Author Archive

Social Media for the City of Philadelphia: An Interview with Elly(n) Avila, @EonAvila

Elly Avila, Business Analyst, City of Philadelphia, Office of Property Data recently offered some insights on how she uses social media to connect with Philadelphians in her position with the city.

How do you use social media professionally?

In my previous position at the 311 contact center, I started a facebook account that is now used on a daily basis to connect with citizens. In my current position, I use a Twitter account.

What are your professional/organizational goals for using social media?

The purpose of the Twitter account is to get our Department’s name out there, garner support for our project, and keep up on the industry by following industry leaders.

What platforms do you use most? Why those platforms?

I currently use a Twitter account. At this time, we are not an Agency serving external Customers. Facebook seems to be more of a way to connect with people and provide a lot of information. We are looking to just get our name out there, learn, and get in the industry conversation.

How do you effectively build user engagement with your firm/brand?

We try to stay on top of related events and products locally and nationally. This helps us provide this information to our followers and gain credibility.

How long does it take to generate user engagement, especially for a firm/organization launching a new social media strategy?

Within a few days, you have some user engagement. However, it takes a few months to become better known.

How do you hope users will engage with your organization or brand?

We hope users will look to us as experts in the field, support our project, and send on their opinions.

If you maintain a Facebook page or other platform that allows user interaction, how do you approach and manage user comments, particularly negative ones? 

We currently do face these issues. In my previous position, we acknowledged negative feedback, provided service to those requesting it, and deleted any items that were inappropriate for someone to read.

How do you assess and measure your social media strategy and activities?

We are not currently measuring our social media success. However, one indication is how many followers we have.

What type of advice do you have for someone who hopes to use social media in a professional setting – either as a career with a large firm/organization or to promote a small business?

I believe it is key to be upbeat, but to stay professional (not using “lol” or telling people to smile, etc.). Acknowledge your followers and show how you are an expert in your field.

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What Does Social Media Mean for You? An Interview with Matthew Maynard, Internet Marketing Manager, Caesars Entertainment

Internet users spend an average of 16% of their time online using social media.  The average facebook user spends 405 minutes per month using the platform.   Major brands, news outlets, and firms understand that people “hang out” on social media, and reaching an engaged audience means employing a smart social media strategy.  In fact, marketers plan to increase social media spending by an average of 46% in 2012 alone.   But what does a ‘smart strategy’ look like?

Matthew Maynard, Internet Marketing Manager for Caesars Entertainment, provides insight into how Caesars employs social media to engage with customers and offers some advice for organizations just launching a social media campaign.

How do you use social media?

We use social media to interact with customers and potential customers.  We primarily use social media to build awareness for events that occur at our properties around the country

What are your professional/organizational goals for using social media?

Interaction with customers.  Engagement.  Disseminate information about new campaigns / offerings / products.

What platforms do you use most? Why those platforms?

Most of our social strategy is focused on facebook and twitter.  These platforms allow the most customization for us and the most interaction with customers.  We also partner with Social Rewards to provide a bonus for foursquare check-in activity.  This bonus is tied to the guest’s Total Rewards account (our in-house loyalty program).

How do you effectively build user engagement?

We use social to reach out to guests at all stages in their visit – before, during, and after.  We also use one social platform to push guests to others.  For example, if someone sends a tweet to one property about a future visit we tell them to send a text to our short code for discounts and also to visit foursquare when they are in town.

How long does it take to generate user engagement?

Starting from scratch is tough.  It takes a long time to build a fan base, engage with them, gain their trust and interaction, and appear genuine while doing so.  We recently split a facebook page for multiple properties so each now has its own.  We are just starting to get followers back to the other pages, and  it’s been a slow process.  Nothing else has changed about the properties or even the pages, really – they just don’t follow along unless they want to or are directed to.

If you maintain a Facebook page or other platform that allows user interaction, how do you approach and manage user comments?

We have customer service info and FAQ info on all facebook pages.  We generally try to respond to inquiries as well as send welcome notes to guests who post comments about upcoming travel.

How do you assess and measure your social media strategy and activities?

This varies from campaign to campaign.  In some cases measurement is as simple as likes or retweets.  For some campaigns we look at number of clicks through to another site, or amount of tickets sold (although we can’t tie this directly to the campaign).

