Notes From One of the Best Conversations I’ve Ever Had
Sometimes, you talk with someone, and the next day, or even several days later, you’re still thinking about that conversation. Whatever the reason may be for that, I recently had one of those chats, and I took notes the entire time.
We are excited to announce the first round of leaders who will bring our 2020 theme HUMAN.X to life at the Broad stage this June (17-18).
We all know what “cold-calling” is, and for various reasons, I’m assuming it has a negative connotation to you. Why is that? Honestly, I don’t know, however, in 2015, and truthfully, since Twitter emerged in 2006, the principles and motivations behind “cold-calling” flipped.
Social networks allow you to start conversations with both people you already know, and also would like to speak with, but may not personally know. They also offer a small glimpse into who the individuals are, what they do, how they communicate, and even what they look like. Twitter might be the forerunner for this scenario, and “cold-Tweeting” is the modern, more transparent “cold-call”.
So, who did I reach out to for this conversation?
In an era where these “cold-calls” are not just difficult, but also inconvenient, I decided to “cold-Tweet” SoulPancake’s CEO, Shabnam Mogharabi (@shabster), to see if I could have a conversation with her to learn more about the content that her team produces, as well as her thoughts on the media industry, human connections, meaningful conversations, and the future of everything in between.
If you don’t already know SoulPancake, please watch some of their videos. They aim to create a space online where people of all walks of life can come together to talk about spirituality, personal journeys, emotions, and experiences in a variety of ways. SoulPancake is unapologetically positive, and they produce both quirky and serious content that entertains, engages, and even tackles tough topics.
They are frequently the force behind some of my favorite videos, stories, and inspirations on the web, likely ones you have seen too. Here’s what Shabnam and I discussed during what turned out to be one of the best conversations of my life!
How does SoulPancake bridge the online-to-offline gap through videos?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “We’re constantly looking to create conversations around the human experience, as well as engaging individuals with some of life’s biggest questions. Sometimes this is digital only, but many times we’ll create “larger than life” experiences, such as art installations or huge props for people to encounter and engage with during everyday activities.
Also, these offline experiences connect real people, often strangers, together in fun, new, and unexpected ways, which rarely happen nowadays too. We record and produce videos of these experiences with the hope that they inspire and encourage others to take action, such as introducing yourself to someone new, or interacting more with others offline. We spend a lot of time online, and consume more than ever before, so anything we can do to push people to create new, offline connections, coupled with a smile, is the underlying goal.”
How will social media continue to evolve, will it ever be replaced, or both?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “Social will definitely continue to evolve, but I see so much of the Internet going through something a bit more scientific and formulated, specifically a digital version of ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,’ which has a few layers to it. As humans, we have basic needs such as food, shelter, and sex. The next tier of needs is a social sphere, such as friends, family, and support. After that is self-expression, such as art, ideas, performance. And the final tier is ‘self-actualization’ which is finding ways to feel internal fulfillment, happiness, and an understanding of the world beyond personal existence. Every human works towards that final tier, and the Internet is going through the same evolution.
The Internet existed, and then comes things like Amazon (things), email (communications), Google (information), and online porn (sex), all of which represent that first “basic needs” tier. Next comes MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook representing social communities. After that is YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest which allow us to say, ‘look at me, and see my art!’ The next phase is the digital equivalent and pyramid point of self-actualization; technology and communications that help us achieve happiness and contentment, which the next wave of websites and social communities will deliver. We need to go through all these online layers before reaching that peak.”
What are some of the best ways for people to find their passions?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “In the last five years, we’ve seen a democratization of the entrepreneurial process. If you were really passionate and wanted to start a business, you had to go to a bank, get a loan, ask friends and family to invest, and get others to believe you and believe in you. Now, because of things like crowdfunding, Etsy, and Instagram, we have creative communities. You can create the wackiest things like ‘anime tablecloths’ and somewhere online there’s an audience and community for that. It’s also easier than ever to raise money online, promote your passion online, and grow a business online, from just about anywhere in the world.”
What are some things that any content creator can and should do?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “Start making stuff, start producing content, and start engaging with your audience, even if it’s just 150 friends of yours. When you decide to start launching content to that audience, make it a point to post regularly so that you get better and better every time. You’ll have some crappy content, and you’ll have some amazing content, but just be consistent. SoulPancake and many other companies are always looking out for creators and content that aligns with the brand and mission, and if you’re creating consistently and passionately, someone will eventually see it.”
What are your thoughts on “evergreen” content versus “timely” content?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “I come from a journalist background, and absolutely see the value in time-sensitive content, but SoulPancake made a decision to create evergreen and timeless content because ultimately, life is hard, and it changes with age, situations, love, caeer, family, accidents, and unlimited other things. These things happen and change your outlook on life. Evergreen content allows people to come back to the same piece of content and view it differently.
CNN or VICE or ESPN covers ‘of the minute’ news and produces real-time content, but you’re never going to go back and watch that timely content. Yes, it’s important to inform human beings, but in five years after a bunch of changes and experiences in your life, you won’t remember those news stories, you’re going to remember the books, movies, and other media you felt a deeper connection with, and that’s the value SoulPancake drives home through our videos.”
Which has a larger impact on the other, a company’s product on its culture, or its culture on the product?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “SoulPancake began with a clear mission, and that mission has not changed. The culture you create is the people you bring together under the umbrella of the company. We hire people who have the necessary skills, but also who are passionate about our mission and want to be a part of it. We’re constantly looking for positive, optimistic, and artistic self-starters that value service and social causes. There’s a circular movement at SoulPancake where the mission defines culture, and the people we hire reinforce and continue to push it forward to the next person, and so on.”
What problems do you see with social media or digital content that should be fixed?
Shabnam Mogharabi: “We worked on a project recently around empathy, and one of the findings showed us that Millennials are the least empathetic generation because of social media. They live through their devices and completely miss the point of connecting with one another. 20 years ago, when you wanted to talk to your friends, you had to pick up the phone or write a letter or visit them in person.
Now, the connections we have with other individuals are so short-lived, especially among Millennials. We haven’t really figured out the social tools that can bring value to face-to-face interactions. Many of us are online and miss out from looking someone in the eye and saying ‘I’m here for you’ or showing any form of authentic support and empathy. That’s certainly one thing that needs to be fixed, a clever way to look someone in the digital eye, and deliver that same message.”
What role does “nostalgia” play in media, and our lives in general?
Shabnam and I later discussed the role of “nostalgia” in Millennials’ lives. She referenced an article that uncovers the motivation behind this. What Millennials lack in empathy, they evidently make up in nostalgia. It’s the reason why MadLibs is re-emerging, why Missy Elliot’s Super Bowl performance was so loved, and why weekly trends such as #TBT (Throwback Thursday) and #FBF (Flashback Friday) are so prominent on Twitter and Instagram.
The fact that Millennials have such strong levels of nostalgia ties back to Shabnam’s longing for a digital solution to their lack of empathy. Perhaps this nostalgia for things, experiences, and memories will spill over into nostalgia for other parts of life, such as emotions and feelings. While new technology or a social network might be the solution to this lack of empathy among Millennials, it’s possible that the desire to go back in time is reason enough for current and future generations to re-develop this human connection that existed pre-Internet.
Most of us will sit back and wait to see if that plays out, but Shabnam and her SoulPancake team continue to experiment, tinker, and create hypothesis for the answers to these questions, one kitten therapy session and colorful ball-pit at a time.
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