Creating Your Own Business Playbook: How Networking Equates to Opportunity

People often ask me what my favorite part of my job is.  My answer is always quick and consistent:  it’s that I am lucky enough to meet so many brilliant, driven individuals who are continually disrupting and positively changing the world. Many of these encounters come through meetings that I take with Chris Dessi. Chris and I are similar in that smart people fascinate us. We ask a lot of questions, we get excited, and sometimes we get scared that people are functioning on such a level. Mostly, though, we get inspired.  

One of these individuals is David S. Kidder. Before I met David, Chris described him as “the smartest guy in the room in nearly all rooms.” I think Chris is brilliant, and Chris thinks David is brilliant; Chain Rule –  I knew David was brilliant.

David is the author of the Start Up Playbook. Naturally, my next move, after Chris had lunch with him, was to read it. I couldn’t put it down. It’s described as “Secrets of the Fastest-Growing Startups.” It’s a compilation of stories from over 40 CEO’s. It tells about their success but articulates the full story and not just the end result. There were bumps in the road, moments of fear and panic and valuable lessons that came out of them. The way it’s broken up allows the reader to pick it up, read an excerpt, attain valuable insight, put it down, and rinse and repeat. It’s one of the few books that I go back and re-read portions regularly. When I first started at Silverback Social, this book was literally my bible. As we experienced growing pains, I realized we were going through the same things so many others had already gone through. It became common for Chris and I to tell each other “we are doing all the right things, stay the course”.  That course was outlined in the Start Up Playbook.

John's Tweet I had the pleasure of meeting David at the Westchester Digital Summit where he gave the opening keynote (*worth noting, he was my mom’s favorite presenter. Sorry, Gary V., you won WDS1). The day was a blur for me, and I neglected to ask David one of the questions that I really wanted to – “How did you get such in depth access to so many brilliant/successful CEO’s?” Luckily Chris and I are on the same wavelength, and he had already asked it. David’s response was simple: he “met them over the years through networking, leaned on them as advisors and resources, and offered value to them when he could.” Simple, made a ton of sense, and I didn’t think too much of it.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, Chris and I were in Downtown Vegas for Catalyst Week, in conjunction with the Downtown Project. For those not familiar, Chris does an excellent job describing it here.  For someone who likes to meet smart innovative people, this is equivalent to an 8-year-old at Disney World.  After four days of inspiration and a ton of valuable knowledge, our minds were racing on the flight back to New York. That’s when Chris mentioned to me what David had said, and the puzzle finally came together for me.

A lot of times, we get caught up in the day to day. We flow from meeting to meeting, project to project, and don’t have a minute to pull back. Last night, I was with a friend who recently started for CommonBond. When he was making the move from big corporate finance to a start-up, he asked for my opinion. I told him to do it immediately. I told him to follow David’s advice: network, ask for advice, bring value to the table, and build relationships. One day, we will both be on our second, third, fourth, or fifth project, and we will have relationships with some of the smartest entrepreneurs/CEO’s in the world. With that will come tons of opportunities, good, bad, ugly and life changing.

Whether you work for a start-up, corporation, you’re a singer or athlete, David’s message rings true. Make the time to create these relationships.

I am fortunate. The list of smart and successful people I meet could go on for days. Here are a few that will one day make my start-up playbook whom I have met in the last month. They are doing and will continue to do amazing things for a long time to come:

Michael LaiMinerva Project

Amanda Slavin and the entire Catalyst Creative Team (Danielle, Katie, Mike, etc.)

Shilpi KumarProgression Labs, Qualifyor, Venture for America

John FazzolariRevivn

Robyn Allen – Energy Entrepreneur

Idia Ogala* – NBA and hopefully back to Silverback Social one day

John GuydonThe Lassy Project

*I didn’t meet Idia in the last month but he’s impressed me too much not to mention.

Follow me on Twitter @johnzanzarella 




What’s the ROI of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project & Catalyst Week?

Chris Dessi

Chris Dessi

I don’t normally cry in public. But there I was, under the hot lights on a stage in Las Vegas speaking at Catalyst Week and I was crying. I felt a twinge of embarrassment, but I knew that I was in a safe place, and sharing like this was encouraged. I ended my talk, felt the warm applause wash over me, and I knew I had done the right thing. I’d just shared a very personal journey that led me to where I am today.

A few weeks prior to speaking at Catalyst Week I was perplexed. My company was co-curating the week, and I still wasn’t even 100% sure what we were getting ourselves, and our colleagues into.

All I knew is that I trusted the vision of Tony Hsieh. I had enjoyed reading his bookDelivering Happiness, and I was very impressed with the team at CatalystCreativ. I trusted them. When I inquired about Catalyst Week to my colleagues who had been there, I kept hearing the same thing:

“You have to experience it.”

Ugh. All I wanted was some sort of idea about what I had committing to. But I understood that this one time, for this to work I had to let go of preconceived notions. I committed to letting go, and letting it all happen. I’m thrilled I did.

