Exploring the 140 Characters Conference

On Wednesday, October 20, 2010, I attended the 140 Characters Conference at the Fillmore in Detroit. The 140 Character Conferences are put on by Jeff Pulver, the co-founder of Vonage. Since the inception of the #140conf, as they are dubbed, conferences have taken place in New York City, LA, London, Barcelona, Tel Aviv…and now Detroit!

As the name reflects, the conferences focus on Twitter (For those of you not on Twitter, you have 140 characters to post your updates) and the good it is providing both for-profit and non-profit business, as well as connecting people worldwide.

In a similar fashion the TEDx events, this conference features very quick presentations, generally 5-10 minutes long max. I took copious notes and want to share with you some of my favorite speakers and the takeaways I got from this FABULOUS event.

Before I go on, let me emphasize one thing. If you are not on Twitter yet, get there and get there fast. Not only can it help your business, but it can help the world!

My Takeaways from #140conf

(Each bullet point refers to a new speaker or panel)

-If you live anywhere in Michigan, you need to get to know Erik Proulx. Erik is going to create a wonderful documentary about all the GREAT things happening in Detroit and how the city WILL make a big comeback. That documentary is called “Lemonade: Detroit.” (Get it?  Make lemonade from lemons, people!) He noted only 1/3 of the land in Detroit is occupied and instead of viewing that as something scary or negative, it is to be viewed as a sense of possibility. The goal with his film is to reverse the fixation of people viewing “ruin porn” and instead have the fascination turn to viewing “hope porn.”

Erik has a very unique approach to getting his film funded. ANYONE can sponsor it and become an IMDB.com credited producer of the film! For $120, I’ve sponsored 5 seconds of the film. You can do that (or more!) here.

-One of my favorite Detroiters, Stephen Clark of WXYZ-TV, spoke about the birth of the “Back channel” – his unique connection to his viewers who watch and tweet with him during his live television news broadcasts. He summed up Twitter and the #backchannel with this statement, “Strangers all gather to work together to create change.” Well said, Stephen!

-Speaker Becky McCraw comes from a town of 27 people! She is an entrepreneur who does not need to be from a big city to “get it.” She explained that limited resources simply equals tough, creative people. If that statement alone does not illustrate that we are all the same no matter if we’re from a rural area or a big city like Detroit, I don’t know what does! She also said something that more businesses need to listen to, which was, “Customer service is all you’ve got.”

Lastly, she coined a fantastic new term – “hybrid vigor” – which speaks to the hybrid always being stronger than the individual. Amen, Becky! I’m certain we will hear more from Becky in the near future.

-If you work in advertising, marketing or public relations, you’ve probably heard of Hajj Flemings. Hajj is the founder of Brand Camp University. Hajj showed this amazing video to illustrate the importance of improvising and not killing our dreams as we get older:

As I write this blog, this video has close to 3 million views. Clearly, people from all over the world identify with dreamers. Take a moment to watch this video as I’m certain you’ll be thoroughly impressed!

-The first panel of the day was about how entrepreneurs are reshaping Detroit. As someone who has successfully started and runs her own business, this panel really spoke to me. They reminded entrepreneurs to do two things: FOCUS and NEVER QUIT! Todd List said, “Surround yourself with people who are farther down the road than you.”

Jeremiah Staes spoke about “Telling the story of Detroit in real-time: How do you deal online with a brand where some people mistakenly think you’re going to get shot?”  He told the audience, “Don’t hide behind anonymity online!”  Sound advice, especially when it’s easy to say something ignorant like “I don’t want to go to Detroit because I might get shot.”  (Eye roll.)

-It was fascinating to see how some forward-thinking teachers are connecting with their students through social media and the huge benefits these teachers are seeing by reaching out to students where they already are. Nicholas Provenzano, a high school English teacher and education blogger, said, “Teachers need to be open to change or education will fail.” Provenzano has found success in using Twitter for transparency.  All of his assignments are posted on Twitter, so students and parents alike can see what is due tomorrow! Talk about simple and effective.  Good on you, Nicholas.

-The real-time news gathering panel also proved to be very useful to me. A public relations professional in the audience posed an extremely relevant question. He wanted to know what was the best way to pitch stories to the media, given all the changes in distribution. The media professionals on the panel agreed that picking up the phone or sending a personalized e-mail was still the very best route. They reminded PR professionals to ‘get to the point’ and asked everyone to participate with your local media. Also, one new way to  share positive stories in Metro Detroit is by sending e-mails to dogood@freepress.com.

