What I Learnt From Spending A Week In New York With A Bunch Of Strangers
I’ve started writing this piece several times now, six to be exact, and every time I thought I was done, I closed my laptop with the soul purpose of creating a nice feature image and uploading later. However New York being the city that never sleeps I was kind of on the go a lot, so my opinion was ever changing and in turn so did this blog post. I had several conversations that made me rethink what I wanted to write. This may also turn into one hell of a long ass post. So sorry in advance, but please read to the end as there will be a bonus for all those that do (click bait, like bait, heart bait, follow bait). Good that’s the seed planted for you to stick around. Now you can read about my week at the Periscope Summit.
The title of this post is somewhat misleading, well kind of, as I’m not sure if it is a bunch of strangers. Let me explain.
As many of you know I was in New York for the Periscope Summit in September (yes it has taken me that long to write this damn post!). This event was born out of the community (users) of the Periscope app and brought together 400 people from all over the world, from all different walks of life in one place for 3 days of events. If you don’t already know what Periscope is you can read my review from back in April here. What was the point in me attending given that I don’t particularly broadcast that much? Ummmm well I own a digital media and PR agency specialising in online presence and specifically work with brands and individuals to be socially famous. Periscope is just another tool that my clients can potentially use to promote themselves or their brand. Simple. I need to know this shit.
Now I will disclose that most of what I have learnt has actually been on a personal level and not the business experience I thought it would be and the knowledge I would learn, hence why I’m posting it to my business and personal blogs. So if you’re reading this for lots of juicy business tips then you may be slightly disappointed. However that said, it has also changed my opinion of a lot of the content and content producers I see online. All in all the week was a huge eye opener.
The biggest thing I have learnt is that when you take a leap of faith and step way outside your comfort zone two things can happen. It can either be the most uplifting and enlightening thing you’ve ever done or it can expose your vulnerabilities. Or it can be both.
When I flew over to New York I didn’t know anyone in the real world that was there for the event. There were quite a few people that I’d spoken to online in various different places and some of who that I’d arranged to meet up with. It was quite a leap of faith for me to go there in the first place and certainly way outside my comfort zone. It was also a way for me to bury ghosts of New York past. I do love the city but my previous two visits had left me with some not so great memories, and I wanted to banish them.
Because of the power of social media and Periscope especially, it’s amazing how much you can know about a total stranger and turn up to have dinner with them and instantly start talking like you’ve known them forever and they’ve lived next door to you half of your life. So when I went to meet Hannah (@hannahbonline) on the first night I arrived, it was just like meeting an old friend.
One of the high lights of the week for me was the opening night party and the group dinner we had before it. Seven (loud) women that I had never met before in quite a fancy restaurant with a Christian Grey lookalike waiter. You can probably guess how that one ended and it was probably a good thing we spent and tipped well as otherwise I think we would have been asked to leave. The party was great and we mixed and mingled with people we’d watched on Periscope and others we hadn’t. I have to admit that I don’t particularly watch some of the more popular scopers. I find a lot of the content to be very self-indulgent and not really that interesting, unless you just want to blow some smoke up someone’s ass. I will warn you now that I can already feel that last statement I just used will be used a lot in this piece. Anyway, back to the party.
The most common comment people made was that it was quite surreal to be meeting people in the flesh that they’d gotten to know really well purely by just watching them scope their lives or whatever it was they scope about. By the end of the night you felt as though you’d made a whole new bunch of real life, real world friends. However one thing that struck me was the lack of actual real conversations going on. So many people spent the time walking around talking to their phones. See this is when social media is actually exposed for being really quite anti social. Periscope is ideal for introverts who are quite ok sitting in their bedrooms talking to a screen. If you are more of an extrovert and quite confident in real life social circles and thrive off real interactions with others, you may find the whole Periscope world quite frustrating.
I won’t go into all the details of the speakers and the Periscope Summit itself. You can probably watch most of it on Katch anyway if you want to. Some speakers were good, some not so good, some very self-indulgent and some, well, I don’t really know why they were even there other than to blow smoke up their own arses. The problem sometimes with meeting people in the flesh is that they aren’t what you expect and you realise that their whole “community” vibe they put out is actually just a front for a whole load of me, me, me and they are shallower than a zero entry swimming pool. In short, they only give a shit so long as you’re hearting it up and they are winning the non-existent online popularity contest.
There were 2 speakers that stood out for me. First was the legal discussion. Personally I thought this should have been absolutely mandatory and the first speech of the event given that a lot of speakers and attendees clearly needed to listen to it. The other was Brian Fanzo’s (@iSocialFanz) speech titled ‘We is greater than Me’. Again, some people should have paid more attention to it.
