NXNE Interactive: Social media about generosity, humanity » Media in Canada

NXNE Interactive: Social media about generosity, humanity

Toronto's North by Northeast music festival hosted its first-ever 'Interactive' media conference where presenters discussed social media, user-generated content, and the 'untamed tornado' it can all create.

Had Ze Frank started having a panic attack on stage, he probably would have told the audience about it.

This is not surprising given that since 2001, when Frank’s retro-viral How to Dance Properly video which started as a party invitation to a group of friends was shared by more than 2 million people, he has opened up his life to millions of fans online and helped them share some of the most personal and touching life stories through a series of toys, games, essays and videos.

Much like the loyal community that follows his website, ZeFrank.com, the participants at the North by Northeast (NXNE) Interactive conference where Frank was speaking, probably would have been supportive and helped him through his anxiety during his talk on social media. (Although they didn’t have to – Frank, an energetic speaker with an exaggerated, wide grin, was fine.)

Community, generosity, and humanity were the often-covered themes at the two-day conference, a first for the NXNE music festival that sold out three rooms at the Hyatt Regency Toronto. But as Frank pointed out, social media is not all about the warm and fuzzies.

‘I’m obsessed with youth, and I’m obsessed with popularity,’ he said, telling the audience about his initial drive to replicate the mass-traffic success of the ‘Dance’ video over and over again. However, he has now moved away from the numbers game and is starting projects that encourage better human connections by helping people to share their emotions – the pain, fear and nostalgia of everyday life. For instance Childhood Walk asked people to take a favorite route of their past via Google Street View, write a short explanation, and send a screengrab.

But Frank is also aware of the negativity online, referring to the social media network as an out-of-control tornado. As an example of its wrath, one of Frank’s most recent concepts, for which he received thousands of submissions, was meant to explore the concept of reconciliation among a divided country after the 2008 US presidential election. From 52 to 48 With Love, received thousands of submissions, but after it got picked up by the mainstream media, Frank started receiving death threats.

As a general rule, the social media network is heavily focused on community values, said earlier NXNE Interactive speaker Tara Hunt, author of The Whuffie Factor: The Five Keys for Maxing Social Capital and Winning with Online Communities and a social media marketer who has worked in Silicon Valley for Riya.com and Citizen Agency LLC.

‘Generosity abounds in the online communities. Rather than [focusing on] efficiency, ROI and customer loyalty, [brands should] be generous and affect change,’ said Hunt.

There is a disparity between the values that businesses have and those that the online community has, creating a ‘love deficit,’ she explained. The companies that espouse bohemian values common to online communities, such as truth, beauty and freedom, are the most successful. Apple and Google are good examples, she pointed out, as Apple’s packaging represents ‘beauty,’ while Google’s information database represents ‘truth.’

‘Craigslist – it is the opposite of Apple. Craigslist looks like ass,’ said Hunt. But the online classified site, which has a staff of just 30 people and gains more traffic than Amazon.com or eBay, stands for ‘freedom’ and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster personally answers customer service emails directed to the organization.

The key for brands who want to market in the social media space should not be how many Facebook fans they have, but what their initiatives have contributed to the community, says Hunt.

It is also possible for brands to take advantage of all that sharing online by gaining control of the content, explained Steve Hulford, founder and CCO of Filemobile, a Toronto-based agency that helps brands generate and store user-generated content.

Getting down to business, Hulfrod says the key to a successful social media UGC campaign is to own the hub that hosts the contest or game in order to control the ownership and distribution rights of everything submitted.

‘Own your domain, build your community on there,’ said Hulford. Also, brands should diligently scrutinize and edit submissions, moderate comments, and provide an experiential prize which is always more inspiring for consumers than cash.

‘You need to give the audience a place to play and things to do,’ he said.

But with so many brands seeking UGC – Harvey’s burger-naming campaign and Olay’s 28 bloggers are recent examples – will the social mediascape experience soon lead to consumer fatigue?

Everyone is fatigued, he says, ‘but people are still submitting in record numbers,’ Hulford told MiC during an after-presentation Q&A.