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BarkWorld 2016 in a Nutshell

This post is sponsored by BarkWorld. However, the opinions expressed here are my own. Just mine. (Unless they’re yours, too.) 

I’ve been home for a week, and my head is still spinning!

Last week at this time I was just boarding a flight back from four jam-packed days at BarkWorld 2016. The post-conference exhaustion had settled all the way down into my bones, but I collapsed into my seat feeling excited about the things I’d learned and the connections I’d made in such a short period of time. These conferences are an investment for me – and they always haven’t paid off in the past – so it was a special treat to leave Atlanta knowing that the information I’d received and the people I’d met were going to help me make better.

An Unprecedented Level of Community

The sense of community struck me immediately at BarkWorld, though I knew only a handful of people — the diversity of the attendees seemed to inspire a certain camaraderie among us. Several people I met were attending their first pet industry conference, many were social media specialists who’ve never blogged, and a few were small business owners or employees looking to build their online presence in the pet space. There was no cliqueyness. From the attendees to the speakers to the BarkWorld staff – everyone was friendly, approachable, and helpful.

Springing for Special Access

One of the innovative additions to this year’s BarkWorld was the ability to buy an “Expansion Pass” for an additional $80. It was worth every penny! Expansion pass holders were treated to a private reception on Wednesday evening and a full day of activities on Thursday.

Starting with a behind-the-scenes tour of CNN tour, we enjoyed a networking lunch, then a speed-meeting session with some of the brand representatives, followed by a special keynote by Shorty Rossi on being fearlessly authentic. If you’ve seen Shorty on the Animal Planet reality series Pit Boss, or follow his Facebook page, you know he’s 100% qualified to speak on the subject!

An Agenda Packed with Headliners

Thursday Evening

Lucy Pet Products kicked off the general conference on Thursday evening with a presentation on the extraordinary measures they’re taking to fight pet over-population. Just one year ago, Lucy Pet Products was launched as a way of raising funds for the Lucy Pet Foundation and their mission to provide low cost spay/neuter programs all over the country. All of the profits from the sales of their dog shampoos and conditioners, and now their Cats Incredible litter, go to support their mission through grants to local organizations and the vehicle they use in Los Angeles to provide services there.

A general reception followed, giving everyone time to mingle before heading off to bed for a good night’s sleep.

Friday Sessions

The first session after breakfast on Friday morning was by Seth Casteel, author of UnderWater Dogs and his brand new book, POUNCE. The main message in Seth’s presentation was that you need to follow your passions in life and be tenacious. He spoke about starting his photography business after being fired from a job. He was barely making ends meet when he set up a Groupon offer that ended up costing him money. But it was on one of those photo shoots that the idea for UnderWater Dogs hit – you never know when inspiration will strike!

Peg Fitzpatrick, co-author of The Art of Social Media with Guy Kawasaki, was next on stage and emphasized the art of visual storytelling. Social media, whether your on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, is all about using photo and captions to tell an engaging story, get people to interact, and generate conversation. Peg is a dynamo when it comes to marketing and branding, so her insights and the tools she uses to manage her various accounts were really helpful.

Break Time

During the breaks, expansion pass holders were invited to a meet-and-greet with the speakers, which was really nice! Getting to chat with the presenters made it easy to see that they’re just people like all of us. They’ve worked hard, gotten some lucky breaks, overcome challenges, and never gave up – and it’s lead to their success.

The Giants of Social Media Panel was one of my favorite sessions! These folks have HUGE numbers of followers, and yet they were so down-to-earth. The tidbit that I picked up from this session is that these successful social media experts were all surprised by their success. They were each just doing their thing, and then one morning their whole world changed. Shannon from Nala Cat put it perfectly, “Don’t focus on the numbers – focus on everything else and the followers will come. It’s magical.”

Andy Crestodina was up next with advice for writing articles that get SEO traction and reach a wider audience. Andy said that Google is like a mean girl … you can get her to like you, but you have to get everyone else to like you first! The secret is not to write articles specifically for search engine optimization, but to use keyword research to improve the quality of your content.

Your goal is to make your article the best page on the Internet for that topic! Andy also said that there is a correlation between time on site and your page authority, so keep your readers on your page as long as possible. For me that means moving my “Follow Us on Social Media” buttons to the footer on my site – why put them at the top of the page where people can click, get distracted, and forget to come back?

I’ve been avoiding SnapChat since it launched, but Sunny Lenarduzzi‘s convincing argument pushed me to get started! Sunny showed me that using video on my site is an absolute necessity, and shared her method of deciding what videos to make, as well as her formula for structuring videos so they’re most appealing. It was a motivating presentation that moved me to do something I swore I never would.

Special Event: Second Chance Dogs

Second Chance Dogs Film - BarkWorld 2016BarkWorld was treated to an advance screening of the ASPCA’s new documentary, “Second Chance Dogs,” on Friday evening. The hour-long film follows six extremely fearful, behaviorally-challenged dogs through the the rehabilitation process where innovative therapies are used in their treatment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house watching these dogs, which at one time would have been considered beyond hope, settle in with their new families.

After the screening, Kristen Collins, Senior Director of the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, who was featured in the film, and Kenn Bell, the filmmaker and director, participated in a Q&A session where we learned that the ASPCA will be opening a new rehab center near Asheville, North Carolina next year. The film will be released on Netflix soon – so add it to your “must see” list!

Saturday Sessions

We kicked off Saturday with Bryan Kramer, author of Shareology: How Sharing is Powering the Human Economy. The premise of Bryan’s presentation is that we’re trying to build a digital society, and we’re craving human connection. To embrace simplicity, empathy, and imperfection makes us relatable and leads to those connections. Being human is your competitive advantage, so be vulnerable and watch what happens.

In Saturday’s second session Daniel Lemin spoke about structuring a pitch that will dazzle the brands on your wish list. From laying out your strategy, to identifying appropriate companies to work with, to the details to provide, and what you should expect in return. This was a nuts and bolts guide to beginning a successful dialog that will lead to mutually beneficial relationships.

Perhaps the most compelling session of all was, “Live Streaming: Connectivity Reimagined” by Brian Fanzo. Brian started out by announcing that perfection is a fairytale and control is an illusion. In one fell swoop, he gave us permission to stop striving for an unattainable goal, and reassured us that our videos will be better and more successful if they’re not too polished.

Being ourselves is how we stand out, because no one can tell our stories better than we can – and what our communities crave is to feel connected to us in a real way. Using live streaming we can provide a new level of connection, build trust, have conversations and receive instant feedback, and help, support, and learn about our communities.

BarkTank was next, and congratulations to Kellie Snider, who won a book deal with Lumina Media. She’ll be writing a book for pet owners on training methods for dogs using non-coercive methods. We’re looking forward to it!

Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of BarkWorld’s sponsors, so we want to thank each of your for making this conference possible!

BarkWorld Sponsors

Thank you, also, to the dedicated BarkWorld team for putting on conference that exceeded all my expectations. It was a pleasure to be there, and I can’t wait to hear the plans for next year!

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