Happy 7th Birthday Twitter! Sorry, We Still Don’t Get You…

It’s time for us to expect more from our campaigns, re-examine how we produce our conferences and rethink our approach to social media, marketing and communications.

by Dave Weinberg and Ely Rosenstock

Right now in Austin, Texas over twenty-five thousand people have descended upon this beautiful capital city to participate in this year’s South by Southwest Festival (SXSW). The annual event for technologists, marketers, communicators, investors, artists and thousands more alike is the place where Twitter was born seven years ago.

Twitter is a simple sharing application that has grown into a 500 million strong network that has transformed media communications, government policy, customer service and human interaction.

Facebook, born nine years ago in the Harvard dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg has since changed the way the world is connected. With over one billion people, Facebook would be the third largest country in the world if it were a recognized nation.

Social networks have just as much impact today as the advances of the steam engine, printing press and telegraph had in their time.

The penetration of these social networks into modern society is both a marketer’s dream and nightmare. The opportunities for engagement with a consumer is far beyond anything a previous generation could have imagined. Along with this power of engagement comes the responsibility and challenge to become experts in social media; a fast moving industry where day-to-day events change everything and high schoolers know more than most seasoned executives.

Being communications and marketing professionals, the two of us use as many tools as we can to keep up with the times. We read blogs for industry opinions, listen to podcasts for expert roundtables, search for relevant case studies that help us learn what is working, etc. All this information gathering should play out in our major communal conferences where the leaders of the field extoll their knowledge and provide insight into the current and future state of the industry. As a community, our conferences should highlight the high bar of which we all aim to achieve in our social media marketing.

Sadly, that is not the case. Our conferences still showcase Intro to Social Media sessions that would have been outdated if they were presented five years ago let alone now. We attend industry conferences to learn from the best, not listen to tutorials that any college student could give based on their Marketing 101 class. Furthermore, with a topic such as social media, which is still ill defined and growing in use and value, it’s important to discuss critical issues, debate the value of particular metrics, and admit to mistakes so to learn from them.

It’s time to assume that everyone walking in the door understands the basics. It’s time to push the limits of our understanding by critiquing and talking. Push-back, discussion and debate, when done in the spirit of mutual respect, learning and the true desire for all around growth would do our community as a whole a greater good.

There are very few good examples of truly successful communications campaigns (which include social media – email, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, etc) in the Jewish community that we can point to.

In December 2012, Freedom 25 celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Soviet Jewry Movement with an engagement campaign that reached over 3 million people through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube as well as major national and Jewish press coverage. Freedom 25’s multiple interview-style videos alone garnered over 250,000 views. This would not have happened without the combination of social media strategy, expertise, mass-collaboration and excellent execution.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is another great example of high-level social strategy. At a moment’s notice, they have the ability to instantly mobilize and syndicate graphics, video, memes and a proper sense of humor to a massive audience. These are examples of case studies we should be hearing about at conferences.

Failure is something we also don’t hear enough about. In the social media space, we are all entrepreneurs. Just like startups, we will fail many times before we succeed. It’s time for us to embrace that failure.

The posuk in Mishlei (24:16) states: “For the righteous will fall seven times and get up, but the wicked will stumble in evil.” What makes a righteous person is their ability to overcome and learn from failure.

It’s time for us to expect more from our campaigns, re-examine how we produce our conferences and rethink our approach to social media, marketing and communications. We must push the boundaries of what is possible and share the highs and lows with everyone else. We must stop catering to the lowest common denominator and celebrate those who try and fail. The true failures are the ones who never try. If we stick to our basic Social Media 101 sessions we’ll be educating those who have already given up on achieving greatness. We have no time for those that want to stay asleep at the wheel. There is great work to be done.

Let’s learn, fail, re-learn and succeed together!

Dave Weinberg is the Director of Freedom 25, the national coalition to celebrate and commemorate the Soviet Jewry movement and former Producer of the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summits (FOJNP). You can follow Dave on Twitter @weinberg81.

Ely Rosenstock is the Director of Social Media at Addiction Worldwide. You can follow Ely on Twitter @elyrosenstock.

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  1. says

    So True. I just attended a conference for NPOs where a session on digital media strategy which was labeled “advanced” instructed attendees on the difference between a Facebook profile, page and group. Really?!

  2. David Levy says

    Sadly, my experiences at Jewish conferences tell me that if you assume everyone walking in the door understands the basics, you will be wrong.

  3. Jeff Rubin says

    It would be nice if the community were ready for seminars on social media beyond “Twitter 101.” However, I am afraid that the majority of stakeholders and decision makers are Facebook novices and still unengaged with Twitter. I find that those who are avidly following events in the Perisan Gulf, turmoil in Egypt, and the Syrian uprising are much more likely to be on Twitter and to share the latest breaking news item.

  4. Leah says

    The times that I have been asked for an advanced presentation, prepared an advanced presentation and then been sidetracked by a room asking the difference between a page and a group are countless.

    Yes, conferences need to provide truly advanced sessions for those who are ready, but if you say “if you haven’t learned it now, you’re out of luck” and don’t provide the 101, then you are doing a disservice to the attendees in need of basics.

    In fact, social media is often held back by shaming those who don’t know when they do show up to learn. Conference should not stop providing the chance for beginners to learn a new field, but should also provide for those who are further along the path.

