WeMedia gets personal

Indeed, it’s personal. That’s true if you are a person, group or business. “This Time It’s Personal,” presented Wednesday by Andrew Nachison and Dale Peskin of WeMedia at the Digital Sandbox in New York , made that clear.

“We no longer have ourselves defined by mass media,” said Stowe Boyd, who describes himself on Twitter as a “social philosopher and webthropologist.”

Streams of information sources we select and the “nattering among ourselves” have become the most important connections in the world, Boyd said.

Mona Eltahawy is an example how a stream of information becomes important and trusted.

Eltahawy is an independent journalist, which has always been a difficult way to make a living although the challenges are changing with the waning influence of mass media. It is hard to get notice and to get paid for your work if a media outlet does not employ you. Yet, Eltahawy has been in a spotlight and in increasing demand as a speaker as her Twitter following jumped from about 4,000 in mid-December to 46,600 and counting.

What happened? Unrest in Tunisia began spreading through the Arab Muslim world. Tunisia was a story that major media ignored for weeks until just before Jan. 14 when President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fled the country, Elthawy said. Meanwhile, the people who took the growing unrest personally turned to Twitter and Facebook. As a native Egyptian who calls herself “a proud liberal Muslim,” Eltahawy took notice. She began to retweet and curate what she read online. She has become a trusted, timely source of news from the Mideast. She does it by paying attention to her own trusted sources and using her audience to help her fact check.

Eltahawy, who is based in New York, said her role is that of a “connector” and “amplifier of voices,” not a spokeswoman. Making connections and telling stories sounds like the role mass media has had.  Eltahawy, however, has made it personal.

Meetup has allowed groups to become personal. People who once met on Internet bulletin boards can now meet face-to-face, as long as they live in the same place. Gatherings focusing on almost any topic can be found at Meetup.com. If you can’t find what you want, just create it. On its website, Meetup says 7 million people have signed up for more than 75,000 local groups.

Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup, said Meetup helped the Tea Party grow into a national movement through a network of local meetings. Meetup also has meetings for Democrats, Socialists and Libertarians.  It connects owners of pugs in Spokane, wilderness backpackers in Atlanta and vegetarians in Hoboken. Mass media outlets such as Huffington Post and Oprah use Meetup get personal with their audience.

Communication is most powerful when it’s personal. Heiferman demonstrated that by asking audience members to introduce themselves to a neighbor. The room became noticeably energized. Simply, you are better able to trust – or untrust – someone you know.

The success of Meetup, Heiferman said, is that it “uses the Internet to get off the Internet.” In other words, it makes it personal.

Companies need to get personal to compete. A 30-second Super Bowl commercial does not have the power it used to, said Roo Rogers, co-author of “What’s Your’s Is Mine: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.” The commodity companies need now to reach customers, he said, is trust.

Steve Rubel, senior vice president for insights at Edelman PR, agreed. “We are entering an era of validation in social media,” he said. The democratization of social media means there are too many choices; consumers want trusted experts to filter information, he said.

“Great brands will prevail but branding is more critical than ever” he said. He said he advises companies to find subject matter experts who are good curators and allow them to communicate with customers. “Every company can be a media company,” he said.

An audience member questioned how much brand loyalty a communications-savvy company can build. If something better comes along than Google, he said he’d switch.

Rubel responded that data collection allows companies to better insinuate themselves into your life in ways that prove useful and that create loyalty.

Hmmmm. That may be smart business but only up the point that it becomes too personal. The takeaway from the WeMedia’s day-long gathering was “trust.”

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist (we don’t really need a link here, do we?) who last month launched CraigConnects, summed it up nicely.

“Trust is the new black,” he said.

To that end, Newmark said he has become a news consumer advocate who is working to increase integrity and figure out what’s worth paying for. He noted, as he must, some irony. Certainly many factors have reduced newspaper revenue and jobs in journalism, but Craiglist’s drain on classified advertising came early and hit hard.

Citizen journalism would be improved by collaboration and networks of fact-checking between professional journalists and citizens. He said he’d be willing to spend money on that. No doubt, there are former journalists who built a career on trust are willing to work with him on that.

Now, that’s personal.

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