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Recently I watched a video by Jeff Pulver, wherein he contemplates why he is hosting a social media conference, the 140 Characters Conference” later this June.  As you can tell by the name the conference focuses on twitter, but is it really something more?  This is what I think:

The social web has begun a profound and irreversible cultural change.  The ease and speed at which information is transferred and the ability to share knowledge and opinion with each other, enables us to align ourselves in numerous flexible ungoverned groups. The alignments, immediacy, and interactions that take place give us a feeling of belonging that is core to what it means to be human. Our busy lives in modern western society have largely limited these types of analog interactions and the Social Web is filling the gap.  

At the same time, this profoundly affects business.  A company’s “brand” used to be pretty much synonymous with corporate identity.  In the past, a business could gain consumer awareness though advertising, project their message though numerous media channels upon the consumer or audience who could not quickly or easily respond to the company nor share sentiment with each other.  Now, in 140 Characters, from anywhere, anytime, on the go, the audience can share sentiment and this changes the nature of what a “brand” is and how companies must approach the customer.  

I like Marty Neumeier’s definition of brand “the gut feeling your customer has about your product, service, or company.” I would say this definition can be extended to personal brand as well, “the gut feeling that people have about you”.  For some reason, it seems really easy to share opinions, feelings, ideas, and knowledge in 140 character bursts and in the process of doing so people get a “gut feeling” for each other and align themselves accordingly.  

Like Jeff alluded to in his video, Twitter may be gone or change very soon due to economic pressures, but as a culture we have grown to crave the types of interactions and empowerment that we gain through tools like Twitter and I would suspect that something else would soon emerge to fill that demand.  The Social Web is here to stay and is affecting many industries.  

So, In terms of the 140 Characters Conference, Twitter seems to be a jumping off point to explore some very important issues created by the emergence of the Social Web…the Realtime Web.  I see the 140 Characters Conference as a way to take the pulse of these industries, explore the challenges created, and brainstorm solutions with industry and thought leaders.  Hopefully, a greater understanding of how the social web is affecting both individuals and industries, and a glimpse of the future will emerge.

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In case you haven’t heard, Jeff Pulver has gathered 140 of the top social media characters and is hosting a conference to take a look at Twitter.  The conference is called the 140 Characters Conference (#140conf) and it is the characters that will define the event.  Make sure to take a look at them.  The conference will take place at: New World Stages in New York City on June 16/17.  I can’t wait!

the original scope of the event was to explore “the effects of twitter on: Celebrity, “The Media”, Advertising and (maybe) Politics”, the scope of the event has expanded and we will be covering these topics and a lot more. #140conf will be taking a look at twitter as a platform and will be taking a look at some of the industries which have been disrupted by the advent of twitter.” – 140 Characters Conference Website 

Also in case you haven’t heard, Jeff will be providing scholarships to 30 people who would like to attend but the cost is prohibitive.  This is how it works:

If you would like to apply for a “#140conf Scholarship”, please send me a message via email in 140 words or less on “Why YOU would like to attend #140conf.” Extra consideration will be given to those people who also post their entry in their blogs and share a pointer to their blog post on twitter and include the #140conf hash tag.”

“This offer (has started) and will continue until each scholarship is awarded. The winners be awarded on an individual basis and access to the event is not transferable. It will be up to each respective winner to get to New York City to attend #140conf as travel costs are not included. I hope this scholarship program will provide access for a group of people who will benefit from the experience and who will contribute to the event.” – Jeff Pulver

So this is why I want to attend in exactly 140 words:

Over the past six months I’ve become fascinated by how social media, especially Twitter, has changed the traditional power dynamics between individuals with power and those without, as well as, between customer groups and companies.   It seems that this has given the” little guy” a much greater sphere of influence and companies need to pay attention.
Like many others, the economic turmoil has hit me and my family very hard.  This is the time in my life that I need to make a change and I have thrown myself head first at social media.  I see tremendous opportunities for companies and orgs to use social media to build stronger relationships with their audiences and very few are doings so effectively.  I hope to come away from the conference with a deeper understanding that I can use to build my business.

Over the past six months I’ve become fascinated by how social media, especially Twitter, has changed the traditional power dynamics between individuals with power and those without, as well as, between customer groups and companies.   It seems that this has given the” little guy” a much greater sphere of influence and companies need to pay attention.

Like many others, the economic turmoil has hit me and my family very hard.  This is the time in my life that I need to make a change and I have thrown myself head first at social media.  I see tremendous opportunities for companies and orgs to use social media to build stronger relationships with their audiences and very few are doings so effectively.  I hope to come away from the conference with a deeper understanding that I can use to build my business.

