The Shorty Awards: Growing at the speed of social media

The Shorty AwardsTelevision has the Emmys. Theater has the Tonys. Film has the Oscars. Social media has The Shorty Awards. Now in its 6th year, The Shorty Awards honor the people and organizations producing real-time short form content on social media sites. In just six years, the Shorty Awards have grown from what was originally anticipated to be a small casual gathering among friends at a bar to a star-studded and highly anticipated event. Presenters and honorees have included Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, George Takei, Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman and Shaquille O’Neal, not to mention the millions of people who participate each year by tweeting their nominations.

Each year, The Shorty Awards offers a bevy of nominations divided into categories for “Everyone” and categories for “Brands and Agencies.” Categories that everyone can enter include: Entertainment, News and Media, Technology and Innovation, Arts and Design, Global Issues, Countries and new Community Categories that are created by tweeting a nomination and adding a hashtag for the new category. Categories specific to brands and agencies include: Industry, Twitter, Facebook, Social Network, Mobile, Integrated Media, Social Content, Overall Agency and Overall Brand.

As we continue our series on online and social media, we wanted to end this Awards Season with a bang, or maybe a tweet. This week, we hear from Greg Galant, co-creator of The Shorty Awards. Greg gives you a look inside the history of the awards, the latest  trends, how a site can continue to hold its ground in the ever-evolving world of social media and the fascination with selfies. We hope you enjoy his insight.

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Credit: twibies.com

Credit: twibies.com

How did the idea for the Shorty Awards originate? How did these awards get their start?
The idea came in late 2008. Twitter was still pretty small. It was within its first couple years of its existence, but we noticed there was something different about it than anything that had come before it like Facebook or Friendster or Myspace. People were actually creating good content that they wanted to share with people other than their friends. It was really hard to know who to follow if you were interested in news or sports or politics.

We built the Shorty Awards in two weekends. The idea was to create the first-ever site to crowd source who’s the best in what topic. It was the first site ever where you could vote with a tweet. When we first launched the site, we thought we might get a handful of people together in a bar to celebrate the winners and crank out certificates on our ink jet. Within 24 hours it went so viral it became the top trending term on Twitter. Nobody knew what a Shorty Award was, but they knew they wanted to win one. Also, over that time Twitter tripled in size. It was hard to conceive of Twitter being all that big at the time, but of course it grew like crazy.

Where did the name Shorty Awards come from?
We had an $8 branding budget which is what it costs to buy a domain name on GoDaddy.com. We wanted to think of an original name and the distinguishing thing about Twitter is that it is for short content. Not just Twitter, this had expanded out to all of social media and humanity in general. Depending on the translation the 10 commandments are all under 140 characters as are Twitter and most Facebook status updates, hence the Shorty Awards.

The Shorty Awards are in their 6th year and honor everyone from celebrities, journalists, athletes, politicians, brands, agencies and people from all walks of life. How does someone get nominated for a Shorty Award?
Every year hundreds of thousands of people are nominated. All it takes is for someone to tweet out “I nominate @(fill in name or company) for #(fill in category name/word/key term).” You can also submit nominations via our website. Nominations are for what you do on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. We have categories for animated GIFs and Vines and Instagram. We honor any form of social media.

The winners in each category are ultimately chosen by the members of the Real-Time Academy. Who makes up this academy and what criteria do they use to differentiate the best from the rest?
It’s a whole bunch of luminaries – anyone from Alyssa Milano to Kurt Anderson to Steve Wozniak, you can see them all at RTacademy.org. They look at a few things to choose the winners depending on each category. A lot of it comes down to how good of a job does the nominee does of listening to their audience, creating content to share on social media and how good of a job do they do at talking about a topic in interesting ways. They also look at who is innovating with all of these platforms. I remember the first time I used Twitter back in 2007, I thought it was awful because the people I followed weren’t tweeting anything interesting and weren’t being clever with it. It’s all about who has figured out a clever way to use Twitter or Vine or Instagram or Facebook to really delight their audience or inform them in a unique way.

Credit: AARONYX/FLICKR

Credit: AARONYX/FLICKR

Social media is helping communications of all kinds be more visual. We are moving from using 140 character tweets to using a photo on Instagram or a six second video on Vine. What are your thoughts about social media’s impact on communications becoming more visual?
It’s been kind of a roller coaster. I remember when I was growing up the big criticism of my generation was that nobody was reading or writing anymore, all we were doing is going home and watching TV, which was largely true. We now have had this revolution where the first generation of the web and social media has been all about reading and writing. Look at Twitter and Facebook, which have gotten more visual, but where it started was reading what your friends wrote and writing status messages. It was something inconceivable 20 years ago, but kids were going home and they were reading and writing to communicate with their friends. It’s been sort of a renaissance. Apps now do have audio and photos, but the thrust of it really is people writing text to each other. You’re now seeing it’s becoming a richer place for both reading and writing. It’s hard to understate the value, but there is a lot more visual media getting created too.

There are Shorty Award categories for Social Media’s Best Journalist and Best Newsworthy Photo. How do you think journalistic standards are evoking in the social media realm?
My company, Sawhorse Media, also created another product called Muck Rack giving journalists a place to connect using social media. With that, we’ve seen it grow from 150 journalists to more than 20,000 journalists. Just like with the Shorty Awards, it’s been wild to watch this revolution take place with journalists. What’s interesting is that journalists used to apologize for being on Twitter. Now, we are seeing journalists apologizing for not being on Twitter. The few who aren’t on Twitter know that they should be. It’s transformative because it’s the first time in history journalists can write something without having to go through an editor. With a newspaper they had to ask their editor, and even with blogs they wouldn’t be allowed to blog unless their editor or outlet approved it, which they usually wouldn’t. It’s a completely different mode now where journalists have a direct connection with their audience. They can write whatever they want, as long as they don’t go too far and get fired. I think it’s a good thing because they have a new way to get their name out there and spread their stories. It’s a really rich sea of potential sources and scoops.

