SMWNYC 2011 – Participation, Aggregation and Criticism in the Digital Age

Description from the Social Media Week New York schedule event listing:

How Social Media is Challenging (and Changing) Social and Business Rules of Engagement.


  • Moderator: Ian Schafer, Deep Focus CEO/Founder
  • Jonah Peretti, Founder of BuzzFeed and Huffington Post
  • Jay Rosen, press critic, writer, and professor of journalism at New York University
  • Danielle Sacks, award winning senior writer, Fast Company Magazine
  • Jamal Henderson, brand manager for Brisk at PepsiCo

Event Recap:

Tony Daniels, the founder and executive director of Social Media Week, welcomed the audience to the final event of the day at the Business, Media & Communication content hub at JWT.  The hashtag for this panel is #smwdeep2.  Finally, he introduced Ian Schafer, who is also a member of the global advisory board for Social Media Week.

Schafer explained the importance of each part of the panel title, both from the perspective of the consumer and the brand.  After introducing the panel, Schafer interrupted his own agenda to discuss one of the big stories of the day, AOL’s purchase of the Huffington Post.  Peretti spoke on the distinction of the Huffington Post in how it has developed its tech platform, especially on how it focuses how readers consumer and interact with the content.  He noted that the Huffington Post paid a great deal of attention to real-time analytics before it was considered a requirement for a web property.  Rosen described how the Huffington Post views the relationship between its technology and business.  Whereas most news sources add online content in spite of low online revenues, the Huffington Post builds their content around the realities of the social web.  In other words, it’s built for the web from the ground up.  He also notes that the Huffington Post has a strong identity that AOL was eager to acquire.

Peretti noted that for buzz, you need a lot of things to come together, such as creative, tracking, virality, and more.  By aggregating and ranking buzz and response, BuzzFeed helps an idea reach an audience and demonstrate what is working and what is not.

In terms of advertising, Sacks stressed the importance of Super Bowl advertising (it’s the one time where everyone wants advertising to succeed.)  Unfortunately, this year’s Super Bowl ads disappointed.  Schafer noted that the ads failed to leverage social media and offer call to actions for the consumers.  Henderson described this year’s advertising as an “epic fail” (despite the fact that his brand had one of the more high-profile ads.)  The higher quality ads, he noted, where the ones produced by smaller shops.  He noted that PepsiCo is looking to seed advertisements throughout the upcoming week, as it’s hard to tell a story in 30 seconds (Chrysler, after all, needed two minutes for their “Imported from Detroit” ad.)  Sacks described the ads as ones that could have run ten years ago.  In order to create successful ads in a social media ecosystem, she believes, you need a progressive agency and a progressive brand.

Rosen notes that people have been traditionally connected vertically (i.e., to network, government, the Super Bowl broadcast) even before the explosion of the internet.  They were, however, disconnected from one another horizontally.  When media producers do not understand how to deal with both vertical and horizontal connectedness, they fall back on what they know.  This is why advertisements are stale. Sacks sees a shift from experience as king to curiosity and learning as king.  Peretti is pleased to see broadcast and viral spaces converging (at least in terms of the trend.)  Brands can use YouTube views as an indicator of whether or not viewers liked their ad.  Sacks views utilizing social media channels to showcase different versions of ads online before broadcast (e.g., Google in 2010, Volkswagon in 2011) as a kind of user testing, and Schafer recognizes the cost savings.

Crowdsourcing isn’t necessarily the future of advertising, according to Sacks, but it is a threat to traditional agencies.  She is waiting to see whether crowdsourcing agencies are able to develop more complex campaigns.  Rosen notes a change courtesy of social media that people who believe that an ad is stupid can now find one another.  He finds it difficulty to get into the head of advertisers that they are not in business to advertise, they’re there to sell product.  Schafer feels another problem is that brands and advertisers often don’t communicate well (for example, Kenneth Cole on the Egypt riots and GroupOn on Tibet.)

Schafer turned the conversation to Facebook and its advertising revenue; he feels that Facebook is not getting the revenue that it “deserves”.  Peretti noted that Facebook is anomalous on the web.  Most sites generate most of their traffic from a few dedicated users, whereas Facebook’s usage is more spread out.  Additionally, they enjoy high growth and popularity of content.  Sacks notes that social media is disrupting the structure of media buying and creative.  Peretti sees a huge change in shrinking timelines for creating advertisings for social media vs. more traditional media and in the ability to change campaigns on the fly after launch.

It’s always been said about advertising that 50% of an advertisement budget is wasted, but one doesn’t know which 50% it is, Rosen related.  By using social signals like search histories and social graphs, one can narrow down your audience and better target potential interested users.  He sees the reduction of inefficiencies as transformative to advertising.  Schafer added another adage: everyone knows that social media is important, but they don’t know why.

To change topics to another news story of the day, Schafer related Malcolm Gladwell’s assertation that social media had nothing to do with the uprising in Egypt.  Sacks questioned how involved Gladwell is in social media.  Often, when we are not involved with something, we don’t understand how it works as well as we think we do.  Peretti noted that we might be taking Gladwell’s opinion too seriously, calling him a more successful storyteller than intellectual.  While everyone has read “The Tipping Point”, he asked whether anyone had managed to use it to make something tip (a comment that generated a lot of laughs in the crowd.)  Rosen thinks that both sides of the argument are more interested in creating buzz than answering the question.  He noted that it may fit better in the realm of stand up comedy than in serious debate.

While cable is trying to overlay Twitter streams and the like over news, it’s a clunky experience.  Peretti believes that the problem is that the stream is from the general population, not your graph.  There is no such thing as a “good” tweet, only tweets that come from people we know and respect and therefore want to consume.  Rosen contends that these poor implementations come from people who are late to the party and are trying to catch up.  Henderson would love to buy into real social television, utilizing your own social network, but he hasn’t seen that happening yet.

Schafer noted how critical it is that an advertiser has a “big important message” that it can build an advertisement around.  In this year’s Super Bowl crop, only Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” was successful in that respect.  Motorola’s tablet advertisement could have succeeded in that respect, but unfortunately we’ve seen the same ad a dozen times over for products across the spectrum.

Peretti reflected on past periods of transition and transformation in media.  He recommends that decision-makers pay attention to history and see how brands succeeded agnostic of the technology.  One needs to know more than just how Facebook or Twitter works to understand how to adapt to social media, he or she needs to understand how social networks (online and offline) work.

Analysis and Commentary:

It’s interested that the question of social media’s role in political uprising was discussed, as the panel revolved around the advertising and content revolution that social media is creating.  Sacks hit the nail on the head when she noted that knowing how things have always been done is becoming more of a liability than an asset.  The only constant in times of transformation like this is change itself.

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