Wednesday, April 21, 2010

#140conf: it's about the people

140: the maximum number of characters in a tweet. 

The 140 Conference brings together industry professionals who have found great ways to share their passions using Twitter and social media.
Found out about the #140conf by accident through a tweet by Ashton Kutcher and quickly got a ticket with the help of event planner Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver). What a great day.

A few themes from today

we can't only focus on numbers  

the disadvantages of a web that is so dependent on data

Chris Weingarten (@1000timesyes) claimed that the algorithm-based search engine results have ruined music writing - online publications are more concerned about keyword optimization than quality articles and artists are consumed with constantly producing new content over creating good music. All in the name of rising to the top of SERPs. The result is terrible writing and the loss of stumble culture. He was very explicit about his feelings; his closing sentiment: "Fuck the numbers, fuck math."

Even from the education industry, Chris Lehman (@chrislehmann) also asked that we rethink numbers. As an educator, a big frustration is that while technology is helping kids learn and experiment more than ever before, the only results that "matter" are tests. He challenged data this way asking why we trust a test given on one day, instead of testing learning everyday. He pushes this even further by claiming that technology must be "like oxygen - ubiquitous, necessary, invisible; when was the last time we took kids to a pencil lab?". The best soundbit: "What if we dare to think that school isn't about preparing for the real world, school is the real world!" He got a standing ovation.

And everyone from Gary Vaynerchuk to David Carr (@carr2n) warned that we not to be so preoccupied with the number of followers we have. Said Garyvee, "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!" (It seems the social media bunch is very self-expressed... surprise?) We need to realize that value of Twitter is in relationships.

power to the people  
social media & twitter as enablers

One of my favorite speakers of the day was Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu), Journalism professor at NYU. He gave an interesting snapshot on the evolution of news: self-informing small villages > larger communities with increased opacity > trade and private intelligence > birth of the public and birth of the modern press. His take is that Twitter extends the press (and essentially empowers) since it goes back to allowing us to self-inform. "We're now experiencing a revolution in the near-ness of things." Loved this (and probably paraphrased too much... would love to take a class of his).

This was my first time to hear Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) speak. His main spiel was about feeling and being "obnoxiously lucky", that we are experiencing this innovative and creative time. One of the guys in the Q&A said that he was from Brittany and asked why Gary has never featured any products from that region, why not cider? To which Gary replied, "Dude, f*ck me, get your own show!"

the power of one  
via this one-to-many medium

Of the panel on Emergency Communication in the Real-time Web, Luke Renner (@firesideint) was in Haiti during the recent earthquake and was still emotional about his experience. After the quake he tweeted that he was an American in Haiti and that he was available for calls. "The first call I got, was from Ann Curry." Ann (@anncurry) was also on the panel and was on the ground covering the quake.

Sweetest speaker was definitely Alon Nir (@TheKotel). He put up a Twitter account that invited people to send in their prayers, which he promised to take to the Kotel in Jerusalem (where people customarily insert slips of paper with their prayers into the wall cracks). After just two weeks he was overwhelmed by thousands of responses. Seriously, overwhelmed! But he turned to those same followers to find help to translate the tweets into a printable format, cut and roll the prayer strips, then actually put them into the wall. Check out his blog for the full story, a photo of his "prayer printer"!

that is my day job after all!

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we can or should be more engaging and innovative in the digital space to "really engage consumers". Today was an eye-opener.

Social media, Twitter included, is already complete without brands. The web was created for free-enterprise! The web's DNA and hardware go against "strategic communicaton" and branding. It was meant to be stealthy, to strike hard and fast anywhere and for whomever could figure it out. Yes we need to monetize, yes these are businesses. And there are definitely business opportunities. But this space is occupied by people, not consumers. And these people are making things happen on their own.

As marketers who have things to sell, we need to understand and *respect* how people are engaging on social media, how people are maximizing this technology for human enterprise! To come in and merely sell not only won't work but it would be disrespectful of the people who have made social media valuable through connections, interactions, innovation and experimentation - seen through the real life examples shared by speakers at the #140conf.

When we bring brands online, especially to the text-only medium that is Twitter, we need to be sure that they are ready (and excited!) to engage in real conversation. If possible, do something different, provide a service. We don't always approach social media from this point of view.

The speaker that I will close with is former ad man Hank Wasiak (@hankwasiak). He gave a lot of great insights but key is that the new P (in the formerly? 4P's) is PEOPLE - brands need to have People strategies to make an impact.

So, an awesome day. Feel bad that I won't be able to join tomorrow's session, but am excited that work calls. Hope to enact a few People strategies!

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