The State of Mashable Media Summit

Today I’m at the Mashable Media Summit, sponsored by Mashable and CNN Tech and a bunch of other folks. On one hand, Mashable is amazing (I just learned from the COO that their traffic has increased four times their 2008 numbers) and on the other…CNN drives me nuts for a whole smorgasboard of reasons. This conference, to be frank, was expensive. I registered early but it was over $400 for the day. A day.

So I’ll be honest: I’m pessimistic. The agenda of speakers is interesting, but I have no idea if this is going to apply to me, and I’m attending as someone who is very curious about social media and who spends a lot of time on Twitter.

Let it be said: executives of internet companies are not always good public speakers. I’m ready to shoot someone if I hear “without further ado” one more freaking time.

“Tell everyone you’re here. Without you being here, this doesn’t happen.” If a tree falls in the woods and no one tweets about it, does it really happen? Because I can’t tell anyone about it if I can’t get online, and neither can anyone in my row. My pessimism is increasing, because this is being live streamed, so I could have stayed home and used my home connection and watched the feed while cleaning my kitchen for free. Instead, for $400 I’m eating very dry bagels and sitting in a very uncomfortable chair fighting with an overburdened wifi.

I’m telling everyone I’m here. I’m here. And I’m annoyed.

So let’s move on to the keynotes this morning.

Keynote: Ricky Van Veen,

The website started in his dorm room in 2000: “This is college humor not parent humor. It’s a good reminder of what a smarmy dick I was.”

“The web is in the center because it’s where our audience lives.” Some folks argue that the web is .02 seconds ago, that the network of people we take with us via phone and computer is the real epicenter.

“We’ve been doing branded content, but no one has a clue how to make good branded content.”

10 Branded content myths (S: This was the best part of the morning I think)

#1: people will watch my branded content. “If you can’t come up with a good reason for making it, don’t make it. There’s a difference between branded content and stuff people want to watch.”

IF you start of with a 75% desire to entertain, 25% to sell something: you are starting off with a handicap.

With content, you’re competing with tv. You’re competing with LOST.

Brands need to be flexible: the more watered down the more layers of PR and legal, the more sterile it’s going to be. Generic = bad.

Mo Rocca on banking: “I don’t know why anyone would watch that. Maybe if you’re in the back of a cab and you can’t get the screen to go off.”

Start off unsponsored or without heavy brand content, then layer it on later.

Myth #2: people will be patient with content.

Oh, they so will not. Audience attention span from TubeMogul: 35% of your audience is gone after 30 seconds. There is a BIG difference between web video and tv. TV is passive. Web video competes with distractions. 1/3 of internet activity occus while someone is also watching tv.

(S: OMG. I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE (and Hubby) who watched tv with my laptop.)(Not.)

Myth #3: People will find my content.

(S: Yes. Just like they find your self published ebook that you didn’t advertise so of course you should be getting royalties because “it’s out there.”) It’s faith-based marketing.

Suggestions include: You can use a seed strategy to give it a push. Team up with an established brand. Co-brand ads to create a new entity.

Myth #4: The internet is a level playing field.

Social media does level the playing field a bit, but some sites are bigger than others. There are power users who have a huge user base.

Myth #5: we have no idea why things go viral.

There are no rules for making a viral video. There is one commonality between all viral videos. Video gives the user a reason to pass it on. They’re saying something about themselves by passing it along. Does it make them look cool, does it reveal their sense of humor, was it a spectacle? Viral is spectacle. If it’s cool and the coolness rubs off, people will pass it along. Give them a reason to pass it along.

College Humor’s video approach: 2-3 minutes, hook in the first 20 seconds. Clear title! (S: OMG YES PLEASE Can this apply to romance novels, too?)

Sweet Spot: stuff that is topical.
Candy Corn: cousin of nostalgia, a cultural touchstone that everyone knows about but doesn’t think about.

Myth #6: Experience yields to documentation.

We are part of a new generation that puts documentation above experience. Documentation is in front of experience. You record the moment while, or instead of, experiencing it. “A girl may decide to go to a dance based on how it looks on her status updates.”

Basically: high tech bragging. Worst examle: faux self-depricating tweet. “Who am I do be doing X w/ Big Person…. I’m nobody!”

