Wednesday 4 November 2009

Blog Day at Body Worlds 3

Social Media Experiment Blog Body Worlds 3 at Toronto's Science Centre

A few days after holding a standing-room-only press preview of BODY WORLDS 3: THE STORY OF THE HEART for Toronto’s “established” media the Ontario Science Centre staged a morning Social Media (SM) preview of the same show. Toronto Bloggers, Tweeters, Web Masters and their guests were invited to tour the show and meet a heart expert.
Close to 50 Toronto area on-liners came out on Saturday October 24th, to take pictures, tweet and gather material for their take on an exhibition of sliced, diced and splayed bodies. The new exhibition has more than 200 authentic human specimens on display, including entire skinned and exposed bodies, as well as individual organs and transparent body slices.
There are several versions of the Body World touring show, created by Germany’s Dr. Gunther von Hagen; to date over 26-million have passed through the turnstiles globally. This is the second time that the Science Centre has hosted a very popular (read long line-ups) Body Worlds exhibition.
As traditional media outlets loose advertisers, readership and staff, publicists have to look in other directions to get the word out and motivate potential ticket buyers. While the average Toronto blog has a readership roll smaller than the size of a violin, given the power of links and the chance to go viral, anyone of the Science Centre morning guests has the potential of being instantly as big as the whole orchestra!
The Science Centre has always been a Social Media leader within Toronto’s cultural Group of Seven (Harbourfront, AGO, ROM, CN Tower, Ontario Place and the Ballet/Opera). Probably because its day-to-day audience is so young -- most don’t know what the world was like before Facebook -- the Science Centre learned early how to effectively communicate on-line with schoolage children. It has an in-house You Tuber, events for on-line audiences and a web site that communicates with hundreds of Torontonians daily.
The Science Centre has held events for its Social Media audience before, but the Saturday morning preview was the first time it pitched directly to the people who feed content into the growing SM information pool. According to the Ontario Science Centre communications department, the morning preview was set up at the request of the company managing the Body Worlds 3 tour – it is something they do in every city their bone show rolls into.
I attended both the Body Worlds 3 press launch and the subsequent SM preview morning. Although the goal of both events was the same – generate publicity for the show – the conduct of the attendees was totally different.
At the press conference everyone is working … Job #1 is to get the story and get out … fast. Yet, everyone knows everyone and the press conference is also a moving social event repeated at every media event across the GTA.
While waiting for the guest speakers to arrive it is old home week round the muffins and coffee. Who has been laid off? Any jobs in your newsroom? Guess who got sued?
Most reporters are mildly interested in the exhibition but have other stories, other worries and maybe even other press conferences to cover that day. Best press conference? Short. Colourful. Quotable and always newsworthy.
There are questions to be asked. Photos to be taken. Press kits to be reviewed. “Bits” to be recorded either for TV or the news outlet’s website. And did I mention there are questions to be asked?
“Why did you cut up a giraffe?” Dr. Angelina Whalley (the wife of Dr. Gunther von Hagen) is asked. “Do you think the Body Works 3 show is controversial?” A CITY TV reporter quizzed me from behind her video camera as I walked through the exhibit prior to the press conference – yes the ol’ tried and true journalist-interviewing journalist.
SM Saturday was different. No one knew each other. There was no kinship between the person tweeting for his fan base of 10 and the young blogger working for a Social Media marketing company.
I approached as many SM attendees as possible as we joined the Conga Line snaking its way through the sold-out exhibition hall. All bloggers were given badges and permission to take photographs inside the exhibit space, so it was easy to separate the freebee invited guests from the paying customers ($28.50 to get in).
I didn’t know what to expect. Are all bloggers/tweeters/Facebook fanatics and web masters 20-something geeks? Nope. Some were young. Some were older than me. The only “geek” I ran into was a Tweedledee-looking fellow with coke bottle glasses and pants belted just below his man-breasts. He embarrassingly denied being a SM guest even though we registered at the desk at the same time and he wore a media badge.
I did met up with a photographer who works for as an online editor. In his spare time he takes pictures (lots and lots of pictures) at events and posts them on the network’s popular website. I had first meet him at Scotiabank Caribana – the photos he posted from the annual parade were emotionally charged and were viewed by tens of thousands of people (and probably ‘borrowed’ by hundreds of other SM participants).
What really stood out was that the guests that Saturday were not journalists. They didn’t ask questions. They didn’t take notes (although a couple tweeted as they walked by exhibit cases filled with body parts). Some were taken aback when I (a stranger) started quizzing them and jotting down their words in my low-tech notebook.
Most have full-time jobs and don’t consider their blogs an occupation. They haven’t yet learned how to get the most out of a media preview. No notes. Few pictures. No desire to interview.
Upon leaving the exhibition hall, the SM guests were invited to meet with Dr. Chi-Ming Chow. He is a spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and a Cardiologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at St. Michaels Hospital. He had been asked by the Science Centre to be a resource person for any blogger wanting to know about the human heart.
“ I think the show is good because it is educational. It reminds me of my days in medical school,” said Dr. Chow. “But, for many (people seeing the Body Works 3 show) it is also visually shocking.”
“ Here in Canada we wage a two prong attack against heart disease; education and treatment,” he told me. “This is a good tool because it is the larger story of the heart. It shows what healthy organs look like and it does show disease, obesity what happens when you smoke and what happens (when you don’t quit).”
I was the only blogger to interview Dr. Chow. He was pleased to come out to his first SM event, but seemed disappointed that no one else stopped by to have a heart to heart with him.
“First time I have been asked, to event like this” said Karim Kanji, who has a blogs called Inspiration by Karim. “ But, surprisingly I have a second one this afternoon. A travel show. I can get used to this!”

“ I work in social media so I do get invited to a lot of things,” said a chatty 20-something female blogger as she handed in her press badge and picked up a press kit and a free T-Shirt.
“ I have got to say this is the best I have been treated. Free tickets, I was allowed to bring a guest. I loved not having to Queue. The press kit will come in handy, and swag too! What’s not to like about an event like Body Worlds 3?”
Did the SM guests respond by promoting their show? I obviously have. The Science Centre communications department said they were pleased with the response, but pointed out that the show is sold out almost every day regardless of whether the bloggers or the media ever tweet or get off the pot.


CUTLINES: Above -- visitors stream through the Body World 3 exhibition at the Ontario Science Centre. Mixed in amongst the paying customers are close to 50 bloggers who attend a free Saturday morning SM preview of the show. Was it successful? Hard to say yet, but, Goggle News tells all. For the Science Centre it doesn't matter much ... the show is a sell-out! Pictured below at right --is an out-of-focus Palm camera shot of a Karim Kanji at the social media registration desk.