This weekend I got to experience the 7th annual Social Media Camp, the internationally famous annual conference all about social media and how to make the most of it. What an experience! I love social media, but primarily stay to the mainstays (or what I thought were the mainstays) of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a bit of LinkedIn on the side. Turns out…there’s so much more.
Social Media Camp is not a beginner’s guide to how to use social media. The dozens of amazing speakers and hundreds of equally amazing attendees really get into the business of the platforms, how to use them most effectively to garner a return on investment, how to maximize potentials, reach the largest audiences, track every single piece of data imaginable. There were some entrepreneurs struggling to get their heads above water with one platform or another, but they are there to learn more than just how to upload a cat video (unless that’s your business, then kudos to you).
The atmosphere around Social Media Camp reflects this, people in casual wear (usually not the social media managers, they were pretty snazzy) spending more time looking down at their computer screens and phones than up at the speakers, digital conversations happening twice as fast during the sessions than face-to-face ones in between. Lots of people coming up to each other saying “I’m @TweetHandle1, we’ve been chatting all day,” followed by “oh yes, good to meet you in person” (though they’d never say “at” – I learned that the hard way).
I was only able to attend the first two days of the camp, the Thursday afternoon lectures and the Friday sessions. On Friday, I attended five talks and the lunchtime keynote by the amazing/inspiring/hilarious Jesse Brown, a busy day at any conference! I attended Corporate Intimacy: A Challenge to Brand Storytellers (Jordan Bower) – #RoadToRyerson: Earning Attention With a Proper Social Campaign (Bailey Parnell) – Sell Your Story on Snapchat (Sunny Lenarduzzi) – The Other 83%: Why Brands Should Look Beyond Their Own Content & Competitors on Social Media (Cam Steed) – and Don’t Miss the Customer Next Door: Location Based Marketing (Jason Jubinville).
There were highs and lows, most notably about how relevant the talks were to my museum and cultural field. It really was no secret – and not much of a surprise – that most attendees were using social media as a way to sell things. That’s really the only way to make money by using it, and the main reason for business to want to spend the money on it. But it left out what in my mind is a big part of social media, and that’s engagement for non-marketing purposes. A cynic (or a social media manager) would tell me everything is marketing, and I’d agree: anytime someone engages with or even sees your account, they are receiving your message. But that doesn’t mean social media can’t be used in a way that isn’t about purchasing as an end goal. This is the classic struggle for arts and culture organizations who have mandates that can’t be justified by purchases or impressions alone. Their success is measured by how people engage with the content, what people learn, how the people in turn better their communities, and how the peoples’ views change after interacting with the subject matter.
In this regard, I felt like an outsider. Often at museum conferences, I’m banging my head against the “what’s the point of social media” wall, but at this conference it felt like attendees weren’t recognizing the social value and other perspectives of the tools at hand (and it simply could be those other perspectives just aren’t relevant to the business world). On the first day, when I introduced myself as working in museums in a non-social media position, people’s reactions seemed like I was not going to be a useful networking connection (though if given time they were interested in how I used my personal social media as a way to build a community of practice and as a professional development tool).
While at times I felt like a loner in my views, it was more revealing that I hardly met or saw any museum/arts/cultural workers other than self-employed entrepreneurs.
I was, however, able to meet up with some mutually-interested folks, most coming from the non-profit world, who also felt the selling mentality was over the top and that the message was more important. Bailey Parnell sold me on her talk by tweeting me ahead of time saying she was focusing more on content, on how (in her case) user generated content curated and commissioned by an organization led to content driving a message and resulting in positive community building. Jordan Bower’s talk on storytelling, Cam Steed’s talk on non-branded content, and even Jason Jubinville’s location-based marketing research app hold great potential for museums and could be easily shaped to suit a museum’s mandated engagement needs. Maybe I’ll see if Paul Holmes will let me do a non-marketing talk next year…
I learned a lot at the conference, even if some things weren’t perfectly tailored to my field. There is so much possibility in terms of connection, research, marketing, engagement, content, and creation in the field, and if you’ve thought of it chances are ten people have already made millions on it selling it to Google or Facebook. And though I learned Snapchat is so much bigger than I thought (8 BILLION views per DAY!), I still generally think of it like this (you just HAVE to click the GIF):
— Ben Fast (@benfaster) May 6, 2016
I also had the opportunity to meet some really fun people, having bonded over pre-session tweets about mutual interests, in-session tweets about Millennials, and post-session tweets about “where are you?” As always, the best part about a conference is the interactions you have, the relationships you create, and the potential for future connections in the workplace or life.
— Ben Fast (@benfaster) May 7, 2016