Take-homes from btween09 digital media forum, Liverpool

Just spent a great two days in Liverpool with a very interesting mix of creative types (entrepreneurs, developers, thinkers, social media start-ups, agencies and broadcasters) as part of the btween09 digital media forum. Well done to Katz Kiely and her team at just-b.

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I was one of only a handful of people from the public cultural sector and probably one of the only people who doesn’t have the successful monetising of their offer at the heart of what drives their service. Not that I am saying that the task of justifying the spending of public money is not something that should be quantified and considered as ROI but that the mindset of being driven by a remit to promote learning and engagement for its own sake puts you in a different box to commercial companies.

For me there are a number of key take-homes and formation of early ideas.

1. I was struck by how clever commercial agencies are getting in their manipulation of social media. Ogilvy talked about Brands not just using social media, but being social. But the methods within this new marketing 2.0 seems sometimes counter intuitive in some ways to traditional marketing methods. For example, you don’t talk about yourself within networks, you talk about other people or you support networking and ideas shaping events such as this one in order to make sure you are on the right wave. I guess no one would be surprised to hear that I am deeply cynical about agencies in general and about this kind of clever intrusion into the heart of social networking but, as the revenue streams generated support the sector that I hold dear, I have to bite my tongue. Also, hats off to the people at Ogilvy who are seriously smart (love the brainZ internal problem solving solution, read a post from the people that built it here). I would love to see this kind of intelligence applied to arts, heritage and education!

2. Charles Leadbeater’s analysis of the switch between traditional media and what he calls ‘mutual media’ is excellent. It’s a very clear visual image of the shift between mutual media as the moon orbiting around the huge sun of traditional media (the model of the past), and the future trajectory that he predicts will see the positions switch. He talked around many of the ideas present in his books, such as the breakdown of people activities into three categories – Enjoy, Talk, Do. You can get his essay with a lot of other good stuff in the recently published “After the Crunch” book by CCSkills and British Council here).

3. The three speakers from my session (Will Gompertz, Peter Buckingham and me) were presenting and discussing the issues faced by different aspects of cultural sector as funded by three different government funded agencies – Film Council, MLA and Arts Council – three different organisations but all clearly arriving at the same place at the same point in time with regard to the potential of digital services to transform user engagement. All looking for the holy grail of what this should mean in terms of policy development. But the really cool bit was that Leadbeaters introduction couldn’t have provided a better platform or introduction to the issues we were discussing. It was not planned, it was just all true. True and very reassuring that our observations and thoughts about what is possible and the value of real collaboration put us on the right track, Very comforting when weighing up the price of all the blood, sweat and tears or trying to get people to see the links between all these things.

4. It was really inspiring to see FACT thriving as a venue and as an organisation. Looking really good with projects like FACT TV and Abandon Normal Devices. They were contemporaries to the organisation I used to run before Culture24 called Lighthouse, who roots came out of the independent film and video workshop initiatives in the 80’s and who have both blossomed through the careful and clear advocacy of the role of creative activities and industries in economic development and reform at a local level. The original key player in FACT, Eddie Burg, is now at the Southbank and soon to join the Culture24 board. Very nice and looking forward to working with him.

5. I have learned that five and a half hours on a bus that was sold to you as a techbus, but actually lacked much actual ‘tech’, not really enough beer and a huge traffic jam, can actually be really fun if you are travelling with a group of truly free minds (thanks to Alfie Dennen and Adam Gee for the stories). Charlie Leadbeater called the people who are pushing to find the meaning of the new digital spaces (socially and culturally) “pirates and renegades”. I say ‘yes’ to that.

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Check out the little blue buy who blows bubbles when you tweet!