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Q&A: The 140 Characters Conference in Detroit

A little something called the #140conf: Detroit will be taking place on Oct. 20 at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit. Believe it – there is a whole get-together planned to talk about Twitter.

Okay, I'm being sarcastic. It's about far more than Twitter. It's more about the impact that this new form of media is having on our every day lives. And there are some amazing speakers lined up, including many folks we've met here on Assignment: Detroit.

I'm pleased the event will take place in our fair city, so it is with pleasure that I bring you a Q&A with 140 Characters Conference Founder Jeff Pulver and Christopher Barger, director of social media for General Motors Corp., a member of the 140conf Detroit planning committee (full disclosure: Buick is a presenting event sponsor.).

What can you say about Detroit or this conference in 140 letters? Let's find out.

Background: According to organizers, the #140conf events “provide a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.” The schedule is on hyper drive: 10 minute talks, panel discussions no more than 20 minutes and lots of tweets.

Q:  What in the world is a 140 Characters Conference?

Pulver: The 140conf events provide a platform for the worldwide Twitter community to listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time Internet on business, on people and on our lives.

Barger: Each 140conf conference – they've been held in LA, New York, Tel Aviv, Barcelona and now Detroit – is an opportunity for everyone -- from large brands to small businesses and entrepreneurs to non-profits – to explore the changes now taking place due to the emergence of the real-time/social Web. The real-time Web impacts how we do business and who we choose to do business with; how the media does its job and who in fact is now considered media and how organizations can connect with people of similar mind or interest as well as how they can raise money. It changes how we interact with and relate to one another. These changes are important to understand if we hope to harness them for good (be that business good or societal good).

Q: Why in Detroit?

Pulver: It is the right place to be -- the right place to hold an event that will put a spotlight on the people who are doing things in Detroit to make a difference in the rebirth and the reboot of the city. For the first time in my life, I was invited to bring one of my conferences to the city by the people who live there, and once I thought about it and came to Detroit and met with the people who invited me, it just felt right.

Barger: Detroit is perfect for an event like 140conf. Just as we're only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the real-time Web will change businesses, communities and the media, Detroit too is only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the energetic change and rebirth we're starting to see. This theme of discovering and embracing change and community is part of what's happening in Detroit, too. And the communities driving these changes -- both online and in real-world Detroit -- happen in many cases to be the same people, the same communities. We want to spotlight -- for people here on the ground who've come to Detroit for the first time and people watching online -- that Detroit is more than they may have seen or heard -- that there is an amazing community here doing amazing things. We want people to come away from this event with a different view of both Detroit and Detroiters.

Q: Are Midwestern folks up for such a conference? Do we Twitter here?

Pulver: Yes they are. In August I traveled across the 12 states of the Midwest to promote this conference (check it out here), and I'm proud of the fact that there will be "ambassadors" attending from just about each of the cities that I visited on the road trip. And yes, people in the Midwest are using the real-time social Web every day. There are a lot of people tweeting from the Midwest! In fact, I am writing to you today from Kansas City after visiting Omaha, Wichita and Kansas City this week to continue to build on the awareness of 140conf Detroit.

Barger: First, let's acknowledge that 140conf is about more than Twitter. Twitter is a big part of the real-time Web, but it is certainly not its only aspect. So yes, Detroit tweets... but there's so much more to what happens here. Detroit has one of the most energetic and active social media communities in the country. I think this is partly because Midwesterners are by nature community-oriented, and it's not too big of a leap to move our real world personas online. I think it's also because we know here in Detroit that we need change in our business environment and our economy, and the technologies of the real-time Web present us with a remarkable opportunity to help us reinvent ourselves -- both by using them and by (in some cases) developing them. Technology, the real-time Web and its practitioners will play a huge role in this city's rebirth. Other Midwestern cities with robust digital communities include Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Minneapolis.

Q: What could Detroit be doing to spark more conferences/social media growth here?

Pulver: Reach out to the people who are behind the conferences you would like to see and invite them to visit with you in Detroit. You may be surprised who says yes and who will give Detroit a try, especially if the city supports the event and can help drive local and regional support for the event. As long as people have access to the broadband Internet, social media usage will continue to grow.

Barger: From a local's standpoint, I think we'd do even better from a conference standpoint if we saw more enthusiastic participation from big organizations and brands. So much of the energy in Detroit right now is coming from the ground up, from individuals and entrepreneurs who get behind conferences like this one and do their individual best to make them work. These individuals have made some incredible things happen, and it's a community our whole area should be proud of. But don't underestimate the importance of a big company or organizational sponsorship -- not just because the money helps offset the costs of the event, but because big brand involvement lends a credibility to the subject matter. If you're not familiar with Twitter, or don't use Facebook as a business tool, for example, but you see Buick's name up there as a sponsor, or Gardner White, or other big name local businesses, maybe you think "Well, there must be something to it if *they* got involved. Maybe I should, too."  So the more bigger companies from all of our industries (not just automotive) that get involved, the better our conference scene will be.

Q: In 140 characters, what would you tweet about Detroit for the world to see?

Pulver: Discover Detroit. Join us on Oct. 20th and connect with some pretty amazing people who are making a difference.

Barger: The city that built the 20th century is inventing the 21st century, too. Come to Detroit to see and be part of making it happen.

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