Social media mogul all about next big thing

ADY SHANNON
Last updated 05:00 16/08/2014
Spano Wide
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

SOCIAL BUTTERFLY: Social media expert Tom Spano.

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In his book The Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that researchers settled on the magic number of 10,000 hours for achieving true expertise. Whether or not Tom Spano has actually spent 10,000 hours perfecting his craft, he is definitely a walking, talking, texting, tweeting social media expert.

"I have been part of the Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley and Silicon Beach adventure for a while," he says.

Eleven years in fact. Not a long time in the context of a career or a life, but given the changes in social media over a decade, 11 years represents a whole heap of time.

Spano is 45 years old but he looks much younger. He has a youthful enthusiasm, energy and social media savviness.

He has a grasp on the coolest and hippest apps on offer and those in development phase.

"The creativity in these apps is incredible. The stuff surfacing out of [Silicon] Valley is inspired".

He should know. He has been shoulder tapped by some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley to manage their social media and events. His networks include thousands of industry movers and shakers - including many he has never met. He knows the value of networking.

In 2008 he moved to Las Vegas to start a new business venture. In the nanosecond it took him to message his friends and followers, he had the immediate attention of a potential client base. He announced his arrival without spending a cent on marketing.

Spano was in Christchurch recently to open the annual events industry conference ETF. If delegates in the audience adopt even a smidgeon of the apps he mentioned, we should expect to see some major changes in our event industry in the future.

From the familiar to the new-fangled, Spano loves to talk apps.

Loopd enables info to be transferred via a handshake; CrowdMics transforms a smartphone into a mic; Word lens translates any text into any language; 3-D projections, virtual imagery, Vine, Instagram, Hootsuite, Prezi, LinkedIn. Spano knows apps designed to manage every aspect of work, life and leisure.

While he is in New Zealand his Jeep Rubicon is being driven around San Francisco by a "total random" courtesy of Getaround, a crowd sourcing app he uses to "monetise" his vehicle.

"Cars are idle 95 per cent of the time. Getaround is incredible. Right now a guy called Shaun Evans has mine for 25 hours, I will get $51 and an on-board computer will monitor the speed, distance travelled, braking and fuel consumption," he says glancing at his iPad.

For a guy who has spent much of his working career globetrotting, it's surprising that this is his first visit to New Zealand.

Until March this year, Spano was head of event marketing for Twitter.

Before that, he spent three years at Yahoo! He admits social media is his lifeblood.

"I am an evangelist for platforms, apps and software. Guy Kawasaki is regarded as the go-to guy for social media, but I ride his coat tails."

Spano was born in New York before the era of smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and trolls.

"I was an army brat. We lived in Germany until I was nine then moved back to Connecticut. Dad was into communications and he was a helicopter pilot. He is a real character. I inherited his sense of adventure and love for communicating," Spano says.

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The "need to share" was the impetus for his foray into social media back in 2003 when Myspace was the hot ticket to making connections. "It started as an ego thing. I thought I had something to say so I wanted to expand my audience."

At the pinnacle of his success, he had 50,000 followers on Myspace and his page was among the top 5 per cent of Myspace users.

"In 2003, having half a million followers, that was a significant number." When Facebook took over, he simply messaged his contacts and they followed him to his new platform.

"Back then a lot of people didn't understand the power of social media platforms. They thought it was a fad. I got it instantly. I immediately saw the value in communicating and connecting. People who know me would say I was just waiting for Facebook to arrive."

For Spano, creativity goes hand in hand with connectivity. "I am entirely a right brain personality."

He studied at the New York School of Visual Arts and the Institute of Boston and spent a few years teaching before he opted for a change of career direction. Acting was a long held passion and it just so happened his NY roommate was a cinematographer.

"He always had a cool project going on and was constantly looking for actors to do bit parts in productions. That sparked my interest in film."

In Las Vegas, between juggling the demands of his social media networks and his clients' major events, Spano found time to hone his acting talents.

"I was the No 1 booked actor for three months," he laughs.

While he was in Vegas - making connections and doing bit parts in productions (The Hangover, Get Me to The Greek and numerous other TV and movie roles) - he was shoulder tapped by Yahoo.

"They approached me to run an event. That meant moving to LA; a bonus given that I thought I could be the next Tom Cruise."

The movie career foundered but not the career trajectory. For three years Spano was part of the globe-trotting events team tasked with promoting the Yahoo brand.

"Budgets were tight. We pushed the envelope for creativity. We achieved a lot of play off social media.

"It is interesting, there is never a dull moment, it's competitive and there is a lot of travel," he says.

In Silicon Valley, work demands are offset by special workplace practices, where HQs try to create a fun environment that is fun and work.

On-site restaurants, cutting edge architecture and creative work environments help compensate for the lack of the much discussed work-life balance.

"Facebook has Hacker Way, an in-house street complete with outdoor movie theatres, restaurants, bars. There are offices on the upper levels but below is a genuine street scene. The line between work and the rest of the world is blurred. Apple is designing their new HQ called the Infinite Loop. That will be amazing." As for spending time with people that don't work with you, "there is always social media", Spano says.

When Share This offered him a job as social media manager, he moved to Palo Alto and set about weaving his social magic for the benefit his new employer. Just 15 months later Twitter called and invited him to San Francisco. It was tough leaving but Spano is open to new adventures.

"When opportunity knocks, I always open the door. This was Twitter offering me a position. How do you say no to that?"

You don't. Unless there is a better offer.

Fast forward two years and Spano has found a new outlet for his creative energy: Goombal.

"It's all about disruption. When I see the next thing that is going to shake things up, and knock things on their arse, I move."

He has joined forces with three well-connected colleagues in a start-up venture developing an integrated event management app. This time around his company is not a household name and his workplace is not a futuristic compound. He works from his San Francisco apartment.

The move appeals on lots of levels; to his sense of adventure, desire for change and passion for mobile apps.

"To be No 4 in an unfunded Silicon Valley start-up is a dream. This app is poised to create a paradigm shift in event planning and delivery. It's all sweat equity."

He still maintains contact - via Facebook - with many students he taught to read and thinks one day he will return to teaching. "I really enjoy teaching, seeing that spark. It's like turning on lights."

Spano spends a good part of his waking hours keeping up with the latest in technology, tweeting (an average six per day), updating his Facebook (10,000 followers, 5000 friends) and sending Instagrams.

For now, he is planning on hiring a camper van and getting lost in the South Island. No doubt, a navigational app will make sure he is never really "lost, lost", and there are always friends and followers posting him info about the newest, coolest app available to keep him up with the next big thing.

- Your Weekend

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