Today I've been at the On Line Information Conference in London. Not a conference I know much about, it's very big, with several hundred attendees and a fairly large exhibition. Started off as more for Information Professionals than IT specialists, but the two are merging and there's a lot of overlap now. I was there to speak, and to chair a session.
First however was a keynote by the founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark on Effective Social Media, Past, Present and Future. He was fascinating. Speaking without notes or slides, he admitted to being a nerd who took things much too literally who decided to channel his traits into something useful.
He told the story of how and why he founded Craigslist. It began in 1994 when he was a discount stock equity broker in San Francisco. He became interested in the Internet through The Well and began to notice that people were prepared to help each other out. So, in early 1995 decided to start a mailing list about arts and technology events in San Francisco. It was the beginning of .com bubble and lots of stuff was happening. It grew, mainly by word of mouth, and eventually it was launched as Craigslist. What started as a hobby eventually turned into a real company, but didn't follow the venture capitalists route, charging for services and making a lot of money. He monetized very little of the site, and charged advertisers, not customers. His business model is doing well by doing good. Currently it gets 60m unique visitors a month and 40bn page views a month.
Told my his friends and colleagues that as a manager he sucks, he appointed a CEO to run the company, and now he does customer service. As he said, he is committed to doing customer service only as long as he lives. After that it's over. He believes you have to be in touch on a daily basis to your constituency to learn things. People want a voice, and want to be listened to.
Connecting people to the Internet gives them a voice, a power that they've not had before.
He's also involved with a lot (over100) not for profit organisations and started Craigconnects to bring them together. Sometimes you get the problem of the sea of goodwill. Lots of organisations want to help but don't talk to each other. His long term aim is to help everyone on the planet to be connected on the net for the common good. You can get things done and make a difference if people are connected.
He talked a lot about the importance of social media, and its history. It's not new, It's just about people talking to each other, new technologies just mean you can influence a bigger audience. Even Martin Luther ran a social media campaign using a new technology invented by a nerd called Gutenberg.
His message was that we should use social media to support those things we believe in. We should persuade our Not For Profits to set up twitter accounts, Facebook, Google plus. Get links shared, retweeted etc. and propagate what's going on.
In response to a question from the floor he said that social media can be used by employees to feed back to the boss on what they think and want. Often bosses are out of touch with what employees are thinking. Well that's certainly not the case for the CiCS ones I follow on twitter :-)
It was a great keynote, fascinating guy - a real entrepreneur and philanthropist.