This past Friday, we attended the Final Blog Potomac in Arlington, VA. We once again attempted to live blog the event (our last live blog can be found here) but due to a few technical difficulties (ie, spotty wifi and the lack of a spare phone battery) our live blogging attempts ended before lunch. Enough about that — let’s get to the good stuff!
First, a few observations:
• This conference was unlike any other conference — laptops, iPhones, DSLR cameras and cords were everywhere. Literally, there was an endless string of surge protector meets extension cord, meets surge protector going throughout the room. Just a slight fire hazard.
• Macs outnumbered PCs and iPhones outnumbered Blackberrys and Palms (hence my challenge in finding a spare charger)!
• Women outnumbered men. That was purely AWESOME. Especially because certain aspects of social media are male dominated. Not in DC.
• I had a number of Twitter friends at the event whom I had never met in person. Hearing the voice of someone you have been “talking” to for months online is a weird sensation. Apparently, those folks do not sound like the clicking of a keyboard in real life.
• Coffee was available and consumed throughout the day, but the real discussion — at least on Twitter — revolved around when the bar opened (roughly 2:30 pm — before the final speakers were done). Told you it wasn’t like any other conference!
Now for the meat of the conference.
Up first was Beth Kanter (@kanter), a “change blogger” and Scholar in Residence, The Packard Foundation. Beth’s first experience with Twitter was utilizing it to raise money to pay to sponsor a conference in Cambodia — an early form of crowdsourcing. There were three key take aways from Beth’s talk:
- The Art of Network Weaving — people who intentionally and formally build connections between networks
- Transparency – “You can’t be fully transparent all the time. You have to give people a safe place to have conversations”
- Create a social culture throughout the organization
Of these, creating a social culture throughout the organization is the idea that Beth finds is met with the most hesitation. As Beth points out you must “work in a networked way and have others model that behavior so it can be spread throughout your organization.” By defining what is confidential and what is not at the beginning, you can establish common expectations and can then allow your staff to blog/tweet and be open about your organization.
Up next was Shel Israel (@shelisrael), author of our conference swag, Twitterville. Shel began tweeting with a simple statement: “Here I am. What happens next?” Shel shared a variety of examples of how social media has been used and has changed, but there were two main themes in his talk:
- Government use of social media – Shel pointed out that while the Obama campaign was one of the first political campaigns to use social media, its true use was to mobilize people. According to Shel, “if the government wants to use twitter effectively they need to use it for conversations with the people they serve, NOT to push their message out.” This is true not only for the government, but for any organization that uses social media tools. The key benefit of social media is that it allows a government or an organization to listen and converse with the people they serve.
- An individual’s use of social media tools – As Shel points out Twitter’s numbers have plateaued. Early adopters shape the social media tools. The creators of the tools do not get to say what becomes of the tool and how the tools are used. Think of a hammer – yes, you can use it to build a house, but you can use it to murder your spouse. (Shel’s example, not ours!) This does not mean it is the death of Twitter. This is the end of the beginning of Twitter. Shel theorizes that we are about to enter a period of normalization of social media tools.
Up next, was one of the speakers we were most looking forward to, Natalia Luckyanova (@nattylux) from Imangi Studio, an iPhone app developer. Her two-person firm developed one of the top selling applications in the app store, Harbor Master.
With over 100,000 apps in the app store, it can be near impossible to stand out. So how did Natalia develop a #3 application? By combining various forms of social media to promote the app. For example, Harbor Master allows users to tweet their scores, and will eventually allow sharing with Facebook. Promotion happens virally and allows more and more users to learn about the application. (They also had some star-powered reinforcement early on.)
To create an application, Natalia encourages creative thinking about your brand. For example, VW partnered with a popular racing game to create a free version of an app using their cars. It’s a commercial for their brand, but masked as a game. Chipotle created app to order burrito and find a nearby location — the applications gets the brand in front of customers every time they use their phone. Starbucks did something similar (which we talked about here). When developing an application, Natalia encourages developers to hand a prototype to people and see what their reaction is – if they play with it, it’s a good app.
In a last minute schedule change, we were next treated to a presentation by Andy Carvin (@acarvin) a social media strategist from NPR. Andy was a very early adopter of social media tools — beginning with 9/11 when Andy was working in DC and witnessed how in a disaster situation, the public became the reporter of information — an early form of social media. Several years later, following Hurricane Katrina, Andy built KatrinaAftermath.com, a tool to share information and find missing people post-Katrina.
