MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Jonathan Taplin at the SMASH | April 26, 2011

On April 7th, 2011, the MHB program hosted a social media summit at the USC Davidson Center in downtown Los Angeles. The first-ever SMASH, or Social Media Advanced Skills Huddle, amassed industry professionals, graduate students and professors for short lectures and brainstorming huddles. In the continuing MHB Weekly coverage of the event’s distinguished speakers and key ideas, today looks at social media innovator Jonathan Taplin.

Mr. Taplin is the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, a collaborative think tank with some 240 USC students and 40 interdisciplinary professors who work to design academic challenges, research digital media and share results in a continuing series of lectures and dialogues. His personal history suggests that his finger has always rested on the pulse of mediated America: he started in the early 1970s, when he produced Martin Scorsese films like Mean Streets and The Last Waltz, and continued through the ’80s with consulting roles that affected major corporations like Disney and Viacom. Today, backed by companies including IBM, Apple and Verizon, Mr. Taplin has emerged within the seven months of his lab’s existence as a thought leader at the cutting edge of social web technology.

He began his presentation by labeling the current internet age as a “cooperative revolution,” which differs from the creative revolution of the ’50s and ’60s in which specific artists — Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Andy Warhol among them — sparked a cultural metamorphosis through taking chances. The cooperative revolution is a more plebeian phenomenon. It allows the masses, through social networks and web communications, to mobilize themselves and empower their message with incredible speed. Within the last ten years, argued Mr. Taplin, the world has witnessed significant social changes: everything is more beautiful, like Apple’s line of products; everything is customized, like coffee at Starbucks; everything is shared, and everything is more authentic. By realizing these new rules of consumer order and studying their effects, he explained, America “can lead in a networked world.”

Mr. Taplin continued by showing some of the work accomplished in the first half-year at the Annenberg Innovation Lab. He presented semantic web maps, in which written data mined from Twitter are reorganized so that the frequency of a word’s use is denoted by its size; these visualizations can make meaning of the social reaction to major world events, like the recent upheaval in Egypt, by revealing the symbolic collective thoughts of a community. He spoke of interactive television, the final frontier of the social web, on which the Lab is working with Verizon. (Imagine watching a sports event while connected to friends across the world, and typing real-time reactions and commentary as the drama of the game unfolds.) He also suggested a new model of corporate structuring, which values modern knowledge over the rigid hierarchy of decades past.

As a final thought, Mr. Taplin enumerated four critical strategies for success in the networked world. Companies shouldn’t fear creative destruction, he said, and provided the example of Apple cannibalizing its own Apple II sales with the introduction of the Lisa in the 1980s. Using a quote from Merck CEO Richard Clark — “Culture eats strategy for lunch every day” — Mr. Taplin revealed the need for innovative teams and people, not merely an innovative gameplan. He then warned against corporate value chains and against getting stuck in a silo with knowledge. Lastly, Mr. Taplin shared his one great anxiety about the social web: that today’s leading corporations operate under the assumption that teens and young adults have no desire for privacy. Indeed, his words and penetrating insights showed how studies of social networks and studies of culture at large are one in the same.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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