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Q&A: Laris Kreslins, ChatterBlast/Move to Philly

During his first year of college in Philadelphia in 1993, Laris Kreslin hated it here. After graduation and a stint working in the Big Apple, he moved back to his native Maryland, and Philly was a mere halfway point to meet his girlfriend, who was living in New York.

By this time, though, Philly had grown on Kreslins, and it was more than a romantic point of interest. Kreslins and his girlfriend Kendra Gaeta established a two-year plan for them to move together to Philadelphia, where they had built a large group of friends and interests.

"(When I first came here) I didn't understand it, didn't know how to get anywhere," says Kreslins of his early days at Drexel University. "Once I met a different group of people, I started exploring the city more and one day it just clicked that there was more to the city beyond a university campus, and I understood it.

"Then it got more and more special for me."

So special that Kreslins, who is now 36 and at the forefront of a growing army of online marketers creating impactful campaigns for a variety of companies and nonprofits throughout the region, and Gaeta started Move to Philly, a part-time venture that provides people interested in moving to the city with a highly personalized, "warts-and-all" tour. A dog-loving couple from Connecticut, for example, got a three-hour look at all the city's dog parks. Independent bookstores, neighborhood pubs, and farmers markets are among the less-publicized landmarks that regularly pop up on the tours, powered by Kreslins' car.

The bulk of Kreslins' time, however, is spent on online chatter--specifically, ChatterBlast, the Philly-based online strategy and social media marketing company co-founded by Evan Urbania and Matthew Ray that has worked on a variety of interesting local and international projects. Kreslins, who graduated from Temple University and also recently managed his own consultancy called Lime Projects, has a wide-ranging background in publishing and marketing, working for a graphic design firm, online music retail startup and the library at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also a vast global network of online specialists upon whom he calls for specific projects. That, plus his on-again, off-again relationship with a city he tries to promote and improve whenever he can, makes Kreslins uniquely positioned to talk about why he's doing what he's doing here and how others can keep the online party going.

Flying Kite (FK): Saw on Facebook that you had a new tour last week. How is Move to Philly doing these days?
Laris Kreslins (LK): We don't market Move to Philly, and we probably get three to four inquiries per month and usually turns into, on average, one tour per month. We charge $20 per hour, and even that's cost prohibitive. A lot of people think it's state- or city-run and that it's free. We get emails from real estate developers who want us to show properties and give us a percentage of home sales or rental commitments (which we ignore), but in the tours we talk about schools and crime and jobs. I'd hate to give a tour to someone and they move here and it's like wait, this isn't the end-of-the-rainbow kind of place they showed me. I feel like the tours have to be very honest.

FK: So what's the dynamic like at Chatterblast?
LK: We're part of the Temple University Business Accelerator Program at Fox School of Business. We have tons of space and conference rooms and copiers and faxes and projects and also have access to Temple interns. Partnering with them helped expand the capacity of what we can offer. Matt and Evan have a very specific set of skills and backgrounds and I bring a different set.

Evan is more of a business/strategy mastermind guy with more of a background in the financial world and is an amazing pitch man. Matt is a content genius and has an infectious passion for communication. I'm more of the person on the project management and creative engagement side who deals with our development contractors and designers.

FK: How do you measure your impact?
LK: We use a lot of social media listening tools that are really in-depth. We find out how far messages are spreading. The tools will give you graphs, charts and analytics. We do reports all the time. The technology is so deep, you can see when one person posts something and where the message is ricocheting. It seems like every week more and more tools are getting more detailed and specific and that helps us.

FK: Is there one metric that's more telling than others?
LK: Sentiment is a big one. There are a lot of tools that gauge it and it's a relatively new technology that's getting better. Tools will analyze posts and comments and examine whether your brand's sentiment is positive or negative and what the gray areas are. That also helps for crisis public relations and on the customer service level.

FK: What's the biggest turnoff for people interested in moving here?
LK: Even though the cost of living is cheaper, it's expensive to run a business here. Unless that changes in the near future, we're losing opportunities on a daily basis as a city and I think it's incredibly unfortunate. I visited Portland recently, and it's crazy how small-business friendly it is there, and it's a city of neighborhoods there, as well.

FK: What advice can you offer the average person or business looking to become more engaged online?
LK: A few simple Google searches will let your organization know that there are a lot of things you can do that are free or low cost, especially when you're just starting off. I encourage all organizations and businesses to test stuff out. You can actually see how tools work, what their impacts are, and what fits best for you. A lot of times we help navigate all that, but you're really just a few Google searches away from diving right into it, and I think you have to dive right into it, and I think businesses need to roll up their sleeves and test the waters. Same thing with testing ad words and things like that. Tiny tests are key. What grabs people's attention? What relates to your brand? Amp that up, then try other things. It's a lot easier to learn the systems, accept the fact that some things will work and others won't, and see what works best for you and your audience.

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

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