Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

The Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) Summit took place last week in New York City.  The event was announced during a press conference on November 24 by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Jim Glassman and Jared Cohen of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.

During the conference, Glassman described the summit this way:

a conference is being held in New York City at the Columbia University Law School that will bring together 17 organizations around the world that currently have an online presence similar to the Million Voices Against the FARC Movement, but usually at a much lower level – 17 of these organizations, bringing them together with private sector partners, including Facebook, Google, MTV, AT&T, Howcast, Access 360 Media – and I may be forgetting some, and Jared will remind me. Columbia University is also – the Columbia University Law School is also a partner. And the idea is put all these people together, share best practices, produce a manual that will be accessible online and in print to any group that wants to build a youth empowerment organization to push back against violence and oppression around the world.

The summit took place, the participants conferred, they partied at the MTV studios, and produced the manual as promised.

The conference accomplished the goals laid out by Glassman.  It provided direct contact between a number of strikingly disparate people and groups (with respect to geography, culture, and targets of resistance) that almost certainly would never have met under any other circumstances.  It is also a signature example of Glassman’s vision for public diplomacy, involving ideals, cultural exchange, and new technology, leading to movements of diversion from dangerous ideologies.

But since this was a “2.0” event, we should also evaluate it from a buzz and viral marketing point of view.  Judging by the extent of the pre-summit publicity, I have to assume this was an informal goal of the event too.  On this score it was not so successful.  Attendance at the actual conference was limited to a few hundred people (mainly, I am told, because of fire code limitations at the scheduled venues).  So the organizers actively encouraged participation by people not attending the summit.

Participation opportunities included watching  live feeds of the events provided by Howcast and using discussion threads on their web site.  One estimate–which must have been part of a press release given its appearance in multiple sources– said “millions of viewers” were expected to visit Howcast for the event.

I can find little evidence of participation at anywhere near this rate.  Howcast hasn’t released any numbers on the event, but the Alexa traffic history report for their site shows only a small blip-up in page views on December 3rd, going back to pre-summit levels on December 4 (I have been holding this post for several days waiting for the December 5 data to come in, but Alexa seems stuck; I will post an update when data becomes available the data has now become available and is posted in the update below).

Oddly, there were no videos available of the presentations immediately after they occurred, and this probably contributed to low viewership.  I wanted to watch a few of the presentations but had work responsibilities at the time, so I could not tune in live.  The Howcast site is promising availability of videos next week, but long delays like this kill any buzz that might have been generated by the event.

There is also little evidence that people participated in asynchronous discussions on the Howcast site.  When I checked over the weekend, 14 discussion threads were available.  They averaged only 35 views and two replies per thread.  So remote participants did not join the dialog either. So remote participants did not make much use of the asynchronous discussion forums (see update below).

I looked at blog buzz resulting from the event, using a Google blog search on the phrase “Alliance of Youth Movements.”  I found 93 matching entries and classified these as announcements of the summit or its events, coverage of what actually went on there, or other (mostly sidebar links to “recent posts”). Granted it could take more time for Google’s crawlers to find all the relevant posts, but it searches the most buzz-worthy blogs frequently, so this is probably a representative set.

AYM Blog Posts

Half of the items were dated December 2 or earlier, automatically putting them into the announcements category.  But even after the conference started few posts could be categoried as coverage.  As a result, the blogs overwhelmingly talked about the occurrence of the event rather than what went on there (see pie chart).

Of the coverage posts, there were two themes apparent.  One was about an Egyptian activist who challenged the sincerity of the United States, citing a say-do gap between the ideals of the summit and our support of the Mubarak regime.  The other theme was a tangent about the Obama campaign’s shortage of smart phones.  This story popped up during the summit and is the only thing from it that appears to have gotten any traction in the MSM.

Confirming the blog pattern, a Twitter search turned up only about 35 tweets about the AYM summit.  This small new media footprint is not too surprising.  Given the limited number of attendees, few of the people who would be inclined to blog or tweet about it were there.  The use of a live-only feed made time shifting of the event impossible for the rest of us.

The AYM summit was a conceptual win and it also appears to have been a very valuable event for promoting relationships.  Some of those who attended described it as a remarkable event and spoke highly of the contact it afforded.  But this means that its impact will be long term, and will probably manifest itself only in the social networks of a few hundred participants.  The summit is unlikely to set off a meta-movement because it did not generate buzz.  As with all things “2.0,” buzz is everything.

UPDATE  2:00 pm MST

I got a note from Tessa Barrera at Howcast who corrected me on the statement that “remote participants did not join the dialog either.”  She pointed out that there was live chat during the events and many people were participating via those.  My bad.  I have edited the post to say people did not make much use of the asynchronous discussion forums.

Tessa said the summit was an amazing success from the point of view of the participants, something I tried to emphasize in my post.  She also relayed some further information on this point:

What may not have been translated on the screen were the personal connections and the inspiring stories that each of the delegates had.  I personally have never been so inspired to see two Sri Lankans from rival factions sitting together over lunch, an Iraqi man chatting with a man from Colombia about how he can better galvanize his online presence to help his cause or even members of the press corps reduced to tears at the stories of people’s own stories.  The participants were so moved by the summit that they are planning a global march on January 17th against violent extremism.  Marches have already gotten support in Mumbai, London, Sri Lanka, Baghdad, Beirut and New York.

This is great to hear, and I hope the planned march is a big success.

To be clear, the point of my post was not to call the summit a failure, and I don’t think I did that.  It was merely to point out that it did not generate much social media buzz, which seemed to be one of its implicit goals.  I stand by that analysis until I see numbers to convince me otherwise.

UPDATE December 12

I promised an update when the additional Alexa traffic data was available, so here it is.  Alexa doesn’t break out subdomains, so this data is for all of  They express the traffic numbers as a percent of all the page views they log, but unfortunately they don’t provide that number (that I can find) so I can’t convert these percentages back into raw numbers.