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Kicking the Collective Ass of an Industry

In the couple of weeks since the Twitter fail I wrote about, I’ve had some very interesting conversations with people in the yarn industry about business use of social media, and specifically about the role TNNA could and/or should play in educating yarn-related businesses about it.

Yesterday I tweeted this:

Kicking the Collective Ass of an Industry
And then I figured I should just blog what I’d already dumped into an email exchange with a colleague. I’ve edited it a little. Anyway, a few people replied to my tweet (I’m looking at you, Clara, and at you, Beth), and I hope they’ll comment or blog about what they think, too. It would not make me sad if a big conversation started.

So.

If I were to turn off the practical flip-side-thinking part of my brain that recognizes budget constraints, devil’s advocacy, etc., here’s what my dream would be:

The TNNA board and show planners would sit down and say, “The business landscape has changed dramatically in a very short period of time. We need to do everything we can to support our businesses. A rising tide floats all boats.” (ETA: I have no reason to believe they haven’t said this. I just want this to be the obvious starting point.) They’d acknowledge the importance of digital communications and the tremendous opportunity they present, and they’d recognize that they themselves might not grok what all is going on. They’d accept the naysayers who bitch and moan about change and competition and they’d go forward anyway. They’d recognize that sitting around talking about dwindling show attendance and class attendance doesn’t actually address the problem. Further, they’d recognize that trying the same things repeatedly and expecting a different result is a sign of madness.

The June show (or next January’s if there isn’t enough time) would be the social and digital media show. It would be like a theme. In addition to the show itself and the wall of yarn and same-old same-old yada yada, there would be a proper keynote. A BIG keynote. A very well-publicized keynote. Publicized not just on the terrible website and not just in PDFs of the registration materials I never read. The keynote would be about the reality of the digital age and the opportunities it brings even if they’re presented as challenges. It would be accessible to the significant proportion of the audience that feels threatened by change and to the significant proportion of the audience that recognizes the need to adapt but doesn’t know how and is terrified to do it. It would make people like me weep in glee. It would be delivered by someone with inspiring vision, meaty information and empowering words. It would most definitely NOT be delivered by someone who is a self-described guru and who most certainly does NOT have a website that follows some sort of marketing formula or cult-like bullshit.

We’d have Yelp community leaders at the show, not just to promote Yelp in that cheesy way they do, but to talk to store owners about what Yelp is, how people use it and how they can use it.

We’d have computers set up on the show floor or outside it, they’d work, they’d have Firefox running, and there would be more than two of them. We’d hold ongoing drop-in workshops on how to use Twitter, Facebook, email newsletters, about what effective web design looks like, and about how to find professionals that can help businesses use this stuff after the glow of the show fades.

There would be a full-day workshop before or after the show so people wouldn’t have to miss out on anything else to attend it. It would be all about social/digital media and business. It would be free and other steps would be taken to convince people that spending an additional day at the show is worthwhile. Hell, maybe the show itself needs only to be Saturday and Sunday. People are used to a three-day trip. Maybe that Monday (though better if it were the Friday), which is often a slow day for many, just isn’t a show day. It’s a workshop day. Or half a day. 9am-2pm.

Oh, there will be free, working, easy-to-use wireless on the show floor and in every classroom.

This will cost money. A lot of money. Speakers, broadband, tech support, teachers, computers, multimedia la la la. Possible speakers or teachers: Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Natalie Drieu from Craft, Kathy Elkins from Webs, Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark of Kitchen Sink Dyeworks, Tara Swiger of Blonde Chicken Boutique, Diane Gilleland of Craftypod.

Lots of people pay to attend business conferences. This wouldn’t really be that. This would be a trade organization providing a tremendous service to empower its membership to adapt and thrive in response to breathtaking changes in the marketplace.

I bet some businesses would sponsor it, even.

Ok. End of dream.

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blondechicken

I. AM. IN.
Yarn stores are, by nature, social. Thus, social media should be a natural growth, it should be a place where they shine.
IF they know how to use it that is.
TNNA is the obvious organization that could teach them!
If the June show is 1/2 of what you described, it'd be worth the drive!

plainsight

I don't know…I hate to be the skeptic, because usually, I'm not, but I think that there's a huge disconnect between the crocheters, knitters, etc. and designers (end-users of yarn and tools, as it were) who “get” social media and the TNNA organization and the stores and larger manufacturers who don't. I think if TNNA were to have such a conference, they'd have to first lead by example–having a web site that works and a social media presence that is more than just lip-service.

