13 Mar 2012

All posts from 13 Mar 2012

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Digital Diversity 101 at SXSWi

The first thing that struck me as I walked into the session on Mining Diversity was the number of attendees in the room (or lack thereof). A whopping 21 of the 200 seats were filled. Yes, I counted. I then realized the session was classified in the “Better Tomorrow” category. As in, perhaps interest in diversity will be better tomorrow(?) However, since there were so few attendees, the presenter, Trevite Willis, producer at Southern Fried Film Works, was able to greet everyone individually which was a nice and welcoming touch.

She opened the presentation by boldly proclaiming, “My name is Trevite, and I’m your new black friend!” It elicited some laughter from those of us in on the joke, and hesitant courtesy laughter from the more pigmentally-challenged in the audience. As a regular diversity seat-filler, I of course let out a knowing hearty guffaw.

Then came the media pop-quiz. “What are the most read magazines among black audiences?” I have to admit, I was stumped. I actually thought it might have been a trick question. Having worked in media, I remember running across research that stated ESPN has more black viewers than BET. Also, in the Seattle market, FoxSportsNW rated highest among women in a certain age group.

Alas, several (of the 21) audience members correctly shouted out answers as if it were a no-brainer. “Essence!” “Ebony!” “Jet!” “Black Enterprise!” “Uptown!” I was a bit embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even heard of a couple of the magazines, but was impressed by my fellow attendees’ knowledge of ethnic publications. Clearly, certain members of this group were in-the-know and up on their reading.

The session then touched on some basic strategies for connecting with ethnic audiences. She explained that the key is understanding. Learn how to listen to social conversations, then connect emotionally, rationally, or intellectually. She then offered some considerations for creating a diverse work environment, such as hiring people that “don’t look like you”, partnering and cross-promoting with (other) diverse organizations (e.g. gay and lesbian groups), and simply incorporating diverse companies into your supply chain. While these all these points are pretty simple and obvious, they serve as a good reminder and conversation starter for the uninitiated.

A highlight of the presentation were the examples of companies that excel at using digital and social media to connect with diverse audiences. Sears, for example, has a bilingual microsite targeted to their Latino audience. In addition, they use their Facebook page, titled Sears Latino, as a virtual community hub. To solicit engagement, they’ll ask what people’s favorite power tools are. Customers freely respond in both English and en Español.

I decided to do some additional research and check out their site to see how well they addressed localization issues. I did a search for a fairly common word that happens to have a different meaning in Latin America than in Spain. Lo and behold, “Estufa” was automagically (and correctly) translated into “cooking ranges”.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm creates commercials targeted toward Chinese-American customers in both Mandarin and Cantonese. In fact, these commercials proved to be so popular that have spread virally among the community, and a number of them can be found on YouTube.

Unilever has created a healthy-lifestyle web presence called “Vive Mejor”. Decidedly female-skewing, the site features things like beauty tips and recipes. It even features a Facebook “Me gusta” button. The website uses social media to populate an interactive Q&A. The site prompts questions like “Completa la frase: Lo major de ser mujer es …” (Complete the sentence: The best part of being a woman is … ) Naturally the first answer that appears is “ser mama”. The website does a good job of appealing to cultural touchpoints to make participation in digital communities more accessible.

Proctor & Gamble has taken the idea of the African-American neighborhood beauty shop online with myblackisbeautiful.com. Also integrated with Facebook, users can read and post articles and tips from other customers.

Trevite pressed the need to consider not just standard demographic data, but also qualitative and psychographic research. Companies such as Claitas use segmentation to identify general-market consumers in different social strata, life stages, and purchase cycles. Ethnic communities had the additional complexities of degrees of acculturation (assimilation), e.g recent immigrants, bi-cultural, and fully acculturated. As someone who was born in the US to naturalized citizens, ethnic marketing probably wouldn’t have the same impact on me as it might on a limited-English proficient consumer.

In all, the content of the presentation to be pretty basic. However, I shudder to think how many times Trevite Willlis has delivered this same presentation to groups who have never heard of these concepts. In any case, it was most interesting to see how companies have used research and digital technology and social media to create online communities.

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Digital Diversity 101 at SXSWi
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Ray Kurzweil Brings the Singularity to SXSW

Ray Kurzweil

On Monday afternoon author and inventor Ray Kurzweil took the stage at SXSW for an interview session with frequent Time Magazine contributor Lev Grossman. Kurzweil, somewhat of a controversial figure in the tech community, was there to discuss his radically optimistic views on technology, human consciousness, and evolution.