It is to your advantage to create experiences that allow people to show off how cool they are.

Myth #7: Let’s build our own community and tools.

Don’t limit the openness of your project. Barriers are bad. Ease of entrance is key. Build your own features? Nah. If you want people to share what you have, use Flickr or Facebook. Don’t reinvent what’s already been done well.

Myth #8: Let’s keep things professional.

When corporations produce content, they don’t want to show the people behind the scenes. But that peek works really well. The people behind the scenes have personality and make things sticky – that’s a good thing.

Personality drives your brand.

Myth #9: Traditional media is irrelevant to the web

Tv is over. Print is over. Newspaper is over. Bull.

Content creators are always looking to jump from the web to film or tv – those are working monetization models. The Average American watches 150 hours of tv every month. TV is still big time.

Myth #10: People will create good content for you.

Getting people to create content is hard. Getting people to create good content is very hard.

Aaaand it’s promo time!

SobeStudios. Collaboration betwen CollegeHumor and Pepsi. Whatever.

My questions: I very much appreciated the breakdown of myths and reality of the challenge of humor and social networking.
It is, as they say, relevant to my interests.


Len Berman: what’s an old fart like me doing on Twitter.

So far it’s a comedy routine, and I haven’t found any matter other than here’s a dude from old-media local news television, and he’s on Twitter. Woo-pants.

He thinks there are more non sports fan than sports fans, but the non-fans think they’re the minority. So he has a daily top five list of sports facts for subsribers to act like they know what they’re talking about.

Now he’s promoting his books so I’m going to try to get online.

The crux of his speech: I had to reinvent myself. I am not going to tell you how, but I have a few hundred followers on Facebookntwitter*.

*This is an entirely new word. Facebookntwitter is the new term to use in every moment, and it’s available in every language.

Brian Simpson: Director of Social Hospitality, Roger Smith Hotel

Given Angela James’ experience at the Hyatt in Columbus OH, hotel presence on Twitter is a very positive thing to spread the word about excellent guest relations and guest experience.

Brian does video and social media for the Roger Smith Hotel: guests do promotion for you… if you listen to what they say.

Media can be bought and earned. You can earn PR and marketing depending on your social media promotions.

You earn PR through user experience – the user documenting the experience, good or bad.

In 2009, a horrible year for restaurants and hotels in NYC, they experienced a 32% increase. (S: very cool)

The point is not to find customers but to connect with existing customers. (S: publishing, did you hear that? Hello? Hello? Bueler?)

Duncan Watts, Principal Research Scientist, Yahoo!

Yahoo has a fairly substantial research organization called Yahoo! Labs. They want to Invent the Science of the Web.

“Who talks to whom about what, and with what effect?” – Paul Lazarsfeld asked in the 1940s.

We’re still not able to measure it accurately today. Hence: science Yahoo! (S: are you picturing bouncing scientists? I so am.)

Experiments and Insights: Chains of contact and information through social networks are more egalitarian than once thought. They are not concentrated in hubs, and users do not prefer highly connected friends.

(S: This supports my theory that people are cyclically interested in new people to talk to and listen to, and don’t want to circulate through the same groups of people.)

The problem with this presentation is that Watts is speaking in very general terms about experiment without revealing specifics of how he achieved these results.

Earth shattering: “Individuals are influenced by observations of the choices of others.” (S: THE DEVIL YOU SAY.)

“It is difficult to predict what will be a hit.” (S: THE DEVIL YOU SAY.)

So thus far I have learned that there are keys to successful entertainment and branded content (everybody drink!) but that predicting real success is difficult because often it is based on what everyone else found interesting.

Also earth shattering: release date of song or movie or video game is target of most searches on that topic. Closer to release date: more searches. Higher in Billboard ranking: more searches. Time and distance from that target date: less searches.

So what’s the best way to see what other people like? Dunno. No one said.

Vadim Lavrusik, Community Manager at Mashable

Mr. Lavrusik’s speech was terrible. He was stilted and awkward to listen to, said “Uh” way too much, and showed slides of screen caps of Mashable. If I wanted to read old article on Mashable and what Mashable does, I’d have stayed home and surfed from my bed.