The designers and smaller producers (as well as some notably successful but rare net-savvy yarn stores) have found that it's easier and more lucrative to do an end-run around TNNA and the LYS and use the Internet to sell directly to customers. I think that the TNNA members who have been slow to change would need more than a whiz-bang keynote, they need to be spoon-fed manageable solutions that are going to lead to positive change for their businesses. (And from my experience, the technology-resistant LYS wants those solutions to be FREE! and not take any time to implement).

Then again, maybe you're right! Maybe people just need to get fired up! :-)

Mercedes

I think TNNA could use a good dose of firing-up, like a B-12 shot. The organization does seem to be the same-old, same-old, so it's no wonder attendance has been down. I think making a big push to open people up to the idea of social media and (please, oh, please) decent web design would help a lot of mired down businesses clue in to some new possibilities. And like anything else, not everyone would be a convert, but just having a trade organization help plant the seeds would grow a more modernized industry. Maybe take the idea further and offer TNNA-supported online courses to help with social media, web design options, and online business? There are industry members who still wouldn't travel (especially to CA in January) due to budget, but may find an extra $100-$200 for a really comprehensive, noob-friendly course.

And thanks for the shout-out; I'm flattered!

Mercedes

I think TNNA could use a good dose of firing-up, like a B-12 shot. The organization does seem to be the same-old, same-old, so it's no wonder attendance has been down. I think making a big push to open people up to the idea of social media and (please, oh, please) decent web design would help a lot of mired down businesses clue in to some new possibilities. And like anything else, not everyone would be a convert, but just having a trade organization help plant the seeds would grow a more modernized industry. Maybe take the idea further and offer TNNA-supported online courses to help with social media, web design options, and online business? There are industry members who still wouldn't travel (especially to CA in January) due to budget, but may find an extra $100-$200 for a really comprehensive, noob-friendly course.

And thanks for the shout-out; I'm flattered!

galezucker

Love the way you think. I had a similar thought on a much tinier scale, and proposed teaching a photography for knitblogging workshop for the January TNNA, figuring it'd help the yarn shop owners and the designers goose up their blogs, websites, Facebooks etc. Unfortunately I had my brainstorm too late for the deadline so it couldn't happen–but I'd way rather see it as part of a bigger effort. One that shifted the industry toward the abundant use of technology instead of keeping it at arm's distance. I'm in. I hope your vision comes to life. Why not??

Clara

Grumpy McGrumpypants reporting for duty! Well, more like… Cautiously Optimistic McSkepticpants.

I'm wondering if you genuinely believe that the widespread adoption of social media can singlehandedly save the needlearts industry? Enough, that is, to merit a total overhaul of TNNA? Yes, it is a powerful tool for sales and community building. And it could help a lot of people – as long as they get a really clear, strong sense of how to use it genuinely and appropriately. (I'm already putting a pillow over my head and moaning, “Oh, the noise!” at the idea of 2,000 new facebooking newslettering tweeters yelling about their latest sale without even remembering to say “hello” first.)

Or is yours more of a frustration that the only major trade organization in your industry doesn't embrace a reality about which you are personally and professionally passionate, one that you think *could* help it do a little better? And that so far it hasn't responded positively to any overtures?

Here's what I wonder. Is your energy better used trying to get a large organization to change, or perhaps would it be more fruitful to try and carve out a whole new event and organization specifically dedicated to this? (Remember how you said the words “why not” can be frightening?)

It could embody all the positive elements of digital/social media so powerfully, and show such clear results, that it'd organically attract those very people who are eager and ready to jump on board. Now, I realize that dream is as wild as yours, but it might be a more fruitful use of energy than fighting an unwilling party.