What type of advice do you have for someone who hopes to use social media in a professional setting – either as a career with a large firm/organization or to promote a small business?

There are two pieces of advice that are critical to running a successful social media campaign for business purposes.  1 – Be patient.  Cultivating a following takes time.  It’s like dating; you have to build trust and get people onboard with your brand and it doesn’t happen overnight or when you force it.  2 – Define success before you start anything.  Do you care about how many followers you have?  Do you care how many likes you get per week?  Do you care about re-tweets and page shares?  Will you measure ROI or other conversions just as you do with more traditional online ventures?  All of these are questions that need to be answered before you start, so you can work towards defining success.  Also, the value of a like for your company may vary significantly from another company.  Be sure to know what it means to YOU.




CMO Survey, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

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The Art of Selling Music

The digital age completely changed the way that we create, share, view, and consume produced content. From news to music to video, the ease of content sharing allows us access to infinite content for free (or at least nearly free). Great news for consumers, but what about people who are actually trying to make money off of the content that they produce?

Content driven industries – like music, journalism, and publishing – face major challenges, as their business models shift, especially as it remains unclear exactly what they’re shifting to. In this blog post, I take a brief look at the music industry to highlight how digital sharing has impacted its ability to “sell” music.  To accompany the discussion, I developed and embedded a short prezi animation, included at the start of this post.

This may go without saying, but generally speaking, a business model is simply a method by which individuals or firms build and use resources to offer customers better value than competitors and make money doing it.   (If you want to check out a great resource on developing business models, check out Business Model Generation, which I used in the animation below)
Traditional Business Model
In the traditional music industry model, the artist relied on the record label to record and distribute music to the masses – via brick-and-mortar stores, direct mail, and online retailers.  Listeners paid for music and it flowed through the channels, distributors, labels, back to the artist.

The Renegade Model
But then in what some scholars calls “the Renegade Model,” listeners had easy and free access to digital music through online file sharing, often illegal.   Until regulators figured out what was going on, and shut it all down.

But now what? Listeners are accustomed to having access to an unlimited catalog of music, available to download on their PCs for free.

The Streaming Model
Since then, the music industry has grappled with a business model that will offer customers the value they want (free, unlimited, access to music, anytime, on any device) AND make money.

Enter streaming services like Spotify, which connect two different consumer segments:  Young, Connected Music Listeners and The Advertisers that want to reach them.   So, Spotify listeners get free, unlimited access to music and advertisers get access to a targeted consumer segment.  Spotify profits come from ad revenue and subscription fees from users who will pay a little extra to avoid ad content.

Is it working?
One analyst estimated that Spotify’s 2010 revenue amounted to $85M, with $65 going back to labels & artists, $14M in operating expenses, and $6M in profit.  Despite these optimistic estimates, analysts have mixed feelings about these streaming services.  Some project a positive outlook,  others, not as much.

The Future
Services like Spotify meet consumer demands, but will they be profitable in the long-term?  And will artists actually make money from these streaming services?  It’s yet untold, and it definitely shows that there’s room for creative new approaches to marketing and selling music.



US Album Sales Up for the First Time in 7 Years, Sound Spike

The State of Music Online:  Ten Years After Napster,  Pew Charitable Trust

Changing Consumption Behavior of Net Generation and the Adoption of Streaming Music Services

The Evolution of Business Models and Marketing Strategies in the Music Industry

Le Business Model de Spotify, the BlogParty

Spotify is On A Roll — And It’s Great for the Music Business, Business Insider

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Old Time Revival

When Mumford and Sons, the Avett Brothers, and Bob Dylan performed at the Grammy’s in 2011, it was pretty evident that the banjo had made it’s way back to mainstream music.   Reflective of an underground swell of old-time and bluegrass musicians, it seems that young, hip musicians all over the country are picking up the fiddle to revive traditional country tunes.   Philly is no different, boasting a burgeoning old-time / bluegrass scene.  Here are just a few bands introducing old-time tunes to new audiences.


The Keystone Mountain Boys
The Keystone Mountain Boys play a soulful brand of bluegrass music, celebrating bluegrass originals in their many live performances. Check their website for upcoming shows.

