The Shorty Awards And The Social Iceberg

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Originally pubilshed in MediaPost's Social Media Insider

You're invited to an awards show, or perhaps you pay a considerable enough sum to attend. Where would you rather be, in the room with the celebrity entertainers and everyone accepting the awards, or in the basement? Or would you rather follow along at home?

A funny thing happened at the Shorty Awards, the annual event "honoring the best producers of short, real-time content." The main event often proved to be a sideshow. It perfectly demonstrated an effect I'll call the social iceberg.

The award show, held at The TimesCenter in Times Square, took place in the upstairs theater. That's where you could see comedian Aasif Mandvi and various other celebrity presenters accept their awards, or broadcast recorded speeches. This was the hot ticket. It was the proverbial iceberg tip: highly visible, but with the participation confined to the relatively few people who appeared on stage. One would likely consider this group the most influential and the most coveted, but there are limited opportunities to reach them, and many there would consider themselves unreachable.

Downstairs, the overflow room was a much different scene. Instead of comfortable seats, there were a few stools. Instead of seeing Mandvi live, you could see him on screens and occasionally hear him over the din of conversation. There were several advantages here, though: downstairs had an open bar, and it had hundreds of people talking to each other. It started off with a handful of people who showed up too late or paid too little to get into the big kids' room, and then ended up with hundreds who were happier to be there. Even with my green VIP pin that allowed me access to anywhere short of presenter Jerry Stiller's dressing room, I chose to spend my night in the dungeon.

While literally down below the main event and out of sight, this layer just below the surface included countless social media luminaries, journalists, public relations execs to the stars, and some lushes who knew where the Dominican rum was flowing. No, there weren't the celebrities, or the people who garnered enough Twitter love to earn a slot as a finalist in the awards. Yet the room was largely self-selecting: a bunch of people who would rather create a meta-event alongside the orchestrated experience, full of unexpected connections and conversations with people passionate enough about their craft to partake in creating this parallel world. For marketers that make such a big stink about conversational media, this was the venue where it was possible to have a conversation. While drinks were sponsored (thanks, brands — you know who you are), this was largely a missed opportunity, as there weren't those conversations between brands and participants.

Then there were the people watching along at home. It helped that there was a live video stream of the event, so people who wanted to follow along could do so far better than those in the overflow room. While there was no live conversation along the lines of what happened downstairs at the event, there was much more breadth and variety in the audience, including countless people who couldn't or wouldn't travel for the occasion. This broader universe allows the best opportunity for a brand to take over the conversation. It's akin to what Nike did during the World Cup with its "Write the Future" spot. It couldn't get on the field (tip of the iceberg) or in the stands (just below the surface) but it could and did become top of mind for anyone with any remote interest in the event.

It's not always as literal a scenario as you find at the Shorties: the few people upstairs on stage and watching it live, the disorganized but social crowd below, and the remote but wider audience that tuned in. It is a fairly common form of triage, though. As a marketer, you have the opportunity to plan in advance which part of the iceberg you want to focus on, and find a way to reach those participants accordingly.