Ever been on a conference call? Then it’s highly probable that you smiled, laughed or smirked when you recently came across a picture of a bingo card with the squares filled out with common phrases and faux pas that we’ve all heard. It’s also highly probable that you shared it.
The author of Conference Call Bingo is E Gilliam. She’s the Head of Creative Services at Equinix. I met her in the December of 2016 and I was immediately struck by her easygoing nature and her sense of humor.
During a (conference) call with E last week, she told me that she was living through her 15 minutes of fame. When I asked her to explain, she told me that she was the one who whiteboarded Conference Call Bingo at work, took a picture and shared it with her friends on Facebook. It’s been 2 weeks since that first share and she now estimates it’s been seen by 5,000,000+ people. Here’s her story:
- What do you do for work?
I am the Head of Creative Services in the marketing group at Equinix where I manage the designers and content managers.
Equinix is the leading global interconnection platform, and connects companies to their customers and partners inside the world’s most networked data centers.
- How would you explain your job to an eight-year-old?
I use pictures and words to help people understand what my company can do.
- Approximately how many hours a week do you spend on conference calls?
I just did an average from the last three weeks and determined that a third of my time was spent on conference calls, that’s roughly 20 hours per week.
- What prompted you to finally whiteboard a Bingo game with common mistakes or faux pas from conference calls?
I think a couple of them might be considered faux pas, but most of them are just common phrases or experience. I was on a conference call about two months ago, where about five people in a row said, "I'm sorry, I was on mute," and then I had to say it as well.
Once you hear something like that, you can’t not hear it. I found myself laughing to myself every time I heard someone say it after that.
Then one morning a few weeks ago I heard a couple of other things like someone saying, "Oh, my God. Can everyone go on mute?" which got me thinking, that there has got to be a whole bunch of other common things that people say.
So I started writing out some of the things on my own little white board in my cubicle, but I realized I had way too many of these phrases, and transferred them to a grid on a giant wall next to my desk. Some of my co-workers also came by and gave suggestions for a few of them.
When I started putting it together, I was very specific about not doing anything that made anyone feel like the butt of a joke. It's a good representation of things that you just hear all the time, which is why I think it works across various industries. Much of what’s there is just common items we deal with daily, like how getting yourself off mute on an iPhone is hilariously hard.
How did you promote at first and what sort of channels did you use?I only ever share things on Facebook with my friends, so when my friend asked if she could share it I thought… sure, what the heck, and made my post public. What happened almost immediately was out of my control, as I didn't put my name on the first one, and that quickly became a problem.
That night, somebody shared it with their network, and then someone they knew somewhere in the world picked up the image, didn't make the attribution and put it on Reddit. From there it went to Imgur. The Imgur post has probably received the most single views.
It just spread out and self-promoted, like a good virus. My friends have since spent a lot of time getting credit on my behalf in various places. Fortunately, several news outlets have tracked me down & given me credit.
- What were your expectations when you first shared it on Facebook?
That my friends would think it was funny. Politics are very frustrating right now, so I just try to be funny to lighten up everybody's day.
- If you had to estimate an exact number of the people you’ve made smile, laugh, smirk or simply nod knowingly, what would you guess?
I would estimate an upwards of five million. It's been shared at least 10,000 times from my Facebook page alone. I've followed the comments in groups and noticed that a shared post on a group had roughly 6,000 comments. It’s basically just everywhere! The last time I looked on Imgur there were over a million views while Reddit had close to half a million. I wasn’t aware that people shared things like that on LinkedIn, but it's all over LinkedIn as well. And every share seems to get a lot of comments and views.
How did your friends, colleagues, and coworkers react to your overnight success?
They’re mostly just laughing and congratulating me for it. The internal communications group at Equinix published an article on it, and now a lot of folks visiting headquarters come by and take selfies. My friends on Facebook have been particularly great, urging on support. Everybody's just excited that they know the person who started this, and I am happy to share the good feeling all around.
How has your newfound fame changed you? And have you have an extravagant purchase in the last two weeks?
I haven't slept a lot because I've been following it around the world as much as I can. It takes a lot of time to try and wrap your head around the possibilities of something unplanned like this. For example, I had other plans last weekend, but instead, I was working on the conferencecallbingo.net website, swag, and app specs.
For purchases, no: if it gets views on Facebook or Reddit or Imgur, you don’t make any money. You just make people smile. I have sold a few dozen t-shirts, so I guess my extravagant purchase was that I bought one of my own t-shirts.
As a marketer, what are your plans on taking advantage of this viral opportunity?
I started approaching people for programming a Web app within 48 hours, and it looks like that’s going to happen pretty soon. I’m working on an actual iPhone or mobile app, and I also have the T-shirts and swag available for purchase on the website.
There also might be other opportunities coming out of this, but I’m not sure what that would look like as of yet.
What's the reaction been to conferencecallbingo.net?
I've seen about 1200 - 1300 hits a day on the website. I haven't done a whole lot on the site except some basic SEO, but I figured when I get the app up and running I'll really start marketing it.
Tell us about the purpose of the app you’re developing around this?The purpose of the first version of the app is to just allow the user to play by clicking. I'm looking to do a phase two with inter-activity for more than one person to join a specific game.
I actually have another 25 or so extra squares to add that didn't make it in the original version, so it'll be something that everybody could play on a call, and I think it would just be fun for everyone.
What’s your favorite suggestion you’ve heard from fans, friends or colleagues in terms of new squares to add?I believe it was somebody on Twitter who said, "Soon, you're going to have to add a square that says, 'Somebody called out Bingo.’” - That's my favorite and it's totally going to make it in there.
- What's your favorite suggestion that you've heard from fans and friends on how to grow this into a bigger opportunity?
My partner immediately suggested that I should collaborate with Skype, but I really can't imagine Microsoft saying, "Yes, and here's how you can play a game where you're not really paying attention, Instead you're making fun of your colleague or making fun of our sound quality because of the echo." I just don’t see that happening.
Though I do think that there might be an opportunity to partner with a small, scrappy, local company who wants to change the face of conference calls and say something along the lines of "This can be solved if you do this..." because a lot of the times you're talking over each other, there's an echo, you can't quite hear someone, he/she has gone on mute, and a lot of these issues can be solved with a little technology.
- Nowadays, when you join a conference call, do you feel added pressure not to make any of the mistakes found on the bingo card?
Not really, but sometimes you can’t avoid it, and that just makes me smile. For example, the one that I realized I used most often was, "Hi, who just joined?" How do you get around that…
What's one thing about today's conference call etiquette that frustrates you the most?
I think it’s over-talking. I hate it when people are shouting-over each other.
What advice would you give to someone about to join their very first conference call for the first time in their career?
Go on mute!
What's your vision on how conference calling will evolve?I think we need to get to the Jedi Council level where Yoda is just there as a floating figure, and you teleport into the conference call like holograms where you get a real, fully-directional ability to be in the room when you're not there. I think that's where we need to go.
What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
Don't look at the cost, just go to freaking MBA School. You can get the experience by putting in the years, but then, you still won’t have that degree behind you, which is limiting.
- If you weren't a B2B marketer, what would you choose as a career?
I would have been a diplomat and/or translator and talking to people, possibly on conference calls.
BONUS Question - Is there anything else that you wanted to say about the whole experience in terms of this beast you’ve created?
My goal is not just to enjoy life, but to help people laugh and enjoy theirs and I feel like this has done it by giving people hilarity. I've actually gotten fan-mail from people all over the country and the world who are just thanking me for taking their mundane Monday task that used to frustrate them and turning it into a fun experience that now makes them laugh, and I just think that’s perfect.