The Floor is Yours: Sree Sreenivasan on Being Generous with Content
As we crave connection during these isolating times, Sree Sreenivasan has stepped up to bring people around the world together, sometimes several times a day. Though some 80 straight nights in a row of recording his Global COVID-19 show drove his family to furlough him from his own home during livestreaming hours, this social and digital media expert, known by many as “@Sree”, has an expanded family of connections that faithfully gather round for a dose of positivity.
By E.B. Moss
And every Sunday morning, they tune-in again for his New York Times “readalong,” now five years running, with scintillating and scholarly guests perusing the paper and op-eds alongside him. So, that’s 80 days in a row and literally twice on Sunday. Did I mention his frequent appearances on radio, or CNBC as a tech-expert?
I first heard him speak about five years ago at one of the many TEDx talks he’s given, back when he was also the chief digital officer for The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At that presentation on the currency of attention, he cited then NY Times columnist David Carr who believed, “the most important social media is the conversation you have with the person sitting next to you.” Yup, Sree believes in that kind of social…but is also a social media expert and creator of the 21-years and counting Social Media Weekend conference.
I was fortunate to have a thirty-minute conversation with Sree that not only kept my attention but kept me on my toes. He embodies the art of being generous with content both altruistically and, candidly, as a business development vehicle for his digital marketing and virtual event service. He is free with his political opinions as well, where he is, however, less generous about our current state of affairs.
Sree’s stories – from adjusting to new countries and his quirky love of comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, to how he adopted new communication tactics to connect people through every crisis of the past two decades – are equally passionate. Their through line, for this inaugural Marshall Loeb visiting professor at Stony Brook University, and former Columbia University journalism professor, is also conveying an ardent belief in journalistic integrity, veracity and humanism.
We joked about how his livestreams and social sharing are the perfect outlet for a man who likes to talk, but Sree has also learned the art of listening. His first lesson in the value of that was as a newcomer to America and a humiliating, for him, event on the first day of 4th Grade. (You’ll love and grimace with empathy at the story he shares in the podcast.) Now, he eagerly gives the floor – and acknowledgements – to show callers and guests, taking the time to read out loud almost every one of their submitted social posts on the livestream, even if #NYTimesReadalong guests like Rick Wilson of The Lincoln Project or Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz need to wait a minute.
Why constantly post, stream, share and talk? Sree explains the why, and the evolution of sharing important content:
“I have learned that during crises, starting with 9/11 when it first became clear to me, that there are great sets of people in the world who go towards crisis, towards ground zero. Those are the first responders, the doctors, the nurses, and the journalists, and they go while everyone else is running the other direction. And I being, at that point, a college professor at Columbia journalism school, with a wife who would never let me do that, decided that one of the things you can do is in a time of crisis, is be a curator of accurate information.
We think that things are bad now with all this misinformation, but it really started with 9/11 with the hoaxes around that — and they all have lasted all of these years, including as you know, the lie by candidate Trump about celebrations by Muslim Americans in New Jersey and things like that.
… I’ve seen the value whenever there’s a kind of crisis by being a curator of information, [and jumping] in and using the tools of the day. So back in 2001, it was email and a little bit of texting and a website. Then 2005 was Katrina. We used blogging technology, which was new then, and just the slightest bit of social. And then in 2008 we were live on the air for 72 straight hours… covering the terrible terrorist attack in Mumbai that was unfolding in front of the world, and we interviewed people on a tool called Blog Talk Radio, which was live radio, using the web. And it changed my life and changed my understanding of what we can do.
In those 72 hours, something like 35 different guests were on the air, including people coming from CNN Studios and experts from around the world who joined us as experts to talk on a show that didn’t exist until a few hours earlier. That tells you that you can build a brand and build a product on the fly in real time. Things that would have taken months or years or decades to build today you can do in days and hours if you have the right tools and the luck to go with it.”
For today’s crisis, Sree notes the tools must be social and video, versus just audio, and it “has to be a global conversation.”
For his 78th Global COVID-19 Show, the very subject was “Fighting Misinformation” with representatives from the Red Cross calling in from two different countries. Leveraging the audience he has gained via his beloved “Readalong” and the white horse charge to fight for accuracy and empathy, Sree uses today’s tools such as the zoom-like platform of Streamyard across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to distribute thought-provoking content, sometimes less than polished but balanced with positivity. It’s frankly hard to keep up or keep straight – as you’ll hear me the podcast stumble, relying on him to catalogue all his content for us. (Here’s a tip: check “SreeNet” on YouTube.) However, I can’t really be blamed as the COVID-19 show has already had more than 150 guests thus far.
In addition to what sometimes feels like an insurmountable effort to course-correct a wayward world, Sree finds faith in family (he’d better; his wife – also of renown with her own Wikipedia page, three master’s degrees and records in sports rifle shooting — is Roopa Unnikrishnan) and, yes, the internet. The other lesson he’s learned about talking – and listening — over the years online is that “the more you give away, the more you’ll get back. It’s almost selfish to be selfless because you’ll get more if you’re doing more for free and you give away more stuff. So that’s a kind of weird thing about the internet.”
E.B. is a strategist, podcaster, and writer who creates content and “explanatory journalism” that drives revenue and humanizes brands. She also profiles executives through her podcast, “Insider Interviews with E.B. Moss” and guest hosts/produces Advancing Diversity podcast for MediaVillage where she was formerly Head of Content Strategy. She ran ad sales marketing at Food Network, Lifetime and Westwood One and now helms marketing consultancy, Moss Appeal. To inquire about help with a B2B podcast please email [email protected]
Photo by neil godding on Unsplash