The Old-Fashioneds
With an upcoming spot at Nelsonville Music Festival (alongside folk & bluegrass greats like M.Ward, Andrew Bird, and Iron and Wine), this three-woman project started as friends getting together to play tunes in West Philly.  Since then, the Old Fashioneds have played their old-time country favorites in places like DC’s 9:30 club, the Heartland Cafe in Chicago, and Philly’s The Fire.

Citywide Specials!

The Citywide Specials
With a weekly  spot at West Philly’s beloved Fiume, the Citywide Specials have long been regaling audiences with a peppy brand of bluegrass.  With solid vocals, skilled musicians, and a lot of heart, this band puts on a great show.   Don’t take my word for it, visit Fiume on a bluegrass Thursday and let the crowds speak for themselves.



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Support Local Business with @Lokalty


With the tagline “Loyalty is local,” Philadelphia start-up Lokalty encourages city residents to support local businesses.  Using a key chain tag or smartphone app, consumers scan their unique Lokalty QR code at any number of small businesses around the city.   This accumulates LPs or LokalPoints that consumers accumulate to exchange for rewards.  So, for example, I have 1309 LPs racked-up, and that means I can get a $10 gift card at Philadelphia Runner or Kembrel… or, if I wanted, a free pizza at DP Dough in University City … or a complimentary order of Pad Thai at New Heaven restaurant… and the list goes on.

I love this idea.  It encourages us Philly-ites to build the local economy by spending our money in our city at businesses owned and operated by people who live in our city.  It introduces customers to new local businesses.   It makes it easy for already-too-busy entrepreneurs and small business owners to instate a loyalty program, through cost-sharing among businesses and a ready-to-install system.  Go lokal!

To sign-up, check out the Lokalty website and register for your own QR code.

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Art Around Town

graffiti ben franklin + 80s boombox = awesome; northern liberties; by get up

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Tale of the Tape: Google+ vs. Facebook

This infographic compares the marketing potential and features of two social networking sites, Google+ and Facebook.  My team and I created this for our current Social Media Innovation course, and while not necessarily focused on the creative economy in Philly, it does offer insight into potential ways to market new ventures via social media platforms.  Also, if you have a moment, check out the link to the infographic here, as the infographic with the most views wins a class contest!

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Startup Corps – An Innovative Model of Education & Entrepreneurship

With a mission to educate high school students by empowering  them to launch their own ventures, Startup Corps is a nonprofit that takes an entrepreneurial approach to education.  Believing that students learn best through actual experience, Startup Corps operates with the mantra, “start something real.”  And this is what students do.

Delivered in partnership with local high schools and community organizations, the Startup Corps program encourages student participants to develop and launch ventures that relate to their passions, interests, and values.  Students learn on the ground, as they build a business or organization from the ground-up.  Each week, Startup Corps participants meet to talk about their ventures, meet with mentors, learn new tools, discuss their progress, and most of all, debrief about what they’re learning.

Startup Corps students have started community organizations, music recording enterprises, food businesses, and many other ventures.

I recently spoke with Startup Corps co-founder Christian Kunkel to hear more about the organization, its foundation, vision, and approach to education.


BZ – What motivated you to launch Startup Corps?

CK – I had been working for a consulting firm that helped develop high level strategy for Fortune 500 companies’ leadership and training programs.  We worked with firms to build corporate universities based on models used in the best companies in the world.  However, I found that most large firms don’t train well, and they don’t understand the bigger picture of the value of education.

Eventually, I realized that I really wanted to focus on youth education, rather than corporate education because learning life lessons at a young age has a more powerful outcome.  I started thinking about the influential experiences in my life and what shaped me – what came about as a result of direct experience in challenging environments.   The most transformational experiences of my life did not take place within the structured experience of school.   As kids, we all spend hours in school, but the traditional learning environment isn’t about self-actualization.   

So, I started thinking, why don’t we offer more of these life-changing experiences to kids?

BZ – What were some of those influential experiences in your life?  
CK – When I was in high school, I lived in Spain for a year.  Before leaving, I thought,” I’ll be fine.  I’ve had three years of high school Spanish.”  I arrived and realized that I didn’t know how to conjugate all forms of the verb.  I was stuck.  It was a hard experience, but I learned.  It became one of the greatest, most shaping experiences of my life.

