Although I’ve already written a short blog post on the last week’s Social Media 09 for Digital Public, I wanted to kick off my Urban Mashup blog by reflecting on the day from a different and more personal perspective.

The event itself was organised by Mashup* and featured a whole host of social media aficionados, digital guru’s, and online monitoring experts. The headline speakers were advertising luminary and Engine President, Robin Wight, and TV presenter Sarah Beeny, who generated a wave of positive Tweets from delegates when she picked up her newborn baby to sooth him during her presentation.

The event felt like a human Twitterfall, with speakers given strict 10 minute slots, and trooped on and off in quick succession.  Although this didn’t leave much time for reflection, a couple of impressions were left with me that don’t appear to have been addressed by other people’s write-ups of the day.

The first came during the talk from a pumped up Dan Klein who set out to convince us that nobody crunched more social media data than his firm Detica.

During his talk entitled ‘Social Network Analysis on Steroids’ he recounted how they had processed the data on every single transaction made on Ebay since 2001, and then went “looking for criminals”.  In this case, people buying Ammonium Nitrate. According to Klein, having found the top 50 traders, they reported the potential bomb makers to the US government. Although he kept emphasizing the legality of what they had done, I know I wasn’t the only one left feeling slightly uneasy by the civil liberty implications of all this.

However, it was Klein’s next case study that really grabbed my attention. He explained that Detica had also processed the details of every transaction made in Apple’s iTunes, and commented that this had revealed some interesting facts. For example, according to him: “people don’t pay for Hip-Hop in iTunes, and we know who they are”.

I found this remark extraordinary on two counts:

  • Firstly, I was curious to know how artists like 50 Cent, Eminem and Jay-Z had managed to amass multi-million dollar fortunes if people aren’t paying for their music.
  • Secondly, I wondered who was the “they” he was referring to?  I caught the eye of one of the handful of black guys in the audience. We both shrugged and gave each other a look, as if to ask: “is he talking to me?”

At this point, a scene from the 1989 Spike Lee film ‘Do the Right Thing’ flashed into my mind. It’s the one in which the character named Buggin’ Out begins to question why there “ain’t no brotha’s on the wall” in the pizzeria owned by the Italian-American, Sal.  The point he makes is that since Sal’s pizzeria is situated in a black neighborhood and sells pizza to black people, Sal’s ‘Wall of Fame’ should include some pictures of black celebrities.

I began to wonder about the Social Media 09 parallels, because for all the diversity on display in terms of age, gender, and professional experience, a common theme seemed to emerge as speaker after speaker took to the stage.

The clues could be found in the cultural references involving the pronunciation of fine wine, to the names of the presenters. When the second speaker named Giles appeared at the front, he quipped that:  “Social Media appears to be full of people that went to Public School!”

Although I resisted the urge to emulate Spike Lee’s character Mookie by throwing a trash can through the window, I did feel the need to use my opportunity to speak to point out that not everyone in social media went to Public School, as did Josh Feldberg who spoke after me.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the event organisers Mashup*, who deserve credit for pulling together such an interesting line up of presenters. Nor am I having a go at the other speakers (well, perhaps with one exception). They were being themselves and using the cultural references that they could relate to.

I guess I’m asking a broader question of “where are all the brotha’s and sista’s?” when it comes to social media. We know that black and Asian people participate in social media just as much, and in some cases more than white people, so why are so few involved in the cutting edge of social and digital media production?

It’s not a question I think I can answer right now. It is one that is being asked in the US too. I’m sure that I’ll return to it in this blog because I passionately believe that we’ve got to Do the Right Thing.

Feel free to comment, disagree, or debate below.


20 thoughts on “Social Media 09 – A Different Perspective

  1. First of all, I enjoyed the day and thought your section was amongst a few that stood out – so thanks!

    I agree that Dan Klein’s talk was rather extraordinary. And to be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure what he was trying to tell us. It seemed to be a combination of ‘Look at us, aren’t we just brilliant with all our data,’ and ‘Watch out, we know what you’re up to!’

    Just a staggering five minutes that left me feeling very confused and rather, well, violated. In one way or another.

    Like you, I’m not sure what the iTunes and hip-hop thing was all about either. But I know that Chris Thorpe’s ethos and approach to social media needs to be the future. There is an opportunity for change and for doing good with social media. We should all, whatever our background or skin colour, make the most of it.


  2. Interesting. I think this is probably a real issue in the UK in the way that it isn’t (say) in the US.

    But I don’t think that you can really represent the industry as a monoculture. If you look around, there are plenty of successful black and asian men and women in the business, and there have been since the very early days. There may however be an issue of visibility; perhaps Claire’s idea isn’t a bad one at that.

