Category: My Projects

The Power of Influence

Last October, we worked with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau to host the first annual Social Influencer Travel Summit. As you can see from the Infographic below, it was a tremendous success.

What led to such a powerful event, beyond the amazing experiences that the city of Atlanta has to offer and the wonderful host that ACVB is, was that we brought influencers in as a group. The social networking was happening offline as well as online. Each attendee was able to learn and be inspired by each other. We are excited to announce we will be hosting another SITSum this October.

You can download the full report about SITSum 2015 here.


Can we have real relationships with the people we meet online?

This question comes up in almost half the presentations I give.  It is a great question and one that I would like to explore a bit.

People are so busy.

Between work and life and all the demands to be in so many different places both on and offline that it is a struggle to capture a person’s attention enough to show them the benefits of paying attention or socializing with you and your organization. There is a perception that it is noisier online, and that the social web is not as personal, therefore, more difficult to build quality relationships.

I have found that the opposite is true. The demands of our offline world limit us to the people that are in our geographic proximity (work, school, spiritual centers, and so forth). We can not seek out a person who has similar taste as us in music, or a closet writer, or game enthusiast by typing in search terms at a local event. We spend our time bouncing from person to person making small talk about work, the weather, sports, and what our kids are up to.

People are spending more and more time socializing online because there you can pause, read a journal someone has chosen to share, explore and learn from each other, discover other people within the group, all before introducing yourself.

How does this affect our personal interactions with each other? Well just look at a blogger’s enthusiastic expression when they tell you they got to meet their friend that they have known online for some time, notice the trend of all the conferences popping up just so these new found friends can meet each other in person. They already know each other and they already know that the time and money invested in attending an offline event will be well worth it.

Sensei Project worked with the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau organizing an event (SITSum) for social media influencers who write about travel, food, family, and entertainment. The event was organized to empower peer-to-peer learning. The event was a success in a variety of ways, but what made it special is people who knew each other online met in person and the people who traveled from various parts of the world to meet new friends get to stay in touch long after the event was over.


My take is that online communities are helping us to slow down a bit to get to know each other again. It is not a substitute for personal contact, it is enhancing the need and desire for such contact.


Want to learn more about the Social Influencer Travel Summit? Download the report.

Trees Atlanta Wins The Change Challenge!

originally posted on Concept Hub

Last summer as I was watching The Voice an idea hit me. What if we put teams of people together to compete on developing and implementing a social media strategy. After a few months of bouncing the idea around, I teamed up with Jake Aull and Terry Coniglio and The Change Challenge was born.

The Change Challenge was made up of 4 teams of 4 volunteers that supported  4 different sponsoring nonprofits. Led by myself, Terry, and Jake the teams received hands-on training on developing a social media strategy and integrating social media into business processes. Ultimately The Change Challenge was a competition where each team was judged based on Creative Problem Solving, Goals Met, and a Sustainable Implementation.

A couple of weeks ago The 2011-2012 Change Challenge volunteers celebrated their incredible journey with an awards breakfast.

A special thanks to our judges:

  • Dr. Naveen Donthu, Department of Marketing Chair, GA State University
  • Jeannie Ericson, Executive Director, Integrated Media Association
  • Cindy Cheatham, VP Consulting Services, GA Center for Nonprofits

Volunteers from The Change Challenge had the opportunity to present at SoCon12 and will be presenting at the CXO Forum and the GCN Summit.

Congratulations to the Trees Atlanta team for winning The 2011-2012 Change Challenge. 

Comments from the judges:

  • “Goals were well defined and met.”
  • “Their focus on a content calendar was key to creating a sustainable implementation.”
  • “Everything they did seems very creative but logical and well thought-out”
The Change Challenge Trees Atlanta Team

Trees Atlanta team included: Abby Schwimmer, Kent Jones, Sara Cheshire, Elyse Klova, and their nonprofit sponsor Bethany Clark


“I applaud the team for persevering through all their challenges. Their flexibility and creativity kept the idea alive.” Judges comments related to the Atlanta Mission Team. 

“A lot of good came from the project in terms of understanding what kind of effort must go into a real social media campaign.” Judges comments related to the Adaptive Learning Team


“Really thought through where you want to go and the opportunities to expand” Judges comments related to the Emory Center for Injury Control Team.

