Let’s be honest today.
The feedback is coming in from some events running right now – SxSWi, SMWF and some reviews from Like Minds, and something is clear to me: we still are thinking top down.
Yesterday Valeria Maltoni posted “SxSWi in Quotes“, which comprised mostly of people saying their favourite thing at South By SouthWest (SxSW) was, lo and behold, meeting people. Chris Brogan made similar conclusions in his commentary entitled ”We Could Do So Much More“, when he negatively saw people not connecting, as well as panels that weren’t attendee centric. Some how it seems the people come for the people, but the event isn’t organised for this.
Update: Jay Bear has added his thoughts on SxSW today, which also echo the same sentiment. Jay writes that “the feeling of community, and ‘we’re all in this together’ is slipping away.”
Social Media World Forum (SMWF) struggled at the beginning of the week with criticism over the same old content, and poor focus on the attendees. From what I’ve heard, this wasn’t just the event organisers, but the general attitude of many involved (all all levels: sponsors, speakers, delegates) who saw it as another event to push their content – and from what I’ve seen on the #smwf hashtag, this does seem to be true.
The feedback we had for Like Minds was overwhelmingly positive, but the criticism came, and I’m very mindful of it, that there was still lots of talking heads and not enough application. Despite our innovations with the Like Minds Lunchtime Talks, I know many people still didn’t connect and get what they needed to go and implement on Monday morning. More theory than action.
Even at the beginning of the year at the Media140 Meetup in January, there was a point where Glenn Le Santo stood up and broke the broadcast from the panel and actually started some open, honest, two-way communication – which turned it into, again from what I heard, an exceptional evening.
The whole point of Social Media is that it is supposed to be social. Non-broadcast. Non-vertical. But… Social Media events are very broadcast, very vertical, and aren’t social.
Perhaps I should say that they aren’t social enough – and stop being so polarising - but I’m not talking about the social aspect that happens around the content. What I mean is that the foundational concept of the event is not social, it is broadcast. It doesn’t need to be, but it be. And I have a few thoughts why:
1. We idolise content, so the organisers give it.
People who say event organisers do it for money haven’t organised an event. The reason why we are so heavy on broadcasting content is because we so idolise content above comments.
This is another contradiction that irritates me, that we focus on the content not the comments – which is again broadcast over conversation.
2. Speakers and panelists want their 5 minutes.
“Screw where the panel is going, I want to say my bit on what I did” is in the back of many minds, and then out goes the idea of ‘what is helpful to Joe Bloggs in the audience?’ This is why we have our panels planned at Like Minds – because value needs to be thought through. Otherwise, everyone just says the same thing.
And to be fair – why shouldn’t the speakers and panelist get their 5 minutes? Given how much we worship content, it makes sense they’d want to get theirs out too.
3. Much of the audience wants to make money tomorrow with Social Media.
When people say that “it didn’t help me”, what they really mean is “it told me Social Media is hard work and didn’t tell me how to make money from Twitter tomorrow.” They are also the ones with business cards that they throw in everyone’s face…
Of course this isn’t just an issue with Social Media events – it’s an issue with Social Media itself, namely that we focus on content far more than action.
This is top down. It’s not audience centric, it’s author centric. I could so easily use Like Minds to push my personal purposes, but I don’t. I chose to not be author centric.
First: Can we not be a Social Media conference, but a conference that uses Social Media? This distinction alone changes the whole way you promote the event, because Social Media becomes a means, not an end. Therefore you can relax about whether you trend on Twitter or not. Yeah, it’s nice when you do, but it doesn’t actually make a shred of difference.
Second: Drilling down even further, our aims need to shift from providing more content to promoting more connections. Seeing as we already know more than we do, our aims should be to unite people not with more knowledge they don’t use, but with like minded individuals with whom they can make things happen. Seriously – for how much longer can we continue to preach to the converted?
Another way to say this would be to simply to say: make events about people, and action.
Third: We must dare to be different. We’re running the same 1950s conference model with 21st Century ideas. The unconference model is a step towards it, but these tend to be poorly organised and not accessible to those who are newcomers. I consider ‘unconferencing’ to be a part of the event as whole, but not the whole event, as I describe in Creating A People-To-People Conference.
I began to feel the echo chamber effect in December. I guess now it’s really echoing. The days of events riding on the back of Social Media and expecting to just succeed are over – at least for London anyway.
The Change Begins With You
As I described, I think this is stinking thinking that we’ve all got a little of. Stuck on the content wagon.
The first way to break it? Go away and do something.
What do you think?