Greg T. Spielberg

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Tanning Streetwater (pt I): A Kosovan foothold

In Distribution, on facebook on March 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Besa Luci, a friend and Kosovan magazine editor helped me access a distant social circle.

I’m convinced that focusing on socially local people rather than geographically local ones is more important in building initial sw distribution. In a recent post, I explain why. But what about distant social circles? What about reaching the communities I don’t have access to but feel will enjoy Streetwater? Should I wait for them to find out about Streetwater on their own, or should I go after them? I think it’s important to go get them right away, for two reasons:

1) I want Streetwater to be tan from its inception.

2) I want Streetwater growing in multiple circles simultaneously rather than exclusively from my social center (family and friends I see frequently).

Tan is a Steve Stoute term he uses to describe the psychological makeup and tastes of a new generation. A Renaissance man, Stoute has managed Kid N Play, Nas, founded Translation Advertising and was recently inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement. His idea is that corporations shouldn’t break down young Americans – let’s say 40 and under – into racial boxes. Our cultural tastes are an expression of a diverse crowd; our tastes are tanned. (A good example of how a company communicates this is through the Chevy commercial in the New Yorker video below.)

Since I’m trying to build community rather than sell products, my approach to tan is a bit different. I need to consider how Streetwater looks to prospective members on Facebook, and a large part of how it looks is based on the nascent existing community. There are a few routes I could take. Nighclub method: Attract pretty women to become members and hope guys will follow. Country club method: Invite high-net-worth men and assume their families and other aspirational men will follow.

No and no. Instead, I want to hit a few socially diverse circles right off the bat. I want prospective members to see people in the Streetwater crew that are from different backgrounds, have different lifestyles, faces, names and perspectives. I want the crew to be tan. Immediately. While Stoute’s tan speaks to cultural tastes, my tan deals with community makeup. Here are two examples of how I acted on this concept to make it real.

Establishing a Kosovan foothold
Besa Luci was a year ahead of me at Mizzou grad school. I had heard her accent but couldn’t place it. She has great style, too – ballerina flats, skinny jeans, a peasant shirt and a handful of necklaces, which is a rare combination in Columbia MO. So when I approached her for the first time outside Lee Hills Hall, I said, “Are you Italian?” She laughed and said, “No, I’m from Kosovo.”

A few weeks later in the magazine lab, I asked her to tell me about Kosovo’s history, which becomes an explanation of Balkan history. I’ve always been intrigued that on one side of the Adriatic is Italy – a stable nation and internationally known cultural center. Meanwhile, the Adriatic’s east coast is comprised of a string of countries whose identities have always been in flux. In December, the express train between Belgrade and Sarajevo opened up for the first time in almost 20 years, a move that represents yet another regional healing process.

Kosovo itself only gained independence in 2008 (!!), an occasion Besa got to enjoy in New York City where she was finishing her Master’s project. Now, back in her hometown of Pristina, Besa is building a culture magazine geared toward the up-and-coming Kosovans enjoying national autonomy for the first time. This is beautiful, and from a distribution point of view, tapping Besa to recommend Streetwater to her friends is a monstrous triple crown:

1) I’m socially close to a cultural influencer, meaning she’ll follow through with the recommendation.

2) The cultural influencer gives me access to a distant social circle.

3) The distant social circle is part of a national culture that is forming its identity at the same time as Streetwater. We’re both startups.

Besa recommended Streetwater to friends, and as of March 21, a quarter of sw’s 250 members are Kosovan. Two weeks in, and Streetwater’s international; it’s culturally diverse. It’s tan. -G

More on Steve Stoute

Interview with Steve Stoute by Kelefa Sanneh, New Yorker (video)
A McKinsey of Pop Culture? by Tom Lowry, BusinessWeek (text)
Interview with Steve Stoute (part I) by Javid of the.LIFE Files (video)
Interview with Steve Stoute (part II) by Javid of the.LIFE Files (video)


Rethinking “start local”