This was an incredible experience and I sincerely appreciate and am still in awe of the dedication and hard work from everyone that was involved.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Making the “Holiday Ask” Personal (A Case Study)

It’s that time of year;

  • The ringing of the Salvation Army bells
  • The opportunity to donate food as you buy your groceries
  • Events that require toys for tots as an entry fee

Whereas all of these activities are successful because they make it easy to give, they seem to lack the personal touch of knowing who you are supporting, where your gifts are going, or how you are changing lives. They also require enormous effort to attract partners and volunteers to be everywhere shoppers and party-goers are.

Even though the end of the year is a time of giving both for altruistic reasons and for tax reasons, it is also a time of great competition for dollars among nonprofits. The smaller nonprofits need to be extra creative within very tight budget constraints.

My client, Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, has created a campaign that is creative, compelling, entertaining with a personal touch.

It starts with a video, Santa Claus Needs New Eyewear.

The video is funny, showcases the work that the Lighthouse does, and has a call to action. The Lighthouse produced this video by showcasing the talents that existed in their own building. The lyrics were written by a staff member and the vocals were provided by another staff member.

The call to action is for you to visit their holiday website Check It Twice.  At the website, instead of just asking for a donation, the Lighthouse has developed a holiday gift catalog where you can choose the amount you would like to give by choosing the gift you would like to give. Not only does this make your gift more personal, in one snapshot it also tells the story of all the work that the Lighthouse is involved with.

While you are the site you can also read the touching letter from Gary who continues to be a productive member of society thanks to the work of the Georgia Lions Lighthouse.

Not only has the Lighthouse developed an entertaining campaign that is seeking end-of-the-year gifts, but they are also effectively enhancing the community’s awareness of the work that they do all year long; work that not only makes a difference to the lives of individual clients but also makes a difference for the whole community.

Social Story-Telling (A Case Study)

About a year ago I was offered the gift to work with Liz Hayes, the Marketing Director for the Center for the Visually Impaired, to build out their social media strategy. Liz is one of those amazing clients who are not only a sponge for information and ideas but also someone who will effectively implement those ideas.

The past couple of months Liz and I have had the opportunity to co-present at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. At a presentation yesterday Liz was able to showcase how all her hard work in social media is paying off.

Each time I speak to a group of nonprofits I start by asking a few questions.

1. What is your mission? 

Practically everyone can answer this question….by rote memory.

2. Why?

Because the mission statement is usually memorized, it is too common that people have to think for a moment about why their mission is what it is.

3. Who have you specifically helped?

90% of the time this question is answered with a statement that sound like it is right out of a marketing brochure. “We have helped 25,000 people who have found themselves without the means to….blah blah blah.” There is nothing to pull at my emotional strings in such statements.

The statement that more the 7,500 soldiers have died in Afghanistan does not have the same impact as hearing about the soldier who had only 2 more weeks left in Afghanistan before he could come home to see his newborn daughter but was killed while on the side of the road changing a tire for a stranded citizen.

4. How does what you do impact my life?

This question almost always stumps my audience. The typical answer is that they are there if I  or anyone I know ever need them. That is great, but how are you going to raise money when the only people who know about you are the people who need you?  The goal of this question is to help my audience see how what they do has a larger positive impact on society as a whole and that we all benefit from their work and therefore we all have a responsibility to support them.

This is the consultation that Liz has run with at CVI. The CVI Facebook page is full of personal stories, valuable resource information, inspirational stories, and stories of how CVI impacts society as a whole. And it is paying off tremendously.

In a year her community has grown to over 400 members – which is a strong following for a locally focused nonprofit organization. However what is so impressive is the 25% of that following is talking about CVI to their friends.

And what are people talking about? Personal stories of the impact that CVI is making on people’s lives and on society. 

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.25.59 AM

Jack and Luke are four years old, visually impaired, and on the path to a lifetime of learning and adventure as braille readers. You can help Jack, Luke and CVI clients of all ages with the vision to see beyond their disability.

What is the secret to CVI’s success? Liz would tell you that before she posts anything on Facebook she thinks about who it is for, why they would care, and what action they would take. She always puts herself in the shoes of her community first.

The Concept Behind The Change Challenge

originally posted on Concept Hub

If you have been following on any of my networks, you should have seen me promoting my latest project The Change Challenge. If you have not heard of The Change Challenge yet, it is a 6-month project that Concept Hub, Inc and GSU have partnered on. We are putting together 5 teams that will support 5 different nonprofits through social media. At the end of 6 months, there will be a conference where each team member can showcase their expertise and case studies as well as an awards dinner where teams will be recognized for their achievements.

The Change Challenge is a project that was created to solve a few problems I have recognized.