Let me explain:

Back in November of 2012, while promoting our inaugural Westchester Digital Summit, one of my star employees, Josh Fenster stumbled across Catalyst Week. We then connected with Amanda Slavin the CEO of CatalystCreativ. She found out about our summit, and we discussed that we were interested in possibly producing a Las Vegas Digital Summit. So she asked if we would be interested in co-curating a weeklong event in Downtown Las Vegas. She explained that CatalystCreativ is

… a community design firm that builds community for cities, brands and movements through educational and inspirational events”

We discussed the Downtown Project and she explained that it’s

…a group of passionate people committed to helping to transform Downtown Las Vegas into the most community-focused large city in the world.”

I was fascinated, and thrilled to be a part of something bigger than Silverback Social. This was our chance to give back, learn, and network on a deeper level than ever. We were in. But truth be told, it was a tough sell to get our network to attend. I mean, how do you explain that you’ll be the guest of a visionary billionaire who is revitalizing a forgotten part of the United States in the most unusual and compelling way?

  • That you’ll be expected to participate, engage, and experience what they affectionately refer to as “collisions” throughout your time in Las Vegas?
  • That you’ll meet people who not only impress you, but also change the way you view the world?
  • That you’ll experience a company (Zappos) that excels at shattering convention – all with a smile while truly delivering happiness to everyone they encounter?
  • That you’ll find yourself locked in such deep and meaningful conversations at such a high frequency that you find yourself texting your loved ones & colleagues “you have to experience Catalyst Week.” oh the irony!!!

You can’t explain it. You can only share what an experience like this has done to you. This isn’t a normal experience.

Nope, not normal at all. Odd in fact.

The oddest experience I’ve ever had in my career.

But let me be clear – odd is a good thing. Odd doesn’t happen enough. Oddballs are rampant in the halls of Zappos, throughout the Downtown project and certainly at CatalystCreativ, and that’s a gloriously good thing. Silverback Social is oddball central! The oddballs are welcomed there, and I dig it big time. Glorious, lovable, intelligent, engaging, and fascinating oddballs like Caleb Edison (pictured below) who gave us our tour of the Downtown Project and spoke of the initiative’s three Cs:

  1. Collision
  2. Colearning
  3. Connectedness

He also pointed out that the Downtown initiative has unintentionally taken the shape of a Llama (Tony Hsieh’s favorite animal, because…well, they’re awesome). Odd.

Caleb Edison Downtown Project


Odd stories like how Tony gave restaurateur Natalie Young her initial investment to launch her downtown restaurant called Eat. Her story is odd in the most random, and inspiring way. Hearing her story in the video below may inspire others to open restaurants in Downtown Las Vegas. That would be the true ROI of the Downtown Project. A true Ripple OImpact..

Odd encounters like colliding with John Guydon of The Lassy Project in the pool at the Ogden who explained to my CMO John Zanzarella and I that he is changing the way the world will prevent child abductions. We’ve been encouraging everyone we meet to download the APP. It will save children’s lives. Imagine the first child’s life that’s saved because of this technology. That would be the true ROI of the Downtown Project and Catalyst Week. A true Ripple OImpact.

Odd and magical stories like the one told during a Catalyst Week workshop given by Leisa Peterson of Wealthclinic. Leisa shared her moment of clarity about her life that came to her during a random shooting. Powerful, and odd, and glorious. I re-told Leisa’s story to friends over dinner this past weekend. I was encouraging our friend to take the plunge into becoming an entrepreneur. Imagine if she does because of Leisa’s story? That would be the true ROI of the Downtown Project and Catalyst Week. A true Ripple OfImpact.

Odd bursts of mutual admiration for colleagues. Like when Robyn C. Allen organized other Catalyst attendees in an effort to offer a small gift at our closing dinner to the CatalystCreativ team. Which triggered a series of heart-felt thank yous, and applause. Like the speech Katie Vander Ark gave in honor of her boss Amanda Slavin. Public praise and admiration of colleagues? Passing that along to others, bringing a deeper level of humanity to our work? That is the true ROI of the Downtown Project, and Catalyst Week. A true Ripple OImpact.

It’s a rare thing to experience something that you know will change the trajectory of your business. Even more rare still is to experience something that will change your life. The unique five-day experience they call Catalyst Week, changed me personally to my core, and has effectively changed the trajectory of my business.

ROI = Ripple of Impact.

The week has influenced the way I view my business, the way I interact with my wife, and the life I lead at home and in the office. I’m typing this now and I’m welling up with the joy of knowing I’ve made friends I’ll have for life, and that my network will be better with these people in it.

True change is elusive. Bureaucracy slows it. Indifference is the fuel of stagnation. While the Downtown Project may not be perfect, and may not be for everyone, there is m-u-c-hmore positive than negative happening in a place that was previously left for dead. American cities need more Catalyst Weeks. Our world needs more renegades like Tony and more people who dive headlong into the fray like Amanda Slavin and her team at CatalystCreativ.

I encourage you to learn more about the CatalystCreativ Team (Amanda, Danielle, Robert, Mike, Katie, Cindy, Reyna, and Nicole). Keep up with CatalystCreativ on Twitter, Instagram (@catalystcreativ) or on Facebook.

Have you been to a Catalyst Week or Creativ Week yet? The Ripple OImpact will be felt for years to come, and I’ll do everything in my power to help along the way.

Weddings Socialized, Part II: Apps, Registries, and Trends, Oh My!