Brian’s underlying point was that it wasn’t about the hearts or the number of followers, it was about the value you brought to your community. When you build a community that is centred around you, there is great responsibility and not something to be taken lightly. See that word community, it was used a lot, but I don’t think it’s fully understood by some (more on that in a minute).
And then there was Derek Cowan (@EntrepreneurOAJ). Being a fellow Brit I hot footed it in there to support him (as I’d also done with Peter Stewart @UpYourPeriscope on his panel) and offered to hold his phone so he could live scope his speech. Please do take some time to look up and take on board Derek’s story – Help The Journey. Not only is it fascinating it’s also heart warming and enlightening. He takes the word community to a whole new level and uses his online presence for a greater good that is not about him or how many hearts or followers he has. While Derek was busy talking I was the only person in that room who could see the comments on his screen. This was a game changer for me. His audience cared, not just about him, but about what he wanted to do, not just the journey he’d been on but the journey he’s going to embark on. They cared about what he cared about.
Taking off my personal opinions head and going back to a business point of view, Derek is a true influencer. He has a highly engaged audience, they care, they have passion for what he does and they have the ability, together, as a community, to do enormous amounts of good in the world. They aren’t just there to give him lots of hearts and boost his ego, they are there to give him their 100% support and promote the causes that he is helping. From a marketer’s point of view and a brand perspective, that is pure gold. He is an actual, real life influencer.
So many people use the word influencer without truly understanding what it means or actually being able to influence anyone. Quite frankly some people who self title themselves influencers couldn’t influence me to take a piss after drinking 10 litres of water!
At the end of the week I spent an afternoon with Derek having a laugh and a good chat in Central Park. I personally felt that his message had been ignored by people who could really help him and his journey to do so much good. But hey, who wants to do something good when you can just blow smoke up someone’s ass instead (see that phrase there again). That is why I told Derek that he has my full backing and support and I will do whatever I can to help him in anyway. Derek will achieve huge amounts of greatness and change a lot of lives for the better with his journey, and if I can help him do that then that’s good enough for me. He was also an extremely good public speaker and I see a very good career for him there. He knows I won’t be sending him a bill for my help when he decides to pursue that career.
So to bring this full circle on the positives that I have taken away from this is that the connections you make both on and off line are more valuable to you than any numbers (hearts, followers, likes, fans etc). The more you can give to those connections the more you will actually lift yourself up. And that goes for business and personal. I take away from this event a whole new bunch of friends, actually a family since I gained a new Mom (the lovely Sandra @SandraCentorino), lots of business contacts I’ve now physically hugged and knowledge that my clients will reap the benefit of. And having new friends that live all over the world has it’s benefits when you fancy a little trip away (totally selfish reason there).
And then there are the negatives.
And by negative that does not mean that I found anything negative about the actual event. I couldn’t speak more highly of Ryan and Cathy and their team at Periscope Summit and quite frankly I don’t know how they kept their cool. I certainly wouldn’t have done. So big ups to them for being bold and brave enough to host such an event. There will be lessons learnt I’m sure and the next event will probably take on a different format. But for now, they are two pretty damn cool dudes in my book.
Now for the negative bits.
Some of the attendees have quite a large following and collected a lot of hearts. Great, good for them. They also believe their own hype (see previous comments about blowing smoke up their arses), and that is a dangerous thing. Online fame is a fickle thing and can be shorter than the Orwell predicted 15 minutes. I found some to be quite full of their own self importance based on their heart count and on closer inspection it was obvious that they couldn’t carry off the same community spirit back in the real world. These people will come crashing down as will many others. A few will do well from their new found fame, but as with any other form of “fame” it is only the tiny minority that reach true celebrity status in the real world.
Heart counts are also dubious given the current trend of buying them over on Fiverr and other places and it’s amazing how many “top” scopers can amass half a million hearts on a reply watched by fewer than 100 people. But I’m sure their over inflated ego appreciates it, and their bank balance given that some are cashing in on their fake fame.
Being Periscope famous is like being rich in monopoly. It means feck all.
Back in the real world I deal with real celebrities. Take from that what you will but I do know my shit about the fame game and playing it online. I’ve also been working in the online industry in one form or another for longer than some of these people have been out of nappies (diapers). I don’t like to play the old cynic card, but when you’ve seen it all come and go online you learn to spot the good from the bad very, very quickly.
What I did notice was that some of the “top” scopers did not give a shit about the other attendees. They only wanted to talk about themselves and associate with other “top” scopers. Why was that? Because it got them more exposure. It made them look better and improved the quality of their scopes. After all, it’s all about collaboration and if you can align yourself with the trillion heart club then that makes you super duper internet famous right? I’m right aren’t I? Isn’t that the ultimate goal here? Don’t answer. I’m being sarcastic. It was a little like the cool kids in the school playground. Do you remember them? Do you know where they are now? No, I don’t either.