Good luck to everyone and hope to see you there.  It looks like #140conf is going to ROCK

 Tweet about this with me at: http://twitter.com/andrewmueller and use the #140conf hashtag

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Everyone who has used Twitter for more than a couple weeks has surely seen, and likely participated in, #followfriday — Don’t!    The once productive and effective way to recommend to people to follow has turned into an unsustainable self promotional orgy that is clogging the arteries of twitter.   Although this has been percolating in my mind for some time, Seth Simonds opened my eyes with his blog post, Out With #FollowFriday, In With Connected Communities

As Seth points out, one of the problems with #followfriday is that so many people recommend others for the sheer goal of receiving a reciprocal recommendation, I’m guilty!  This has resulted in a significant increase in number of #followfriday tweets, as well as, a great deterioration in their quality.  #followfriday recommendations now compete with each other and it has become very difficult to identify recommendations that would bring value to your twitter experience.  In effect, what once helped us increase the quality of our networks has become a tool to simply increase the quantity of followers.   People add as many as then can regardless of the effect upon the greater experience, as if the quantity of followers signifies their importance.   Well, I tell you it does not.   It also does not signify your ability to mobilize your network to achieve any specific result.  The key to both these things is building a network of quality followers who engage and take action for things in which they believe.  I guarantee taking this approach will provide you with a richer more manageable Twitter experience and allow you to provide more value to your followers.

I will take the following approach to recommending people that I believe will add value:  I will tweet whenever I interact with an individual that adds significant value and tell my followers why.   I will use #rec as the hashtag and will not recommend more than one person per tweet. I will also try not to recommend more than three people per day.  This will ensure the quality of my recommendations.

I hope that others will adopt a similar approach and share this with others so we can all build more sustainable high quality experiences and interactions.  If you like this approach, tweet about it so others will know.  You can also tweet with me @andrewmueller about this.

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In my last blog post I discussed the significance of Ashton Kutcher beating CNN in a race to be the first account to amass 1 million Twitter followers.  After this accomplishment, Ashton went on Larry King Live and proclaimed “We now live in an age in media that a single voice can have as much power and relevance on the Web, that is, as an entire media network.” This insinuates the individual has transcended the traditional power dynamics imposed by the structure of corporate media.  

While this may be partly true, we must remember that Ashton Kutcher is a celebrity and celebrities are brands and to understand this whole ordeal we must define brand.  I like Marty Neumeier’s definition of brand, “the customers gut feeling about a product, service or company.  Celebrities are both a product and a company.  Ashton used twitter as a platform for brand management, as he should, and did so very effectively.  Until now corporate media controlled almost all influence of a celebrities brand; Ashton demonstrated that he can take matters of branding into his own hands. This is great but at the same time he may have a disproportionate amount of influence on social media channels similar to the influence differential in corporate media.

As for the charity of donating 10,000 mosquito nets and bringing awareness to the horrors of Malaria, Bravo, I cannot commend him more!  It was a beautiful thing to do and a highly effective move for his brand.  But that is said and done; now there are more issues to raise, things to talk about, and inequities to understand.

My premise was that while this event signifies a milestone of relevance for social media, it simultaneously signifies the imbalance of power inherent within.  With that I suggested an experiment to see how much influence that I could exert by attempting to activate my twitter followers and coordinate the action.  I designated Monday April 20th 2009 as Unfollow Ashton Kutcher Day, wrote a blog about it, and used social media to get the word out.

Unfollow Ashton Kutcher day was not about Ashton Kutcher, it was an attempt to understand the power imbalances inherent to Social Media.  Honestly, I think that if Ashton Kutcher were to read this blog he would agree.  That said, I am glad that he did not or at least did not make any mention of it as it would have skewed the results of this experiment

While we failed to reach the goal of reducing Ashton Kutchers follower numbers back below 1 million, we succeeded in bringing attention to, and generating conversations about the issue of power imbalances inherent to social media

 Ashton Kutcher had net gain of more than 50,000 followers. The Oprah effect and net momentum that Ashton built dwarfed the amount of media attention that I was able to generate through my 1200 followers. 

So this is how it all went down:

·         I wrote a blog talking about what 1million followers signifies both between corporate media and social media and suggested a test to mass unfollow Ashton Kutcher and posted that blog on Friday late afternoon.

·         I created a hashtag #ufapluskday and started tweeting about Unfollow Ashton Kutcher Day and linking to the blog post.

·         I sent Twitter Direct Messages to people who I thought would be interested in helping.

·         I sent @replies to people on twitter that were not following me but I wanted to get involved or inform of the idea and my blog.

·         I commented on others related blog posts and left links back to my blog.

·         I submitted the post to Digg.

·         I engaged with those who retweeted the post thanked them and built alliances.

·         I posted all comments made to my blog Pro and Con and answered nearly all.

Some results:

·         More than 1400 people viewed my blog between Friday night and Monday evening at midnight (about 80 hours). Keep in mind that was posted to a brand new blog with zero existing traffic.  

