I sat across from a real social media newbie at Blog Potomac on Friday, and was delighted by his enthusiasm for the event. He was full of questions, excited by the content, and constantly peppered me with whispered questions about the speakers’ presentations. He took feverish notes and seemed genuinely interested in and intrigued by every last discussion. This type of enthusiasm, from someone not as up to their ears in social media as someone like, say, me, rejuvenated my own enthusiasm.
The event, well attended despite some opinions to the contrary (it was sold out, after all, not necessarily an easy feat considering how many free-of-charge social media events are out there), met all my expectations. First and foremost, it was educational. While there was plenty of time for elbow rubbing (though I admit I did not get to meet everyone I would have wished to) and networking, the vast majority of the day was dedicated to the many informational sessions and group discussions.
Not only that, but the pacing was crisp; no one had any time for boredom. There were some sessions that interested me more than others, but even the ones I might have skipped if given the option had some good nuggets of information, solid questions from the crowd, and all were blessedly Powerpoint-free (an official event rule).
All I might have asked for if I were in charge (hey, how about Blog New England?) was at least one panel discussion. The lineup of speakers, including Kami Huyse, Maggie Fox, Katie Paine, and AOL’s Frank Gruber, was impressive, but a lively panel discussion might have also been fun.
More Than a 101 Discussion
Speaking with event organizer Geoff Livingston after the event, I noted the high-level of each of the discussions. Geoff responded that the intent in the planning of Blog Potomac was to appeal not only to the toe-dippers, but to the folks looking beyond the simple, 101-style, “so, what is social media anyway?” discussions that tend to be the trend at other, similar events. While the many newbies in attendance (a show of hands at the start showed that it was the first unconference for all but about a third of the audience) could certainly still grasp the concepts, the early adopters were rewarded with some high-level discussions
This is something I’ve been looking for in social media events for a little while now, having discussed it here on Media Bullseye a few months ago. While 101 events will continue to be the norm and continue to have untold value as the word about new media continues to spread beyond early adopters, Blog Potomac’s greatest strength may have been its assumption that the audience was ready to learn more.
Listen Before You Leap
It cannot be stressed enough. Step one for companies looking to engage with social media is exactly as the opening keynote speaker, Dell’s cheif blogger Lionel Menchaca, described it just a few minutes into his address: “go to where the conversations are, and listen.”
In fact, the word “listen” is all over my notes from just about every session on the day. Perhaps I was more attuned to that advice because I am employed by a company that does just that–but if there was one thing the beginners in the audience should have taken away from Blog Potomac, it’s that you must start by listening. Whether you use a company like CustomScoop or even just set up a couple simple Google Blog alerts; listen before you leap.
In her session, Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media Group, pointed out that social media engagement wasn’t “about the big idea, it’s about the right idea.” Getting into the blogging game or creating endless profiles online because it is the hot new thing to do is not going to help any company. Instead, companies and brands must listen carefully to the conversation they’d most like to join, and make sure to join only in a way that’s appropriate. Indeed, listening carefully and doing it right the first time seem to be the major themes of the day.
My takeaway from Blog Potomac is that everyone is eager to learn, and the more attendance at events like this will ensure it happens. And that will remain true even for the geeks, because as Katie Paine noted during Frank Gruber’s session on tools, even the geeks learned about “bright shiny objects” they hadn’t yet discovered. There’s always more to learn.