Cliques are not healthy. They weren’t in the school yard and they aren’t in communities such as Periscope. Cliques were formed that week. This isn’t just my opinion. Many, many others have said the same thing. Cliques are still being formed now. For Periscope to maintain it’s community vibe, the cliques have to stop, or at least be more open to allowing new comers to join. You can’t close a door in someone’s face or treat them with any less respect based on their heart and follow count. Be warned, it will bite you back. Probably right on your arse (with any luck).
Whilst so much is said about these online communities you also have to have that same level of community in the real world otherwise you live in a protected bubble and forget that your online status can be deleted in the blink of an eye. Real people that live in the real world also have real thoughts and real feelings. Be careful not to forget that. The very same people that will build you up, and blow smoke up your ass, will tear you down in a heart beat the second you don’t dance to the beat of their drum. Or you’re exposed as being the fake ass mofo you really are. Do not be fooled by the caring, sharing exterior. Many are playing a well-defined strategic game. Just because you can see it online doesn’t make it real.
And this is why I say that when growing and nurturing an online community, you also have to be mindful of the real world and that not everyone shares their whole life online. You don’t know what someone’s tipping point may be. And this is true in all aspects of life. How you treat people is actually more about you and your inadequacies as a person. If you can only communicate through a phone screen and pay more attention to that than your real world connections then you have an almighty problem when your bubble bursts and your 15 minutes of Internet fame is over.
Several years ago I was part of a big online community centred around a niche of blogging. I was one of the top bloggers in the community, won several awards and was very well known within the blogging world and every day I had endless messages. I put an awful lot of time and effort into that online presence. But the minute I stopped feeding it was the minute it stopped reaching out to me. Real life got in the way and my blogging efforts dwindled and so did the support I had once had from that community. There are still a very small number of them that I am in contact with, but the majority just moved on to follow someone else. That is the reality of the online industry.
Periscope communities will be no different to that. If real life gets in the way of your online life, the real life will always win. Because it’s real.
In all though I loved this event and really enjoyed it. I have met some wonderful people that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get rid of now if I tried and it’s given me great food for thought as to what direction I will now go in.
My advise to anyone reading this that may fall into the category I’ve criticised; just be you, not the version of you that believes the hype about you. Realise that the people who are building you up are going to tear you down. Pay as much attention to your real world relationships by stepping away from the phone and still experiencing life and don’t put people on a pedestal based on heart count, because the numbers are probably just as fake as the person themselves. And most of all, if you actually want to forge some form of career out of your new found internet fame, then please wise up very, very quickly and get professional advise from people who actually know how this online shit works, not someone that thinks having 10 million hearts earns them a phd in social media or gives them kudos to call themselves an influencer.
You cannot be huge on just one platform and consider yourself Internet famous. It’s not going to work out. If you want Internet fame then have a purpose to it or know the direction you are taking your audience in. If you can be niche and structured and produce content that works over multiple channels then brands will love you, sponsors will want to work with you. But you have to learn about repurposing content and monetising it because until Periscope is more mainstream the vast majority of brands are going to be sceptical. And at present you are probably looking at maybe 6-12 months from now before brands really start taking Periscope seriously and adopting it as part of their marketing strategy. Your Internet fame will be gone by then if you aren’t savvy enough as someone else will have replaced you. And if you don’t understand any of this stuff then please just hire help (shameless plug alert, yes I am referring to myself there).
As for me, well I’ll be seeing you at the next Periscope Summit event in San Francisco, just being me. Because that is what I learnt. Being me is totally ok. Because for all the people in the world that I may be surrounded by that don’t appreciate the real me and expect me to play by some predetermined rules that don’t fit my view of life, there are plenty more people out there in the world that are totally ok with me being me. Sometimes you’ve just got to step out of your comfort zone and take that leap of faith to find them. Yes I did feel vulnerable. Yes there were times when I didn’t quite understand why some people didn’t have the same level of respect for others that I do or care if they hurt your feelings, but you know what, those people don’t matter. They will be tomorrow’s chip paper, but the good and the genuine will rise above that, and I am happy that I found the good and the genuine to now call my friends.
Peace out 🙂 xx
P.S Now you’re wondering what the bonus is. And if you are wondering then you totally missed my jibe at the click bait numpties. Now give me some more hearts while I think of a bonus that will be available on my next posts/broadcast along with a special prize giveaway. Now I’ve totally instilled in you the fear of missing out. Job done. Scope down.
And before I forget, myself and Hannah did actually do a Blab on our return, which turned into a two and a half hour comedy show and we was joined by one of the organisers Alexis Cardoza (my new best friend and the boss man at Start Broadcast The Movie which is a documentary all about the Periscope Community. Check it out and please help in the funding campaign if you can). If you happen to have a few hours to spare and want to see me blush and cry with embarrassment then you will probably find this highly amusing.
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