Groundswell: The Next Wave of Content

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, OLC attended the dd:Impact Conference “Groundswell: The Next Wave of Content” presented by Digital Dumbo. It was a half-day conference created to explore how successful companies and brands are using content to increase engagement.

The event kickstarted with Andrew Zarick, CEO and founder of Digital Dumbo. The organization started in 2009 as a place where neighbors gathered to get to know each other. It grew from 40 members to over 1,300. “It’s to create an environment to quickly disseminate ideas,” Zarick said. Digital Dumbo currently operates in five cities. “We all live in networks. The higher your connections are, the faster you get your information. Today it’s about being a connected company to innovate more rapidly.” Zarick outlined five main characteristics that make up a connected company:

• Socially intelligent – “Quickly be able to change their behavior.”

• Platform enabled – “Build lasting relationships with customers, like Nike+.”

• Flexible and dynamic organization – “Information is distributed through a company very quickly.”

• Always be on – “They are omnipresent, they are multi-platform.”

• Embrace the unknown

“Currently, we’re in a network that has two billion internet users and five billion mobile users. In 2020, there will be 50 billion devices. Today is about a connected brand—the grandswell. It’s important as agencies and brands grow, they need to keep an eye on it,” he concluded.


From here, the event moved on to the first panel, The Next Wave of Campaigns, moderated by Ron Faris, Head of Brand Marketing at Virgin Mobile. The panelists were Spencer Baim, Senior Strategist at Vice & founder of Virtue; Matt McDonagh, VP of National Sales at The Onion Labs; Lee Nadler, Marketing Communications Manager at MINI USA; Nancy Dussault Smith, VP of Marketing Communications at iRobot; and Will Turnage, VP Technology & Invention at R/GA.


Ron Faris: There is a huge Renaissance in media—there’s no better panel than this right here. What are the things you use in your campaigns to punch above your weight?

Lee Nadler: Mini is a very unique brand. From the get-go, Mini has been built on a sense of community. One amazing stat is that half of Mini owners name their cars. That’s unique to consumer-product relationship. The other thing is that, built in to the product is a sense of fun. We try to have fun in our marketing as well. We play with the product. This is taking a look at the product and winking at the consumer.

Nancy Dussault Smith: We have a similar base of consumers. About 70 percent of owners name their robots. We have a lot of people that are using Roombas in a way that we never anticipated. Roombas are used in the art world to create art. Our robots are also hackable. People hack it to create games. We also take user-generated content and mine the best and use it in our product.

Will Turnage: On the tech side, it’s faster than ever. But it has to do with timing and context. Tech companies can iterate and change their product. What we’ve been doing is picking one specific tech channel and basically challenging our tech teams to come up with an idea using one platform. We’ve gotten some phenomenal ideas. We have a bunch of exercises like that. We’ve been trying to embrace tech in our experience.

Matt McDonagh: We made a decision about a year ago to be a lot quicker. We try to get jokes out as fast as possible. From a content standpoint, we’ve definitely changed out perspective.

Spencer Baim: What we’re trying to do at Vice is trying to build a post-advertising agency model. Once we find a central insight that an advertiser loves, we can iterate and launch as fast as possible.

RF: More speed means more fear from brands. What was the line you drew to not cross that?

MM: You always want to be on the right side of the joke. We used Twitter as a long form joke during the Boston Bombings—we were poking fun at how the media was trying to break the news.

RF: As a media company, your instinct comes from getting the scoop. Why do you think brands go to media companies?

SB: Brands are coming to media companies now because they need to be like a media company. It leads people to interesting places. It’s not surprising that brands came to Vice to speak to consumers—to try to reach out to them.

MM: Vice and The Onion have unique voices. People have recognized how we’ve built that brand. We’re also creating content for brands. We worked humor into Microsoft and YouTube’s ad campaigns.

SB: Making an ad isn’t hard. Agencies have decades of experience and the people are so attuned to creating them.

RF: There’s a whole new language of .GIFs and it’s changing every week. There’s sort of a paralysis. What have you used successfully?

NDS: We pick what we know and work that way. Things we know well—we let other people figure out the new things. We can’t afford to screw up, so we work slowly.

LN: I think that we don’t make bets on tech platforms, we work with partners and watch very carefully how technology manifests itself. We’re not afraid of failure. I think you have to be prepared to be spontaneous.

RF: How much do you embrace failure, if at all?

WT: As much as possible. Sometimes, it feels like a copy exercise.

RF: People are afraid of failure, but I think it’s a risk you need to take.

MM: We weren’t using Twitter properly—it was a failure for a couple of years. You have to be willing to test new things and use it as a communication tool.

NDS: iRobot works under different channels, but Roomba is easy. Brand voice is difficult to manage. It’s very different content and audiences.

LN: I think for all brands, they need to understand who you are as a person and brand. You don’t have to comment on everything. There are guardrails, so to speak.

RF: What’s the importance of physical events?

SB: Extremely important. No one lives in an entirely virtual world. Events help increase engagements. People talk about it, people share it.

LN: Because of how important digital is now, people are craving physical interactions.

WT: Ultimately, it’s people wanting conversations with their friends.


The discussion changed topics, as did panelists to, The Next Wave of Curators, moderated by Grand St’s Amanda Peyton, co-founder of Grand St. The panelists were Christine Kuan, Chief Curator & Director of Partnerships at Artsy; James Nord, co-founder of Fohr Card; Hrag Vartanian, Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic; Erik Martin, GM of Reddit.


Amanda Peyton: How do you define curation? Has social media sites turned us into curators?

