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Lessons from The BRITE ’10 Conference, Part 1

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This week I attended the third BRITE conference in New York City. In this post, I’ll convey many of the things that I learned during day one.

The first speaker was Dave Carroll, a singer/songwriter whose consumer complaint protest video United Breaks Guitars has become an internet sensation, with 7 million YouTube views and coverage on the BBC, New York Times, Rolling Stone magazine, and hundreds of media outlets worldwide. Carroll spoke about the voice of the customer in the digital age and his points included:

  • Telling a story once can yield exponential results.
  • The popularity of his United Airlines video resulted in both increased CD sales of his existing albums and commissioned songwriting work.
  • Not surprisingly, the music industry downplayed his success. This stands to reason, as he effectively circumvented the powers that be to reach a large audience without their help.
  • United told him that his guitar problem was “statistically insignificant.” Well, after millions of hits on YouTube, he isn’t anymore. Every customer has the ability to reach a large audience. From a company’s standpoint, there’s danger in viewing customers as irrelevant, especially when they’re unhappy.
  • United wouldn’t give him a new guitar but the folks at Taylor Guitars allowed him to pick out two gratis. Talk about capitalizing on another company’s snafu.
  • United would only engage Carroll two days into his viral campaign. Talk about silly.

Next up was Thomas Gensemer, Managing Partner, Blue State Digital. BSD builds and mobilizes online communities for clients from the Red Cross to the Obama campaign. Gensemer spoke about engaging and mobilizing communities online and his points included:

  • Web 2.0 provides many tools. Companies should respond in ways most comfortable to them. “One size fits all” doesn’t work.
  • Lower barriers to entry for engagement but raise expectations.
  • There is a ladder of participation; not all participants are engaged equally.
  • Tools are only useful with strategy and context.
  • The infrastructure for the  text-based fundraising campaign after the Haiti disaster existed well before the disaster. It succeeded largely because of the cooperation of the major carriers. Quick response was key.
  • Building your own social network is important. Don’t let a Facebook or Linked in own all of your organization’s CRM data. That’s the good stuff.
  • When asked “How would you deal with Dave Carroll if you’re United?”, Gensemer responded that you have to engage sooner. Speed kills.

Ending the morning session was Duncan Watts, Principal Research Scientist of Yahoo! Research. He is the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. Watts spoke about diffusion and influence on Twitter and his points included:

  • Word of mouth influence is actually a very old concept, dating back to the 1950s.
  • Twitter is well-suited to potentially identify influencers.
  • A very tiny fraction of tweets cascades or reaches thousands of people. There’s a long tail of messages retweeted eight or more times.
  • It’s virtually impossible to predict, at an individual level, which people or tweets will “influence.” There’s just too much randomness.
  • Is Kim Kardashian worth $10,000 per tweet? No. From a marketing point of view, companies are better off targeting ordinary folks.
  • Organizations should try to focus on the “head” of the distribution, not the tail.
  • The average Twitter user influences no one.
  • Serendipity is not the same as randomness; think of it more as random relevance.
  • Is the message or the messenger important? From the data, we just don’t know.
  • Prediction is more important than measurement. Ultimately, explaining what will happen is more important than explaining why.

I’ll do at least one more post on this. It was an interesting conference and I plan to go next year. Thanks to Matthew Quint for letting me attend.

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