Just some thoughts.

kristi

Interesting! What I wonder is will more savvy electronic squeeing going to make more people knit? Or the people that do knit, knit more? Unless we are reaching some untouched demographic, it's a lot of bellowing for nothing. A recent conversation at my LYS during my class talked about location (and ours is in a good high-end, reasonably pedestrian-friendly spot!) and the owner said essentially, “Most people who walk into a yarn shop mean to do it. It's a destination, not an accident.” Creating buzz is one thing, but the real trick to sales is to get more people knitting and crocheting, or knitting and crocheting more. I don't think, honestly, that a good website (or blog) really does that at the present time. Word of mouth is certainly IT, and the social networking can help with that (my store vs. your store), but the real question of how to draw people in (and maintain the interest of those already “in”). But how can we maintain (and regain/build) interest at the present time?

knitgrrl

I think the people using online media to create more crafters will NOT be TNNA et al. I have such reservations about them ever “getting it” that I'd have a tough time taking almost anything they did in this arena seriously. Their Twitter fail with you is just one example. If success in social media comes from having

* street cred / respect from your audience
* something to say (that is useful and not spammy)
* a genuine interest in dialogue

then TNNA is not going to be on the forefront. I had more than one person tell me that attendees on other show panels threw fits about the panel Jess/Casey/etc were on because they had no idea who they were and how — frankly — important their site is. Things like “who the hell are those people?” were said.

Ok, it's one thing not to know about Ravelry, but to get actively angry that they were there? Really? That's a fail on TNNA's part, too, for not making it more clear. And if they can one-car-funeral that, what on earth would they do with a larger social media focus? I shudder to think.

iknitalone

this is an interesting concept. Is it the industry's role to promote social media, or social media's role to reach out to specific industries? I know I want to learn more, and want to be able to help my local yarn store use the media more effectively (from email to full blown social media).

BethCasey

Here I am. A day late and a dollar short. But I am here. I have to say that I love the idea of having a big to-do at market. Having TNNA provide that kind of educational experience is one of the core services I think we should expect from a trade organziation. Financially, I'd be surprised if TNNA could pull off everything you have listed on your wish list at both shows every year, but I'm pretty sure they could get some of it done. Maybe we could explore a single theme, like social media, each year with different elements at each show. For example, have a great speaker in January and then do workshops in June. I'd like to see market provide attendess with a total experience that has so much value that they wouldn't consider skipping a show for fear of what they might miss. Networking, education, product information and socializing are all part of the mix. There's a risk to providing too much online. One of the great things about getting together is the ability to talk to your peers face to face and find out what's working for them. Sure, we can get much of the same information sitting at the computer, but that's a different kind of community. I think we still need to be able to give friends, old and new, an honest to goodness flesh pressing hug from time to time. I'm unsure about the idea of creating a new organization is good for the industry. The one we have isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean that we should abandon it. Instead, let's work together and make it better. As Kim said, a rising tide floats all boats. The needlearts community is small, fracturing it into smaller entities doesn't seem like the… Read more »

Sarah E. White

As I was reading this (before I got to the part where you mentioned him) I was thinking, ooh, Gary Vaynerchuk would be awesome in this capacity. He could certainly both explain why it's important to be engaged in social media and fire people up to do it right.

And I agree with Clara that this might be best pursued as something outside of TNNA, for all the reasons other people have mentioned. I don't know if a whole new organization would be needed or if it's just like the Sock Summit of social networking for crafty folks, a destination weekend where people could learn the whys and how tos of blogging, websites, social networking, etc., while meeting up with people who've made it work. But I think with a separate entity like that — or even just an independent meeting — there's a real danger of preaching to the choir, where only people like Clara and Shannon and Diane and Beth would show up (not that that wouldn't be a heck of a lot of fun, but it wouldn't exactly meet the goal of spreading the importance of social media and doing it right to the fibery masses).

I don't know what the answer is, either. But it is a beautiful dream.

Bonne Marie Burns

At the end of the day, using social media helps me get So Much Done that would be impossible without it.

Seeing that TNNA is a volunteer group made up of diverse folks located all over the place, I see endless possibilities for improved planning, communication, events, promotions, etc, using the new tools these sites and devices give us all IF they are adopted in a meaningful way by the organization. It is the next logical step.

In the three years I've been a member/exhibitor, I've seen very sloow acceptance of web-based anything, which is where I sprout from, even being soundly lectured by some old-school brick & mortar retailers every time I show because I “dare”. Their word.

But I believe that the people who get it really get it and they are at the shows, they are participating and they're rubbing off on everybody else. I'll be back for more — and I will have integrated more new & fun moves into my little piece of the landscape. That's the change from within lots of us are doing: slow, measured, consistent.