James Nord: For the second question—no. Just because you have a Pinterest doesn’t make you a curator, just like how having an Instagram doesn’t make you a photographer.

Hrag Vartanian: People forget collecting and context. Curation means having a context—it’s understanding the background. A collector is doing it for themselves or a small group. A curator is trying to reach out to a larger audience.

Christine Kuan: Curating is a mode of storytelling. In a way, what Artsy is trying to do is share artwork with friends. It’s a broader definition of curation.

Erik Martin: Everyone has more opinions and they’re not afraid of sharing it.

AP: What makes a good curator?

JN: Taste and understanding context.

AP: Well, how can people become curators?

CK: We’re trying to make art discovery easier using our Art Genome project, and we work through a variety of museums, artists, curators as well as our ecommerce platform. All these tools help users do their own forms of curation.

HV: Curation is used differently than from a decade ago. In the digital space, people can’t differentiate between good and bad taste very much. It hasn’t fully formed online. One of the good things a good curator does is no explain things a whole lot. In the design world, curation is super important, but at the end of the day, curation is still evolving.

AP: Can computers be good curators?

HV: I don’t think computers can. A good curator makes decisions that can not be intuitive.

CK: Curators are trying to show a point of view. I don’t know how computers can share that.

AP: What do you think about the media and curation?

EM: Reddit is run through algorithms, but those are dependent on human interaction. The internet needs people with media experience to curate the internet. We need more people in media curation to help sort out the conversations.

AP: What is your opinion on the roles of interplayers?

HV: That’s where the role of curators come in. They used to be passive, but they’re now more engaged and active. It makes sense to be so online. Curators tell you why.

CK: I think there’s some behind-the-scenes relationships in curation. With digital curation, you need to build relations with the people in the community.

JN: There’s a lot of discrepancy between creators and curators—there’s so few creators. I think for a lot of people, there’s a level of education that you need to to get into fashion. A lot of people who appreciate art don’t aspire to make it, but it’s different in fashion. Fashion brands looked at bloggers and brands started putting campaigns online—that didn’t do so well. They were forced to turn to people who produced content every day to do it for them as well.

AP: What I’m interested in is that there are people on Reddit that spend all their time on it. Who are these people and what’s their motivation?

EM: I don’t know anything about them. What drives them is the chance to connect with people who have the same interests as them. It’s about giving feedback from people who care about similar things. Reddit is one of those places where you don’t need fans or followers to reach a wide audience. People spend a lot of time on Reddit because it’s unpredictable.

JN: It’s sort of like playing the lotto—anything could happen on Reddit. You could post a link and it’ll blow up on Reddit, but a blog you’ve worked on for several years gains little traction.

AP: Do you think electronic musicians are curators or creators?

CK: I wish there were human curators telling me what to watch on Netflix and Spotify. People are craving that human touch. I think people enjoy hearing experts sharing their insights.


The panel concluded and moved on to a brief intermission. Next up was The Next Wave of Storytelling, moderated by Lizzie Widdicombe, Assistant Editor at the New Yorker. The panelists were Aina Abiodun, co-founder and CEO of Storycode; Annie Correal, Editorial Director at Cowbird; Charlotte Druckman, Editor at Medium; Noah Rosenberg, founder and CEO at Narratively; and Scott Lamb, Editorial Director at BuzzFeed.             

Scott Lamb explained that BuzzFeed’s main focus is sharing. It’s the shares on the delivered content that drives BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed’s reach came in the ability of people sharing content. To increase user generated content, BuzzFeed incorporated a daily missions. Charlotte Druckman said that Medium tries to blur the line between reader and writer. Annie Correal said, “The line between reader and writer is porous and flexible today. Users are defining digital storytelling for media.... People are looking for content that is uplifting, about faith in humanity.” Aina Abiodun said, “We saw a story that was getting dissolved into particles, because of all the mediums available. We can no longer tell you when, why, it, how to consume content.” The panelists essentially were claiming that users are creating stories specific for each medium rather than the same story for every medium and that the internet is changing the way we think. The panelists wondered about the state of the consumption of content, to which Druckman said that long form content is on its way back. Noah Rosenberg didn’t accept that notion, prompting him to say that long form digital content is the "broccoli" of the internet. People talk about eating broccoli, know it's good for them, but no one eats it. Rosenberg also went on to say that storytelling is the new sexy. "Brands are using content to lure consumers in and seem authentic,” he said.


The last panel took the stage, starting The Next Wave of Media Formats and Platforms. It was moderated by Peter Cervieri, co-founder at Scribe Labs. The panelists were Jordan English, SVP Brands and Agencies of Pulse; Drake Martinet, Social Editor of NowThis News; Brandon Melchior, User Experience Manager, R&D Ventures of The New York Times Company; and Veronica De Souza, Community Manager at Digg.

The panel started with Brandon Melchior explaining that the NY Times differs from algorithm based publishers in that a human editor will almost always determine its homepage content. NY Times also uses data to drive product decisions more than editorial ones. Jordan English suggested that content can be as malleable as a brand's ROI needs it to be. “We want to make something interesting,” Drake Martinet said about shareable video content. “Data and hustle is pretty much how we try and make content spread.” Talking about breaking news, Vine and .GIFs allow people to relive the moment, at least that was what was said according to Veronica De Souza. She also said that Digg gets up to 30,000 submissions a day. English explained that Pulse monetizes through premium branded content—no ads—that will add to the user’s experience and add to their value. Regarding sponsored content, NY Times makes sure that users are never confused between what’s advertising and what a journalist writes. "On the Internet, if it's not real it will fail," Martinet said.