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Can the next wave of activism be driven by social media? A panel of experts addressed that question at the 2011 Kellogg Tech Conference on April 9.

Can the next wave of activism be driven by social media? A panel of experts addressed that question at the 2011 Kellogg Tech Conference on April 9.

Connecting through innovation

The 2011 Kellogg Tech Conference highlights the transformative power of technology and social media

By Sara Langen

4/18/2011 - Whether it’s drumming up support for anti-government protests in Egypt or raising money for tsunami relief in Japan, the incredible potential for social media to affect change is becoming increasingly apparent.

“We’re just seeing the first chapter of it now — there’s no telling what can happen,” said Mark Pfeifle, former White House national security adviser and communicator, at the 2011 Kellogg Tech Conference on April 9.

More than 500 students, alumni, faculty and business professionals attended the conference, twice as many as last year. Demonstrating the power of social media in real time, participants were able to take part in the interactive events via online discussions on forums that included Facebook and LinkedIn, and by submitting speaker questions on Twitter. Those various interactions made the conference one of the top 10 trending Twitter topics in Chicago on that day.

Pfeifle, also the vice president of S4 Inc., addressed the growing influence of social media during the panel discussion, “Social Media Meets Social Change: The Retweet Revolution?”

While there is a danger in thinking that clicking “like” on Facebook qualifies as “doing something,” the possibilities for social media to rally people around causes is staggering, said panelist Katrina McGhee, EVP and CMO with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She cites the Race for the Cure event in Egypt, where it was taboo to talk about breast cancer. But after a grassroots online effort by local women to get the word out, the event was a huge success.

“That’s the positive power of social media to create a community where people can come out together for a cause,” she said. “That kind of power behind social causes can literally transform the world.”

This ability to connect people breaks down the barriers limiting them, said keynote speaker Deep Nishar, LinkedIn senior vice president of products and user experience.

“We don’t live on an island,” he said. “Every day, we are part of a network. We are collaborating; we are communicating with people. What you give back is an important part of the function.”

LinkedIn is a great example of the conference’s theme, “Connecting Through Innovation,” said Matte Scheinker, AOL vice president of consumer experience, in his afternoon keynote address. Scheinker addressed the overuse of the term “innovation” in business jargon to the point where it no longer has a defined meaning, labeling it the “innovation meme.” Instead of chasing some abstract concept of innovation, companies should focus on identifying a problem that exists and solve it, he said, noting LinkedIn’s success in this area.

“Look at problems that are related [to your business],” Scheinker said. “LinkedIn…was an online resume service that kept building out a great product. Adjacencies are key to building out a great product.”

Other conference events included opening remarks by Mohanbir Sawhney, McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology and director of the Center for Research in Technology & Innovation; a keynote speech by Adam Brown, executive director of social media at Dell; the Hackathon 24-hour coding competition and panels discussing the future of mobile technology and how to fund vision.

For participants’ take on conference highlights, check out the event hashtag on Twitter: #KelloggTechConf.