The session began with Kurzweil delivering a short slide presentation about his predictions on how technology will impact culture in the coming decades. Kurzweil’s belief in this is based on an idea he calls, the Law of Accelerating Returns, a term he coined for his 1999 book the Age of Spiritual Machines. This law states that technological change is exponential rather than linear, meaning rapid advancement in technology begets more rapid advancements in technology. Kurzweil believes that because improvements in technology are developing so rapidly, we are quickly approaching a time when human beings will merge with technology and evolve to a kind of post-human state. Kurzweil refers to this event as the Singularity.

Though it might sound like science-fiction, Kurzweil supports his argument with sound historical reasoning. He spoke at length about how the fields of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics are making advancements at a rate nearly in pace with common computing, and how if the past is any indicator, this is likely continue for some time. In Kurzweil’s mind, the Singularity isn’t a wild prediction, it’s merely the logical conclusion of an ongoing trend.

Ray Kurzweil and Lev Grossman at SXSW

But even if this is true, are the kind of techno-biological enhancements Kurzweil is talking about something we will want to accept? “Most of us,” the author pointed out in his talk, “are already enhanced.” He’s right. We carry super-computers in our pockets in the form of smartphones. We use Google as a kind of collective cloud-based memory. And we are increasingly using things like birth control, steroids, and hormones to achieve greater mastery over our bodies. These inventions augment our everyday lives in ways that would be unimaginable to those who lived in previous centuries. Just as unimaginable are the kinds of augmentations Kurzweil believes the future has in store for our species.

Science-fiction author William Gibson is famous for saying “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” The topic of this uneven distribution was brought up during Kurzweil’s discussion with Grossman. He asked if Kurzweil was concerned that the kinds of developments he is predicting will only be available to the wealthiest members of society. Kurzweil brushed the issue aside pointing out that most of the technologies that we use every day started out being available to only the very wealthy. Computers, the internet, and mobile phones are all examples of this. “A kid in Africa has access to more information than the president of the United States did 15 years ago.” Kurzweil reminded the crowd.

Kurzweil’s presentation at SXSW followed as predictable a trend line as Moore’s Law. For those who were familiar with his writing there really wasn’t anything new to be learned from the talk. But for those who weren’t familiar with the author’s ideas, the session raised some interesting ethical questions and exposed them to some of the most radical ideas out there regarding the ways in which technology might disrupt our future.

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Ray Kurzweil Brings the Singularity to SXSW
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Sharon Feder Says For Mashable, Its All About Community

Flip the Media was lucky enough to snag an interview with Mashable’s Chief Operating Officer, Sharon Feder. We spoke with her following the premiere of the startup documentary Control+Alt+Compete co-hosted with Microsoft.

Showing no signs of stress around the soon to break story that Mashable was to be bought by CNN, (denied by CEO Pete Cashmore, according to the New York Times) Feder shared her thoughts on the secret to their success and what it takes for the professional to navigate the digital world.

Mashable is one of the definitive online voices out there reporting on technology, digital media and web culture. Started in Scotland, 6 and half years ago by a 19 year old Cashmore, it now attracts 23 million visitors a month. So no one should be surprised that Mashable is in the acquiring sights of the likes of CNN.

But what has been the key to their success? Certainly part of it is timing. They were one of the first online blogging news sites to really focus on the then emerging social network phenomenon.

According to Feder, the number one secret of their success, or indeed any blog or news site, is community. Reporting on what your community identifies with and listening to what they tell you they want to know about is critical. In our interview she talks further about how they pivoted on their editorial and coverage around SOPA when at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos – based on what their community was telling them.

She goes on to talk about the other secrets to success. Having a strong voice and the importance of authenticity are key. It is crucial that you provide your community value. Give them what is important to them, speak authentically and be true to what your community expects of you. Like many before them, if they are indeed bought out, they will have to work hard to make sure they continue to live up to the standards and expectations of their community – particularly those of their more independently minded readers.

Feder has charted an interesting professional course to become COO. Joining in 2008 as assistant editor she quickly took on the leadership role of managing editor, and then publisher before her elevation to Chief Operating Officer earlier this year. In our video interview we asked her what it takes to be successful in today’s digital media landscape.

She explains that it’s important to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. It’s no longer about doing one thing. You have to understand your content area, understand how analytics work, and know about the community you are engaging with and be open to constantly evolving roles.

So whether or not in a few weeks Mashable becomes a division of a another company, they are a great example of how important it is to keep your community at the center of things. The hope will be that they continue to do so no matter who owns them.

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Sharon Feder Says For Mashable, Its All About Community