x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'This is not a get-rich-quick scam'

YouLearnTwitFace, 'the most amazing social media event ever', promised to show delegates how to become masters of online marketing.

David Crane, left, and Ernesto Verdugo, right, hand out a prize of restaurant vouchers during a game of
David Crane, left, and Ernesto Verdugo, right, hand out a prize of restaurant vouchers during a game of "The Price Is Right" at YouLearnTwitFace, an online marketing conference at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre in the Mall of the Emirates last weekend.

YouLearnTwitFace, 'the most amazing social media event ever', promised to show delegates how to become masters of online marketing At 9am last Friday morning, Gautam Ganglani and Ernesto Verdugo bounded onto the stage at the Ductac Theatre in Dubai. Weary eyes in the crowd were teased awake by a smoke machine, flashing red lights and a rolling 12-bar blues soundtrack. The audience of about 300 were told by the two organisers to stand up and shake the hands of those sitting near them, and congratulate each other on being there. They had made the wise decision, they were told, to make it to "the most amazing social media event ever".

"Some people might think we are weirdos," Verdugo said. "But we will be weirdos who make a lot of money online." The YouLearnTwitFace conference, for which delegates had paid up to US$997 (Dh3,660) to attend, was named after the revolutionary websites YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, which are now visited by a majority of the world's internet population on a daily basis. While we all know how these sites are changing the way we live and work, what we are less aware of, the YouLearnTwitFace speakers would soon tell us, is how they can deliver you a guaranteed six-figure income that practically earns itself, leaving you to lead the life of your dreams.

"Do you want to make US$15,000 online this month?" asked one speaker, Ciaran Doyle. "Because if I can do it, so can you ... today is the day that you can make a decision and never look back." While introducing the event, Verdugo was eager to explain that "this is not a get-rich-quick scam", while other speakers were keen to differentiate between their money-making systems, which they would introduce you to (for a healthy fee) and the pyramid schemes that often lure the desperate or naive.

That distinction was not aided by the logo of the event, which was a graphic of a pyramid, made of people. The speakers at YouLearnTwitFace ranged from life coaches to motivational speakers and online marketing professionals. One was credited as "creator of the Eruption Marketing System". Another, David Crane, has had a career in Dubai ranging from radio host to hypnotist and practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming. He is now selling a series of books and DVDs entitled 30 Days to Build a New You.

What almost all of them had in common was a "sell" - presentations concluded with a pitch to the audience to sign up for a coaching system on offer by the speaker. Reg Athwal, a Dubai-based consultant and motivational speaker, offered a two-hour advice session for the discounted rate of US$1,000. Doyle, a lively Irishman who enticed the crowd with photos of his luxury holidays (his online marketing system earns him thousands of dollars even while he's lying on the beach, he explained) offered a 12-month programme. The evocatively-titled Ciaran Doyle Ultimate Success Mentoring System would normally cost about US$10,000, but as a one-off special offer to the Dubai crowd, he was selling it for just US$2,997.

"It's so easy, you'll literally be making money in minutes," he said. The lure of fast, effortless wealth has enticed people since the beginning of time; surely it was not long after the invention of fire that a caveman wandered, cave to cave, selling a revolutionary new system to live the life of your pre-historic dreams. "Fire is changing everything," he told his neighbours, "and with my revolutionary new system, you'll never spend a day grinding millet and chasing hyenas again. Today is your opportunity to break free."

Conferences like YouLearnTwitFace, where speakers hawk systems that let you declare independence from the rat race and become wealthy on your own terms, have been around for decades. But their new attachment to social media - a web craze that was a marginal hobby just a few years ago - is telling. If social media was hip-hop - if blogs were De La Soul, Facebook was MC Hammer and Twitter was Tupac - then the white people have started rapping. Vanilla Ice is in the house.

These days, a Facebook friend request is as likely to come from an aunt or former schoolteacher as it is from someone you met at a party on the weekend. In the adoption curve that begins with innovators and ends with laggards and luddites, social media is currently in the sweet, bulky bulge in the middle, where almost anyone with internet access is getting in on the game. In that sense, it is only natural that the life coaches and hypnotists at YouLearnTwitFace - who in the early Nineties might well have sold a fax-based home marketing system - now pepper their pitches with the jargon of the new media era.

Social media marketers are becoming "the new rock stars", Crane said. In a presentation played out to the sound of Real Love by Robbie Williams, he explained his concept of "the bank of life", where we each have an account that is credited with US$84,000 each day - except instead of dollars, they are seconds, which we can choose to invest in whatever way we please. "Guys, let's give ourselves a round of applause," he said. "Today is the first day of the rest of our lives."

Crane's website advertises a number of services he can offer to businesses and the public, including sales training seminars and hypnosis sessions to help quit smoking. A "dream therapy" event is described as "playing chill out / Buddha Bar music to a hypnotised audience whilst giving instructions for self-discovery and wellness". Ernesto Verdugo, one of the event's organisers, followed Crane on stage. "Dave was one of my first students," he said. "And now, he's really doing the deals."