Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Twitter stars break new ground, take center stage at Shorty Awards

How much can you say with 140 characters?

More than you might think, after watching the first Shorty Awards. The Shorties were established to honor the smartest, funniest – or maybe just the most popular – people on Twitter.

Twitter is the current big thing in social media. Users can post short messages from computers or cell phones and broadcast to their friends in real time.

“Friends” might mean 50 local buddies, 8,000 people who enjoy your home-grown comedy skits, or the 144,000 people who follow Barack Obama.

The awards honored winners in 26 content categories, covering politics, news, science, travel, video games and the just plain weird.

The ceremony was Wednesday night at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Shorty Awards brought Twitter users to the edge of mainstream acceptance but didn’t quite push them over. Big media spent their time fawning over MC Hammer, who did his best to energize the crowd. CNN’s Rick Sanchez did an admirable job as host, providing an island of professionalism and class, even when he was interrupting people with sponsorship plugs.

It was supposed to be a kind of coronation for Twitter, a coming-of-age ceremony for a new medium. But awards shows are tricky business, and this was obviously their first time. There were no major blunders, but the video feed was shaky, the audio was muddled, and Thursday morning news reports all focused on the audience.

The atmosphere was more like a nightclub than an awards show, and the Twitter faithful wouldn’t stop chattering. The attendees were so busy greeting each other and meeting cyberspace friends for the first time, they didn’t seem to care much about the awards.

Carri BugbeeThe only moment of silence came when the real person behind @peggyolson took the stage. Peggy Olson is a character on AMC’s “Mad Men.” Carri Bugbee joined a troupe of fans on Twitter and took on Peggy’s persona, interacting with fans in real time while pretending to be a young girl working at an ad agency in 1962.

The secret of Peggy’s identity was the big mystery of the evening. After the show, a reporter for Business Week said more people had come to see “Peggy” than to see MC Hammer.

Carri broke character for the first time Wednesday night, revealing her identity as AMC’s Drew Pisarra presented the Shorty Award for Advertising.

I conducted a live interview with Carri via Twitter after the show. I can’t say this was the first live interview ever done on Twitter, but it’s the first one anyone can remember.

Now that it’s done, I can see that Twitter wasn’t really intended for lengthy one-on-one exchanges like this, but I like the immediacy of it and the excitement that swirls around a live event.

Before the ceremony, there was some question about whether or not a fictional character deserved to win in a category dominated by real advertisers. But Carri Bugbee isn’t just a fan. In real life, she’s the founder of Big Deal PR, a company that specializes in the use of social media to promote companies and products.

Carri’s @peggyolson experiment wasn’t just a fan exercise; it was a test, a research project and a real-world example for prospective clients. “My intention was to treat it like a job and gather data,” Carri said. “(It) was all about the case study or white paper in the first two months.”

Carri and her “Mad Men” cohorts took their roles seriously, doing hours of research to make sure everything they said was historically accurate and true to the characters. At one point, Carri even caught the show’s producers in a mistake, when they had Paul Kinsey returning from the Mississippi riots a month early.

On the show, Peggy Olson is decent, hardworking, and just a bit naive – a deliberate contrast to the worldly scoundrels who chew the scenery at Sterling Cooper. In this respect, Carri and Peggy have a lot in common.

“I worked at a well-known ad shop when I was young,” Carri said. “Wanted to be a copywriter. But it was all about the boy’s club.” Bugbee “quickly saw there was no future for females.”

These days, Bugbee runs her own company, and the clients come to her. As an experienced marketer, Bugbee saw her Shorty Award as an opportunity and jumped to take advantage of it. Carri and her “Mad Men” cohorts have formed a company called Supporting Characters, exploring the frontiers of social media marketing.

“We’re living in Internet time now,” Carrie said. “Moving at breakneck speed: Meet. Launch a consortium. Put up a Web site. Get a client!”

The Shorty Awards were supposed to be a kind of graduation for social media. In practice, it was more like a Bar Mitzvah. Twitter is a plucky teenager right now, with a million followers watching it grow up.

Written by Michael B. Duff

February 13, 2009 at 12:00

Posted in Twitter

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