Social Media Week: Learning from the detractors

"Social Media Week London"The appearance of ZOMG! #SMWLDN INSIGHTS FTW was a salutary reminder that in the urgency of live tweeting, people sometimes report what’s said without assimilating. It’s great. It’s very funny. It seems also to have spawned a whole detractors phenomena, following sheeplike  onto an “I hate Social Media Week” trend.

The guys at Chinwag have worked hard to make Social Media Week happen, and deserve kudos for making it happen. Although the quality of some of the sessions is -and always has been – variable, most of the events are free, and the value is not just in the panel. And you can vote with your feet!

The event as being as much about meeting new people (I work behind a screen and many of the people I know are only virtual contacts), filling knowledge gaps (shock horror, I don’t know everything!), and gathering latest trends (a great sanity check). I’m sad that many of my contemporaries aren’t making any effort to gather, but we’re all busy, and perhaps working on my own makes my desire to ‘congregate’ greater – Social Media Week gives me a focus and an opportunity to challenge my own thinking.

And I have already learned from the event. I know very little about Facebook advertising (and have only used it in a limited context) but was able yesterday to hear, direct from Facebook, about their direction – albeit accidentally. I later sat in a room full of people where the audience was as knowledgeable as the speakers, and it’s not every day that Luis Suarez of IBM is here from the Canaries or I get to question a smart cookie from Google. The value of face to face hasn’t gone away, and won’t.

I think we can learn a lot from the people hecklers and ne’er sayers, although some of it was ever thus:

  • Four years ago, the general trend was to talk about bottom up, shared learning, continuous learning. Some of the loudest voices from that time, people who wouldn’t have missed Social Media Week in the past,  now have corporate jobs in companies that make their money using social media. Some aren’t now contributing to the ‘sharing economy’ in any way shape or form. These are the people who used to shout from the rooftops about everyone else not getting it: that giving away information for free serves as a Karmic advertisement for your wares. Now the shoe is on the other foot, they’ve changed their tune and are keeping their knowledge to themselves. The learning? Look behind who’s saying what and why they might be saying it.
  • The ZOMG Insights blog mentioned above? Humour is a very powerful tool for learning. And, of course: think before you tweet. 
  • Some people believe they know everything and know more about how social media is being used and integrated than the panellists at some of the better events. Have they stopped learning? Where are they challenging their thinking and making time for serendipity? (I don’t have the answer – it’s a question for debate, and I’d love to know what I’m missing.)
  • People who are critical of those who choose to attend have forgotten that there is a new generation of people learning who may well provide the next wave of  innovation. Things move fast around here, Yesterday’s Man.

It’s inevitable that the Social Media Week vibe has changed. We all grow up and move on.  It’s entirely your choice whether to attend or not. (I chose not to last year.) It’s also your choice whether to listen to any of the ‘noise’ on Twitter and other social media platforms. The mute button can tune out the #SMWLdn hashtag noise. And there’s a lot of it.

But I don’t think we should forget that the noise is happening because people are out there and engaging with the content, or at least reporting on it. (I don’t deny there really is some c**p in there!). Whilst I agree with Ben Matthews that there are other ways to be, the skill is to knowing when to open mouth (or Twitter) and when to be quiet. Few of us can claim we’re always right.

There are always new people to meet and talk with. Even the worst events can bring some benefit. And I’ve been to far worse than the Social Media Week ones I’ve attended so far.

I disagree with Ben’s view, though, that by attending ” you’ll get some good insight, some new infographics to put in your own presentations, and meet some nice people but if you’re not one of the companies or individuals running an event, then your time might be better spent quietly working until you find your own success.”

So no-one successful will be at Social Media Week? (Leading lights from the leading social networks take note). Meeting interesting people with similar interests isn’t a valid way of learning? Organisers and speakers in empty rooms it is, then.

I suspect that at the root of the problem we have forgotten what genuine influence is.  I have long hated the whole ‘influence’ debate – it’s cheapened influence into noise, and there’s a lot of pressure – often on more junior people – to fill their Twitter streams. It helps your Kred, Klout and whatever else score. Sadly, those tweeting now have often been trained by the ones that those now sitting in judgement and criticising them.

My main learning, though, is that those who sit in judgement from their Social Media Thrones – often the same people who fight for the right for Internet freedoms – appear to have forgotten how to use their silence buttons and let people exercise their right to share.  Perhaps they should get out and get a refresher. (Social Media Week can be quite useful for that kind of low level help.) They seem to have forgotten how many cups of coffee they shared on their way to success, and how useful and challenging those conversations could be.

Or could it be, I wonder, that one or two are just cheesed off that they don’t have a place on the podium?

1 Comment

  • By Benjamin Ellis, September 27, 2013 @ 11:01 am

    Brilliantly put, Claire. It’s something when a parody becomes a parody of itself. We have reached that point in the cycle of adoption, where critical thinking has become, well, critical, and people need to be choosy about where you take input from; question motives, demand evidence or at least logic. Anyone can spurt out a criticism or an insight, but it takes time and thought to sift out some wisdom.

    In an industry where pushing out content is the business, there’s going to be a lot of noise! The biggest shame is that many of those that are spouting blatant nonsense (assertions without a single example to back them up, and many counter examples around to disprove them) are those that should be the experienced voices of reason. Shame on them.

    Of course it was ever thus. Those that worked in the industry during the first boom – “get a website, it will solve all of your business problems” – will recognise the scene and the symptoms.

    Business, ultimately, is about relationships. Social Media hasn’t changed that. Relationships with customers, with employees, with industry peers. It has, however, created the (false) belief that somehow relationships can be empirically measured, based on on-line activity. They can’t; at least not yet. The important things in business are usually hard to measure. And that… Well, that’s not an insight :)

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