    Incidentally, I think I started the whole “public school” meme at #SM09 because it was relevant both to the theme and the content of my presentation (social norms vs market norms.)

    But I also did it because it’s an quick & dirty bit of self-branding: I think that helping people to label me mentally as the “Tim Nice-but-dim” character helps them remember which one I was.

    So it was done as a self-conscious, self-aware thing that betrays not how many people in the business are white public school males, but rather how few.

    There’s a reasonably large body of research into “social capital” that’s almost certainly worth looking into here.

    Sorry for making this about me…

    • Thanks for your comments Matt. I appreciate that the public school thing is part of your brand. It was the fact that others jumped onto it that made it stand out to me

      • oh, was it supposed to be Tim NBD? and there’s me tweeting about Hugh Grant being up there on stage… :))

  3. Jon – glad you’re writing on this – I’ve been wanting to hear your perspectives get a wider airing since that memorable hip-hop example you gave at OpenGov earlier in the year.

    Yes, it’s an old, but largely unremarked story, about diversity problems that exist in most industries – how much more frustrating it feels though in something like social media, which paradoxically trumpets the breaking of boundaries and the emergence of new, vibrant themes.

    I was somewhat heartened at the #140conf yesterday – @JeffPulver put considerable effort into a far more diverse speaker line-up than is generally the case. Memorable presentation from Kyra Gaunt (@kyraocity) on the cultural implications of ‘Racism as a Resource’, and I came in from lunch to see a panel moderated by the ever-excellent @andrew_davis, featuring 3 black and 1 white panelist. The subject of the session: social media and the music industry. But even to have this topic featuring alongside other society pillars like politics, media, broadcasting and entrepreneurship was a positive message in itself.

    Keep going on this one – your voice is needed.


  4. Hi. This is an interesting article for a number of reasons. Of most interest to me is the similarity to some thoughts I have been having recently on a related subject.

    My view is that one of the factors is the lack of visible black role models in social media, internet and high technology industries. With no role models young aspiring black kids may not even think about the opportunities in our industry.

    When Lewis Hamilton won the Grand Prix enrolments in racing schools by black children went up dramatically. I am sure we will see similar correlations with politics and Obama.

    I think it is emcumbent on us to become successful or help others become successful.

    I would be happy to discuss this further. I think an unconference is an excellent idea and I would happy to help.

  5. Like Paul, I was at #140conf yesterday representing. I was fortunate enough to dine with the lovely Kyra Gaunt. Her talk clearly made some in the room feel uncomfortable but then there’s nothing comforting about racism or what it represents.

    I’ve been in the media business for over 12 years and believe me its positively over flowing with blacks and asians in comparison to when I first started. Online has adopted those of an ethnic background more than traditional media but this probably more out necessity (lack of skilled resources in the market) than anything else.

    Is the industry full of public school boys? Off course. Creative, media and PR agencies actively recruit from certain institutions – yes, the old school boys network is still in full effect as do media owners. Online, especially social media organisations, are mainly owned by entrepreneurs who’ve secured funding from VC’s, this in itself is an exclusive club that’s even harder to access.

    Like most aspects of society, we have a long long way to go. That’s, indeed, if we ever get there.

  6. Very interesting article and you are correct. There are not many ethnic minorites who are activily getting out there and being noticed but there are many that use Social Media sites. Why is that? I really dont know. Due to me being someone who was “falsed” (lol) to get my face out there, I have found that at first I was a bit worried that i looked different to everyone else….then i thought, different is a good thing. As long as I know what im talking about I will be ok 🙂

    Thanks for your kind words @paul_clarke. Any feedback is appreciated, especially as that was the first panel I have moderated 🙂

  7. Pingback: Social Media etiquette: How to lose friends and influence people « The Urban Mashup Blog

  8. Wow. Sorry I hadn’t commented on this before… An interesting post and it needs addressing. You can’t have decent engagement without representation. As you know, I don’t exactly fit the common desription myself, and in fact a reason I use a cartoon instead of a pic of myself on Twitter is to deflect any preconceptions people may have of me. I like it, and it appears to work.

    I consider my education and work experience to stack up very well against what other people in the industry have. But we need more people from different backgrounds to get the experience if the situation is going to progress… So all you managers out there – please improve the way that talent is recognised and promoted. We’re all one-time developers, editors or pr people drawn into this wonderful world – so remember how it was starting out, and look very carefully to see if there’s a diamond right under your nose. You may not know it, you could have a star on your hands.

    “Different is a good thing” <<<< Quite right!!

  9. Pingback: Cleaning Up Communications | Waves PR, freelance PR consultant, UK

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