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I love social media but I don’t drink the Kool Aid (@Scotland140 related)

Following on from talking about if you can’t say something nice, STFU… apprently some people feel I’ve been dissing the upcoming Scotland140 event and that I, little megamouth me, should STFU.

Well, no. And here’s where I explain why as well as pointing out the power of words and why people shouldn’t be all about the ‘wooo!’.

Scotland140 is the first Media140 event being hosted in Scotland – Glasgow to be precise – on June 17 at the CCA in Glasgow. Your £40 ticket gets you supper, a string quartet and three speakers – Pat Kane, Steve Berry and Trey Pennington. Organised by D8’s overly energetic Mark Jennings.

That’s all OK. It’s a bit pricey but a) good speakers don’t come cheap (unless it’s SSMD events :-) ) and b) you would imagine most of the crowd will be claiming it back on expenses.

Now, it’s good that someone’s putting this on. We have the aforementioned SSMD’s, the New Media Brekkie’s, the CIPR does the odd training piece on social media and digital PR and now we have this. There’s also the 38Minute mob Thursday meet-ups and the very popular Edinburgh Coffee Mornings and I can’t remember the name of the new thing that happens on the last Thursdays in Edinburgh, so if you are in the Central Belt you’re certainly sorted for events.

And to an extent that’s good. All these events, different points of view, people learning different things. It’s a sign that there are people out there wanting to learn about social media, digital engagement and so on. At some point, that will start to trickle through to companies and everyone’s a winner. On that, I think we can all agree.

Where we can disagree though is that if something comes along that I have an issue with – just as anyone can have an issue with them – it’s only fair and right to raise said concern. I often joke with Iain Hepburn that he’s the Grumpy Young Man of Scottish Digital Media when the truth is – far moreso than me – he looks at things and goes ‘right, that’s nice but what’s the practical use or outcome’? And that’s the way it should be. Scotland doesn’t do – in this domain – anything because it’s cool or edgy. Most businesses don’t concentrate on the WOW, they want to concentrate on the ROI, specifically what money it will make them because that’s what matters to them.

So on Scotland140 there were two concerns – the first of which is perfectly valid.

Scotland140 shouldn’t be for the digerati

If this event is full of the likes of myself, Allan Barr, Iain Hepburn and other Scottish digerati and is aimed at us then the event to an extent is a bit of a fail. Why? We shouldn’t be the main audience. Yes, they should be there – especially to hear from the likes of Trey – but it’s the marketing managers, the CEOs, the small company owners who should be the mainstay of the audience. If it’s just the digerati, then you’re preaching to the choir, what you want are the people who don’t use the tools of engagement (because remember folks, hype aside, that’s all Twitter and so on are: tools) and showing them why it can work for them.

So I have pointed this out a few times – before the topics of conversation were announced – and got hammered for it. I can live with it but it was interesting to see that some people saw it as me being anti-event and putting the boot into Mark Jennings and the event, which I wasn’t. I just voiced concerns  about who the event should be for to maximise success in the long-term (hey, I have a considerable vested interest in people wanting to do social media and digital engagement!).

(Slight update to this part – in the last 24 hours the talk topics have been appearing. Trey is speaking about ‘What matters now – a practical look at social media in action’ and Pat is going for something equally relevant.)

Which brings us to the second concern.

Scotland140 is on where? Why go all California in promoting it then?

Scotland140 got promoted in a very non-British way. There were hints and teases of something happening, then there were hints and teases of where the venue would be and then it was all revealed. Which is fine, not my event, so not my place to criticise – and also, it’s good to see stuff being done a little bit differently. But again, all that teasing can turn off the people who need to be there the most – the business types. Where was the hard facts case for winning them over instead of cute tweets? Social Media often talks about knowing your market and applying what works to the local area. Doesn’t seem to have happened in this case.

But that wasn’t the worst thing. What did get on the goat of a few people was that one of the media140 types – a chap called Ande I believe – did a blog post titled A Brand New Day for Social Media in Scotland. Now, being honest, I felt that title was a tad insensitive, but said little at first. However others emailed and DM’d me about it and the more I thought about it, the more it rankled.

You see to imply something is a Brand New Day. implies starting from a clean sheet, a subtext that whatever went before was so bad that the only way to improve is to start afresh – to have a brand new day. Now where this irked some was in two things:

  1. The implication is that a reboot is needed because the work beforehand was so bad, ergo those doing the work – the likes of myself, the Big Partnership Social Media Division, Barry Dewar, Kyle Macrae, 4TM, Mike McGrail and many others – are rubbish at it
  2. This also slightly irked some because the solution appeared to be these three speakers – none of whom I believe do day-to-day SM work in Scotland – coming in to give their wisdom from on high. “Whoopdedoo! Three wise men – including an American and Londoner – coming to tell us ignorant yokels how to do this social media stuff. Think they can give us the secret of fire while at it?” That was an email sent to me.