Daniela Raciti

Daniela Raciti

In March, I wrote about finding my (soon-to-be) husband online and planning my wedding while not taking my eyes off the phone/computer screen. The more wedding planning I do (online, of course), the more websites, apps and information I come across that peak my curiosity.

Is your wedding trending?

Wedding selfies aren’t the only aspect of your wedding that should go viral. Through the end of December 2014, W Hotels in New York is offering a “social media wedding concierge” for the low price of $3k. W Hotels even goes so far as creating you a wedding blog, registry wish list, Pinterest board for your honeymoon, and putting together a Shutterfly book with wedding day highlights from all the social media platforms.

While this may seem a bit excessive (and not just financially), plastering of weddings on social is not something that is uncommon, including couples taking selfies at the altar (… that’s a bit excessive). Let’s think about it for a second. You know your guests are going to take pictures and post them whether you want them to or not, so why not add this one extra ‘vendor’ to your list to aggregate everything for you so you can enjoy the honeymoon instead of looking up your hashtag on the beach to see what people posted?

If you don’t happen to have $3,000 extra in the budget to spend, you can always see if your wedding planner would be willing to add “social media” to her list of services and create a hashtag for your day. (If you don’t have a wedding planner, create the hashtag yourself and be sure to share it with your guests.)

Wedding planning mobile apps

You don’t have to tell me that there are not enough hours in the day to plan a wedding and do everything else you have going on. For us soon-to-be brides who are always on the run and don’t want to lug a wedding binder around (you know how I feel about those), just download an app or two:

The Knot’s Ultimate Wedding Planner: When you’re engaged (well, let’s be realistic, before you get engaged), The Knot is one of the first websites you create an account on to start planning your dream wedding. In October of 2011, they launched their Ultimate Wedding Planner, an “all-inclusive wedding planning application” for iPad and iPhone for $4.99. According to the press release: “Couples can… create and update their wedding to-do list, track wedding budget expenses, browse thousands of wedding dresses and bookmark inspirational photos of cakes, wedding décor and more – all while on the go.” Soon after the launch, they added a few more features to the app including vendor and guest list managers and mobile wedding message boards.

Wedding Wire: Wedding Wire (another site you typically sign up for before/when you are engaged) actually has a family of mobile apps to make wedding planning easier: WeddingWire, WedTeam, WedSocial, and WedStyle. Each app has different functions, so if you’re looking for inspiration and you’re Pinterest-ed out, WedStyle has thousands of photos; If you want to share all the photos your guests took in one place, download WedSocial; If you have no idea where to start with vendors, WedTeam has you covered an easily searchable list by preferences and location; And lastly, if a management tool is all you really need, the WeddingWire app is all you will need to manage budgets, checklists, RSVPS and you can even participate in the forums as if you were on the website.

David Tutera Live – My Dream Wedding: Having David as your wedding planner is every girl’s dream (sorry guys, finding you was second on the list) and unfortunately for most of us, a dream is all it will ever be; But for 99 cents, you can have the next big thing: David’s wedding app! Available for iPhone and iPad, the app has a real time countdown to your wedding and anniversary, a wedding checklist, tips, videos and advice from the man himself, “accessible wedding party contact information” and “ceremony and reception location details”. I’ll take it!

Wedding video and picture apps

The wedding day is over (sad) and you’re looking for a way to combine all the photos and videos from your guests into memories you can look back on forever (if you had a social media concierge, you wouldn’t have to worry about it, but I digress). Here are some great apps that will get the job done, for far less than what your photographer and videographer charged you:

Animoto: “Animoto is a video creation service (online and mobile) that makes it easy and fun for anyone to create and share extraordinary videos using their own pictures, video clips, words and music.” Your completed video will be in HD and ready to be shared on your social media platforms and burned to a DVD.

Eversnap (formerly Wedding Snap): Simply put, “Eversnap app and website help you to collect all your guests’ photos AND videos in one online album.” Once you sign up and create an album, you’ll receive 200 “adorable instruction cards for your guests” that will allow them to upload their photos and videos all in one place. You can use a custom hashtag (ie #danielabilly2014) and the best part is your guests’ photos can be used for a slideshow during your reception! Just make sure your entertainment package includes a screen.

Wedding Party App: Wedding Party is a private app that does everything from the minute you get engaged until after you get married. Share information with your guests, invite loved ones and track RSVPS. Guests can even “share their favorite memories of your relationship and stay connected to the celebrations no matter where they are.” Once the big day is over, feel free to relive the entire journey all over again through the app.

Bridal Registry Apps

My Registry: With this app and website, you can “add gifts from any website onto one universal gift registry”. It doesn’t even have to be for a wedding, it could be a general wish list as well. If you created wedding registries at various stores, you can sync them on this site so your guests can very easily see everything you’ve requested in one place. Once completed, you can download printable announcement cards to include with the bridal shower invites.

Simple Registry: Very similar to My Registry in the sense that you can “put any item from anywhere on one wedding registry”, this app also lets guests suggest items that you may like but didn’t think of requesting with the SimpleAdder tool. Additionally, when it comes time to write thank you notes, the gifts you received were already tracked, so no need to “google” addresses and wonder if Aunt Liz was the one who gave you the Lenox vase. A full checklist with details was already built for you, so just print (if you want) and thank away!

