June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media (the company that has been bringing us the TED Conferences since 1984), wants you to have the conversations you want to have. Who better to have them with than the folks who already participate in TED, going on now in Long Beach, California? Originally focused on the intersection of technology, design and entertainment, TED now looks at a broader list of cultural and business topics, and with the addition of TED Talks, is able to bring the word of TED to hundreds of thousands of fans through a video library that has become a global teaching tool for many organizations.
Big TED is going on right now, but TED Conversations, which launched two weeks ago, has the mission of broadening TED to a wider audience who can access great thinking at any time. Employing a Quora-like platform of questions with stringed answers, TED Conversations is able to bring in leading TED presenters and notables, as well as link to video from prior TEDs.
A cool twist on this q-and-a approach is to, paradoxically, constrain conversation. Tapping into the brain of no less than Clay Shirky, TED has added a clever caveat: responses must take place within a given time period, creating, as Cohen says, "a state of urgency... not unlike what EBay discovered." You know you're successful in conversation creation, as Cohen notes, if "when you're finished you leave them wanting more."
Sponsoring, rather than "owning," is a new way to look at social media marketing, and although the distinction may seem simplistic, it's worth paying close attention to. This is not about taking a market segment and identifying its interests, and then wrapping those interests into "creative" that gets pushed in repetitive 30-second spots on the Super Bowl. And it's not about launching a big, expensive site that may turn into a ghost town. This is about identifying, as Cohen puts it, "what kinds of conversations do people want to have," or are having already, and then finding a way to be part of that conversation in a branded and transparent, but unobtrusive, way. It's the difference between going to a cocktail party where you approach guests and find a clever way to insert a question or two, and lumbering over to interrupt people mid-sentence.
The announcement follows a growing trend of companies fostering conversations on independent platforms, where they can engage people already there. Phillips and Chevron, for example, are sponsoring LinkedIn groups about healthcare and energy policy, respectively, and GE, the first sponsor of TEDConversations, also created last year a promoted Twitter account at @ecoimagination. More companies are sponsoring individual blog posts, or in the case of Social Media Today LLC, our parent company, moderated blog aggregation sites.
This is a good thing, since it allows a giant company to use the best practices established by the platforms themselves to create ongoing, socialized opinion, and to stay ahead of the technologies that support the user experience. Further, one has to assume that it's easier for a company to go outside its dot-com than to initiate conversation through its marketing department. "GE has been increasingly engaged in open platforms that drive conversations around big issues such as clean energy and affordable health. TED Conversations represents a place for authentic dialogue that engages multiple voices around innovation and the future," said Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of GE. "As a company committed to innovation and technology, our mission aligns closely with TED's. Together, we're creating the kind of technologies that help further spread great ideas."
We as members of a global society benefit when big companies are willing to sponsor, and not control, independent thought. So thanks, TED and GE, for bringing great conversation to life.