“But it’s just some words”, you say. And if that’s the case that’s a huge fail. In communications, words are one of the most powerful things there can be. So is it some words that weren’t thought through? Even worse if that’s the case from the officials behind the Media140 events. And then you’ve alienated the very people who should be a part of your audience – not the core part mind you – but the people who should be your event evangelists.

(which brings the point back to see how some words can cause offence while for others there may be no offence spotted? Words have power and authors have to think through every word carefully nowadays. I took offence, so did others while many others just though nothing of it.)

So I spoke out about that online and again, found myself being pulled up for being too negative.

What actually makes the accusation quite funny is that during it all, Mark Jennings and I were swapping private emails talking about this stuff. And that’s where I put my criticisms. Not out public, but in private because I want to see Mark do well out of this. He’s invested a lot of time, money, effort and energy into it.

But there’s something else that comes out of this: it’s quite good to have the grumpy old young men. Why? Because if there’s a bit of praise then it’s not fake, it’s real. We all know the journo’s and bloggers who can be sent any old thing and they give it a good write-up and that’s fine, but there’s also the people out there who don’t do that and anything they say is meant sincerely and honestly. Some people may not like what they say, but it would be a dull world if we all agreed anyway.

(And before anyone asks – no, criticising the Californication promotion is not a criticism of Mark Jennings. Mark is hyper, talented, enthusiastic and quite possibly bonkers in that lovely, emotional way the best designers are. I wouldn’t ask Mark to change one bit but Mark and the event are two different things.)

Should Scotland140 be a success?

Of course it should. I’d hate to see anyone’s event – with the exception of a KKK meeting – be a flop.  I do think there’s been an element of over-hype for what to me is 3 guys, 1 band (and technically another singer I suppose) and supper and some networking, but it’s baby steps. If Mark or someone else had gone and put on a full two-day conference with 20 speakers and workshops he would have been committing financial suicide. This is a good way of testing the waters for the event and hopefully, for Mark, not losing too much money.

So all being well, I’ll see you there. And no, I won’t be frowning.

What’s this got to do with the Kool Aid?

Social Media is great. Like so many other things before it, it could be a transformative customer and people engagement tool. Humanity being what it is, that potential won’t be realised, but it could still be a very useful communications tool. At the same time, I don’t – unlike many Americans – think it is the be all and end all. It’s a tool. Useful in some cases, horrific in others.

And that’s why for any event – even SSMD’s – I’ll be quite frank about them. If something’s good it gets praise, if it’s rubbish, it doesn’t. There’s no Kool Aid of it all being wonderful purely because it’s social media. There’s no “Social Media 4EVER = IT’S ALL TEH AWESOME” here.

We don’t do hype. We do work that works for people and we do results. We graft not grift. It’s what Scotland brings to social media. And hopefully that’s what we’ll see at Scotland140.

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10 Comments
  1. Ben Werdmuller von Elgg

    I see your point about the whole social media marketing scene, which has a hint of echo chamber about it. But this kind of screed is exactly the kind of thing that Scotland has to get over.

    If someone is trying something new, give them constructive support. Try not to shit all over it. There’s a lot to be said for the “that’s great, have you thought about this …?” approach.

    The Media140 events have turned out to be a pretty effective way of sharing experience between industry professionals, and raising the profile of social media as a business technique overall. Of course there’s room for other approaches. You’ve identified a gap in the market for more corporate-orientated events; why not start one?

    Finally, while you seem to be pretty anti-California, the culture there created and maintains the industry we work in. Social media came from there, and most of the products of note continue to come from there or have some sort of association. It’s a culture of openness, honest positivity and encouragement. I think we could all use a little more of that over on this side of the Atlantic, and certainly north of the border.

    • Ben, I’m all for people trying new stuff. I’ve been pushing new stuff – for lack of a better phrase – since the early 200s, if not the late 1990s. I already run the Scottish Social Media Dinners which should be outreach to new people in an inexpensive way so between that and my company that’s me doing my bit. I’ve also highlighted the other events that take place.

      And yes, while I acknowledge that the culture of social media may in part have started in California that doesn’t mean everything from there is wonderful. It took until 2009 for many US companies to start asking what the ROI of social media was, while in Scotland it was normally the second question asked. A culture of being positive and open is one thing – and I agree that Scotland could do better in that arena – but not at the expense of practicality or companies being ripped off and getting nothing for their efforts or cash.

  2. Mark Jennings

    Madly busy today so no time to comment more fully just now, just a quick one to highlight that the event is not for digerati (I abhor that word).

    I am delighted to see that we have the broadest possible audience – including folks from big and small business, third sector, government, academics, journalists and students. People who want to use social media, not just talk about it.

    I also believe passionately that we should have the best speakers in Scotland, not just the best speakers from Scotland. A speakers ‘geography’ is a dated concept, but relevance to the audience is crucial.