Wedding Scan: Another app that lets you “register any product at any store by scanning a barcode or manually entering the item”, but what makes it stand out amongst the rest is that any and all items that you scann include a geo-location so your family and friends are able to view where you found the item. For instance, if a small boutique store in your town has an incredible local artisan piece that you just have to have, your guests can easily visit or call the store and buy the item for you without spoiling the surprise by asking you where it can be purchased.

Now that you have all the tools you need to pull off an incredible wedding, there is no excuse for your big day to not be trending on social! 

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What I Learned from Gary Vaynerchuk at the Westchester Digital Summit

Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk

Despite people being tired from a long days event, they sure got re-energized when Gary Vaynerchuk got on stage to close off a wonderful event filled with brilliant speakers from a diverse bunch of companies. Gary’s presence lit up the stage and his enthusiasm and spunk made everyone laugh. You could tell if you looked around that the audience got another whiff of energy and paid close attention to his insights.

Gary’s presentation included informative and insightful knowledge and advice. He was very engaging and took a poll of the audience. More than half of the crowd voted that they get annoyed when others call them and have to speak to them on the phone. Gary’s point was proven correct – people expect everyone to be on their own time. They don’t like it when others call us and interrupt our time.

Gary’s energy continued to keep everyone fully engaged in his presentation. Furthermore, he spoke about how in today’s day and age, you need to be involved in the media. Companies have to change the way they are marketing and adjust their needs and market in the age we are living in. If they can’t find that market, then they need to react to it and change to keep up with the times, especially in this constantly ever-changing world of technology.

To close off the presentation, Gary emphasized that we are all battling for attention when we sell something. We are constantly trying to sell and promote our product or brands, whether it is through a hidden message or in a more obvious way. However, technology is battling this struggle with us. With the technology and the world we are living in, Amazon will eventually take over big box stores. Gary hypothesized and believes that in the far future brands will go directly to consumers.  Smart technology will eventually take over Amazon.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s lively presentation was a perfect way to end the second Westchester Digital Summit. There were many insightful speakers and conversations that made everyone take away something from the conference.

By Talia Zapinsky

Intern, Silverback Social

Talia Zapinsky

Talia Zapinsky




Take Random Meetings

Gary Vaynerchuk has often discussed “Why Taking Random Meetings Matters So Much.”  Two years ago, I had no idea who Gary was.  Luckily, I understood networking and that helped me completely change the trajectory of my career from good to great.  Like many others, I have friends, family, and weird Facebook acquaintances unhappy with their current professional situation.  I can’t always help them, but here are a few tips that have worked for me and I know with some patience will help you.

John Zanzarella

1)   Take Random Meetings:

Two years ago Len Ciffone, a co-worker and friend of mine, reached out to me about his grammar school friend who had started his own social media agency.  I was a manager in the marketing department at a large law firm with some ties to the firm’s (limited) social media presence.  He sent me some background info and YouTube links which I bookmarked but never viewed.  I set up the lunch for the Tuesday after Memorial Day.  Funny thing happened that Memorial Day – my girlfriend of three years and I broke up.  That Tuesday, I didn’t want to crawl in a hole and never come out, but I also didn’t want to get lunch and talk tweets.  Regardless, I did it, because you just never know – and because I was hungry.

* Take meetings in general.  Random meetings don’t have to be with strangers. I have great friends that I rarely talk business with.  Include them as well; who better to try to help than your friends?

2)   Be a human:

I met Chris Dessi for lunch in Stamford. He came in a few minutes after me and immediately complimented my watch.  Twist the knife, I thought as I responded, “Thanks, my girlfriend, err, ex girlfriend got it for me.  We broke up two days ago.”  For the next 57 minutes, we talked about everything but business. Chris shared some of his life experiences, some advice, some positive thoughts, and a slight bit of jealousy at my new single life.  There was no hard sell, really no sell at all.  Chris was building a relationship.

* A friend of mine talks about writing a book called “Be Normal”.  I told him I would buy a couple hundred copies just to give it to people. I am not saying not to sell, or not to talk business. Just make sure you read the room. You will know quickly whether there is a relationship to be built or just a contact to have.

3)   Don’t just follow up – Give, Give, Give

I was pumped about my meeting.  Chris has this crazy energy that I don’t need to explain because if you know him, you get it.  I followed up with Chris but I didn’t just go through the motions.  I wanted to help.  No strings attached.  I purchased three tickets to his next speaking engagement and brought the Director of Marketing and another manager.  Then I helped facilitate an in-person meeting with our COO, CIO, Director of Marketing, and the Managing Partner of the firm. Chris was making some ground developing our firm’s business.  I invited him to one of our client events in Pinehurst, NC.  I thought it would be a good chance for him to network, that one day he may be a client and, more importantly, that he could reconnect with his friend Len who lived in Charlotte.

* When you take meetings, listen.  Pay attention to what people really want and then be creative in helping them get there.  The second you stop worrying about what you will get in return and really focus your attention on helping others, you will get more in return than you would have ever asked for.

