'Social' life in Jerusalem

New initiatives are on line to bring the capital into the digital age.

web 2  88 (photo credit: )
web 2 88
(photo credit: )
In the 1980s, before cell phones and the Internet, Jerusalem residents living in dorms or hostels would contact one another by leaving notes on the corkboard at Richie's Pizza on King George Avenue - the place Anglos gathered to keep up with friends. Today, "social media" sites on the Internet are replacing the community bulletin board as the place to share information, according to marketing consultant Lisa Barkan, co-founder of Amuta 2.0, a new initiative that helps local nonprofits take advantage of new technologies. "Back then if you were looking for people, you wrote a note - 'I'm staying at such and such hostel. Come find me there' and put it on the wall at Richie's - this was social media for people in that generation," says Barkan. "For today's generation, [social networking site] Facebook is the wall of Richie's Pizza," she continues. "It's like your own private bulletin board. And you don't have to be in Jerusalem to read it." Social media, often called Web 2.0, refers to the new wave of sites, blogs, social networks and forums, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, that encourage users to create or submit content and publish it on the Web for all to see. The sites allow people to communicate directly with one another, build networks of on-line "friends" and form communities based on common goals and interests. In the process, individuals are becoming as influential as institutions in the new Internet landscape. Social media has been embraced most fervently by members of the younger generation, who grew up with computers as tools for communication, and by people with a special interest in new technologies. But some social media sites have become so popular that Time magazine declared "You" (the content creator) as its Person of the Year for 2006, and the biggest social media sites rank among the most visited Web sites on the Internet. Internet expert and Amuta 2.0 co-founder Miriam Schwab says the phenomenon is mainly relegated to those in the hi-tech sector, but businesses are slowly recognizing the power of social media as a tool for mass marketing. But nonprofit organizations, she says, are particularly well suited to benefit from social media. "Social media tools are effective at spreading a message and creating a community around an idea. But social media strategies can be harder to measure than conventional Internet marketing, which is measured in online page views and visits," she elaborates. "Businesses prefer easily measurable returns on investments (ROI); but for nonprofits, their ROI is often the spread of ideas, the increased awareness of their cause. Therefore, nonprofits stand to gain a lot from the social nature of the new Web." Amuta 2.0 held its inaugural conference in Jerusalem on August 31 and plans to hold a series of workshops in the months to come. Its Web site contains a wealth of resources on social media, including case studies from local marketers. Its biggest impact, however, may be as a catalyst for change in Jerusalem. Most social media conferences and meetings take place in Tel Aviv. Activities in Jerusalem, such as the monthly meeting of the Jerusalem Web Professionals, focus on people who are already in the field. By setting out to teach social media skills to people at all levels of involvement, however, Barkan and Schwab sparked a wave of activity in the capital city. The idea caught on quickly. Within two weeks, another group, Tachlis 2.0, held its own debut conference aimed at helping Jerusalem residents communicate more effectively via the Internet. Tachlis 2.0 founders David Abitbol, Akiva Fuld and Mike Darnell say they were inspired by the Amuta 2.0 event and the Nefesh B'Nefesh Jewish Bloggers Convention (held on August 20) and decided to add their own perspective to the developing conversation. "We felt there was more to say in this area and that the Jerusalem community was eager to hear it," says Fuld. But while Amuta 2.0 plans to hold events across the country, Tachlis 2.0 intends to focus on Jerusalem. Abitbol, who runs the popular blog Jewlicious, says the group hopes to help content creators in Jerusalem, including the many local bloggers, navigate the social media universe. "There are a lot of passionate people in Jerusalem and they need an outlet," says Abitbol. "Web 2.0 has given them that outlet. Today, anyone can start a blog relatively easily. But people want to use the tools as effectively as possible. That's what our first event was about - what should you do to get your message out as effectively as possible." According to Eliezer Israel, chief technology officer for the PresenTense Group, which co-sponsored and participated in both conferences, social media tools are effective because they channel the power of word-of-mouth marketing. "It is essentially the difference between seeing a poster for an event versus one of your friends calling you and telling you they think an event will be interesting," explains Israel. "That's the sort of process that is taking place on Facebook. You plan an event and invite your friends. When people respond [through the site] that they will come, a message appears on the newsfeed on all their friends' pages. That's virtually the same as having them call you and tell you they are planning to go," he says. "So what Facebook and other tools that use similar principles are doing is implementing word-of-mouth marketing on a large scale," Israel continues. "And word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective form of marketing because it uses trusted connections, those connections that actually cause people to do things." At the same time, however, an organization or business looking to harness that power must be prepared to give up a certain level of control over its message, Israel says, because individuals on the Internet cannot be silenced. "When it comes to PR and marketing, organizations are accustomed to crafting what they say carefully," he points out. "Social media don't work that way. You have to be much more authentic. Someone who comes across chanting a corporate slogan will sound inauthentic, annoying and utterly forgettable within the social media milieu." The most important thing, says Israel, is to create a quality product that people want to support. Those who do will find many benefits in social media. And for those who remember Richie's Pizza and want to find others who do as well, the "I remember Richie's Pizza in Jerusalem" group on Facebook has more than 100 members - and a forum to leave messages. The writer is social media editor at HonestReporting.