Yisrael Pinson, a Rabbi serving the Jewish recovery community, taught us that Twitter is tremendously helping recovering addicts. (Who knew?!) He said, “Social media and recovery are a match made in Heaven.” Is there anything Twitter can’t do? It is so inspiring to see all the good this new technology is providing!

Charlie Wollberg really struck a chord with me when he spoke. I’ve been utilizing social media for several years now to fundraise for charity. He said, “Click does not equal care. There is no substitute for real action.” He meant that hitting the ‘share’ button on Facebook or the ‘re-tweet’ button on Twitter was good, but not good enough. I could not agree more. Social media is amazing for spreading the word about non-profits and the amazing work they do, but we must do better. We need to donate our time and our money to causes that mean something to us.  (And I’ll step off my soap box now.)

Anissa Mayhew was without a doubt one of my favorite speakers at #140conf Detroit. Anissa talked about the human side of social media and how what some might consider total strangers (Facebook friends, Twitter friends, etc.), she considers real friends. Anissa witnessed the power of social media after she had a stroke. Her family kept the world abreast of her progress while she was in a coma in the hospital. When she came home, she found thousands of cards, e-mail and other forms of support waiting for her from these friends. All these people had never met her in person, but they rallied for her online.

She stated, “Friends are friends.” As someone who has been making wonderful friends online for a while now, I agree with you 1000%, Anissa. I met one of my absolute dearest friends, Kathy through MySpace (back in its heyday), and I’m incredibly thankful to have her in my life, not to mention countless others.

-Another person you have to get to know is Nelson de Witt. Nelson is from El Salvador and was separated from his parents at birth. He is creating a documentary film about his amazing life story – and his family that he finally got to meet! Despite his very struggles, Nelson always remained positive.

He had a perfect message for Detroit: “Pick up the pieces and keep going!” He also said, “Recognize the opportunity we all have to change the world.” I absolutely loved his enthusiasm!

Chris Brogan had a bunch of useful takeaways for Metro Detroiters. A few quotes from him:

  • “No one is coming to save you.” This was not meant to be a negative statement. I viewed this as a reminder that WE Detroiters are the key to our success and how great will it be when the city does turn around and we can all take the credit for it?!
  • “Discomfort is an investment.” This said to me that if you want to grow, you must get outside of your comfort zone. Thank you for the reminder, Chris!
  • “Tithing is alive and well.  For every project, find a cause.” This is a man after my non-profit loving heart!  😉

Fred Jacobs spoke about one of my favorite things –music!– and how Twitter is ‘pulling back the curtain for music fans.’ Jacobs is the creator of the classic rock format. He said, “Social media re-creates a grass roots dialogue for classic rock artists.” I definitely agree with Fred and I’ll add that I think that if artists are genuine on Twitter, every musician/band have the opportunity connect to fans in a more intimate way, creating even more loyal fans!  It seems like a no brainer win/win for the music industry, which is no stranger to the economic challenges that have occurred over the past decade. Jacobs emphasized that Twitter provides authenticity and personal engagement. Where else can an artist or band communicate with fans like that once they’ve become popular?

A few more notable quotes from the 140 Characters Conference in Detroit:

  • “There’s always been hope here.  There’s always been hard work,” Ron Levi
  • “This city can be a renaissance…Your life is not just about you. Everything that you do inspires others.” Ja-Nae Duane
  • “The art of listening is suspending your mind,” Geo Geller
  • “I’m listening for hope,” Jeff Pulver
  • “Social media is causing people to look up,” Mandi Mankvitz

And lastly, Ryan Doyle said, “Throw out probabilities. Focus on possibilities!

To sum up my conference experience…

A never give up attitude, an openness to change, interactivity, transparency, accountability and good customer service are paramount to being successful on Twitter and other social media. It is best to view social media as not the ‘new, hot technology’ but as a tool used to create a stronger connection to each other.

P.S.  You can watch and share the individual session videos here: http://140conf-telaviv.blip.tv/posts?view=archive&nsfw=dc

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4 responses

  1. Great write up! Thanks for including me and for getting my name right. You would be surprised how many people mess it up!

    I really loved Detroit. Lots of great energy and its a city that is working hard to reinvent its self. I can’t wait to come back next year and see all the progress they have made.

  2. Pingback: Defined Characters at the Detroit 140 Conference #140conf (4) : Cybercletch LLC

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