Social media impresario Jeff Pulver returned to New York City with his140 character conference, a now annual 2-day event celebrating and propagating the pervasive cultural influence of social media and Twitter in particular. Named after the maximum number of characters in a tweet, the 140 Character Conference has mutated into a series of franchised evangelically driven technology events that Pulver has mounted in Los Angeles, London, Tel Aviv and Atlanta. This year the event was held at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
Set up to mimic a Twitter feed's endless stream of short fragments of solid information, chatty irreverence and direct communication—no presentation at the 140 Character Conference lasts longer than15 minutes—the conference's tongue in cheek format features a ever-moving line of presenters offering observations, manifestoes, exhortations, panel discussions and even impromtu performances that march on and off the stage one after another. Indeed when a presenter runs over their allotted time the theme song from Exodus rises to drown them out and usher them off the stage.
Although this reporter visited the conference on Wednesday to see the book publishing presentations—public relations manager Imal Wagner (twitter handle: @imalwagner) hosted a panel with author Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) and Internet marketers John Kremer (@JohnKremer) and Michael Tasner (@tazsolutions)—much like the actual Twitter, a lot of quirkily useful or just downright entertaining stuff popped up to distract our attention. Think of this article as an elaborate retweet.
The book marketing panel focused on Ferriss (a powerhouse lifestyle guru/self-help author) and his use of Twitter and other social media to promote his bestselling book, The 4-hour Work Week, offering a superfocused strategy using social media essentially to flood relevant blogs, forums, websites and Twitter feeds with the name of your book. Ferriss focused on using "single-blogger blogs rather than multiple-blogger blogs" to target a core of readers interested in your topic before "moving out to a broader audience of readers."
Kremer, a book marketing consultant, kept things simple: "I saw that my blog attracted more traffic when I tweeted and less when I didn't. Twitter drives traffic without much effort." Kremer says tweeting 10 or more times a day is the trick. Essentially the panel concluded (this reporter agrees), regular thoughtful tweeting will drive traffic and attract a range of "tweeps" (that's peeps for the non-Twitter user) that can help promote, support or befriend your efforts to hype a book or pretty much anything.
While the book panel offered useful, targeted information for the hard driving self-marketing book crowd, the rest of the afternoon offered some interesting (and engagingly humane) presentations and illustrated why Twitter is called a "social" media and not a "marketing" media. In separate presentations, digital strategist Oz Sultan (@ozsultan) and gay community organizer Chris Bartlett (@harveymilk) both offered very moving online projects on death and memorializing the dead using Facebook and wikis. And former prison inmate Andy Dixon (@andydixn), who spent more than 20 years in prison, discussed using social media to fight "generational incarceration" and his work as part of a national movement to keep kids out of the prison systems.
But it was the use of Twitter and other social media as educational tools that carried the day. While a panel of educators on the panel, "Real Time Web and Education," urged teachers to change how they teach and use social media to bring real-world expertise and resources right into the classroom to engage students, a presentation by an adorable group of 8th grade students from the Saints Philip and James School in St. James N.Y. absolutely stole the show.
George Haines (@online73), a science and technology teacher at the Catholic school ("it's not what you teach, it's how you teach it"), worked with his students to use Twitter and other technological platforms to study and read George Orwell's Animal Farm. But the real capper of his presentation was a Glee-like musical skit performed by about 8 girls from the school that brought the 140 Conference audience of twitter-focused techie hipster digital evangelists to their feet in delight.
Dressed in standard knee socks, pleated skirts and school sweatshirts, the girls acted out a comical skit based on Animal Farm and then belted out a series of hilariously clever tunes about the joys of technology and how Twitter made reading such a potentially boring book really interesting and fun. It was unbelievably entertaining, charming and, well, innovative, and a testament to what teaching, in tandem with the imaginative use of technology, can do to enliven and focus a classroom. You had to see these students to believe it.