I’ve had other experiences like this too.  For example, I had a cross country coach that helped our small school team achieve much more than we should have, because he pushed us to pursue big goals and test our limits through hard work.  Also, when I started a business I learned an incredible amount  in a very short time because it was absolutely necessary but I was also passionate about it.

BZ – Startup Corps focuses on entrepreneurship.  How does this model provide students with these transformational experiences?
CK – My co-founder, Rich Sedmak, and I had this aha moment when we were examining other entrepreneurship education programs that focus solely on writing a business plan and presenting it.  We knew the only way to truly learn was to help students  start real businesses and organizations.  We believed could develop successful entrepreneurs at a young age.

Business is a tool that has much larger implications both personally and socially.  We thought it was the perfect context because it helps the students accomplish a specific goal, whether financial, social, or organizational and provides self directed opportunities for growth.   There’s so much learning that happens in the process of starting a business.  In a business start-up, you have control over inputs and resources.  You go out and test your assumptions.  It’s all you – you drive it.   This process teaches important interpersonal skills – managing a team, working with disparate personalities.

Most entrepreneurs learn through the experience itself, through trial and error.   We don’t believe that going this route alone is the best way to train entrepreneurs.  So we created the program to support students as they build microenterprises, businesses and non profits.  In the end, the business itself is less important than going out and making something happen, but it is the perfect vehicle to build the universal skills of entrepreneurship.  

BZ – How do students respond to this experience?
CK – We have had very good results with this model, especially re-training students’ thought processes.  However, it’s harder than we imagined to change the way that students think.  They are accustomed to regurgitating information, understanding what gets them a good grade.  So, this self-directed, experiential approach to learning is very new for many of them.

It takes time to break down their current thinking structure and scaffold-up creative thinking processes.  When it fully clicks, we can see a student realize: “It’s about me.  I’m just going out and trying stuff.”  To that we say, “Yep, you got it.  Now, go out and do it.  Don’t wait for permission.”

BZ – How do you develop an environment that encourages students to “go out and do it?”
CK – We intentionally create an environment that’s supportive and caring.  To do that, our leaders and mentors develop individual relationships with the students.  We really get to know them, what motives them, and we keep open communication with them.  We also encourage students to help each other, so when a student goes out of her way to help another, it builds a supportive entrepreneurial environment.  Even if the students have this type of support in other areas of their lives, they still want to be around it at Startup Corps.  They like the program and continuing coming in large part because it’s completely voluntary.  

BZ – Have you developed a curriculum for the program?
CK – Our program is a fusion of proven ideas and methods.   For example, we start the program with personal development, and the students figure out their internal motivations and strengths, set personal goals, and develop a personal mission statement.  For this portion, we use curriculum from the Transformative Action Institute.   From there, we encourage students to look at the problems around them and figure out what type of problem they want to solve.  Then, they brainstorm and look for solutions that connect to their personal motivations.   Then they go do it by designing experiments to determine whether their solution is valid in the real world.

After that, the business education comes as the students develop their ventures.  Sales, finance, and marketing are addressed as the need arises in their businesses.  When a student comes to me with $20 from his first sale, I say, “This is a great time to learn accounting.”

BZ – How does the personal development component impact the students and the ventures that they start?
CK – Entrepreneurs want to start ventures that motivate them.  I’ve found that people don’t often ask students what they care about.  Nobody has said, “You like video games? Cool. Let’s figure out how to make that your job.”  Starting with their motivations ensures they remain passionate about the businesses they start even when it gets tough, which is always does.

Early on, when the students seriously consider their personal motivations and dig into what really matters most to them, they often realize that they care more about a new playground for their neighborhood than making money for themselves.  As a result, many start nonprofits or socially focused for profits.

BZ – What’s next? How do you see the Startup Corps model impacting education?
CK – Right now, we work with area high schools to offer Startup Corps as a program within the school.  We can be an inspiration within these schools to get the students excited about what they can accomplish on their own.  Students see their friends launch new ventures with Startup Corps, and they get excited for their friends.  They also start thinking about what they might do.  So, our wider impact extends beyond just the students in the program and in some cases has changed culture school wide.