Sample quote: “Web video is something that we’re trying to ramp up…. This is something that you’re going to see a lot more of from us.”

What does it say that Mashable has two journalism fellowships for j-school grads in summer that help with content? Journalism is feeding into social media. Literally.

His presentation was an overview of what Mashable does. I know that already. The Mashable name is why I’m here, because I was counting on new information and savvy perspectives – because that’s what I find on Mashable. If anything, being here for this self-promotionathon has damaged the Mashable brand in my perspective because, with the exception of CollegeHumor’s keynote, I’ve gained nothing except annoyance at people who talk about themselves and don’t offer any usable data. I do not need an overview of what Mashable does.

I want to know what everyone here can do now. I would have really enjoyed a perspective as to what Mashable sees in the immediate future, or an examination of how their information spreads – which is very easily trackable.

“Organize a Social Media Day metup in your area! Schedule a Meetup in your area!”

Say it with me now: “A stupid commercial? Son of a bitch.”

Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare

Mashable and Foursquare have merged in some way that I don’t care about, but there’s a lot of press flash photography going on.

Foursquare allows people to leave nuggets of information for other people about venues and locations. People are excited about the opportunity of Twitter, and Foursquare is a little bit like that, but it’s less timely. You can bury the content and give users chance to find it much later, two or three days or a week or more later. It’s not immediate.

This is, by the way, the most coherent explanation of Foursquare that I’ve seen. Thank you.

Where are you stats wise? Last week: chasing 1.5 million users. Check in increases by 50k each week.

So much of presentations is almost like audition and song and dance about how! great! social! media! is! And I know that already.

The subtext seems to be:

We have cool thing. Money helps us do more cool things. So how do we smooth our edges to attract corporate funds for more money to do cool things… that oh shit make us less cool.

There’s a theme of corporate kissing up, of dancing to attract official recognition, that the web and social media are still smoothing edges to attract bigger funds and more legitimacy.

I took a picture of Adam Ostrow from Mashable and Dennis Crowley from Foursquare. Ostrow’s wearing a suit and tie. Crowley: jeans and tshirt. And sneakers.

Will Crowley be the next one in the suit next year?

Interesting: FourSquare focused their development on the API, hoping that someone else would be building the app using the API for their preferred platform.

“Approaching retail space is important.“See above re: song & dance.

Crowley made a point that I disagree with: that if you can make a platform that functions in NYC there’s a good chance it’ll work everyone else.

Hear that sound? That’s me pounding my head on my desk. NYC is not representative or a microcosm of the rest of the country. I can’t describe how much I disagree with that statement. Other communities in the US connect differently than people in NYC, and that presumed homogenaity is ridiculously ill informed.

But hey, he’s got the multi-million dollar API.

Key moment: As Ostrow said, “There’s a ton of ways to make money.”

Oh, ho! Which is more important, connecting for fun or leveraging for profit?

Christy Wyatt, Motorola VP:

I feel so badly for Ms. Wyatt: as she took the stage, half the audience left because they saw the FourSquare interview and they were done.

Was the FourSquare interview that earth shattering? Not really. But it seemed like that was the part many people came to see.

In 2008 mobile access passed desktop access to internet.

Mobile internet reaches 22 million people, grew 193% (since when?)

Four out of top 10 most popular are social media sites. It’s not just searching and browsing.

Biggest change: applications. Are app stores a long term phenomenon? If the app is a slimmed down version, user might choose full featured site. The question of what is a service or application for a user becomes what can they connect to. Can they access music or network or information from a variety of different places?

There’s a whole concept of context: on a mobile screen, I want to do things differently. On mobile screen, I want data to come to me, and I want it to be specific.

Desktop is about pulling internet: I’m going to go look for things. Mobile is push data. I’m anywhere, get the things I want/need to me asap.

Promo time! MotoBlur is a new product: personal mobile experience. (S: could that be more boring?)

Question asked by Ms Wyatt: “How can we connect users with content they want?” For starters, don’t use AT&T.

MotoBlur pitches itself as multi-platform unifying app so all your sites and content come to one place… and sells itself on idea that not having to log into Twitter, FB, etc will save you precious time.

Dear Lord.

