For one week in February, 25,000 plugged-in people around the world paused from their tweeting, posting and pinning to rub elbows in the real world. The venue: Social Media Week, a sprawling twice-yearly conference that takes place in multiple cities simultaneously. Then again, ‘pause' may be a strong word: conference attendees generated thousands of tweets, instagrams and vines, and tens of thousands of people who could not attend physically tuned into the conference online.
If you're looking to take the ever-quickening pulse of social media, this is the place to be. Now in its sixth year, Social Media Week is hosted in 30 cities around the world each year, from London to Lagos. The latest conference involved 900 events spread across eight cities (Bangalore, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Lagos, Milan, New York and Tokyo) from Feb. 17 – 21.
In New York City, conference goers, including myself, could choose from a jam-packed schedule featuring the founders of Warby Parker, Zipcar and Charity Water, author-gurus Seth Godin and Douglas Rushkoff, and new media buzz-makers—not to mention some "legacy" media folks from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
The trending topics this year had everything to do with mobility, as technology continues to embed itself more deeply into the fabric of our lives—not to mention the literal fabric of our clothes. At a fashion show Wednesday evening, models in 3-D printed shoes and sweaters that change color with your mood (a more cozy alternative to the mood ring) sauntered down the runway. At Milan Social Media Week, the Japanese company Neurowear showed off Necomimi, a headset with cat ears that wiggle or droop in response to your brain waves.
It will probably be a while before we're all walking around with emoting cat ears and color-changing sweaters. But mobility presents a more immediate challenge for content developers: how to adapt content for an increasingly on-the-go, small screen world.
Nearly 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. now get their news on Twitter, according to a new survey from Pew Research Centers, with 85% of them viewing it on a mobile device. So no surprise that SMW NYC found media publishers old and new discussing the fast-evolving world of content delivery.
Liz Heron, emerging media editor at the Journal, said that 37% of the Journal's traffic comes from mobile. That's lower than some native digital brands, but she sees a day when mobile traffic rises to 60 or 70 percent—at which point editors and producers will have to adopt a mobile-first mindset. (Ironically, she noted, most journalists and content creators today work at big screens, even though their content is increasingly being viewed on tiny ones).
Some of the media sessions suggested a shift in focus from short-term metrics, like clicks, to measuring more meaningful engagement. Eli Pariser, the founder of viral content studio UpWorthy, stressed the importance of quality over quantity. Page views and unique visitors are old metrics, he noted. What matters now is how people are engaging with the content. For that, UpWorthy has created a new metric, attention minutes, to track how long people engage with it's videos, graphics and other content. "If we're serving people well that's the best way we'll grow," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Jonah Peretti, CEO and Founder of BuzzFeed, during a keynote interview with Social Media Week Founder & Executive Director Toby Daniels. "The big thing is to maximize learning, not maximize traffic," Peretti said. "Maximizing your understanding of the things that are important, and the things that matter. It becomes counterproductive to focus on short-term vanity metrics."
Content publishing is no longer exclusive to media, of course—every serious brand is now in the content business. But it's a delicate balancing act for brands. With the debut of its Farmed and Dangerous an original comedy series available on Hulu and screened at SMW NYC, Chipolte Mexican Grill demonstrated how content is increasingly visual and increasingly unbranded. The mini-series satirizes industrial farming tactics in an effort to encourage people to be more curious about where their food comes from and how it is prepared—underscoring Chipolte's mission of serving "food with integrity."
"More people are now creating content than ever before," says Daniels. He was inspired to start Social Media Week in 2008 after the financial crisis nearly melted down the global economy and an American president rode into office on a wave of popular support fueled, for the first time, by social media. "It was a galvanizing force for people," he recalls.
Six years later, that's still the case—for social media as well as Social Media Week.
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