What do you think social media does best when it comes to delivering the news? What are some examples of this?
I think one thing that’s really nice about it is that you get to see a bit of how the news sausage is made. You used to have to wait until the story came out. I used to work at CNN.com and I remember it was always tough because you would see a story come across the wire, then get on TV and then on the web like everything else. Now, you can see the news spread instantly. This really struck home for me when there was an earthquake in New York a couple years ago. I saw tweets about an earthquake in Washington D.C. and seconds later I felt the building shake. I would have thought the building was falling down, but having the context that there was just an earthquake in D.C. I put it together, but it took that level of being instantaneous. Faster than the speed of an earthquake.

It’s great for finding out breaking news, but even more interesting is that you can see how a story is evolving especially if you follow journalists. Such a big portion of tweets have links in them so you are also getting into commentary and getting to see what other people are thinking about a story. Are people debunking facts in it? Are they backing it up? Are they questioning sources? Instead of reading the newspaper alone it’s as though you are sitting around with 20 smart people instantly giving their take on what this article means.

Credit: Mashable

Credit: Mashable

Facebook just celebrated its 10th anniversary, quite a feat when it comes to the ever-evolving world of social media. How do social media sites and applications manage to stay relevant with new competition continuously emerging?
To always change. With Facebook,  it is a completely different product than when it launched and it’s a completely different product than what it was five years ago, and I imagine in five years it will be hard to recognize it from what it is today. What they have done really brilliantly is handle that initial reaction to change by humans and particularly internet users, you look at this negative backlash. I remember when Facebook launched the newsfeed, the largest Facebook group was “I hate the newsfeed.” Facebook has had the courage to try and change their product to be more relevant to what they think people want and what they will want in the future. Having the guts not to just do what the crowd wants in the short term, but also knowing when to listen when you actually have screwed up, which everybody does and change. Facebook has been able to get that mix right and I think that’s why they are still doing great 10 years later, despite being called a fad for 9 of these years.

“Selfie” was declared Word of the Year for 2013. What do you believe is the fascination with this particular use of social media?
We added the “Selfie of the Year ” category this year and I’m still trying to understand what it all means. For 20 years people thought that video conferencing was the way of the future. Even now we can video conference with Facetime or Skype, but not a lot of people do it because once you know what the person looks like it doesn’t really add that much to just hear someone talk. I think the selfie is like the still video conference. It goes back to what I was saying about writing. It’s a form of creation where instead of just consuming things with TV or newspapers, people can express themselves and create something to share.

What’s on the horizon for social media? Are there any new sites, applications or other trends that are on the verge of becoming the next big thing?
The trend of short-form video like we have seen on Vine and Instagram will continue to play out. I think this kind of flip on social media, making things more ephemeral and making things anonymous is going to be pretty powerful. Of course there is Snapchat, which has grown a lot and other apps like Secret where you can post anonymously to your graph of contacts. For users it’s not unlike Twitter or Facebook in that the user doesn’t use it to text each other one-on-one, but to share an idea or a photo or a video with everybody they know. What they are posting isn’t anything more inappropriate than the type of stuff people are posting to Facebook – selfies, photos of their meals, things like that. It’s a funny world that we live in that anything you put on the web is going to be on the web forever or at least until one of these sites go out of business, and with billions of dollars in the bank, they are not going out of business any time soon. We are now a whole generation of people who are posting stuff that is going to live online forever and potentially this is how our great great grandchildren will remember us, by some selfie we took or whatever meal we just ate and took a photo of. I think that this generation using Snapchat and apps like it might know what they are doing more than we do. They know that there is some stuff that they want to write for the public record that will stick around forever, but there is a lot of stuff that I don’t want to share like the average phone conversation with a friend, I’m not going to record it, it’s just going to happen.

Credit: The Shorty Awards

Credit: The Shorty Awards

The 6th Annual Shorty Awards will be held this year on April 7th in New York City and will be livestreamed on the web. What can viewers look forward to?
I can’t tell you that, you’ll just have to tune in. The main reason I can’t tell you is because I have no idea. We don’t know who the winners are yet, they’re announced that night and so much is driven by the talent that shows up to it. That’s really the fun thing about it. It’s not like an industry award like the Oscars or some professional group award where it’s just a bunch of ad executives. Because we have so many different categories you’re getting celebrities, but under the same roof we are getting people who built their whole career out of social media. We’re getting people who are foodies, people who know science really well, astronauts and sports stars. Social media is so broad and encompassing, so we are able to pull all these people in under one roof. It’s just a really fun celebration. I learn something new every year.

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Make sure to turn in to find out what happens at this year’s Shorty Awards on April 7th. Click here to receive an email notifying you when the livestream of the ceremony is available or to purchase your ticket if you will be in the NYC area.

Check out the finalists and let us know who you thinks deserves to take home a Shorty Award?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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2 thoughts on “The Shorty Awards: Growing at the speed of social media

  1. […] year NASA was named the 8th most engaged brand on Twitter. It also won back-to-back Shorty Awards for best government use of social media. Ever since their launch into social media in 2008 with […]

  2. […] Greg Galant, co-founder of The Shorty Awards and CEO and co-founder of Sawhorse Media […]

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