4)   You don’t know what you don’t know 

I didn’t know Chris had aspirations to produce events, or particularly that he owned the URL http://www.westchesterdigitalsummit.comI didn’t know that he was paying attention to how I ran the event he attended in Pinehurst.  I didn’t expect him to call me in mid-November to ask me to help produce the inaugural event.  I didn’t know what I was thinking when I immediately agreed.  On the day of the event, when Chris told me I would be his CMO one day, I didn’t realize he was serious.

* In an hour-long meeting, you will learn some things about who you are meeting with. It’s a small piece to a huge puzzle. Focus on your own consistency. Hold yourself to a high standard, provide value, and at the right time, the right opportunity may present itself.  I like to follow the saying, “how you do anything is how you do everything.”

Two years later, almost to the day, we have produced two digital summits and have plans to expand this year.  I am the CMO of Silverback Social, and everyday I am excited to meet new and incredible people because, frankly, that’s how I got here.  My story is unique, but it’s the law of numbers. Start simple – one or two people a week and see what happens.  Everyone is busy, so it’s your responsibility to make time whether its breakfast, lunch, drinks, or dinner.  It might take two months, two years, or two decades, but it’s always worth it.










Silverback Social’s Favorite Moments from the Westchester Digital Summit

Westchester Digital Summit

What an incredible few weeks it’s been here at Silverback Social. You see, we produce an event called the Westchester Digital Summit. This year we were named by Forbes as one of the “Must-Attend Marketing Conferences For Leaders in 2014.” Each year we curate the brightest minds in tech, media, and entertainment. This year’s event, held on May 15th lived up to that moniker.

There were many highlights throughout the course of the day – here they are as told by the Silverback Social team:

Idia Ogala:

Undoubtedly – the Vaynerchuk keynote. As a marketing student, hearing that marketing principles that I was currently being exposed to instantly becoming obsolete was inspiring on so many levels; after the initial disappointment from a financial standpoint, of course lol. It was an eye opener that really challenged my understanding of marketing. It compelled me to try and use education and personal creativity to attempt to solve some of our industry’s problem through innovation. Challenge accepted.

John Zanzarella:

Mine came from our youngest participant, Josh Orton. Josh made waves at WDS1 when he was 12 (estimating) and heard a hyped up Gary V drop a digital smackdown on Westchester. This year Josh was prepared for Gary and when Q&A began Josh’ hand shot up. “What is ROI?” – at first I thought there was more to the question but then I realized that there didn’t need to be. There was something so innocent and brilliant about Josh’s question in a day and age where most businesses are more worried about ROI numbers than providing value with their marketing dollars.

Gary Vaynerchuk answering Josh’s question about ROI.

What happened next was a thing of beauty. Gary took a simple question, which most of the room knew the answer to, and answered it in a way that added value to everyone. Simple is difficult. Gary takes a complicated world of digital and social marketing and he makes it simple. That to me is his greatest strength and what helps make his keynotes so compelling.

Brian Funicelli:

Getting the chance to chat with some of the speakers after the event. I wasn’t expecting to have such casual, relaxed, down-to-earth conversations with executives from big-name companies like IBM, Mashable, and Fox Sports. I was able to talk to Adam Ostrow from Mashable about a mutual friend we have, and I was surprised at how much he and I had in common. Not only are this year’s summit participants incredibly smart, but they’re also super friendly. I’m looking forward to connecting with many of them again in the future!

Brian Levine:

Seeing all the speakers interacting and exchanging information behind the scenes. It’s great to have a lot of smart people in the same room, but when they start sharing and riffing off each other, that’s when the real magic happens. Helping facilitate the Q&A sessions with Chris and some of the speakers after their segments was fun and informative. During one of the Q&A’s, Adam Ostrow from Mashable recounted his inspiring story about how he became employee #2, which started by simply emailing the Founder when it was a one-man operation. Stories like these can inspire entrepreneurs at any
level. It was a great way for me to gain a deeper context to what they were talking about on the stage. WDS2 was a great day of learning and connecting with smart folks, which, at the end of the day, is what
social media is all about.

Tesla Motors at the Westchester Digital Summit

Josh Fenster:

Having the Telsa model s car at the event. At an event that last 9 hours it’s always a good idea to take a break. What a better way to spend your down time than to test drive one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world. As much as the summit was about information sharing and learning it was also about the experience. I didn’t get to test drive the Tesla because I was running around all day but I did take a peak inside. I was amazed how simple the design of the car looked yet how complex the technology that powered the car was. Between the Tesla, the chocolate delight buffet and the cocktail hour, the summit experience was one I’ll cherish forever!

Daniela Raciti:

My favorite moment, as everyone knows, was when I met Chris Hansen. Having watched him for years on TV, I was star struck when I found myself standing a few feet away from him. When he finished a conversation, I approached him with a huge smile on my face and said, with arm out, “Mr. Hansen, it’s so nice to meet you. I’m a huge fan, I just love you” to which he responded, (something to the effect of) “Too bad I’m not 30 years younger!” After speaking with him (and taking a picture, and wishing he was 30 years younger), I thought how cool it was that he was attending WDS2 to discuss how social media has changed the landscape of modern journalism. I hope that one day (soon) our paths cross again!

