I spent most of yesterday at a “social media consensus” workshop at the British Library. The group included people working with social media from a range of organisations including Microsoft, Channel 4, Save the Children, Bebo, and the Association for Progressive Communications.
The purpose of the day was to try to develop some sort of tool to measure the social impact of social media but we spent most of the day getting to know each other. Part of that process involved spending 20 minutes getting to know the person next to you which, in my case, was a serial entrepreneur named Oli Barrett. He recently started his blog, Daily Networker, to write about the interesting people he meets. I get the idea that he’s one of those people who mixes business networking and his social life so much that the two are almost inseparable which, for someone like him, is probably the best way to reach some sort of work/life balance: just combine it all into one.
One of the things that Oli has recently been involved with is a project, Make Your Mark with a Tenner, where they gave a group of teenagers a tenner for a month to see what they turn it into. It’s an idea that landed Oli a seat next to David Cameron the train from Manchester last week, an encounter he shares on his blog.
Facilitating the workshop was Pim Techamuanvivit whose food blog, Chez Pim (what else?!) has a technorati ranking in the 2000’s and gets tens of thousands of visits per day. Being honest, I didn’t realise that food blogs can actually have an audience of that enormity. I do, however, enjoy the occasional food blog, usually Graham Holliday’s NoodlePie which I read in part because I know him and can almost hear him talking as I read his posts.
Sitting next to Pim at lunch, we got talking about one of the more peculiar aspects of the British – the ability to secretly harbour one’s displeasure with a particular dish whilst, at the same time, smiling and telling the waitress that it’s “lovely” when prompted. The typical displeased British diner then proceeds to punish the restaurant by not leaving a tip, snarling as soon as they are clear of the doorway, and to spend the next six months telling anyone they know about their horrible dining experience. The major fault in this, of course, is that the very people who can remedy the situation are no given a chance to do so. Pim doesn’t let people get away with this in the comments on her blog because she realises how big an effect a negative review can have upon a restaurant’s business.
Having recently posted a glowing review of a Michelin starred Parisian restaurant, where she had found both the food and service impeccible, Pim was surprised to find a comment from someone who claimed that the service was so rude that she would never return. Pim challenged the commenter, asking not only for more details of the commenter’s bad experience, but asking what, if anything, the commenter had done to allow the staff to resolve the issue. It turns out that, having paid the bill, the commenter had started to slide her chair back, at which point the attentive French waiter immediately arrived to help her get up. The customer felt they were rudely being hurried from the restaurant but, as Pim pointed out in her reply, the waiter was simply following the usual protocol and had she simply said she wasn’t ready to go, he probably would have apologised and moved back into the shadows to more perfectly anticipate her next requirement.
Towards the end of the day, I also met Adam Gee who is a New Media Commissioner at Channel 4 and who writes a blog called SimplePleasures. Actually, it’s 4 different blogs with the same name – you’ll find an explanation here. I get the feeling that, more than anything else, his blogs help him organise and make sense of his life whilst at the same time sharing it with others.
Why is it that everytime I go to these things, it’s the bloggers I most enjoy meeting rather than the others? I think it’s exactly for the reasons above – they tend to be open, conversational, sharing people. Which is exactly why, with years of experience in the online community management industry, I’m now much more likely to engage with and be personally interested in blogs instead of message boards and chat rooms.
Community is a funny word. It’s full of warm-fuzzy wholesome goodness yet, when you really think about it, communities have barriers to entry. “Community” can, and often is, synonymous with “clique” – as much exclusive as they are inclusive. Blogs, on the other hand, are out there and anyone with something to say can comment, quote, take away, link to, etc is so much more open and accessible.
My advice to the non-bloggers who were at the workshop yesterday? If you work in a creative industry you’ve got to blog, otherwise you aren’t part of the conversation.