Friday, September 26, 2008
Attention Social Media 'experts', we need to stop pontificating, and start teaching
Back in March, I attended my first South by Southwest, and honestly loved the conference. The main reason why I loved the event was because I got to meet so many people that I had connected with in the blogosphere and other social circles. I was warned beforehand that 'you don't go to SXSW for the panels, you go for the people', and that assessment was spot-on. There were hundreds of panels, and I could really only find 10 or so that seemed even slightly interesting. And the panels themselves seemed to be little more than a group of social media 'rockstars' giving their opinions on a topic in a very large room, then after an hour it ends, everyone moves outside, where the 'rockstars' hob-knob with each other, and the rest of us mingle.
But a month later, I attended the first SBMU. And the difference in the two events couldn't be more glaring. Speakers actually attempted to TEACH attendees how to use marketing and social media tools. Speakers actually interacted with attendees. Speakers didn't use the event as a way to promote themselves, they used their time to educate and inform. When sessions ended, the hallways were lined with speakers firing up their laptops and working with attendees to help them with their website/social media/branding issues. Meeting a Chris Brogan or Pistachio is (and was!) great, but that look of sincere appreciation in the eyes of a small business owner when they say 'Thank you for taking the time to explain this to me!' is priceless.
And it caused me to change the way I think about which conferences I will be attending and speaking at, moving forward. It's no coincidence that the three conferences I'll be speaking at this fall, are all heavy on teaching. I specifically wanted to speak at SBMU-Columbus, the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer, and Learn About Web, because all three events are run by people that understand that it's not about putting 'rockstars' on stage, it's about teaching people how to use these tools to grow their businesses. It's about creating the session topics first, then picking the speakers. Not bringing in 'rockstars' and telling them they can speak about whatever they want, if that's what it takes to get them to agree to come.
Remember guys, it's not about us, it's about everyone else. We talk about how social media is all about sharing and connecting, so do we really mean that? Do we spend our time teaching, or do we spend it trying to be 'seen' with the 'right people'? I fear that many companies are getting the impression that the best way to use social media, is to use these tools in the exact same way that Scoble and Jeremiah Owyang do. That everyone is a bleeding-edge early adopter, and that they have to know every new social site/tool immediately. That's partly our fault, because instead of investing time to actually TEACH these companies how to use these tools, many of us are busy following around the A-Listers as well. Not every business should be blogging and on Twitter. But every business SHOULD know enough about these tools to decide for themselves which ones, if any, they should be using. We should be spending more time educating these businesses on what these tools are, and how to use them properly as a channel to communicate and connect with their customers.
Let's stop being 'broadcasters' and stop worrying about being 'rockstars', and spend more time sharing our knowledge and helping others that want to use these tools. Many of us are doing this already, but as a whole, I think we can, and should be doing more.
What do you think? When you go to marketing/social media conferences, do you go to learn, or to meet your favorite bloggers? Let me know what you think, I've only been to a few conferences, but this is the impression I have gotten from the ones I have been to, and from talking to others that have attended other events.
I think social media conferences should be focusing more on teaching and sharing knowledge, and less on 'rockstars' and chasing A-Listers. Agree or disagree?
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for a TON of great comments, like this one from Geoff Livingston: "Besides expertise is best honed by teaching others. Frankly, you learn more that way." Exactly.