This weekend was very first BarCamp Seattle, and it was a phenomenal experience. Organizers Colin Henry, Andrew Woods, David Albrecht, Jeremiah, Scott Phelps and Dylan Wilbanks did a great job of creating a fun, casual atmosphere for geeks to thrive in.
And maybe it was the early morning, the beautiful sunshine, the magnificant geekitude, or the lack of coffee. But the ideas started coming at me as my head replayed strains from my favorite new musical Avenue Q. I've already written that this musical is the figurehead of Generation X and its willingness to embrace change: if you don't understand Generation X, watch Avenue Q, and you will.
And let's face it; Gen X is what gave us Web 2.0 and all these social uses of new media, anyway. So it's no wonder that everything I learned about social media I learned from watching the crazy muppets of Avenue Q.
Everything about social media I learned from watching muppets sing:
The internet IS for p0rn. Lyrics and video. P0rn producers were early adopters of the internet (if not its initiators). Why? Because they have a keen understanding of their customers' needs and wants. They know the subject matter that titillates their customers and keeps them coming back. They know what content will inspire a customer to break the pay wall. They know how to inspire customer loyalty. In short, they never stop applying metrics to the customer experience and tweaking their content accordingly. They know exactly which videos, topics and headlines appeal to each demographic of their users, and they use that information to adjust the content of their sites.
Everyone's a little bit racist. In Avenue Q, the muppets sing about acknowledging the prevalence of racism, even among the most tolerant-minded of folks, and propose
If we all could just admit/That we are racist a little bit,
You can be as loud as the h*ll you want when you're makin' love. This song, belted by the character Gary Coleman (usually played by a woman) is a tribute to the inherent animal nature and messiness of human lovemaking. There are times to be proper and quiet, but
When you and your partner are doin' the nasty/don't behave like you're at the ballet.
The social media lesson learned here is that passion doesn't fit neatly into a box that you can control. Truly passionate engagement shouldn't fit neatly into an online space you monitor between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Like loud sex, it should be creative, innovative, experimental, willing to fail, welcoming of feedback, and it should happen in real time in real space with real people. It should be a little messy, welcoming of ambguity and uncertainty, and shouldn't be approached with too much commitment to the original plan, so that new bits can be improvised--while appreciating what is happening in the moment.
Everything is only for now. For now lyrics. The finale and piece de resistance of the musical might be seen as pessimistic by some; Zen by others. In the end, not all the muppets find a happy ending or a purpose to their lives. So they croon:
Everyone's a little bit unsatisfied/Everyone goes 'round a little empty inside
Each time you smile/It'll only last a while
Life may be scary/But it's only temporary
The social media lesson here: your hits, your traffic, your campaign and even your humiliation at that online gaffe is only for now. Engagement happens on a daily basis, and reputation is built over time, not in a month. Old Spice is only for now. Dell Hell is only for now. Even the BP oil spill is only for now. What's important is not just how successful you are now (although that's not to be sneezed at), but what lessons you take away from both your successes and your failure.
Seattle is the land of startups, and one thing I've learned is that the culture here is based on accomplishments. What can you point to that you did, and can you explain how and why you got those results? Even if the venture failed, what story can you tell about your last campaign? What myths have you exploded? What lessons did you learn?
With social media, as with many other projects, we are often venturing into the unknown and making guesses based on past experience and case studies. None of those provide any real assurance that this campaign or effort will succeed this time, and anyone who claims 100% guarantee is crossing their fingers behind their back. What is important is a flexibility of approach: if one type of content or engagement isn't working, it's time to try something else.
Personally, I think Avenue Q is underrated for the tremendous amount of widsom that muppets can convey. The attitude toward life is overly realistic, often crass, leaning towards optimism, and with a sort of Zen fatalism thrown in. Approaching social media the same way isn't a bad idea.