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Creativity & Education

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original …  By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.  They have become frightened of being wrong …  We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make.  And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.  Picasso once said this, he said ‘All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.’  I believe this passionately that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.  Or, we get educated out of it.”

- Sir Ken Robinson, TED 2006.

In this 2006 TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the role of creativity in our education systems, arguing that a strict focus on traditional academics limits the full capacity of many individuals.  Through federal initiatives, standardized testing, and current approaches to education, we encourage people to fear being “wrong.”  Sir Robinson’s statement resonate so strongly.  There’s almost nothing worse than being incorrect.  It means that you’re stupid, slow, behind.  So students focus on being “right,” until they succeed to some degree or just give-up.   The average 4-year HS graduation rate in the US is 71%; in Philly, it’s 66%.  So about 35% give-up, and granted, this could be for many reasons.  However, how many of those drop-outs never found a place to explore their creativity, their genius in painting, art, dance, industrial design, construction, comic-book writing, or video-game development?

By contrast, I don’t think that the answer is to let children always be “right” either.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone is wrong.  Everyone loses  - gets dumped, fired, rejected.  This is life.  Perhaps education can make it safe to be “wrong,” an opportunity for learning and growth vs. a knock on a self-worth.

Can we make education more engaging, more inclusive of a diversity of intelligence?  Would this make life easier for our teachers?

Some of my dearest friends and family members serve our city’s children, working as reading specialists, elementary school teachers, high school teachers, and school counselors in Philly’s public, charter, and private schools.  These are not easy jobs. 30 kids in a class. Reading levels that start to lag in kindergarten. Students experiencing loss, trauma, and family crises.  Sometimes, it’s hard to stay hopeful.  Yet, even in the midst of this, they do, stay hopeful that is … and committed to progress.  So, this is certainly no criticism of dedicated teachers.  Positions in Philly’s toughest schools require incredible dedication and sacrifice; patience and perseverance.  Many, many educators work through seemingly impossible challenges to encourage creativity and learning.

I emailed a few educators Sir Robinson’s quote and asked for their reactions.   Here’s what they say:

In a classroom that encourages risk-taking — encourages creativity — you should expect to find students who can confidently defend their work and a learning environment where constructive criticism is welcomed. By contrast, in a classroom that discourages creativity, students simply look to the teacher for the “right” answer. It is a teacher’s responsibility to present students with the opportunity (opportunities, and many of them) to take risks. I think it is this lack of opportunity — not risk-aversion or unoriginality on behalf of the student — that plagues most classrooms … Martin Haberman said, “when students are asked to apply an idea to the problems of life, there is a good chance teaching is going on.” More importantly, though, learning is going on. All educators should ask the question, “does education imitate life, or does life imitate education,” and honestly answer the question for themselves.

Although I agree with his basic sentiment of If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original, I have not seen a fear of being wrong with my kids. Many of them try and fail and try again.

However, I have seen my kids get frustrated, overwhelmed and give up when they don’t know something on a test, saying things like “this is too hard”. I’ve also seem them participate more and behave better when the material is very easy because they are confident. Perhaps the thing to build in a classroom, in addition to creativity, is confidence.

Other than the once a year standardized testing, I  disagree when he says “We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make.” I have seen many teachers encourage students when they make mistakes. What’s frustrating, as a teacher, is when a student doesn’t even try at all. I imagine a fear of not doing it right is part of it but I’m not sure it’s the main factor.

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Spreading the Compost: A Volunteer Work Day at Farm 51

On a warmish Saturday at the end of February, we joined the friendly people at Farm 51 for volunteer work day.  Self-described as a “homey blend of animals, people, and plants,” Farm 51 operates with a mission to provide affordable produce to people in the neighborhood.   Planted and managed by local residents Andrew Olson and Neal Santos, Farm 51 not only cultivates vegetables, but positive relationships & community, as well.  During the summer months, they provide produce on Thursday afternoons at their weekly farm stand.   If you’re in SW Philly, stop by, say hi, and grab some fresh vegetables!

And the work day?  This city girl put on her work boots and got to work distributing a giant mound of compost to the raised beds around the farm.  In the process, I met new friends and neighbors, got a tour of the new Farm 51 residence, and relaxed around the fire with some pizza.   All in all, not a bad way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon!

Check Farm 51 for more information.


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March 2015
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