Le Web Conference in Paris: Building Social and Marketing Skills [Review]


If you’re looking to up your digital marketing skills, and get the latest stats on adoption rates and growth numbers from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, listen to my Best of Le Web podcast with Andrea Vascellari.  

This is my review of the Le Web conference.  It’s just one man’s opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. I was invited to attend as an official conference blogger, and here’s what I have to say about flying to Paris in the dead of winter to hear one more tech conference before the end of the year.

The French have always been a cut above the rest regarding fashion, aesthetics, and food.   They take their time and sip their coffee slowly from a delightful little cafe while we take it in a paper cup.  To them, the visual design of a building is as essential as its square footage.  In the US, form follows finance.  They’re passionate about preserving their cultural heritage.  For us, culture is largely about movies and consumption.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no commie, and ketchup is a vegetable.  But the French have us beat, hands down, regarding arts and culture.  And that makes for a tech conference like no other.  From the fast-paced 20-minute sessions and the well-heeled presenters to the elegant stage design and never-ending trays of scrumptious patisseries, Le Web 2010 was the most fun I’ve ever had at a tech conference.  This photo by Teymur Madjderey gives a pretty good feel of what the vibe was like.  They drew a really great crowd.

The French understand and value the concept of public spaces.  Paris has gardens, squares, museums, and cafes designed more for intimacy than headcount and throughput.  At any venue, if the objective is to ensure people have a good time, ambiance is just as important as floor space.  This seems to evade our national consciousness, where public spaces are, for the most part, shopping malls. Le Web’s organizers also brought that sensitivity to the conference, making it more comfortable and easier to meet people.

Roughly 2,500 people from across Europe, the US, and Asia attended. Still, the room layout with the central coffee bar made it easier to connect with other attendees than at big Las Vegas trade shows because you had a reason to rub elbows with the others without being a shill. It’s easier to meet someone while they’re getting a cup of coffee than while manning a trade show booth.

At most US shows I attend, SXSW withstanding, there is nowhere outside of the exhibits and the session rooms to meet people. Introducing yourself to someone in a trade show booth or at a session is a more direct business, whereas meeting someone at a coffee bar brings a degree of humanity we miss out on in The States.  Le Web is more petite and an excellent opportunity to connect with high-profile Americans who may be too overwhelmed at events like CES or SXSW to spend quality time with.

The presenters were also first-rate.  Well-known online media executives such as Google’s Marissa Mayer, Twitter product development VP Jason Goldman, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley and Facebook‘s head of business development Christian Hernandez all shared adoption and growth rates, and some even broke news.  And to mix it up, the organizers added some lesser-known but no less worthwhile innovators like Solar Impulse CEO Bertrand Piccard, who built a solar-powered plane that flies without a drop of oil, Ariel Garten, CEO, Interaxon, who is working on developing a headband that will allow you to control your computer with your brain waves and 18-year old entrepreneur Richard Sousa who shared his inspirational message of how to connect with, motivate and mobilize teens.

But perhaps most important for me — an American in Paris — was the chance to develop a broader, more global perspective.  It wasn’t my first time overseas or anything. Still, in the internet age, cross-cultural communication skills are more critical than ever, and traveling abroad frequently is a great way to maintain that awareness.

In the digital age, where organizations reach global audiences, the prospect of tapping world markets requires a practical understanding of the differences between Facebook and Twitter and the nuances between how different cultures view and use these channels.  Sixty-one percent of the world now has access to the internet, versus 54% for TV, 36% for radio, 32% for newspapers and 14% for magazines.  And a whopping 86% of the world’s population is social networking, TNS reported in their Oct. 10, 2010 Digital Life Survey.

Le Web is a chance to get out of the bubble and see firsthand just how far ahead of the US the world is concerning technology.  The internet is fast and reliable throughout Paris, and I learned about killer apps like Waze and Viber, both developed off US shores.  In Paris, the Metro has strong cell phone and wireless internet signals. In NYC, the subway is a wireless dead zone. Roads are critical to sustaining commerce, and the wireless internet is the highway of the future.  I hope you patriots out there won’t miss the point I’m trying to make, but we will fall woefully behind unless we’re careful.  I’m just saying that we got work to do.

Coca-Cola, an American original, now does 80% of its business outside of the US.  And how are they marketing? They’ve got a team of goodwill ambassadors traveling the globe, Facebooking and Tweeting smiles.  Are you ready to tap into global markets via the web?  If yes, Le Web offers a practical, efficient, and fun opportunity to broaden one’s scope on how social media is evolving outside the US.  Success in a digital future means understanding and adapting to how different cultures use technology, and Le Web is a great place to get the European perspective. If that is important to you, this conference is for you.

PHOTO: Teymur Madjderey

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