from our events. It helped us capture and connect to a tremendous amount of dynamic discussion among our audience — for the first time, for web visitors, the New York Film Festival encompassed conversation through the web.

You are driven by a passion for grass-roots initiatives, entrepreneurs and those working on behalf of the public good.  Can you share some success stories? 

I really love the challenge of building something from nothing — and finding creativity within limitation. When you’re talking about grass-roots cause marketing and nonprofits, often you’re dealing with organizations that have a wealth of what most brands would kill for — genuine affinity in spades. Social media has leveled the playing field in a lot of ways for causes that have vocal and passionate audiences, so part of what I do through my blog and speaking engagements is to help people leverage that passion.

By that token, small businesses and nonprofits would do well to look within and really mine internal resources. When I worked at the British Tourist Authority, I formed and led a social media “working group” that brought together employees to brainstorm tactics for using social media to market British Tourism to Americans. The working group was egalitarian in natureand included members from all departments and seniority levels, from senior management to customer service reps in the call center. The tactic we came up with, a Facebook fan page about British Film and Television, is still going strong four years later with lots of daily engagement and over 55,000 enthusiastic fans. I think all it took to get there was a little collaborative ingenuity that was able to piggy-back on affinity that was already out there.

Your blog Jellybean Boom shows nonprofits, small businesses, entrepreneurs, artist, and writers how to harness digital and social technology to amplify their message on a low budget. How do you do that?

Here’s the unifying quality of the people that I meet who are in nonprofits, working in small business, or doing their own thing in the arts — none of them are “phoning it in” or punching a clock. They all radiate passion, so the thing that I aim to do with what I blog about is to help to capture that passion in the service of raising awareness around whatever they are trying to raise awareness around. Not everyone’s a writer, but I think everyone can be coached to help translate that passion into communication tools, whether it’s a presentation, a video, or a Tweet.

On onehourwebsite.org, you advise nonprofits AGAINST blogging. What is the difference between a blog and a website?

Blogs completely democratized the process of getting a presence out there on the web — but the wonderful thing about platforms like WordPress is that they have grown and developed so much in terms of their complexity and capability they are incredible platforms on which the budget-strapped or budget-conscious can build a fully fledged website. I tell people to “make it not a blog” so that they take away the most obvious parts (comments, list of posts) that might signal to the visitor “this is a blog.” However I am a big advocate of having a blog be a part of the effort as well. 

What’s your advice for people just stepping into the ever-changing social media landscape?  

On the most basic level social should feel fun or connected to something that you or your organization feels passionately about. I always advise people to “dive in” and learn from the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day and many of us are better and more conversant on one social network than another. The trick is to start somewhere and find your niche.

You’ve co-organized the “Literature Unbound” panel discussion as part of Social Media Week NYC 2012. What was your inspiration?

I come from a background in both both film (I graduated from NYU film school and worked in production and development for many years) and fiction writing (I did an MFA in the subject at Columbia and worked as a reader for both the New Yorker and the Paris Review). At the same time, I am a lover of technology and felt a bit of frustration with the pace of innovation in both environments as digital and social media have transformed the audience’s relationship to interacting with stories in all media. Thispanel was a chance to bring together people I knew were working at and testing the boundaries of what storytelling and literature can be in the social age. We have innovators, entrepreneurs, founders, developers and academics on the panel — I can’t wait to hear what they come up with in regards to where “social literature” is going!

What do you hope to gain from Social Media Week NYC 2012?

I’ve been a part of Social Media Week as either a panelist or attendee since 2009. I’m just excited to see new types of organizations get involved and see what they are doing in the social space. I plan to attend as many events as possible.

 

Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. You can follow her on twitter.

Digital Culture NYC: Breaking Down the Walls at MoMA

Amanda Bird is Brand Manager at 360i. You can follow her on Twitter at oiseau678.

I was really looking forward to last night’s event at MoMA and the panelists did not disappoint. As a hard core public radio listener and an art lover and with memberships to most of the major museums on the panel, I was excited to hear first-hand from those who are helping me and other art/music/literature/knowledge lovers connect with the inspirational content coming from these world-renowned institutions. The panel was moderated by Tina Roth Eisenberg of www.swiss-miss.com and featured panelists included:

  • Karen Karp, The Metropolitan Opera
  • Victor Samra, The Museum of Modern Art
  • Benjamen Walker, WNYC Radio
  • Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum
  • Josh Greenberg, New York Public Library
  • Amanda McCormick, Film Society of Lincoln Center

The first half of the session focused on learning more about each institution’s forays into social media. Some of the programs I was already familiar with (if you don’t follow @brooklynmuseum, I highly recommend you do!), while others were new to me. There were six panelists so for the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide a few of my own personal highlights from what I learned about their current efforts in social media:

  • MoMA on Facebook and Flickr – MoMA’s social media presence is not limited to just these two channels, but their Facebook and Flickr presence stood out to me because they both revealed an important lesson – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em (or have them join you!).Victor recounted his story about getting MoMA on Facebook. Before setting it up a few years ago, MoMA had previously wondered “Why should we do it just because everyone else is on Facebook?” Once convinced it would be a worthwhile effort, they set up a Facebook page only to discover shortly thereafter that a MoMA page already existed on Facebook…and had roughly 12,000 fans. Turns out that while MoMA was debating whether it’d be worthwhile, fans of the museum answered that question for them, devoting time and effort into setting up a page themselves. So in the beginning, the official MoMA Fan page was competing for traffic and fans with the older, more established Fan page. Victor got in touch with the admin of the original fan page (a college freshman without much free time on his hands) and was granted admin rights to control and add content. Later he worked with Facebook to combine the two pages seamlessly, resulting in a page that currently has over 240,000 fans, including yours truly.Similarly, fans were already contributing content about their experiences with or at the museum on Flickr. MoMA has established a Flickr group where people can contribute their photos from visits to MoMA directly to the group and draws from these to find images to feature on its own Web site.
  • The Brooklyn Museum on Building Community – “Community” was a prevalent theme during the panel. Who is the community you’re trying to engage? Accordingly to Shelley, for the Brooklyn Museum they are focused on building a community around the people who are physically local to the institution (aka Brooklynites). For MoMA, their community is lovers of design, photography and modern art globally. To build up your presence in and among the community you have to both listen and proactively participate in the dialogue regularly – dialogue means both responding to your community and providing valuable information to them. Shelley pointed out that having a sustained conversation with your community does not translate to a 9-5 M-F job – she tweets on weekends, in the early morning, late nights – as often as she can in order to quickly and readily answer the community’s questions or put out the insights that they crave from @brooklynmuseum. In addition, the tweets are always from a “person,” such as Shelley herself or one of her colleagues and they make clear that there is a person with a unique POV behind their tweets.
  • The New York Public Library on their Blog – The New York Public Library recently relaunched their site, which they chose to build in Drupal to more effectively aggregate and link their various content sources across their site architecture, according to Josh. He mentions that only 5% of their site visitors are going to the blog, yet those that do are spending twice the amount of time on the site. To keep folks engaged when visiting nypl.org, they’re getting some serious new blogging efforts off the ground. Josh’s goal is to have all of their staff trained and contributing content to their various blogs. No small feat for an institution with hundreds of staffers.
Shelley Bernstein, Josh Greenberg and Amanda McCormick (from right to left) discuss how they’re using social media to connect people with their institutions.

These are just some of the highlights and there were valuable insights from all involved. I’d recommend visiting or participating with any of these institutions and, of course, they’re all on Twitter at @NYPL @WNYC @filmlinc @brooklynmuseum @MuseumModernArt and @MetOpera respectively.