MC Hammer, known for his Grammy-winning music, has spent the past decade reinventing himself as a social media mogul. Hammer is the co-founder of the website DanceJam and has spoken about social media at conferences including the Intel Capital CEO Summit.
Last week, as the opening keynote speaker at the Wharton Business Technology Conference in Philadelphia, Hammer advocated that businesses embrace social media -- just as much as he has. "I love technology," he said. "I'm a proud geek. I wear the badge with honor. I'm a super geek."
An avid Twitter user with more than 1.8 million followers, Hammer described microblogging as one of the most important tools in social media -- and a boon for businesses. "You have to help [your companies] get past old habits," he told an audience of businesspeople and students. "Social [media] is just what it is. It's simply a means to engage... The behavior is as old as the cave man. You don't have to fear it."
Hammer has tweeted about everything from his breakfast to his keynote address. "My [Twitter] feed is an ongoing conversation," he said. "I'm creating and expanding and humanizing my brand." When he wants to grow his business, he'll plant the seed on Twitter. When he's looking for commentary on an idea, it too is posted on his Twitter feed. "You can mobilize a community," Hammer said, "and you get that feedback."
What turned Hammer into such a social media evangelist? In the early 1990s, he grew frustrated that just a couple of channels controlled his music. "Eight people can say the world can't see my art," he said. "I don't like monopolies to stop my art from being seen. That's what started it for me. It was pure business."
Now, many other businesses have hopped on the social media bandwagon, shortening the distance between their product's creation and its distribution. Pepsi and Chase Bank, Hammer said, are examples of big companies moving money out of traditional media and into social media. "It's the tip of the iceberg," he said. Companies that don't think they have to adapt to the new social media world, Hammer said, are "asleep at the wheel."
Businesses shouldn't be worried that a social media presence will harm their company's public perception, he added. "Your lack of transparency can only hurt you in the long run," he said. People will talk about your product "in places where it never goes away," Hammer said, so the best thing for a business is to make itself part of the conversation.
As for the future of social media, Hammer named Hulu and the The Huffington Post as projects he admires. He added: "I see the iPad as the fourth window. You're walking around with a 9-inch television in your hand." And he thinks Twitter could have broader reaches for business, making it a place where you don't just read about an upcoming Rolling Stones concert, but where you can also buy tickets. "This microblogging is serious business," he said. "We're only scratching the surface."
In an interview after his talk, Hammer also mentioned his interest in the growing field of citizen journalism. He said: "There are literally hundreds of thousands of good stories not being told on a daily basis. A lot of those stories are being told right here online by the Twitterverse, by Facebook users, by different communities. The opportunity to aggregate or create a destination where stories get told and indexed locally is a great opportunity."
In all, Hammer said he's a fan of all the available social media websites. "You adapt them to your character, to your content, to your likes and dislikes," he said. "The ones that you are less comfortable in, you can still update through your other platforms."
Hammer, who faced bankruptcy in 1996, offered this piece of advice for anyone seeking to reinvent themselves and their business: "Study and research where they want to go, so that they have all the information of the landscape. If they're in one space and they're going to another space and they're reinventing themselves, they have to make sure they know what they want and all of the factors in the new space, the new you, the new business."
Image: Brian Solis/Flickr