May 16, 2011

The Human Lens

I just returned home from Mashable Connect, a new conference produced by the good folks at Mashable, and held this year at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Over the next few days, as I synthesize the copious inputs from the event, I’ll share key learnings here. In the meantime, I thought I’d write about an observation sparked by the fireworks show at Epcot my fellow attendees and I enjoyed last Saturday night.

The Disney folks are geniuses when it comes to delivering experience, and the fireworks show was no exception, blending lasers and physical elements with an extravagant display of fireworks, all synched to music.  The word “immersive” is a good one to use to describe the experience. We were surrounded by visuals from all sides and above us. The whole of Epcot played a role in the show. As the fireworks started, a forest of cell phones, cameras and video recorders sprouted from the audience, glowing eerily as people all around me hoisted their devices high. Good idea, I thought, and scrambled for my own Flip.

Within a minute or two, however, I put it away. The experience was too big to capture, and, furthermore, focusing on recording it was diluting my ability to enjoy it. I stuck my Flip in my pocket, and enjoyed the show.

Too much sharing, too little ‘stickiness’?

Watching the paltry little video snippet I did capture later, I patted myself on the back for my decision. Despite my ideal vantage point, what video I shot totally paled in comparison to the real event. And putting my camera away allowed me to experience it unfettered.

I also started thinking about how we experience, record and share events, and how brands can play a role in shaping that sharing in a way that will help the make the event more memorable for the audience, and will build the desired online buzz for the brand.

Is the drive to share de-humanizing experiences?

We speak a lot about the humanity of social communications and the social layer.  Social media give brands the opportunity to ‘humanize’ their images and a space to let down their hair a bit, so to speak.  Conversely (and maybe perversely!) it also seems that the drive to interact within the social layer is turning many into Tweeting, status-updating documentarians, recording every moment through the lens of our pocket-size devices.

Enjoying the fireworks for what they were – namely, a grand-scale experience to which no recording device, no matter how sophisticated, could do justice – as a human, with the full range of my senses was fun and memorable.  Concentrating on capturing each shot and framing each video well would have diminished the experience and made it less memorable for me personally, without a doubt.

The experience was a reminder to put away the camera and participate.  Our memories have served our race well for centuries, and have fueled the craft of storytelling which has shaped almost every human culture.  I wonder if we’re not creating a ‘storytelling’ gap when we capture video of every moment, and thus rendering the old act of recounting adventures verbally – which in itself drives more interaction between the storyteller and his listeners than sharing a video does.

Optimizing events for social sharing – good idea or creepy?

Because I’m a communications nerd who knows well the benefit of using visuals in PR and digital communications, I also saw some interesting analogies for brands – and those of us who craft communications on the behalf of organizations.

Here’s my theory.  I believe there are opportunities for us to encourage sharing of experiences in ways that will reflect well on the brand, and give audiences content they’ll really enjoy – and at the same time increasing our brands’ ability to communicate effectively. By encouraging the audience to truly participate and take in the event fully, our messages will be stickier, and audience enthusiasm will be greater.  I guess what I’m really talking about, then, is optimizing an event for the social layer.

For example – if you’re hosting an event that would lend itself well to video (but not grainy cell phone video, such as the fireworks) why not have the event shot and edited professionally, to capture as much “awesomeness” as you can? Edit it quickly, and get it into your audience’s hands pronto.  Who wouldn’t love to get a spectacular video recap of an experience they enjoyed from the organization sponsoring the event?  Communicate that you’ll provide the videos beforehand, and leave your audience free to enjoy – and internalize memories – of the event.  Seems to me that you’ll create more traction with the audience, who will be equipped to tell the story, since they participated fully as humans, not the aforementioned digital documentarians.

Put another way – I’m not going to share the pathetic video I started to shoot at Disney.  However, a professionally done recap of what I saw, offered in a sharable format, would absolutely find its way onto my Facebook page and Tweet stream.

What do you think?  Is this idea of optimizing events and experiences for social sharing a good one, or does it smack of creepy corporate control?

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ShashiBellamkonda. Shashi is the social media swami for Network Solutions, and is a great person to follow on Twitter (@shashib)

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