SocialMediaCamp London '09

Photo by Bash
Photo by Bash

Last weekend I spent the day at SocialMediaCamp London 09 – organised by the tireless Vero Pepperrell and stacked with a variety of interesting discussions.

Vero herself led an open discussion on “PR agencies want your soul”. Most of us there were on both sides at once – being bloggers ourselves while also working with bloggers on behalf of our clients. Some of the stories that came out were amusing and horrifying at the same time – PRs using Facebook to stalk bloggers they wanted to get in touch with – and some good discussion from what to do if you’re a blogger who received a bad pitch; do you ignore, name & shame in public, or email back and tell them how to do it right? Kerry Gaffney covers it in a lot more detail.

Not that it was all agency-talk. Like social media it was very diverse and the topics abounded from discussion of the fun of LARPing to the perils of moderating adult user-generated content.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a social media gathering if there wasn’t a lot of discussion of Twitter. Kai Turner‘s talk on the genesis of Smack My Tweet Up, the anonymous Twitter Valentine-sending app designed as a bit of fun, was an eye opener. It took only 48 hours from idea to going live, and got several thousand hits by word of mouth alone. I liked both the idea and the turnaround, showing how easy it is to develop quick, fun and useful apps in social media; just like how conversations can be spontaneous, bright ideas can be turned into functioning social applications in the blink of an eye.

One good question asked was how Smack My Tweet Up prevented misuse (but as it was taken in good faith they only had one complaint, this wasn’t a major issue) – and this was a theme that wove throughout the entire day. Perhaps as a sign of the way the social media space has matured there was no worrying or fretting about the lack of control over social media, but a lot of positive discussion on how to make the most of the debate and conversation out there.

Joanna Geary and Lucia Adams discussed the ethics and judgement involved in moderating a liveblog, as they did for The Times during the G20 summit, giving us an insight into how moderation is as every bit an art form as creating content. When there is more than one user submission every second, what do you include and what do you filter to prevent overloading your readers with information? Managing criticism and dissent on your own site while also representing a diversity of views fairly is hard enough when you have time to think about it, let alone in real-time. It also serves a reminder that moderators and community managers are human, not robots, and their judgements need to be treated in that context.

Getting a feel for what a community’s needs are is important, as Lauren Fisher pointed out in a cerebral discussion of Habermas’ public sphere and how it applies to social media. We discussed what happens when those in power or the mainstream media act against the norms of the social media sphere and the backlashes that can result (such as the Brian Cowen nude portraits controversy) and whether social media is a representative reflection of the public sphere in wider society (Answer: probably, and it’s gettting better as social media moves beyond early adopters).

Finally, there was a talk & session on trolls and griefing given by none other than myself, on what happens when someone turns up to the party with the intent of causing mayhem, and how we need to plan and adapt in future.

It was a great afternoon – although some have lamented the low attendance rate and the fact not everyone seemed keen to present (Kat Neville and Michael Litman provide arguments for each side, and Neil Crosby has a good suggestion on microtalks). The fact that only 56% of people who bought tickets turned up is a real shame, but even though not every slot was filled with a speaker, I have to say I was spoilt for choice for a lot of events. I missed some things I regret not seeing, including James Whatley on being the voice of a brand and keeping human, and the guys behind Social Innovation Camp talking about their work.

In short, the day rocked. For more SMC stuff be sure to check out the #smclondon tag on Flickr, Twitter, Qik and Slideshare. Big thanks go to Vero and all the volunteers who helped make it such an engaging and informative day and I look forward to the next one!