Oops! I’m sorry. MotoBlur is a platform, not an application.

Josh Charles:

His presentation is basically “How I found social networking” with a performance at the end. Does it really matter how someone found social networking? No. It matters how they use it, and whether they do anything new or different with it. I don’t care about sharing thoughts on music, politics and life.

I do care if there’s innovation, a new perspective. I don’t care where someone has been. I don’t care how someone found Twitter or Facebook. I care how they use it now or want to use it in five minutes. 
So much of this conference has been explanation of the importance of the immediate past, complete with defensive language, with showboating and performances.

I think a summit ought to be “where are we going,” and this was tilted far too much toward “where have we been” with little interaction or response from the audience. That alone blows me away: isn’t there room for response?

Stay tuned for the afternoon session wrap up.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    lustyreader says:

    wow, ricky van veen was my RIT in college, like an RA but for IT in my dorm. i knew he got big, but this sounds great for him!

    glad to hear his presentation was a good part for you and thanks for sharing the myths. i esp agree with myth #2 and #3, we’re impatiant and need to be told where to find you!

  2. 2

    How many times have they said, “And the fact of the matter is…” ;)

  3. 3
    joykenn says:

    OMG!  Sarah, you PAID for this!  I think they should pay YOU for sitting through this commercial/brag session.  Mashable may be great but they don’t seem to be telling anyone sitting in the audience any great things. 

    AND, I so agree with you.  NYC is NOT, contrary to the opinion of some, the center of the universe.  Everything does not begin in NY and there’s lots of country in between NYC and LA….like a whole lot of people and a whole lot of space and mountains and ….no I will stop channel “This Land is your land” now!

  4. 4
    Gwynnyd says:

    Oh, I sympathize.  I have sat through more sessions like that than I can remember.  I love your honest opinions of the “orange smoke and mirrors” contentless presentations you were forced to endure and I hope that someone from those companies sees them and realizes that not everyone can be impressed by old guys who tweet.

  5. 5
    yourlibrarian says:

    Sounds like a terrible conference.  I’d think anything co-branded with a mainstream media company is likely to be more about pitching to monied interests (read: advertisers and investors) than to entrepreneurs.

    I can see how the keynote was the most useful part of the day, but I really disagree with the emphasis on “coolness.”  It’s not that I don’t think this is the way much of the web works, but I definitely disagree that this is the way ALL of the web works.  Rather, it seems to me that the young male audience that his site targets is exactly the audience most likely to have that apply to them.

    For example: cute kitten videos (or hamsters, or whatever).  How many times a week do I see something like that passed around (and how many times have I forwarded it?)  Is that something that really makes one cool?  Is there some new definition of cool that I don’t know about? 

    Or am I seeing that sent and forwarding it myself because I know that the intended audience will enjoy it?  How is that not like offering someone cookies?  I mean, maybe offering someone cookies makes you cool in 2nd grade, but I don’t think it’s what College Humor guy had in mind.  Instead, it seems to me that spreads because the target audience knows one another’s tastes and also their mood—it makes people feel good to consume it, not necessarily so much about it reflecting on them. 

    I know there are people who forward things indiscriminately, but I’m not one of them.  I send things only to people I know well enough to expect them to enjoy it.  And if I post something on my blog, I realize not everyone reading will be interested, but I know that someone (multiple someones, generally) is.  It’s a form of gift economy that is very different from the “everyone desperately needs to feel cool” mentality.

  6. 6

    Thanks for the overview, especially the myths. My condolences about the bagel.

  7. 7
    RRRJessica says:

    It sounds like this was not a good conference for someone with the knowledge base and skill set you brought to it. Social media experts are very good at talking to people who “just don’t get it” … but now that basically everyone gets it, where do we go from here?  I am sorry you had to fork out $400 for this, but thank you for the report.

  8. 8
    Meredith says:

    This sounds miserable.  I’d be really pissed off about the $400 I paid to listen to brag sessions.  So sorry this happened to you.  :(

  9. 9
    facebook backgrounds says:

    My pessimism is increasing, because this is being live streamed, so I could have stayed home and used my home connection and watched the feed while cleaning my kitchen for free.

    facebook backgrounds

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