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01/30/2012 #BTVSMB Social Hack


This Friday, February 3rd, the Burlington Social Media Breakfast series takes a new twist. We’re still bringing in great, smart, national speakers, like R/GA’s social and mobile executive creative director Richard Ting, and Design for America founder Liz Gerber.  As with our past events, we want to inspire area marketers and digital folk. 

We also want to do something beside listening, learning and networking. While that’s good, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. So on Friday, we’re combining the inspiration part with a Social Hack. We’re going to focus our collective brainpower on a key issue in Vermont and see if we can come up with a mobile or social technology solution to help.

You can’t do that without some smart, creative people around the table.  Luckily that’s what we have. Between 60 and 70 of us, with designers, developers and marketers from some of the most innovative companies in Vermont, will spend the day trying to hack a social issue. We have marketers and developers from My Web Grocer, Select Design, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Burton. We’re doing this event together with Champlain College’s emergent media center so we’ll have MFA and gaming students working with us as well.

Friday’s event is one of the smaller ones we’ve had, from a participant standpoint. But it should be the largest one from an idea standpoint. At the end of the day we’ll choose the best idea. Champlain College will look to fund and produce the idea so that we can give it to the people of Vermont to use.

My hope, though, is that there are a number of other ideas where people say, “screw it, this one was really the best, so I’m going to go create it on my own!”

Actually, that’s really the point of this #BTVSMB. We, like a lot of other organizations, want to make Vermont a better place for entrepreneurs and technical/creative people. We don’t have a lot of embedded industries here to drive that part of the economy. We also don’t have a natural feeder city for economic development, the way, say Boston supports southern New Hampshire, or the way Denver fed Boulder. The Montreal connection isn’t really working for us.

So we’re going to have to innovate and build our way out of this ourselves. I think the most exciting part of the event is the connections between all of these smart people; most have never met each other before. Typical Vermont! Hopefully we can sustain and support this day of creation and random connections with more events like this.

Actually, this event connects back to the first #BTVSMB. Back in June of 2009, Todd Defren and C.C. Chapman spoke to a packed house at Champlain College. Afterwards, we regrouped and worked at helping the non-profit Grounds for Health develop social media ideas. I think it’s important for those of us in the social marketing business to spend time using our ideas for people who need it, rather than those who just need us to help them sell things.

The idea for doing the hack came from a number of personal inspirations. Back in the summer I was one of the judges for My Web Grocer’s Vermont Hackathon. It was a very cool, odd collection of people and ideas. It was very different from what I’m used to seeing here in Vermont. I loved it.

The Cusp Conference in Chicago also inspired me around risk, design and social issues. It simply was the best conference I’ve ever been to. I left with the desire to have that same type of energy and passion at a Vermont event. I also met Liz Gerber there who turned out to have gone to the same high school and college as I did.

I also spent time talking to Edward Boches about the event. My goal was to get Edward to come up here but this time, #brandbowl got in the way. In any event, my brief, intermittent discussions with Edward helped me formulate the event both conceptually and practically. With a little luck, we’ll get him up here next time.

I’m glad to partner with Champlain College again. I think their Emergent Media and Gaming programs are some of the best-kept secrets in the industry. I believe that very soon, they’ll be on the level of Boulder Digital Works and Hyper Island. 

If you get a chance to come to this Friday’s #BTVSMB social hack, great. If not, keep your eyes open for more of these types of event throughout 2012, although various organizations will probably take turns hosting them.

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