·         According to Retweetsist, the tweets were retweeted 61 times.

·         The blog post was Stumbled.

·         Allies were created and Evangelists appeared that took it upon themselves to promote the issue.

·         I had 20+ comments to the blog  People truly engaged with the issue and did not just pat me on the back for making the post. These comments were both pro and con, and I answered many.

·         Some of my tweets were retweeted and then those people who retweeted were retweeted.  In some cases my original tweet was shortened and other times my name was mentioned in another person’s tweet,  but in the process of the retweeting cycles, the other person’s name was left off and mine remained attach to their tweet.  This was interesting as the link to my blog was attached and my name attributed but the message was off target and I was uncomfortable having a this message being attributed to me.

Some Observations:

·         The more followers a person had, the more they seemed to resist helping with the effort.  In fact, it was clear that some folks understood and approved of the action as a test, but were reluctant to be vocal.  They had personal brands (images) to manage and did not want to take sides as they were unsure how their followers to react.  When I look at many folks with lots of followers I notice one thing in common, they have distinct personalities, actively engage with their audiences, but rarely tweet about issues that may be controversial.  This is unfortunate as taking a position is demonstrative of authenticity.  It shows who you are and what you believe in.  A lot of folks build huge followings by being benign while others build more targeted group of followers by taking positions and openly communicating them.

Some Conclusions

·         So Ashton you are right about social media — the little guy does have a voice, no matter how many followers they may have.  And this voice has the potential to engage and influence others to take action.  It is just that the voices of a “popular few” have much greater reach. 

·     Imagine what would have occurred if Ashton Kutcher were to take the same steps that I took above to promote an issue… How many blog hits, retweets, diggs, stumbles and ultimate effect would he have.  I suspect he would have crushed my achievements and that is illustrative of the power imbalance inherent to social media.  A “popular few” have a much greater potential to influence the community at large than the average member of the community. 

·         The fact that we were unsuccessful does not mean that an individual with relatively little influence cannot generate a social media groundswell that could have viral impact on a mass scale but rather that this attempt did not succeed in achieving its stated goal.  It is much harder to prove something impossible than something is possible. 

·         I must confess here that this was an imperfect experiment but nonetheless I believe we succeeded in demonstrating both the amazing democratizing effect of social media, as well as, its inherent power imbalances. 

I encourage your comments on this blog or tweet me at http://twitter.com/andrewmueller

 

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As pointed out so eloquently in Brian Solis’ blog post,  perhaps it is true that Ashton Kutcher @aplusk reaching 1 million followers signifies a change in the power distribution between corporate media channels and individuals.  

This said, it may be that the only individuals who can transcend the power and influence of corporate media are celebrities.  Andrew Keen says, in this video interview with Tech Crunch, that a social media as a platform will create great imbalances of influence.   Everyone can join the conversation but a “popular” few will have a disproportionate amount of power.

So as this event signifies a milestone of relevance for social media, it simultaneously signifies the imbalance of power inherent within.  

The challenge for “us” as as a social media tribe is to monitor those with great social media power and let them know whether or not we are pleased or displeased with how they are using their power.  With Twitter we “vote” by choosing to follow.  The beauty of this is that our vote can be taken away or recast at anytime.  Collectively, we can group together to exert our influence.  

I propose a test of our power:   For a single day we chose to unfollow Ashton Kutcher.  The next day everyone can follow back, but for that one day we say to Ashton, and others with disproportionate influence, that they only have influence because we choose to put our trust in them to use their influence responsibly.

So Monday 4/20/2009 is Unfollow Ashton Kutcher Day #ufapluskday – you can exert your power and unfollow Ashton here

Our Goal:  Bring Ashton’s follower count down below 1 million by the end of day on Monday.

Feel free to  follow Ashton back on Tuesday, but wait until Monday to Unfollow!

For the record, I have nothing against Ashton!   I think his efforts are mostly noble and good, regardless of the fact that this is a brilliant publicity move on his behalf.  In fact, If Ashton were to pledge another 10,000 mosquito nets to be the first to reach 2,000,000 followers, I would work to help him achieve that.  This is not about Ashton Kutcher, this is to test to see if the inherent power imbalances between a “popular” few and the masses make twitter just another media channel or something much greater.  

Success in this effort would be good for everyone, including Ashton.  He seems to believe in the relevance of social media and  this is an effort to demonstrate the relevance of social media.  Ashton will get his true followers back very quickly, and people would see how social media can be used by people with relatively little power, to influence the powerful.

For Twitter, if effective, it would show that Twitter narrows the power imbalance between those with popularity and those without and thus is truly a game changing platform. 

Update Sat April 18:  It appears that Twitter has is still preventing people from unfollowing @aplusk.  It would be a shame if this was still in effect Monday as it would render this experiment invalid.

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