In Distribution, on facebook on March 26, 2010 at 11:00 am

The curveball
Since the bit economy makes digital delivery cheap and social media makes contact easy, starting locally is no longer the first distribution consideration. For Streetwater, that’s a big deal. Shipping sw to a friend in Brunei is as cost effective and relevant to him as reaching my neighbor in the Lower East Side. To reinforce this, I think about walking up to a girl on the sidewalk. If I started Sugar, an LES diner, I would say, “Hey, you look like a nice person, come check out Sugar on the corner of Houston and Allen.” Chances are she would come by because the diner is only a few blocks away. Saying, “Hey, you look like a nice person, come check out Streetwater on the Internets,” doesn’t have the same geographic pull. SW’s initial form is digital, so the Internet takes the local advantage away from me. It’s as easy to type in as it is to type

As startups (I’ll pretend Sugar is a startup), Sugar and Streetwater lack a reputation to capture people’s imagination. There’s also no word of mouth yet. We lack defining names. What the hell is Sugar? They serve hamburgers, soup, bagels, cup cakes, orange juice and cheese sandwiches. Not exactly a tight product. What the hell is Streetwater? It’s an exploratory photo crew. Not exactly a tight product. The fall-back for Sugar is its geographically local position in the neighborhood. Streetwater’s fall-back is socially local friends and family who will promote the site in a cost-effective and timely fashion.

The playing field
I started Streetwater on March 5 using only the Facebook infrastructure. Enormous native traffic; established and visible social group; clean simple Web design; free. Interestingly, if we think of the Facebook page as a landscape, the socially local people are also geographically local. Friends and commenters run up and down the left and middle columns. The right column is furthest and reserved for socially distant advertisers and recommended friends. Technology companies help us out by bring socially local people closer — speed dial on phones, auto-finish for email addresses we frequently use.

I recommended Streetwater to all the “close” friends (those in the box beneath my profile). Obvious first step. Then, I asked  my younger brother, who lives 80 blocks north of me in New York, to recommend Streetwater to his friends. (I haven’t asked my older brother yet because he’s part of a staggering plan I’ll need to think about more.) Phil recommends Streetwater because of our social proximity. It’s nothing to click some buttons for your brother. That girl in the Lower East Side will come to Sugar to get coffee because it’s nothing to walk two blocks.

His rationale for helping me out is based on social proximity, not local proximity. If I still lived in Missouri, I would get the same result. It’s not like recommending fans for someone’s page is free. It takes roughly 7 minutes to click through 500 friends, a significant investment considering how much we hate electronic pauses. In a 2007 story about newbie Hulu, the anonymous marketingvox writer goes, “Eschewing the :30 dinosaur from the days of broadcast television…” In comparison, inviting friends is equal to six back-to-back dinosaurs that my brother has to run himself. Who would do that for less than a cup of coffee unless he is socially close? Who would check out a new diner unless she is geographically close?

(Priya Singh, creative head at Interactive Agency, just tweeted “Looking for a laugh? Have a short attention span? >> 5 second films)

After asking my brother, I tapped a high school friend who lives in Baltimore, and a college friend down in D.C. They both said sure. Phil lives near me, but Connor and Annie don’t, yet distribution wasn’t harder in proportion to geographic distance. I talk to all three frequently, so we’re socially local.

The strikeout
On the other hand — and here was a great failure lesson — I tried to cut corners with my ex-girlfriend’s former roommate. We’ve hung out a few times in Columbia MO and in Chicago where she now lives. But we don’t have a close relationship. We don’t talk or see each other, and the bridge that made us socially local — my ex-g — no longer bonds us. I was more attracted to her 1,871 friends and access to a Midwest market of new college grads. This is an outdated philosophy, anyway, breaking people down into “markets” and regions rather than communities of interest. I didn’t hear back and haven’t seen a crop of fresh-faced Midwesterners in the Streetwater crew. So, my guess is she passed. And why not? She’s not local. -G

Resumes in a social world

In ia on March 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

Paper can’t capture a person, so I’m done with writing resumes. A portfolio of past work is good; if I consider myself a writer, I gotta write, right. Writing a resume, looking at it, printing one off: Feels fake. For instance, I am a community editor at Bundle, and here is what I wrote on my resume:

Share personal finance insights with savvy business community members. Stimulate conversation while moderating incoming posts. Execute competitive analysis, assist in development of Twitter game plan.

Savvy? That’s dripping with Jay Rosen. Share? That’s sandbox creed now co-opted by Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and 2.0. Community, the incorruptible word, is a farcical TV show not worth the link. What does it mean to stimulate conversation? There’s talking or there’s mute. That’s it.