Long ago when I got started in social media, it was all about grassroots activism. Recently we have read and watched big stories about revolutions being credited with social media. That is great, but what about using social media to make a difference in our own communities. That is where the power is, but due to a lack of training and resource, many nonprofits are still well behind the curve. The Change Challenge will provide 5 nonprofits and provide them with the training and resources to get a good program launched.

But who will be on these teams? I have met many, many people who express a desire to learn social media. I have also met many people who have gotten involved with social media and are trying to get some credibility for running a project. What if these people joined a team and received 6 months of hands-on training for FREE? That is what The Change Challenge is offering to those who are selected to be part of a team.

By making it a competition, the whole project becomes fun for us to watch. That is what is really unique about The Change Challenge. You could go to 5 events a day and hear about a social media case study, but can you watch 5 competing cases as they evolve?

We are approaching our first milestone. This Saturday the team will be meeting to select the team members and the nonprofits. There is still time to get your application in. If you are interested send me an email at sherry[@] or give me a call at 404-386-9801.

Social Media Consulting Vs. Community Management

originally posted on Concept Hub

Since 2005 I have had the privileged to provide consultation, training and project management to several clients in the Metro Atlanta area. One of those clients, eRollover, has provided me with the opportunity to round out my experience by serving as their Community Director.

I  have always believed that social media needs to be integrated with various in-house job functions. As a consultant, my role has often been to guide my clients to adopt social media in the various ways that the organization felt ready. For some clients, it was as basic as getting their employees set up on Linkedin, for others it is was launching a branded niche community. As a community manager on staff with eRollover my role has been to continue to push the organization to be a social company from inside out.

Although my responsibilities include driving traffic to the website, getting followers on Twitter and Facebook and encouraging engagement on the various sites, I also need to ensure that each team member is also part of the community, not just on our site, but throughout the web. I have had the opportunity to sit in the strategy meetings for every aspect of the company to ensure that we are leveraging social software for everything from raising money to generating revenue.

What I have learned in the past year is:

Consulting is a lot easier than managing! As a consultant, I am still very hands-on with all the tools and personally apply the best practices. But when I apply my theories to my personal brand or even the Concept Hub brand, I am personally involved and the positive results have often been a result of the fact that I am aligned with people of like minds. As a manager of a brand, I am trying to align the brand (a start-up brand at that) with a community of people who are already involved with other similar brands. I need to do this in such a way that I am not the center of attention, but the brand is, as well as the various team members. What has worked for me personally is not always working out for the brand.

Community Management cannot be a silo-ed position! This is not a surprise to me, it is what I have believed all along. Social Media touches every aspect of the business. Any effort in the business can be enhanced by social media. A community manager not only needs to be in the boardroom and at various team and strategy meetings, but they need to also be meeting one on one with all the decision managers helping them understand the impact that social media can have on the direction of the business. I am very fortunate that I am working with a team that believes this as well.

You need more than one voice on the web. Although ultimately I am responsible for the direction and the success (or failures) of our social media program, I cannot be the only voice on the web. I am representing only one perspective. In the case of eRollover, I can align with Gen Xers who have realized they need to do more to save for their future. Others on the team are active investors and can align with like minds. Although it is the eRollover brand that needs to be the center of the conversation, conversations happen between people and the more voices we have on the web from the team the more people we can align with.

Guidelines evolve! For many people who have managed a brand for a long time, social media continues to present some mind-boggling challenges. Especially now that brands can be involved in the conversations in the case of a branded twitter campaign or the new roll out of Facebook Pages that enable brands to comment on other brand pages. As social media continues to evolve your guidelines need to evolve. For example, if your community is gathering on a particular political site, should your brand be there?  If yes what will others who are from the other political spectrum think of your brand?

Social Media roles are here to stay! at least for a while. I have read many opinions that social media is going to be swallowed by existing roles such as PR or Marketing. What I believed long ago when I started this agency and what I have found to be true in my role as Community Director is that there is a need for a new role focused solely on social media. We need PR to focus on PR while integrating social media into their role. We need marketing to focus on marketing while integrating social media into their role. But organizations will also continue to need an agency or person who can continue to find new ways to push the company to be more innovative and to include new markets which will be the role of the savvy Community Director and Social Media consultants.

Perhaps the titles will change as more people try to differentiate their offerings. Perhaps the roles will vary based on the needs and culture of each organization, but I do believe the need for expertise in social media will be needed for a good long time.