As social media spread and became more widely utilized, an important lesson came forward. With the #mumbai hashtag, too much misinformation was spread. Checks and balances occur in linked networks (for example, if we tweeted the bar is now open, a number of other conference goers would quickly correct that statement). The same system of checks and balances doesn’t exist in breaking news situations. Often, Twitter will self-correct before the news, but it is still important to count to ten before tweeting (take for example the May 2008 “explosion in Northern Virginia” which was actually a small earthquake). More and more we will have to rely on TrustMaps to ensure that in a “hashtag crisis” we are relying on sources we can trust.
During the question and answer period of Andy’s lecture, an audience member asked if we can crowdsource journalism. Andy answered that while there are some good models, no one can do journalism alone. There is also an unintended power of citizen journalists. Debbie Weil (@debbieweil) shared a story of a neighbors house which caught on fire — Debbie tweeted that a house on her street was on fire (I remember seeing this tweet from Debbie) — and a few folks in her neighborhood twitter network also began tweeting the events of the fire. Eventually, someone in the network learned that the occupant of the house had perished in the fire and tweeted about it. The unintended consequence of this action was that the neighbor’s daughter read this tweet, and learned about her mother’s death from a citizen journalist.
The final topic of debate in Andy’s discussion was the idea of “slacktivism.” Slacktivism is the slacker-approach to activism. Acts of slacktivism include changing your location to Tehran, Iran (which through off geo-tagging with both good and bad results) and turning an avatar green. In the words of Beth Kanter “turn off the f*ing computer and do something,” a topic she has covered in her blog.
Next up, a much deserved lunch break, courtesy of DC Central Kitchen Fresh Start catering service. Definitely consider them for your next event — that was a delicious spread!
Post lunch, our first speaker was Jane Quigley (@jquig99), crayonista and ace strategist of Crayon. Jane, admittedly, is the only capitalist in the group. The main trend Jane identifies is the simplization and localization of the web — this has taken the form of sites such as Groupon and FourSquare. Users share a common geographic location and interests and create a “network” based on this. As a result of a recent DC Groupon, 1,900 pizzas were sold in a day — that’s good news for both the users of the Groupon, and the purchasers of the Groupon.
Jane also spent some time discussing Google Wave and its current challenges. This includes a limited outreach — of those in the room — early tech adapters — less than 1/3 had a Google Wave invitation. Until Google Wave is more wide spread and those that are using can create smaller individualized networks, it will not be a success. Jane believes that the next big thing will be that which enables deeper relationships online — quality over quantity.
Our second to last speaker of the day was Sean Gorman (@SeanGorman) the CEO of FortiusOne. Sean spoke about location based technologies. Sean’s company aggregates data from throughout the world to find trends. While this information is valuable for marketers (Sean also shared an example of geotagging in the Afghan elections to find fraud), there are some very serious privacy issues associated with geotagging — especially relevant in a predominantly female audience. Sean recommends FireEagle, a Yahoo service, to set-up levels in geotagging services.
Finally, Peter Slutsky (@pslutsky) Director of Strategic Partnerships for Ning. Ning, founded in 2004(!), connects people around their interests and passions. According to Peter, Ning is the “third place” on the Web — Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for colleagues, and Ning is for hobbies and interests. Let’s look at what makes Ning different from other platforms:
- Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Sites, you own ad revenue that comes in through Ning
- Custom gifts are available through Ning (another way to make money)
- Ning hosts the largest social network for government folks, GovLoop.com
- Ning grows by 1 million named users every two weeks
- Ning allows for BRANDED social networks
- You own the data that it is in Ning, unlike with Facebook
- Ning has its own set of applications
- New features (including CRM integration and APIs) are currently in the works
How do corporations use Ning? Thanks to Katie Kemple (@kkemple) for this audio recording of Peter answering that very question.
And with that, we’ll conclude our recap of the Final Blog Potomac. Many, many thanks to Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) for organizing the final event. And thanks also to the many, many, many tweets, which helped us make sense of our notes from the event!
The BlogPotomac Flickr stream
(State Theatre Blog Potomac photo from Jen Consalvo)