Lil Wayne, the rapper who needs no resume, takes this perspective further. He told Rolling Stone writer Chris Norris that simply writing down lyrics seems fake.

I feel that when I was writing [raps] down and anyone could read it, it was like, ‘Is it real?

So now, like Jay-Z and Biggie, Lil Wayne goes inkless (except for tattoos). And his voice is pure.

I’d like to go inkless with my own resume by using photos from past work spots. Start with the Smithtown Bull’s Eye, my high school paper, just for kicks. On a paper resume, there’s no space, but on a slide show, one extra click is OK. Then, the small house near campus where we published the Bowdoin Orient. The Three Village Herald might be tricky, because it got scooped up, shut down and combined with a local network of community newspapers. Maybe someone caught a picture of me smoking cigarettes out of my editor’s window while he was gone, because someone certainly reported it. The Vail Daily was so vibrant, I’d need to include the sound track of fellow copy editors‘ wise cracks to show the real scene. At Stop Smiling, a perfect Chicago culture magazine, the store room is most indicative of my work — packing boxes of magazines to ship out and cutting up mag sections for an e-zine. And so on.

Jim MacMillan, the Pulitzer-prize-winning photographer who’s teaching convergence at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has a good model. Check out his resume. It’s impressive, but the words don’t speak as powerfully as his photography. On the other hand, here’s the top of his bio (about) section:

– G

“We did not fear our future, we shaped it.”

In Self-actualization on March 22, 2010 at 6:55 am

I caught the tail end of Obama’s health-care-reform victory speech thanks to a video JimMacMillan embedded on his site. Two positives ensued:

1) I got to hear Obama’s celebratory closing of a health care debate that lasted more than a year. If we go back to Clinton — 16 years. Yesterday, I listened to Obama’s final speech to Washington Democrats, where he told his team: If this bill doesn’t help your constituency, don’t vote for it. Don’t vote for it. Keeping lawmakers focused on their community allowed Obama to pitch the health-care vote as a local move rather than a national one.

It’s easier to move small, and by thinking small, we fear less. I remember Bush/Rove/Cheney using fear by framing discussions in terms of national and international stakes. Axis of Evil, un-American, Old Europe. Current Republicans framed the health-care debate by using socialism, government and America. Obama used “constituents” and letters from individual Americans.

Soon, a journalist will provide us insight into the language Obama’s team used in private to swing voters around to his side. How he convinced Kucinich to join the fight so publicly. For now I’ll assume he emphasized the influence health care reform will have on small groups, or individuals. (The Economist gives a high-level view of Pelosi’s work but with mushy specifics.)

2) I followed a tweeted reference to Jim MacMillan’s Web site, where I watched tonight’s video, and it introduced me to MacMillan. I signed up for Twitter last Feb/March at the recommendation of Shirley Brady, then-community editor at BusinessWeek. I was at BW from Jan.-Aug. helping build community, reporting and blogging, and treated Twitter as an afterthought. I was more compelled to build internal community, and saw external social media as a tidal movement that would not stick to one technological platform and therefore one platform like Twitter didn’t seem that interesting.

My recent investment in Twitter, and the people who dedicate time to communicating via tweets, is a change. So is this blog. Since leaving BusinessWeek, I procrastinated in choosing a path. I enjoy building community, business development, branding and writing. I feared shaping my future because I saw any form of commitment as a grand proclamation of the direction of my life. And choosing a direction, I think, means eliminating most others. Like Republicans in the health care debate, leaving all options open means getting nothing done. It reminds me of The Bell Jar and this Sylvia Plath quote:

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground.

I’ve been a evangelizer for community for the past few years. The power of social media, the value community has for journalism companies, readers, editors, publishers and branders. I spent months at Mizzou libraries and my Lower East Side apartment pulling together media-economic theories to justify our industry’s future in community models. Yet after graduation, I disengaged rather than making a choice about which part of journalism to focus on.

I consider myself a writer. I didn’t write. I consider myself a community builder. I didn’t build. I thought I was perfect for every listed job. I applied half-heartedly. I froze myself, chilly in the crotch of a fig tree. I was the modern conservative I despised, without their special power to act as road blocks for everyone else. All fear, no solutions.

I’m not them, or that, or me frozen. I am a fig-eater. Nam nam nam.