Apr 06, 2009

Learning in real time: the Pepsi Tweet event

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: "The Obama Effect"| Twitter| the economy

One of the hot-hot-hot topics of the past few months–alongside the economic crisis and the Obamas–has been the explosive rise of social media and whether and how corporations and corporate executives can make smart use of it.

Back in the mid-1990s, getting clients to take the Internet at all seriously was like pulling teeth. They used to look at me, in my much younger formatting, and will me to age and be wiser, to grow out of this foolish, trendy Internet thing. These days, corporates are far more curious about the possibilities—not least because Gen-Xers and Millennials, almost all of whom are Digital Natives, are now in influential positions.

Back before they saw the light, the mid-’90s objection often went something like this: “Only computer geeks are on the Internet, how could it possibly increase sales?” The notion of customer engagement was barely a twinkle in a few eyes. Clearly, things have changed a lot since then, as was recently demonstrated by some exciting initiatives from PepsiCo.

PepsiCo not only sponsored the gloom-busting SXSW music festival from March 13 to 17 in Austin, Texas–so far, so corporate–it also took sponsorship to the next level by harnessing the power of Twitter to bring the event to life online. The PepsiCo Zeitgeist site, included cloud animations of popular subjects, maps tracking where people were in town and tweets of scintillating snippets of overheard conversation. And on April 1, 2009, hard on the heels of SXSW, PepsiCo joined forces with a bunch of social media geeks—including me, and trust me, I feel lucky to be included in this crowd of young, modern-day mavens who not only get it but are doing it—to spark a Twitter-based conversation about global trends, to coincide with an in-person trends presentation I did in Brooklyn for PepsiCo’s top 100 Global Communicators.

A total of 171 people from around the world signed up for the conversation, which generated 1,786 Tweets. Hundreds of others turned up, without having pre-registered—jumping in with the #peptrends hashtag, following along and tweeting in. And no, it wasn’t all about soft drinks and pop culture, although those subjects came up. The conversation ranged across big themes such as Total Convergence, Value and Values, Healthcare and Wellness, and Local/Global, as well as Social Media. Once it got going, the action was fast; many participants said they learned a lot. My hunch, though, is that a lot of the learning wasn’t just about the specific ideas and opinions that were shared.

The content of the tweets only told part of the story. The event was also about the experience of sharing these ideas on a new, live social media platform. Participants were learning in real-time—about the rhythm, the pace and the style of the medium, as well as about the other participants and even themselves. It reminds me of my Cyberdialogue experiments doing early online focus groups way back in 1993 and 1994. It was a real thrill back then, and it’s amazing to find that almost two decades later, it’s still a great buzz to harness the power and possibility of technology to interact and to learn. It almost makes me feel young again.
Funny too that it’s PepsiCo, the company whose “Forever Young” commercial I replay on YouTube again and again, that got me so energized that for 90 minutes online and on stage, I was the Marian I had been in 1992—just a little wiser and a lot better traveled, and not quite so worried about 2400 baud.

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