By Clive Young.
As a news organization, we at Pro Sound News go to a fair number of intriguing events where we listen to speakers for long periods of time. Of course, we’re usually listening to LOUDspeakers, but the point is, we show up, observe and appreciate, and come back to the office with a good idea of how we’re going to condense what we’ve learned into something you’ll want to read.
On April 14, I attended the #140 Characters Conference, which definitely qualified as an intriguing event filled with speakers (the talking kind—they had loudspeakers as well but at times, one wondered if they were even on). After taking in just the first half of the two-day social media symposium, I came back to the office daunted by the idea of condensing the previous 9 hours into a coherent piece. But here it is--and “pro audio” shows up eventually, so bear with me.
On the surface, #140 Conference (or #140Conf for short) is pretty far afield from PSN’s usual coverage: It’s a Twitter conference, but one that focuses less on tech and more on society, looking at what the service—and social media in general—means as we go forward. How is it changing the ways that people communicate? In what ways are our perceptions of the world around us changing? Is it realigning our mental BS detectors to cynically look at existence in new, bleaker ways or are we using it as a tool to open ourselves up to experiences by connecting with others around the globe?
All that might sound a little hippie-dippy, but it certainly wasn’t. Aimed largely at Madison Avenue business and marketing elite, the conference chose 76 speakers to expound on a huge overview of topics, exploring how social media is affecting education, business, criticism, religion, newsgathering, relationships, politics, sports, brand marketing and more. Sure, there was a touch of “utilizing our unilateral conjecture synergies” business blather here and there, but most of the speakers’ talks came from an honest (and often profane) place, aiming to provide a little insight into what we can aspire to do with social media before a “the way things are done” mindset gets entrenched.
Illustrating those perspectives were first-person stories, with everything from reporters recounting how they’d used Twitter to save lives after the Haiti earthquake, to bands telling anecdotes about their online relationships with fans. Speakers themselves ranged from celebrities like Ivanka Trump, Today Show news anchor Ann Curry, MC Hammer (who was great), comedian Michael Ian Black, Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron, Alex Suarez of hipster band Cobra Starship and rapper Jim Jones, to directors of social media from Ogilvy, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak; editors from InStyle magazine and Salon.com; and so forth.
Taking in their speeches was a crowd of 1,000, ranging from high-level Madison Avenue rollers to major corporation CMOs to students about to get out of college on the hunt for a gig. With hundreds of laptops and smartphones out throughout each of the sessions, the event became a commentary jamboree—as a speaker went through her talk, you could read on Twitter exactly how it was going over with your fellow attendees (so much so that Twitter often denied service because it was getting too many simultaneous calls from the building Wi-Fi’s IP address).
Thousands joined in around the globe, too, watching a live broadcast on Ustream, creating a worldwide audience of 77,728 unique viewers and 128,664 total viewers (you can check out some of it yourself at http://nyc.140conf.com/schedule; just click on the "Watch This" link—I recommend New York Times blogger David Carr's talk, Why Twitter Will Endure). The result was that the HashTag #140Conf became one of Twitter’s top 10 trending topics of the week.
So yeah, in the bubble world of social media theory, @140Conf was a Big Deal, but what did we learn? Largely, it boiled down to the concepts of “good will” and treating other people well—lessons for personal and professional lives that never go out of date. Gary Vaynerchuk, the closest thing that social media has to a star pundit, cheerleaded the fact that statistics only tell part of a story (I tell you this after the previous paragraph), remarking, “I'm excited for people to realize that numbers are shit and relationships have dramatically more value,” going on to suggest that given a choice between using social media to broadcast or listen, companies should choose listening.
Others went in-depth noting how public comments made on social media ultimately present a large scale picture of you and your company or brand’s values—and that values sustain dialogue. That on-going discussion is important, since social media tends to be a long-range game, creating brand awareness and image over time; as author Andrea Syrtash remarked on the podium, “The more you can engage people, the more they get engaged.” That might seem obvious but sometimes the obvious needs to be said.
There were plenty more insights to be had, and you can find a great rundown of intelligent quotes from both days at Top 30 Highlights from the #140Conf, but what can Pro Audio take away from all this?
Social media is about being social (duh), so it’s worth remembering that anything that applies to connecting with customers on the web likewise applies to connecting with them in real life. One marketer remarked that the best way to approach Twitter was to ask yourself, “What can we make possible for others using social tools?" At heart, that’s what Pro Audio asks every day—what can we make possible for others?—and it asks that by necessity.
The name “Pro Audio” is an umbrella for an industry made up of entrepreneurs, ranging from major manufacturers to guys building gear in the garage; from the Clairs of the world to mom n’ pop PA companies supplying audio for a PTA fundraiser; and from massive recording facilities in major cities to guys tracking local bands in their second bedrooms. “Entrepreneur” is just a fancy word for a Hustler, meaning one who keeps moving forward and gets things done. We are an entire industry of people who get the job done--and none of that happens without connection, whether it’s made on the phone, in person at an AES convention, or online using Facebook and Twitter.
We connect to help others connect. What is the mixing console at a stadium concert? It’s the switchboard—the conduit for getting music from the stage to 50,000 jubilant fans. In the studio, the engineer makes the connection between what the artist hears in her head and what the listener hears in his headphones. The pro audio manufacturer creates the gear that makes that process better (or at least better sounding).
We know all about “social tools”—that’s what a PA system is, what a recording studio is, what the gear in our hands facilitates. What can we make possible for others using social tools? The end goal of everything, the very heart of existing: Connection.