While I had a terrific time at the recent New York City “Tweetup” event, a thought kept nagging around the corners of my mind. I remembered Jennifer Mattern’s recent lament that Twitter and other social media networks were rife with cliques and exclusivity, and I wondered if I wouldn’t feel rather left out and uncomfortable if this particular event had been the first I had chosen to attend.
Anyone was welcome to join in the festivities, and everyone involved was friendly and engaging–but we were also all very clearly “capital F” friends–would a newcomer have felt out of place?
We’re not all extroverts, despite the fact that the common stereotype of the “introvert geek living their parents’ basement” is not usually true. Getting involved in social media as a “newbie” can be an intimidating undertaking–particularly when faced with the face to face meetups that have become such an essential element to interacting in the medium.
Indeed, attendance at the various events, panels, conferences and other meetings is integral to building relationships and raising your own profile, or that of your client’s. I rarely leave an event without at least a few new Twitter friends or other potential contacts, be they business opportunities, Media Bullseye story ideas, or just a new friend (and sometimes all three).
But where to begin? Event regulars Chris Brogan and Jeff Pulver both have some excellent event primers that will help attendees get the most of events, but both assume that you even know which event to start with. What event works best for those new to the social media “scene?” (And let’s not kid ourselves, there is definitely a “scene”) (Oh dear, does that make me a “scenester?”)
There are a few different basic “types” of social media events out there. While this list is by no means complete, it’s a good start:
These types of events tend to cater to professional associations, such as PRSA or the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR). They might involve a fee, or paid membership of the sponsoring organization, and will usually have a set agenda, formal panel discussions, and other trappings of typical business conferences. While the more formal events don’t tend to allow as much in the way of social networking, they are valuable for anyone looking to learn as much as possible, as the expert voices drawn to such events will have a lot of expertise to offer.
Wikipedia has the simplest explanation: “An unconference is a conference where the content of the sessions is created and managed by the participants (generally day-by-day during the course of the event) rather than by one or more organizers in advance of the event.” PodCamp is the most popular unconference currently making the rounds among social media types, though there are others. While there is a set agenda and panels of experts presentations, unconferences are far more social than more formal events, and may be a good place to start. Though I would recommend seeking out other attendees in advance to help ease any anxiety about the social interaction aspect of these events.
Social Media Events
There are a number of events that can fall under this admittedly vague description. I would define a social media event as a semi-formal gathering of folks in a community to serve a specific purpose, but with enough of a casual element that there is plenty of opportunity of social networking and relationship building that might be lacking at more formal events. These events could be run by the local Social Media Club (which may also run more formal events), or even by an individual looking to get a group together. For example, blogger Bryan Person began a series of “Social Media Breakfasts” last summer (Jeff Pulver has also recently begun his own breakfast series). These events usually offer a formal presentation or discussion, but are also a relaxed enough setting that anyone anxious about starting out can feel comfortable and get the opportunity to make new contacts. According to Bryan, “the social media breakfast offers a great opportunity for newcomers to social media to meet others in a welcoming, non-threatening way.There’s a lot of time for mingling and just chatting, and that way you can ask questions pretty easily. I also think the presentations aren’t too heavy.”
The most casual of the social media events I’m examining here, the Tweetup is usually just an informal gathering of friends from Twitter, either for drinks, a “geek dinner,” or even bowling or a movie. These events are terrific for those already pretty immersed in the social media scene, or extroverted newbies, but might not be the best place to start for anxious newcomers. If you don’t mind interacting with a group that already may be quite familiar with each other, then dive right in, the geeks are friendly! But if you’re a little more timid, I’d recommend starting with a more formal event.
My final recommendation? Start with a breakfast. They are casual but also involve intelligent presentations, and they attract some of the smartest and friendliest of the social media “movers and shakers.” And hey, what do you know, there’s one coming up next month! If you’re going to be in the Boston area, sign up now. What are you waiting for?