by @jeffpulver via Flickr

Jeff Pulver is the founder of the 140 Conference, the VON Coalition and Vivox, and the co-founder of VoIP provider Vonage.

Why another social media conference focusing on brands, and why now?

I am fixated on one thing: the humanization of brands. I announced this conference when I was in Los Angeles doing the 140 Conference because that’s where it hit me for the first time ever: Corporations now have to hire people to represent them from the human side, whether they like it or not.

It was the growing popularity of Twitter that forced corporations to have a public face. And now, if you’re not listening, your competition is. So the question is, how do people deal with these realities? I don’t know all the answers, so I thought by convening a conference, we could try to explore that.

More than anything else, I think we’re going to create a fraternity and sorority of people whose day jobs have been turned upside down because nobody went to school to be a brand ambassador.

Also, it’s not like this is just hitting one industry; this is hitting every industry. What I’m doing as a one-day event could very well be a three-day conference with multiple tracks, but I had to start someplace.

The reason it came together so quickly is that I realized this phenomenon was really a 2010 thing. Brands hit critical mass on Twitter in 2010, so why not address these things now?

What are some of the challenges brands face now that they need a real person – or a team of people – to be their face and voice on social media?

Well, if you work for Disney as a mascot, and say, you’re Goofy or you’re Mickey or Minnie Mouse, people see you and they relate you to the brand. And some people actually love you because of who you represent.

In other words, people often extend their love of the brand directly to the person who represents them without any indication of who that person really is.

I had this experience at SXSW – you walk around, and you see people and say, “Oh you’re with JetBlue, you’re Virgin America, oh you’re Southwest – I love you.”

So if you’re a company the question is, how do you stick your DNA into this person to make sure they’re speaking up properly all the time? Are they allowed to connect with your customers, and are these their customers or your company’s customers? What’s the nature of those relationships?

Who’s following up on what you’re saying? Because truth be told, I don’t believe Richard Branson is running the Virgin account.

It’s the fans that are driving the brands now, not the brands that are driving the fans. And when you start building walls around what the brands are allowed to do and not do, it takes away from some of the creativity.

But if you’re the owner of the brand, you should have the right to determine how the brand is used and how it connects with its audience. So it comes back to the question: Who do you hire to represent you? Do you hire a recent college graduate to be your online brand ambassador, or do you hire a skilled PR person who has years of experience?

These are the sorts of questions we’ll be exploring.

I know that you see social media like Twitter as a way to connect to individuals on a personal and meaningful level. Do you think brands can play a role in creating these spaces for people to connect?

What I think is fascinating is that brands today can do one-to-many marketing in a one-to-one way. It’s sort of like standing on a street corner and speaking: Anyone can stop to listen and you can talk to each and every one of them.

To me, this isn’t about media. It’s about communications, and it’s about connecting. At the end of the day, it’s really about being able to be heard, and about applying what’s been heard to effect change or to take action. While so many people talk about social media, I’m much more focused on social communication, and how these tools enable social communication to happen.

If you look at how the these platforms are changing things, they’re really changing the relationships between customers and corporations, corporations and their vendors and distributors, and between corporations and their employees. And they’re driving conversations that would never otherwise happen.

Can you think of some examples of brands that have become more “human” through their use of social media?

On many different levels, yes. If you take a look at Kodak, they now have a chief blogger and they engage with people on a regular basis. That’s an old company engaging in new things.

I’m also a big fan of The Today Show – and now if I’m watching The Today Show, I could tweet a comment and all of a sudden someone responds. Or what about when I tweet “Good morning” to the US Air Force and the Air Force tweets back, “Good morning.” That’s cool.

You established your own personal brand as an expert in Voice over Internet Protocol, which has been in the news lately with the recent Skype integration on Facebook and the newly launched Google Voice. Do you think VoIP – that is, speaking and listening through the Internet – will play a big role in the way we communicate online going forward?

I still think voice is the killer app. Other things will come and go, but at the end of the day, people like to talk – there’s something about voice that allows people to communicate effectively and get things done that they couldn’t do without hearing voice.

But I think having the ability to use these platforms is one thing, having a need is something else. Just because you have an engine, doesn’t mean people want to use your engine to go place to place.

So does Facebook need to have voice embedded into it? No. Is Facebook a better experience if people can talk through it? I think so, but the interface that we need for something to be successful on Facebook, I don’t think it’s Skype. And I don’t think we know yet what it is.

Why don’t you think Skype is the best fit for Facebook?

There’s nothing about Skype that makes it Facebook friendly. In my experience, if you try to do something and it’s not natural, the traction will never be there.

I think that voice could work on Facebook; the question is whether or not the Facebook community thinks it needs voice. Something will be successful if you identify and solve a problem that people have, rather than taking a solution and applying it to a problem that doesn’t exist.

In addition to @BrandsConf, you’ve organized 140 Characters conferences and smaller, less formal events around the world. Why is connecting with people face-to-face so important in the digital age?

I believe that the more virtual we become, the more we need things face-to-face. Conferences and events have the power to reinforce relationships we establish online, but they also allow us to take advantage of ones that are waiting to happen.

@BrandsConf takes place on December 2nd in New York City. As official media partner, Sparksheet will bring you original content around the event’s theme, the humanization of brands, and in-depth interviews with conference presenters. Our readers are entitled to a 30% discount on registration by using the promo code “sparksheet”http://brands2010.140conf.com/register