When Mark Ghuneim talks about how his career got started, his first job sounds a lot like the work that’s made him one of the country’s top social media experts—first at Wiredset, his start-up that created Trendrr, and more recently at Twitter, which acquired his company in 2013.
That first job description does, after all, involve second screens and using technology to build buzz among social influencers and young people. Only Ghuneim started work in 1980, and his role was VJ at the Private Eyes nightclub on West 21st Street in Manhattan, which in its heyday aired early music videos and attracted the likes of Madonna. “Hard as it is to remember, being a VJ in New York in the early 1980s was the forefront of technology,” Ghuneim recalls with a laugh.
Since then, this music and modern art lover has never moved out of the tech avant-garde, colleagues say. In the early 1990s, Ghuneim convinced his bosses at Sony to let him launch a variety of pioneering online efforts, including some of the first artist websites and streamed concerts. “At the time, Mark was one of only a handful of people in the world of media who really believed that the Internet was going to be big,” recalls Fred Graver, Twitter creative lead, TV.
That insight eventually propelled Ghuneim to the top digital job at Sony Music, running the online and emerging technologies group. But new tech trends convinced him to start his own digital services agency, Wiredset.
“It was a risky move, but I started to see the emergence of social media and knew that this was an important inflexion point,” Ghuneim recalls.
To capitalize on that, the company launched a social media analytics product in 2006 that was rebranded Trendrr in 2007.
Ghuneim began emerging as a major proponent of the power of social media. In 2009, Lisa Hsia, who is now executive VP of digital at Bravo and Oxygen Media at NBCUniversal, remembers hearing him speak at the New School.
“His talk about the power of Twitter and real-time social media really blew me away,” Hsia recalls. Those insights helped inspire Bravo’s launch of the first social TV offering in 2010, adds Hsia, who calls Ghuneim’s influence on the TV industry “huge.”
In September 2013, Twitter bought Trendrr. Ghuneim joined the company as part of a push to improve its products and simplify the way Twitter’s advertisers can tap the power of social media.
“In many ways we are still in the early days of what social media and TV are going to become,” and there remains a lot of work to be done to improve the ways TV companies use social media, explains Graver.
To that end, Ghuneim and his teams recently launched Curator, a free tool that enables users to easily incorporate tweets and vines into TV, Web and mobile content in real time.
“I like to think of it as a kind of dial-tone” for social media, providing a powerful set of tools to curate and syndicate ongoing conversations, Ghuneim says. “We want to make it dead simple to surface and use the power of social media [so TV companies] can focus on doing what they do best, producing engaging TV and narratives.”
When not evangelizing the power of social media, Ghuneim says he loves exploring photography, art and traveling with his wife, Mari Ghuneim, who last fall joined Turner’s truTV as VP of digital strategy and development.
But even at home, Ghuneim remains a curator. “My entire life has been one part collector, one part curator—and my wife would say one part Collyer brother,” he quips, referring to the legendary New York City siblings who were found dead among piles of books and other material they collected for decades. “I’m curating photo and art books, and before that toys and baseball cards and comic books,” Ghuneim says. “Luckily, we live in an old printing [building] with thick floors.”
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