Creating a Social Media Business Plan (including a Revenue Model!!)

originally posted on Concept Hub

Friday night I attended my first Atlanta Bar Camp event. Bar Camp is a gathering of some of the smartest people in the city in which everyone who attends has to sign up to give a 30-minute presentation.

My presentation was “Creating a Social Media Business Plan (including a revenue model!!)”

Surprise!! My room was packed! Standing room only.

I explained that I have spent my career as a salesperson, therefore my approach to creating a social media business plan has always tied in a revenue/sales model.

The room was full of mostly entrepreneurs, the techie kind. From my experience, they are the brilliant minds who create solutions in search of a problem.

I explained that before launching into ANY social media initiative, you must first understand who has what problems and what kind of solutions are they search for.

I demonstrated a social media business plan that I created for one of my clients.

The first step we took was to listen. But prior to listening, we had to decide exactly what we were listening for.

In the case of my client example, we were looking for people who had questions regarding their financial retirement planning. The assumption was that we would find the baby-boomers to be our core demographic.

However, because we were listening for the problems and not focused on our ASSUMED demographic we identified that Gen Y had serious questions about how to fill out their 401K forms when entering the job market. Considering that human resources personnel are not in a position to answer these questions, and many of the parents of this group were just as confused these days as their children were, Gen Y was turning to the web for answers. This knowledge led to creating new offerings to a new client base which meant new revenue opportunities.

We also identified Gen X as having a very unique set of challenges as well as sentiment around their Retirement plans. Gen X is a group that tends to be more DIY and Peer supported than any other group. Our research enabled us to shape our messaging and value proposition to this group.

Our baby-boomers still looked more to advisors for counsel, which means that there was an opportunity to introduce advisors to a core community of people searching for solutions.

We created personas for each group which enabled us to look at the competition through the eyes of each group. From that perspective, we were able to develop a comprehensive SWOT analysis on each of competitors and learn what to do and what not to do.

The next questions that we addressed were;

  • What can you offer for free? The obvious answer is knowledge. Knowledge is no longer power, it is a commodity. Information freely is available everywhere. What is valuable these days is time.
  • How can we save people time and what can we expect in return? This is the answer to where you can begin to structure pricing around your offering. Ask yourself, how can you save people time and then ask how much would that be worth?
  • What will your customers need to best benefit from your offering? This is the revenue model I see most people missing these days. In a nutshell, it is training. Microsoft generated lots of money in this space. No software was released without a certification tied to it. I am dumbfounded that so many people are skipping this step when a new product is released to the market.

The most important key to capturing our audience is to meet them where they are. Even if we are introducing a world-changing innovation, we cannot expect a 360-degree paradigm shift, we have to understand our prospects current worldview and meet them there in order to guide them to new opportunities.

I have said it over and over and over again, but it is worth repeating.

Social Media is an EVOLUTION, not an add-on. In no time everything online will be built on social software. So, do not worry about how to make the next million dollars as the next Facebook. Instead, focus on solving problems using current (or better) social technologies.


Spotlight on Lens On Atlanta

originally posted on Concept Hub

This week Lens On Atlanta, an online community sponsored by Public Broadcasting Atlanta, will open up to the public.
For the past several months the community has been developing behind a password protected “door.” This week that door will be opened. This is a very exciting time for us at Concept Hub.

The Beginning

For Concept Hub the beginning was May 2008 when I first met with the team at PBA and learned about the vision for Lens on Atlanta. However, that vision came from PBA’s President, Milton Clipper, long before most of us even thought of an online community; almost 10 years ago!

Milton saw that Metro Atlanta communities were expanding and felt that the Internet could be used as a tool to bring the sprawling community members closer together. He recognized that whether a person lives in Stone Mountain, the City of Atlanta, or Alpharetta, we are all neighbors and need to find a way to stay connected with each other.

The Strategy

The team had the vision, our task was to create a roadmap to make that vision a reality. Concept Hub began researching other communities throughout the nation to see what was working and what did not work so well. We read Metro Atlanta blogs to gain an understanding of the needs and voices throughout the area and we maintained tabs on what organizations throughout the area were trying to accomplish through social media. Through our research and many various team meetings with PBA and selected thought-leaders, we identified where Lens on Atlanta could provide immediate value to metro-Atlanta community members.

Building the Community

Throughout the process PBA partnered with organizations who want to reach Metro Atlanta community members such as the:

  • Atlanta Regional Commission
  • Beltline
  • Atlanta Development Authority
  • Green Chamber of Commerce
  • Atlanta Education Fund

Concept Hub delivered workshops to help the partners create goal-oriented communication strategies for the site.