Westchester Digital Summit

Chris Dessi 

A highlight for me was the moment when Gregg Weiss VP Social Media at Mastercard was explaining to the audience how Mastercard keeps “Priceless” fresh – by offering their fans “priceless surprises.” The way he pulled this off in a room of 300 digital marketing executives was a thing of beauty. Let me explain:

Gregg Weiss of Mastercard turned to the crowd and posed the question:

What are you passionate about?

To which an audience member blurted out;

“the Mets”

Gregg replied

“Do you have a Mastercard?”

Audience member:


Gregg turned to the other side of the room:

“What are you passionate about?”

Another audience member shouted

“The Yankees”

Gregg replied

“Do YOU have a Mastercard?”

Audience member:


Great said Gregg (now standing up and reaching into his pocket:

“you just won a $50 Mastercard gift card.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

Greg sat back down in his chair and explained why that exchange was important and a great real life representation of how Mastercard engages with their community via social media. He started by saying that Mastercard is interested in their community – so they ask questions and engage with them. He also created something he referred to as “card envy.” The first audience member didn’t have a Mastercard, and missed out on the “priceless surprise” of a $50 gift card. Envy ensues. Brilliant. I’m certain that some in the audience were upset that they hadn’t chimed in as well. He trained them to always be on the lookout for “priceless surprises” guaranteeing future engagement.

The final maraschino cherry on top was that after Gregg sat back down at his seat and began explaining what he’d just done an audience member shouted:

“Can I get an application for a Mastercard?”

If that’s not ROI, I’m not sure what is.

Photo Credits: Pinksy Studios

Were you at the Westchester Digital Summit?

What was your favorite moment?  Share in the comments below.

4 Lessons on Event Management from Dad

Growing up, I thought I knew everything. Seriously, just ask my friends or family. Parents nodding in agreement about their own kids can breathe a sigh of relief. Somewhere during, or shortly after college, I realized how little I really knew. I also realized that the things my father taught me growing up make a lot of sense.

See, growing up, my father never forced his wisdom on me. This is evident by my rooting for the perennial loser Mets and Jets and him popping champagne with the Yankees and NY Giants. What Dad did was lead by example. This is highlighted by the way he has run events for the better part of my life. Here are some of the lessons he has taught me. Lessons that have helped me through countless events, and the many twists and turns that comes with them.   Zanzarella Men

1) Do Your Homework– I know, the last thing you want to hear as a kid. Most of the events my dad produces now he has been doing for 10+ years. As a child, I distinctly remember my dad in preparation for a new event. He would bring me to various similar events, local and further. As a child with infinite energy, I was all over the place. Dad was focused – he would methodically take into account the set up, flow, types of vendors/sponsors and attendees. He would network, see where the value was and incorporate this knowledge into planning his own event. I rarely attend an event now, of any subject, without coming away with a minimum of 2-3 pieces that impressed me.  Many of these I incorporate into events I plan today.

Example: While working at Jackson Lewis PC I was in charge of managing their Employment Law Conference and Golf Invitational. Between caddying and assisting in the running of golf events for years before, I was able to bring a lot of best practices to the three-day event.

2) Stop Selling Sponsorships – Dad is the sales guy who was great at his job because it never felt like he was selling. Dad is a relationship guy who puts an emphasis on value. When he started his own business, with zero clients, he leveraged the relationships he had built during his time as Managing Partner of WZFM to get things off the ground. When it came to events, he would add value around those relationships. He was meticulous in reaching out to, working with, and following up with sponsors to see where he could add value for them. Often times he would go above and beyond because with my father, it was never about one event. It was about building relationships so that sponsors would come back year after year.

Example: My father has been running a Kid’s fair for nearly 20 years. After the event he goes to vendors and speaks with them individually while handing them a survey to fill out. Most of those vendors sign on 365 days in advance of the next years show. They know the product is good and they have trust built on the relationship. There is no selling going on.

3) Shit Happens – Stay Calm and Act Natural – Anyone who knows my dad knows that he is about as calm as it gets (golf course excluded). With events, something always goes wrong. It can be something as small as an AV problem or something as large as two presenters having to go to the hospital at the same event (true story). Whatever it is, you have to roll with the punches. The more prepared you are, the easier this is to do. Be up front with your crowd,

Example: At the inaugural Westchester Digital Summit event, we called one of our presenters about 15 mins in advance of his presentation since he had not checked in yet. When he answered, Silverback Social CEO Chris Dessi asked him if he was on his way or if he needed us to send a car for him. Turns out he was in Chicago and had the dates mixed up. In those ten mins we moved a presenter from a breakout room to the main stage, made an honest announcement to our attendees and the show continued on schedule. Our speaker was flexible, our attendees understood, and we had the team in place to act appropriately when the news was delivered.

4) There is No “I” in Event  – Having the proper team and staff in place are the difference between a good and a great event.  My dad had my mom and they were an unstoppable duo. However, this doesn’t just mean the team you work with to produce the event. This means AV, security, food and beverage, photographers etc. The support these people provide behind the scenes goes a long way to the success of the event and the marketing of future events.

Example: Thankfully I have never had a bad experience with an in house hotel AV team. I have had some truly great experiences when I have outsourced AV to pros like Corporate AV. AV is not my strong suit so to have a team in place that is prepared, attentive, and able to provide this service for digital based conferences has been a big weight off my shoulders and allows me to focus my attention elsewhere.