  3. Scott Graham

    As I understand the initial, conceptual stages of the Scotland140 event, there was an element of uncertainty with regards to speakers, program, venue and audience. As a result, initial attempts to promote it were deliberately vague as there was little concrete information to share. There was, it seems to me, a certain synergy between the garnering of interest from potential attendees and firming up of details. I’m not overly convinced it could be considered ‘Californian’ in the marketing and certainly not ‘London’ but rather I can see an element of Glasgowness in it; a kind of ‘we’ll see what happens’ approach.

    Nor would I necessarily agree that the first Scotland140 event should be aimed at marketing managers or CEOs. Of course they are free to attend but traditionally the inaugural event is aimed at those who want to lead the field, instructing and guiding others.

    The inaugural event should give those who embrace digital (not digerati) the tools they need to interest the marketing managers and CEOs in digital engagement and persuade them to not only attend future events but also invest in digital.

    Where I would agree with the article, is the claim that ‘a new day is dawning’ is insulting to those who have been involved in digital engagement and pioneering social media tools in Scotland. Having history airbrushed out of existence or belittled is not a pleasant thing to experience.

    Having said that, yes, the event may be over-hyped a tad and that’s down to the efforts of Mark Jennings (who isn’t a designer but is enthusiastic and quite definitely bonkers), it may be slightly disparaging to what has gone before, but it’s all being done with the best possible intent (and, of course, more than a little exposure for Mark Jennings and D8 Digital) and it’s likely to be a reasonable success – it would seem even the sceptical have signed up.

    It’s easy to point out flaws, but neither Scotland140, Mark Jennings or D8 Digital have any exclusivity on Social Media conferences. If you don’t like what’s happening with this one, get involved with one of the other Social Media get togethers or get engaging, build an audience and create your own conference.

    (written in a slight rush so apologies for any typos or grammatical errors – lunchtimes simply aren’t long enough)

  4. Iain Hepburn

    I love the fact that anyone who dares be questioning, let alone critical, of of anything in the social media echo chamber is guilty of shitting all over it

  5. Iain Hepburn

    I’ve two problems with the Media140/Scotland140 event.

    Firstly, as you’ve identified, is the whole Californian ‘change the universe and bring about world peace in 140 characters’ attitude which it seems to be built on. Good luck to all involved, but I still don’t know what the actual point of the event is, other than some kind of nebulous ‘let’s all share stuff’ness.

    Secondly, and curiously, is the lack of engagement in terms of answering criticism. I know I’ve never had a genuine question over the practical application or value of the event answered – it’s always platitudes and ‘you can be the judge of whether we are different when you attend’, rather than actually answering why one should attend in the first place. £40 is a lot to pony up for the event, and even more when it’s not easy to get a handle on what the event actually is. If those promoting or publicising it can’t offer one, why should I invest the time and money connecting with it?

    I do wish Mark and everyone connected with it all the best, and I’d love it to be a long-term, sustainable success. But I don’t see the appeal of it beyond the usual suspects and I don’t, to be honest, need to spend £40 to mix with the usual suspects I’d see elsewhere without actually having a good reason.

  6. Hugh Wallace

    Where does the Kool Aid drinking come in? Or for that matter the targeting of digerati? I came across Scotland140 through positive WOM from the Oxford event, then on Twitter, and latterly the Media140 blog post. Not for one second did I take ‘brand new day’ to be any more/less than standard hyperbole that surrounds any event, and I certainly didn’t view it as an attack on the healthy and vibrant existing Scottish scene. I haven’t attended other happenings because they’re really telling me ‘the future of business’ or offering me ‘a blueprint for creative and commercial success’ – that’d just be silly. I go to hear interesting people speak and meet smart folk working in a similar area to me. Nothing in the Scotland140 literature I’ve come across is suggesting a high-fiving, back-slapping foursquare love-in, so I find the title of this post a bit odd – who was offering you the Kool Aid you didn’t drink?

    Media140 may not be the next TED (y’never know, hey?) but it’s early days and it’s chosen Scotland early on, rather than the usual southern bias. Worth a punt? I reckon so and I hope you do too Craig.

    (And you can’t buy a poke of chips for £40 in London town.)

  7. Barry Dewar

    Fascinating debate. I have really mixed feelings about the whole thing but all the fuss has actually made me want to attend now.

    I hadn’t paid much heed to the event until now because, like Iain, I couldn’t quite work out what it was. Now there’s a bit more info on the speakers I think it’ll be interesting.

    As I think we’d all concur, this is a new field and we never stop learning. Talking to each other, and more importantly listening to each other is the only way we can glean the tiny clues that help us do it better.

    I want to hear what Trey, Pat and the other bloke have to say. It’s also a chance to network, which while being shameless is also a big part of what we consultants do.

    I’d also be a bit pissed off if I was an interested business person and I went along to an event like this only to find that Craig, Mike et al had stayed away. What would you be expecting to get from a social media event other than interesting chats and a chance to meet people who actually do it?

  8. scottdouglas

    It’s all hokum and electrickery.

    Why can’t it be like the old days when the main sources of conversation and information were the wireless and the pub.

    Oh … it still is?

    Well that’s all right then.

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