For the past several months, Concept Hub has also been meeting with several PTAs, HOAs, and NPUs to promote the site to community members. We have recruited over a dozen wonderful community voices who have begun to share their challenges and successes on the site and are connecting with their neighbors throughout the metro area.

PBA also brought the team from on board to introduce Metro Atlanta’s vibrant Arts and Culture community to the site.

The Goal

The most exciting aspect of this project is that it was not a site that was developed as the “latest trend” that the station needed to adopt. It is a site that leverages the technologies that are available today to enable a vision that was sparked years ago. A vision of Metro Atlanta community members being able to connect with each other to solve problems, to promote ideas, and to work together to make metro Atlanta the best place to work and to live.

It is truly an honor to work with PBA on such a wonderful project. I look forward to welcoming Metro Atlanta to the new Lens on Atlanta community.

The Promise of the Internet, Yesterday and Today

originally posted on Concept Hub

Not long ago a friend of mine shared some responses from a pre-event survey about social media. Some of the responses stated;

  • [Social Media] is premature
  • Our audience is not linked into this new technology
  • [Social Media] is an untested business model

Many people continue to look at Social Media as a new online trend. However last night as I was stumbling through the Internet, I came across a video from more than a decade ago that might suggest that social media is actually a component of a maturing World Wide Web.

“They communicate across cultures and continents. “Suddenly your part of a new mesh of people, programs, archives, ideas”

“It feels a bit like human fellowship, but it’s bigger and more precise.”

This was the promise of the Internet more than a decade ago. These are not new ideas or new trends. What is new are the tools that make these promises a reality.

Adoption of social media is accelerating at such a rapid pace that no one can really keep track of it. The graph below is taken from Pew Internet which shows the adoption of the Internet itself.


I realized a few years ago that being online meant being impacted if not impacting social media. People were reading user reviews and getting their questions answered in online forums. But in a survey, these same people would say they were not on MySpace or reading blogs and therefore were not accurately counted as someone adopting social media. I believe the accelerating trend of social media adoption is much steeper than any survey has displayed. I also have observed that the tools and communities that people are joining have more to do with their personalities and personal objectives than their demographics.

The past week I have been delivering customized training sessions on the various Social Bookmarking tools. I can not stress enough that each tool has a different purpose and therefore a different reason to use them. One of my favorite tools has been Delicious. Delicious is a social bookmarking tool that people are using mostly to save their personal links, as opposed to voting a story up or down like in Digg or Reddit. Because the use of Delicious is mostly driven by personal motives, the consumer insights a marketer can get from the community can be much more authentic than what they would glean from other communities where people are choosing to voice their opinion to their community.

Below is a case study of how we used Delicious 2 years ago to gain insights into our client’s rapidly growing consumer segment.

Case Study: Discovers Women
In 2006 Concept Hub, Inc (at the time What a Concept!) was hired to research the behaviors of car buyers within various social media sites. Although there were many blog posts and forum topics around buying and selling new and used cars, Concept Hub, Inc gained the most beneficial insights from the social bookmarking site Delicious. It seemed that most links related to buying and selling cars were being saved in Delicious, not for the purpose of sharing content with a community, but more for organizational research purposes. Many community members were posting personal notes in their bookmarks. Concept Hub, Inc dug deeper into each user account to discover that the community was made up of mostly women. Concept Hub, Inc crossed referenced this trend with blog posts and forum topics that women were part of and were able to show that women were a significant buyer demographic with very specific needs. As a result, began to develop relationships with influential bloggers in the auto industry such as and developed campaigns and messaging that was specifically geared to the needs of women car buyers.

As the video above suggests, the promise of the Internet was to enable people to join a mesh of conversations with other people, to share and discover ideas, and to access archives and programs. However too often the Internet has been hijacked for the purpose of being turned into an advertising and marketing channel. I am still amazed at how many brands are setting up Twitter accounts thinking people want to get a stream of marketing messages from them.

Marketers can benefit most by spending a majority of their time listening and getting to know who is online and how they can best add value to the online communities as well as how participation can help a company meet their business objectives. This is the foundation of good business, with or without the web.

A friend of mine claims that social media has caused many people to stop thinking. He sees people looking at social media as the magic silver bullet that will solve all kinds of business challenges or they see social media as a new passing fad. Neither is true. Social Media can help business owners meet their business objectives only if the business has set good core objectives and it has existed for as long as the Internet. Although over the years the tools have evolved, the unfortunate reality is that many poor and inefficient business practices have yet to fade away.