But how fab would it be to be fired up by a modern tech-oriented Keynote Address, to see the Whole group embrace the Opportunites that are looming right within reach…

Grand visions, good visions, Kim! I can't wait :)

Vashtirama

I seem to have an extreme opinion that “social media” (which I mean in the biggest sense of being a new mindset, social lifestyle, and vision of relationships) is THE SINGLE MOST POWERFUL saving grace of the yarn industry. So when I've read some commenters here who see limited value of social media for TNNA businesses, such as when Kristi said, “What I wonder is will more savvy electronic squeeing going to make more people knit? Or the people that do knit, knit more? Unless we are reaching some untouched demographic, it's a lot of bellowing for nothing” I have to really chew on that–I'm certain that it does! (Not necessarily the “squeeing”, but I wouldn't boil down social media to the squeeing anyway.) Luckily I have LYS's in my area but some people don't. They have no choice but to learn about notable yarns, stitches, patterns etc. from others on the internet. But I go to my LYS *more often* because the internet constantly puts all things fiber in my face, and I want it that way. I'm thinking that my deep conviction about social media comes from a crochet and CGOA point of view for 2 basic reasons: 1) Knitters are more social locally than crocheters. For many crocheters, finding other crocheters online is a revelation, like stumbling upon a wonderland. Since crocheters are such big yarn consumers (I don't have to go into the hard figures here, right?), everyone in the industry should want them linking up, coming out of the woodwork, cross-fertilizing, and yeah, squeeing. If someone wants to jump in to say, “yeah but crocheters don't buy the good stuff”, please think this through in light of social media…. 2) Crochet is only alive as long as people's hands keep doing it, because there are… Read more »

modeknit

I swear, I feel like Rip Van Winkle this year.

Having had a blog since 2002, I've sen this whole social media thing fly and grow, and I'm with Vashti. The yarn shops I see growing and blooming are ones that use EVERY tool in the arsenal, and few tools are as convenient for consumers to access than a blog post or a tweet from a favorite yarn shop.

Sometimes I get confused by shorthand abbreviations (btw, Mercedes, what's “noob-friendly”) and at those moments the non-internet savvy shop owner inhabits my brain. I can see, briefly, how frightening it would be to have a whole alternate universe happening right under my nose, and not knowing how to dive in. It would be easier, at those moments, to find reasons to dismiss the whole thing and stay in a comfort zone.

I love your idea, Kim, and I think the focus should be – initially – HOW can the average PC-based non-computer-savvy shop owner comprehend the breadth and depth of social media, in a non-threatening way.

And, further, how can that same shop owner use the looking-glass of their computer screen to walk into this world, and network with designers, teachers, other shop owners and – most important – paying customers.

I'm in. I want to speak, too!

modeknit

I swear, I feel like Rip Van Winkle this year.

Having had a blog since 2002, I've sen this whole social media thing fly and grow, and I'm with Vashti. The yarn shops I see growing and blooming are ones that use EVERY tool in the arsenal, and few tools are as convenient for consumers to access than a blog post or a tweet from a favorite yarn shop.

Sometimes I get confused by shorthand abbreviations (btw, Mercedes, what's “noob-friendly”) and at those moments the non-internet savvy shop owner inhabits my brain. I can see, briefly, how frightening it would be to have a whole alternate universe happening right under my nose, and not knowing how to dive in. It would be easier, at those moments, to find reasons to dismiss the whole thing and stay in a comfort zone.

I love your idea, Kim, and I think the focus should be – initially – HOW can the average PC-based non-computer-savvy shop owner comprehend the breadth and depth of social media, in a non-threatening way.

And, further, how can that same shop owner use the looking-glass of their computer screen to walk into this world, and network with designers, teachers, other shop owners and – most important – paying customers.

I'm in. I want to speak, too!

Melissa Cordstone

I wholeheartedly agree on this issue. It can be soooo frustrating to see struggling mom & pop businesses that just don't see what they are missing. I think it will happen one step at a time though, just like with anything. I mean, there are lots of business owners that still dont have websites!!! or its the business card type of website, and they are just clueless. But by starting small and continually moving forward, I think the whole social media thing will come together.

Melissa Cordstone

I wholeheartedly agree on this issue. It can be soooo frustrating to see struggling mom & pop businesses that just don't see what they are missing. I think it will happen one step at a time though, just like with anything. I mean, there are lots of business owners that still dont have websites!!! or its the business card type of website, and they are just clueless. But by starting small and continually moving forward, I think the whole social media thing will come together.

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