  5. says

    I think that conference sessions on social media should rather focus on the desired outcomes of said media. For example, How to Effectively Use Facebook and Twitter to increase your Donor Base.” This puts the onus on the instructor to provide substantive best practices on how to connect and engage prospective or existing donors online. Not just present social media as “internet toppings” on top of your existing operations.

  6. says

    I say this at every conference I go to. There should be separate tracks for beginners and advanced and emphasis put on teaching practical strategies to those who need them (no more “why you should be on social media” sessions).

  7. says

    I have presented basic social media workshops in Toronto over the last two years to the Orthodox community and we can’t assume that in the Jewish community (especially the orthodox one) that they know basic social media. Hell, I ended up teaching them how to add an email signature to their emails.

  8. says

    Great comments everyone!

    Entry level tracks, special training workshops and sidebar conversations are all great — and yes, still needed. As consultants, we always point new learners to the amazing wealth or videos, tutorials and articles online first. Why spend valuable thought leadership time always on one-on-ones.

    Where are the high level tracks, sessions built for communications/marketing professionals to grow and thought leadership explored in our industry?

    As The Great One (Wayne Gretsky) said it best, “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

    This is not about ignoring the general population still not using these tools or just on-boarding now, it’s about pushing forward with opportunity, experimentation, learning and creating a new way.

  9. says

    Thank you Dave and Ely for this important post. I just tweeted and facebooked it with the prefatory word “Aspirational” — as I agree with the commentors above that most of the “random” people who attend our conferences are barely at the 101 level.

    I generally poll attendees when I speak (predominantly to Jewish audiences and usually about public policy) about their use of social media. Usually no more than a handful raise their hands when I ask about twitter users, and then usually two-thirds or more raise their hands when I ask about facebook (the numbers grow proportionate to the yoithfulness of the crowd.) Two weeks ago I spoke at the annual meeting of an East Coast Jewish Federation, and of the 60 people in the audience, literally one other person said they had a twitter account — but, of course, they don’t tweet from it :)

    And, as Charlie notes above, even among accomplished facebook users, I doubt many administer pages or groups, or know much more than how to check the photos of the children or grandchildren. There’s actually one prominent national lay leader who prides themselves on being an active facebooker, but asks me to post photos to their page, because (and I’m not making this up) they don’t know how to do so themselves.

    Bottom-line: Dave and Ely are correct that we should be aiming higher at our conferences, but the sad reality is that most of our audiences aren’t ready for it. That said, the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America is trying to increase our communal aptitude by sponsoring a free webinar on “Tweet Success” on Thursday (tomorrow) at 2:00 pm ET. I am moderating; Andy Neusner and Esther Kustanowitz will present. Register here: http://jcsana.org/

    Thanks again Dave and Ely for the post; thank you Dave for posting it, and thanks to all of you for following me on twitter (@Daroff)! http://www.twitter.com/daroff

  10. says

    I echo the sentiments of each and every person who has already commented. It is, in fact, a conundrum: there are attendees who want to understand how to use social media and its requisite tools, and there are those who are looking for advanced use cases, learnings, and strategies.

    While conferences have begun advertising presentations with beginner, intermediate, advanced labels, these labels mean different things to different people. I have offered advanced workshops only to be told that the content is “too advanced,” which is just as frustrating to the presenter as it is to the attendee.

    As the use of and integration of social media with activities continues to rise, I can only assume that what is considered an advanced social media session will also continue to become more sophisticated. Yet, as others point out, there must always be a spectrum for inclusion. Every communications conference still talks about the best way to write a marketing email or fundraising email for results, and email has been around a lot longer than social media.

    I applaud your efforts to initiate this conversation, and support the call for advanced and boundary-pushing workshops and presentations at Jewish conferences.

  11. says

    Thanks for this post, and especially for the bits about failure. I agree that often we don’t talk about, or know what to do with failure in the Jewish world…or even know it when we see it. Learning to “fail forward” is a huge skill both in social media and elsewhere in our efforts.

    With regards to the comments about “Social Media 101” – I empathize with the frustration expressed by many of the brilliant minds here. Anyone presenting on social media has fallen into that trap.

    But I think it’s time to rethink what 101 means, and I don’t think it’s about the point-and-click of social media. That can, as Dave mentioned above, be accessed easily elsewhere. And, in the best of circumstances learning the basics of a social network can help bridge generational gaps (meaning not just age, but skill, or mindset) within an organization; teaching one another helps breed collegiality. As Jonah mentioned, we need to focus on outcomes. 101 needs to address the why of social media, the mindset it reflects and demands. The folks going to a 101 session don’t just need to be taught how to set up an account (at least not in the context of a special session offered at a conference, for example), they need to feel the value of social technologies. That, I think, is why they’re really there. It’s time for Social Media 101 to start addressing the why, not just the what and how, and to make it personal.

    Let’s talk about how to reflect the voice, vision, and values of our organizations online as well as (or better than) we do on-land. Let’s deal with the sticky issues of time allocation and brand management, or the feeling of “losing control” so many organizations sense as they dive into social media. Let’s design experiential sessions that help folks understand the forest, not just meet the trees (which, extending the metaphor, will probably be cut down and replaced by other saplings soon anyway).

    Social technologies are evolving too fast to make many 101 sessions worthwhile; let’s leave that to the ripe cognitive surplus on YouTube to deal with. We would be better off spending this face-time learning from and with one another about the values, principles, challenges, and opportunities of the connected age, how all those things are reflected online, and the implications for your organization and your work. A quote I recently saw posted in Deborah Grayson Riegel’s Facebook profile sums it up well:

    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~Antoine de Saint Exupery