I just love the title of an event I've been asked to speak at on June 11 at Fazeley Studios.
My Dad's on Twitter ... But He Doesn't Know Why is described as a 'collaborative mindmap event', which brings to my mind the kind of freaky happenings the Pink Floyd used to hold at the UFO club a million years ago.
Unfortunately, instead of Arnold Layne, you'll get me and three far better qualified people chatting (I think) about social media and its impact and role in a city like Birmingham.
I say 'I think' because, as is the norm with this kind of thing, the organisers go to great pains to ensure the event bears no resemblance to anything belonging to the old order of 'seminars', 'meetings' and the like. Often, that can be acheived by prefixing the politically incorrect word with 'un-' (hence, 'un-conference'). So I'm not entirely sure what to expect, to be frank.
But enough of my haughty disdain and back to the title and the event itself. The name suggests something along the lines of: "Everyone's using social media but few people really know what it's about". But I wonder if there will ever be an answer to the question that begs.
The very phrasing often misses the point. It assumes the medium is defined, finished, describeable .
I feel the same discomfort when people dismiss the value of every word on the internet after Wikipedia users (often the mainstream media) are duped by the latest student prank. They see the internet as a single entity that probably should be controlled by governments (or editors), and because much of it isn't, anything that appears in digital virtual form is to be thoroughly distrusted, if not ignored completely. The presence of extremism and pornography are seen as proof positive of the internet's devilish provenance. But by the same logic, all books would be banned because that's how Mein Kampf first appeared, or every newspaper burned because the Daily Express exists.
It's the same with social media, and the problem is the label itself. It implies the existence of a medium, or a range of related media, for which there is a rule book and a single purpose.
That's the assumption I've encountered when invited to share my thoughts on the impact of social media on a number of professions or walks of life recently. Comfortable in the way their world has worked for decades, PR professionals, journalists - politicians even - want to know how they can use social media to retain control of the worlds they inhabit. "Please show us, train us," they say, only to be throughoughly discomforted by the prospect of the Death of the Press Release - or the age of user generated content.
The only rather woolly advice I've given so far is to tell people to dive in and play, and then work out the rules that work best for you or your organisation. That's because there are as many social networks in existence in the virtual world as there are internet users. My Facebook network, by definition, is mine and mine alone. It may overlap with a few hundred others, but only I choose who's in it. It's the same with Twitter, whose most useful function is the 'block' feature by which I can simply turn my back on the people and brands who annoy me.
And that leads to the other characteristic which people looking for rules should consider - negotiation. Communication via social media is entirely a process of earning the trust and respect of people you want to be connected with. The implications of this simple fact are only just now dawning on those who have been told social media will change the way they work forever.
So, what am I able to tell the good people at Fazeley Studios on June 11? Very little, actually, because I'm going there mainly to learn. I think I have some interesting examples from my own use of Twitter, how the Birmingham Post is using it, and indeed why I think LinkedIn is the prodigal son of the social media world. But these are only my experiences. What I'm most interested in on June 11 is to meet other people and find out what they've learned.
Nile Song, anybody?