Other Lessons from Dad:

Learn to love to read

Place an importance on health and wellness

Listen to your mother

How you do anything is how you do everything

You learn more when you listen

What lessons have you learned from your Dad? Add in the comments below.

Social Media In Schools: 3 Issues That Should Concern You

New Jersey has recently passed a bill requiring social media to be taught in middle schools. The social media curriculum will include topics such as responsible use of social media, cyber safety and security, and potential negatives consequences of inappropriate use.

The bill has been passed in an effort to combat cyber bullying and to educate young people on best practices and appropriate usage of various social networks. With a greater number of social media platforms more accessible now than ever before, young people are much more able to make a social impact online without realizing (or caring about) the consequences of their actions.

Not only can youngsters use their phones to send text messages to their friends, but they can also use a myriad of mobile apps to connect instantly with their classmates and peers. Many teens, instead of sending a text, are simply tweeting at their friends, sending them a Facebook message or Direct Message over Twitter, or a photo/video message via Instagram Direct. Using these social media platforms to connect with friends can be as easy, if not easier, than texting.

The discussion of social media in schools raises three important concerns:

Who will be responsible for choosing the curriculum included in this new social media education?

Young people are using social media regularly (in many cases, on a daily basis). If teens and adolescents are going to be spending a significant amount of time online, it stands to reason that they should be well educated on how to conduct themselves appropriately while they do so. However, the passing of this bill has brought up some debate over who should be doing the teaching. Many people believe schoolteachers should play a role in educating young people on the proper use of social media. Others feel that the task of teaching teens how to conduct themselves online is the parents’ responsibility. Personally, I think the teens are already much more knowledgeable about the latest social media platforms than their parents or teachers do. Since teachers and parents are collectively using social media much less frequently and much differently than younger users, how much value would there be in the curriculum that the teachers and/or the parents produce?

Will a focus on teaching social media draw focus away from other important school subjects?

Middle school is a crucial period of development for students to learn how to be independent, how to manage their time, and how to be responsible for multiple projects at once. Adding a whole new curriculum of social media instruction could potentially drive students to spend a disproportionate amount of time on social media “studies” as compared to their other traditional school subjects, such as reading and math. Also, will social media classes become an elective option similar to a band/orchestra class or foreign language? And if so, might students lose interest in these extra-curricular activities simply to spend more time online?

How could a state-mandated school curriculum possibly keep up with the rapidly changing nature of social media?

The most popular social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have only been around for about ten years, and a number of others have been around for even less time. This means that even the people who have been on these social platforms since their inception have only had a decade or less of experience using them. This lack of experienced users, combined with the ever-changing nature of social media, could make it quite difficult for any person or group of people to come up with a general, all-encompassing curriculum surrounding best practices on social media that can easily remain up to date. How often would the curriculum need to be revised to include the latest social platform or most recent viral online incident?

At this point, it seems a bit early to tell how the introduction of social media education will play out in schools. However, the passing of the bill (among other things) is a clear indicator that social media is here to stay, and people need to pay attention to it. Many organizations (corporations, non-profits, etc.) are requiring their employees and team members to go through social media training, illustrating how to professionally represent their organization on the Internet. Many companies also have elected to establish a social media department to manage the company’s online presence.

It’s safe to say that social media is going to play a significant role in how both seasoned professionals and young people interact, and the time to start getting educated about social media is now.

Do you think social media should be taught in schools? Tell us in the comments below!

4 Reasons Why Traditional Agencies Are Dying

John Zanzarella

John Zanzarella

In “To Sell is Human” by author Daniel H. Pink, he describes how individuals are becoming more elastic in their job responsibilities. Whether they know it or not, part of what they do is selling. The same kind of elasticity has been happening to agencies for years. Clients want a one stop shop for everything, and why wouldn’t they? It’s the easiest solution, one point of contact, one check to write, one Christmas card to send out. 

On the flip side, specialization has been around since the beginning of time. There is proven value for businesses to operate with a singular focus. Nearly all agencies that offer a myriad of services started with one that they excelled at.

This is not to say that there isn’t room for both to succeed, but when it comes to digital and social specialization offers more room to succeed and here is why:


  1. Community Management and Real Time Execution – The digital advertising darling of the modern day happened early last year. By now you have all heard how Oreo (powered by Mondelez) turned a Super Bowl anomaly into a marketing case study with their “You can still dunk in the dark” campaign. The idea was designed, created and approved within mins and has had a lasting effect that extends well past the most recent Super Bowl. This type of foresight and quick thinking is excellent but it wouldn’t be as effective without a team in place to manage and engage. Multiple community managers should be assigned to brands to devote the time to properly post and engage.
  2. Custom Creative– Content is king, that’s universal in all verticals of marketing. Incorporating custom creative is a must for social and digital marketing. Real-time, unique content generated on behalf of a brand. While this is important, the context around the custom creative is where you add value that resonates with the consumer.
  3. Analytics – Marketing budgets are scrutinized time and again for ROI. Traditionally, analytics for social media have been scoffed at as not possible or positioned with “how much money is a ‘like’ worth”. Agencies that specialize in social know how to find the appropriate numbers but more importantly how to use them to adjust a brands social ecosystem accordingly. Analytics companies like Sprout Social, Socialbakers, and Topsy help your reporting. This combined with strategy around a defined ‘point of conversion’ will allow for tangible ROI.
  4. Managing Expectations – Traditional agencies like to operate in the black and white. Number driven proposals bring in business. The truth is results don’t happen over night. Agencies that guarantee you x amount of likes or revenue are likely wasting your time. The truth is, building an engaged and tangible social presence takes time. That time goes to a carefully planned set up, implementation and execution to create a successful campaign.

