Impressions from a Social Media Week that shook up New York.

So what are your plans for this week?" my father shouted over the phone, at decibels only parents on trans-Atlantic calls are capable of attaining.

I have a convention this week. It’s Social Media Week."

Where is it taking place?"

At hundreds of venues worldwide."

What do you mean?" he said in surprise.

Really. Just here in New York there are dozens of venues. We are also planning an event, for 200 people."

Wow!" My dad sounded impressed. "They invited you to present? That’s great!"

Well, not exactly. Anybody can organize an event and publicize it on the website."

What do you mean – anybody? Who is managing it?"

At this point, I realized that Social Media Week is apparently something quite unique. For three years, 60,000 people in 21 cities around the world (with New York taking center stage) assemble for a week of meetings addressing the topic of social media and its impact on humanity in the fields of culture, business, the media, economic and politics.

Organized Chaos

Unlike traditional conventions, whereby organizers launch their event on Facebook and think that, by doing so, they are successfully internalizing social media, during Social Media Week, the socialization is not merely that of the content, but is primarily its very essence.

The convention is held in a sort of organized chaos. What binds it together is the talk on Twitter and Facebook, which sends participants scurrying between the events taking place all over Manhattan, roaming according to the latest buzz. In essence, the convention has a kind of open code: the organizers merely provide the platform that directs the traffic and interconnects the various parts by way of a single brand, a website and a central idea.

The sheer volume of buzz words flying around during the week was dizzying: from "engagement" to "real time," from "data centers" to "COOLaboration," "gamification," "analytics," "cloud," and of course, "Pinterest." I did my best to rise above all of this chatter and to focus on the big picture.

The Great Leveller

For the major corporations in the United States, social media is already acknowledged as being far more than just another advertising channel or Facebook page being administered by a few kids -- it has grown into a tsunami, whose appearance has caused dramatic changes in their structures and modes of operation. A senior vice president of Deutsche Bank advised from the podium that:

Our organizational structure has changed as a result of the social media. We now have 100 thousand employees in 70 countries and are currently rebuilding our corporate institutions around the idea of intra-company sharing via cloud technology."

Deutsche Bank is not exactly a corporation that one would suspect of impetuously dashing to adopt the latest trends.

Today, half of the bank’s employees are already members of our in-house social network. They are not uploading photos of kittens, but rather, are sharing business ideas with their colleagues. We saved USD 10 million already at the pilot stage."

But, wait a minute. How do you measure how much you’ve saved?" asked the moderator.

Hey, we are a bank," answered the vice president with a smile. "We know how to count money."

Even the representative of IBM (the "blue aircraft carrier" -- my father was one of its first employees in Israel) said: "If we once were a vertical company, reporting upward and receiving rewards or pink slips from the top down, today we have evolved into a cloud company operating horizontally using our intranet."

Black Belt or Yellow?

Tens of thousands of employees from around the world are now playing in the new playground, where we are all interconnected in real time and where every action evokes a reaction. John Bell from the Ogilvy advertising firm, for example, recounted how "We used to throw away a lot of money every time a CMO, said ‘Handling Facebook belongs to us and not to any other department.’"

During Social Media Week, Bell announced the launch of [email protected], a new organizational structure that Ogilvy is offering to its clients. All departments in the company are manned by teams of social-media experts. Team members receive belts in different colors, depending upon their expertise in their discipline, so that a customer service manager may earn a black belt in social media, while the CEO might have only a yellow belt.

The vice president of Ford, one of Bell’s clients, attended SMW wearing a three-piece suit, with sleekly combed hair -- in short, as corporate an image as you can get. Despite this, he spoke with disdain about the old "Corporate America" and boasted about how Ford’s R&D Department uses Facebook to receive feedback on products and ideas, while its HR Department "no longer operates the old-fashioned way" and now recruits new employees mainly through Facebook.

Just like Henry Ford was recorded in the annals as the author of "The Democratization of Automobiles," it seems that the company he founded is itself undergoing democratization through Facebook.

The End of Chairs?

The concept of contextual cooperation is also trickling down into the routine culture in companies. The author Scott Belsky, for example, recounted how at Google, they began to hold meetings while everybody remains standing, a novel technique for keeping everybody at the energy levels needed in a world where everything occurs and is reported in real time (and also to make sure that meetings don’t drag on).

Even if we wanted to flee from this communal concept that mimics the spirit of the sixties to the privacy of the office, we may not succeed. At Ideo, one of the world’s leading innovation and design firms, they believe that soon no one will have an office. Their employees, for example, instead of sitting in their respective corners, work on the move among the various "project rooms."

All of the project data and all earlier ideas raised in relation to the project are hung on the walls in each room -- just like a Facebook wall. Project rooms encourage collaboration, the supreme value of this new era. Even Mark Zuckerberg relinquished his private office and opted to sit in the open space along with everybody else.

Twitter 911

This change has also become necessary even for the most traditional corporations, if not for the better, then for the worse: crises in the Twitter era are occurring every second and are forcing employees in all departments to work in cooperation around the clock.

When the marketing manager of Oreo cookies (who, in the spirit of the brand, is a smiling woman) addressed the audience, she related how, one day after their successful marketing campaign, during which Oreo cookie fans broke the Guinness World Record by awarding it 200,000 "likes" in 24 hours, the rapper Lil Wayne succeeded in breaking their cookie (and the record) with 500,000 "likes" and caused them embarrassment.

Our main conclusion is that, in order to succeed in the social media, all of the Company’s departments have to be ready and available 24/7," she said and then giggled for some reason. "The legal counsel, marketing and customer service staff -- today, all of them are included in our emergency response plan, during which employees of the various departments are gradually called via Skype in real time and decide how to respond. I don’t recall a single instance when we failed to achieve something after hours of work."

Obviously, this is a lot less funny for the rank and file employees.

At the close of another day, during which I was swept along with the flow of events from one elegantly designed firm to another, and after our event had ended successfully, I understood something important.

Any manager, who asks himself today how he should prepare his company for this new era, can obtain inspiration from the convention itself, and mainly from its format. The collaborative, open -- and yes, slightly wild -- way in which it proceeds is the divine pillar of cloud that will guide us in the near future.


  • The social media era is destabilizing the structure of corporations.
  • Real-time collaboration is the new supreme goal.
  • Say goodbye to your private office and even to the chairs in the conference room.

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