While connecting his laptop to the projector in Bishop Auditorium yesterday, popular blogger Robert Scoble checked his Gmail account, then hopped between Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz ahead of an Entrepreneurship Week talk on social technology.
But before Scoble could so much as update his Facebook status, someone in the audience sent a Tweet to @scobleizer, pointing out that he, along with 300 other business school students, had just seen the contents of the blogger’s Gmail inbox.
Later in Scoble’s presentation, another panelist, blogger Loic Le Meur, interrupted a tour of Google Buzz by buzzing a “Hey Scoble” to the presenter.
And the final panelist, rap star MC Hammer, retweeted comments from the audience to his 1.8 million Twitter followers throughout Monday’s hour-long lecture on social technology.
All the while, the attendees who had flocked to the Graduate School of Business (GSB) Facebooked, Tweeted, Buzzed and Twitpic-ed away, proving that business school students and entrepreneurial hopefuls in the room didn’t need Scoble, Le Meur or Hammer to tell them that social media was the newest disruptive technology.
They could see social media-fueled digital ripples forming around the event itself.
For the length of the talk, the participants — whose qualifications were mainly determined by their number of Twitter followers (MC Hammer led the pack with over 1.8 million) — struggled to frame social media issues with the kind of rigor normally seen at the GSB.
Business School Dean Garth Saloner Ph.D. ’82 was the first to try to bring an academic perspective to the topic when he introduced the panel. But Saloner pointed out that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to figure out what comes next in social technology.
The progression of video games from the text-based Colossal Cave of the 1970s to today’s Guitar Hero, he said, illustrates that any predictions should be treated with a grain of salt.
“When it comes to social media,” he said, “We are still in the infancy.”
Because social media is still largely undeveloped, Saloner cautioned people against putting all their eggs in one basket.
“It cannot be everything,” he said. “It is part of a set of tools.”
But later in the discussion, Hammer disagreed with Saloner’s idea that social technology shouldn’t displace current methods.
“A lot of things are going to be replaced because of real time access,” Hammer said, mentioning print newspapers as one method of content delivery that he thought would not survive.
Scoble also commented on the rapidity of the social media world. When you are following thousands of people on Google Buzz, as Scoble does, updates literally whiz by.
“It just keeps moving, all day, all night,” Scoble said. “You can get on at 2 a.m. and see Loic [Le Meur] Twittering with his friends.”
Le Meur, who, in true blogger fashion, used a blog post rather than PowerPoint slides to organize his presentation, said that for his startups, he employs teams of social media evangelists in opposite time zones to make sure that his company’s social media footprint is tended to around the clock.
The talk later turned to how companies big and small can use social media to their advantage.
Scoble said that big companies can use social media to appear more personable. He cited Zappos as an example: CEO Tony Hsieh, according to Scoble, makes every employee use Twitter so they all internalize that they are brand ambassadors.
Even large corporations are getting in on the act.
“If I have problem with my Comcast line, I go to @comcastcares,” Scoble said. “That made me feel better about this brand that was a faceless mega-corporation.”
But this being Entrepreneur Week at Stanford, much of the talk’s emphasis was on how entrepreneurs can take advantage of social technology.
“These tools have lowered the barriers to entry. Now the barriers to entry are here,” Hammer said, pointing to his head.
The music business, according to Hammer, has always been a social enterprise.
“We go from grassroots to mainstream,” he said. But now, Hammer said, the difference is that there does not have to be a jury of record executives standing between grassroots and mainstream.
“This is the greatest opportunity ever to be an entrepreneur,” Hammer added.