Business is cyclical. There are places for both full service agencies and specialization. Silverback social is an agency that specializes in social.  Maybe I am biased. With that being said here are three social specific agencies whose work we love:

  • VaynerMedia – Led by CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, VaynerMedia has experienced explosive growth in the last four years and helps Fortune 500 companies like GE, PepsiCo, Green Mountain Coffee, the NY Jets, and the Brooklyn Nets find their social voices and build their digital brands through micro content and other story telling actions.
  • Deep-Focus – A digital agency for the social age, Deep-Focus creates a plethora of content around social insights that come from their community management. Content – check, Community management– check, Context – check.
  • 360i – At 360i, the learning never stops, literally. Their agency focuses on education of both individual employees as well as brands. They have a long list of accolades and an impressive client roster to boot.

So what do you think? Are traditional agencies on the ropes?

Reach & Reverse Engineer Your Way to Success

I was unceremoniously fired in 2009 from my job at Buddy Media. When it happened I was so stunned I couldn’t speak. Literally. No words. Nothing. In slow motion I gathered my things and left. The Director of HR escorted me past a gauntlet of gawking colleagues and into the elevator. I felt naked. 

The elevator doors closed and it dawned on me. Stunned, I turned to her and blurted out, “My wife is pregnant, what will I do?”

I was “pushed” off the cliff but I refused to let myself fall.

Reaching as far as I could, I set a new goal: I’d never let anyone else have control over my income or my future.

From that goal, I reverse engineered and started my own business.

Soon I stopped falling and started climbing, even gliding. Eventually, my voice came back, my confidence returned.

Today, I am soaring.

1. Don’t over think it. If you do it will just scare you and freeze you in place.

We all have fear. Some is innate, activating our fight or flight instincts. Some fear, however, is learned. That fear is insidious. It seeps into our unconscious paralyzing us to the point where we choose “safety” over pursuit of our passions. I believe that “learned fear” is the disease of our time. Battle it by taking baby steps. My first step was silent contemplation, and meditation. Another was obsessive note taking. The last step was challenging myself to dream as big as I possibly could, imagining that money was no object, and stepping toward that challenge. I had nothing to lose. Neither do you.

2. Keep moving and work in broad strokes. Set the roadmap, and the details will fall into place.

I had been challenging myself to think of a big idea that would motivate me and propel my business. While I was searching, I stumbled upon the Long Island Digital Summit. I fell in love with the concept. A few Google searches confirmed that there was no Westchester Digital Summit to speak of. Green pastures lay before me…

The point here is to reach as far as you can conceive. Spend time on the ideas that are outside the realm of normalcy. Innovate, but above all, execute. Innovation does not exist without execution. I made the commitment to execute when I navigated over to and for a whopping $7.99, purchased the URL

3. Those who don’t believe in you or your vision are poison. Leave them. Immediately.

I approached my former business partner with the idea of the summit, and he balked. “That will take a great deal of work”…no kidding, I thought. A few months later I chose to leave my business partner and ventured out on my own. I wanted to make the Westchester Digital Summit a reality. I felt it in my gut. I reached out to someone I knew who could help — John Zanzarella, Jr.

4. Surround yourself with likeminded people who will support your vision.

I had met John Zanzarella Jr. while he was still at Jackson Lewis. When I spoke to him, he mentioned that his Dad has been doing this type of work for years with Zanzarella Marketing. We shook on it that day — 50% 50% partners. We needed speakers. I reached for someone from Facebook. They signed on. I reached for the person who motivated me to get into social media, Gary Vaynerchuck. He joined as our keynote. John and I discussed a venue. I wanted the County Center. It held 3000 people. I wanted 3000. We got 755, but if I hadn’t reached for 3000 we’d have never had as many as we did.

5. Being a touch delusional is OK.

When I first shopped around the idea for The Westchester Digital Summit, most hedged. I was convinced that LinkedIn and Facebook would send speakers. People snickered and guffawed. In the end, I had to turn away over 37 applicants for speakers who wanted to be involved. Since last year’s event I’ve purchased sixty-seven URLs like,,, you get the idea. In less than two years, Silverback Social has ballooned to seven full time employees and our revenue has increased 2,927%

This year’s event will be at the Ritz in White Plains on May 15th. We’ll host speakers like Gary Vaynerchuk, David S. Kidder, and Ghislaine Maxwell. General Electric, The Financial Times, IBM, Facebook, Linkedin, RebelMouse, Fox Sports and ESPN are speaking as well.

Take a pledge to fulfill your own greatness. Reach as far as you can, reverse engineer and pursue your passion.