Working Smarter

Make Music Out of Social Media Noise

From South by Southwest to New York Fashion Week, Storify offers an online platform for combining photos, voices, insights, and impressions into one unified narrative.

With new apps and digital-media tools cropping up practically every day, anyone in the world can be a reporter. And since the launch of Storify in 2010, anyone can be a storyteller.

“This problem of noise and [digital] overload is only going to increase,” said Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify, an online platform that allows users to aggregate social-media content in order to shape an interactive narrative. “More and more we need people to make sense of it all.”

Nowhere is the noise greater — literally and digitally — than at an event like the nine-day South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, which is where we caught up with Herman for a phone interview. “It’s one of the largest events where Storify is needed,” Herman said. “So many people here are creating so much media. It’s the ground zero of social media.”

As we spoke, a DJ blasted music nearby, sirens rang through the streets from a passing ambulance, and crowds rumbled in the background. With tens of thousands of festivalgoers at SXSW, it can be difficult to “cut through the noise,” Herman said. Last year, Storify users created more than 1,000 stories about SXSW; the numbers continued to rise in 2013.

Storify has evolved to the point where event organizers and media organizations are creating custom hashtags to curate original content from their audience. During New York Fashion Week this year, held Feb. 7-14, The New York Times asked readers to post photos on Instagram — a photos-only social-media platform — accompanied by the hashtag #nycfashionweek. Then the Times pulled together the best shots for its Storify stream. “That’s not really a way I’d expected people to use it,” Herman said, “as more of a way to drive a conversation, as opposed to passively monitoring what’s out there.”

Storify can also be used before and after meetings and conferences to promote them and spark attendee interaction. In the weeks leading up to SXSW 2013, The Wall Street Journal asked its readers where visitors should go while they were in Austin. People submitted restaurant and attraction recommendations via social media, and the publication pooled their responses on Storify — meaning attendees got opinions first-hand from actual people, not solicitations from businesses.

Some CVBs have already realized the platform’s potential to tell their story, including the Charleston Area (S.C.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, which last October aggregated material from a tweet-up hosted by Travel + Leisure magazine. Speaking from — and about — SXSW 2013, Herman said: “There are so many people in the audience, or people who aren’t even here, that want to make a story about what happened.” .

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.