Today I found myself taking the sweat express to London Waterloo for day 1 of the Third Sector Digital Communications & Social Media Convention 2011.
After a pleasant walk down the South Bank to Blackfriar’s Bridge and a little bit of chaotic navigation I found my way to the Mermaid Conference Centre for the start of this two day exploration of the dark arts of social networking for the non-profit.
First impressions were good, I very quickly bumped into Rob Dyson from Whizzkids and we discussed how the event seemed very professional and grown-up. Today’s chair was veteran journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow, whose opening remarks were most entertaining. He ran the mornings proceedings at a swift pace and kept the discussions moving, albeit with a hint of cynicism, but as a HUGE fan of Twitter he gets my forgiveness.
Our first keynote came from Allison Fine, Co-Author of ‘The Networked Non-Profit’ and founder of the Innovation Network, and I must confess that I was not impressed. She is certainly a very confident and professional speaker, but this is the Summer of 2011, and while I recognise that not all non-profits have been able to immerse themselves fully into the social world, these kinds of presentations where the speaker simply reiterates the kind of issues that you might be having just don’t cut it. Everybody is, I hope, fully aware of the problems that bringing social media into an organisation can cause and has paid their money to discover how they might go about solving them. I understand the difficulty in this as I myself believe that NOBODY knows how to succeed in the social space, but we should at least expect to glean something useful we can take back to our colleagues.
Up next was the ever reliable Steve Bridger. I’ve known Steve for a while now, after meeting through Twitter, and have found myself agreeing 100% with everything he says. His presentations always provide you with some insightful gem and even though I had seen this one before, he had still managed to slip in something new. It’s not that there is ever a piece of information so revolutionary that the very walls of reality are shaken, but he has a great knack for clarifying those things you’ve been fretting over.
After a quick cup of tea and a biscuit, we returned to hear Peter Barron, Director of External Relations (EMEA Google), talk about some of the exciting data products Google provide that you may not have heard of. And he was correct.
I’m not a huge fan of data. I sometimes find Google’s obsession with it borders on the fanatical and feel that the serendipitous nature of social media is seen as a bad thing that needs to be filtered out. Every time I hear the phrase ‘signal over noise’ my teeth start to grate as it’s this so called ‘noise’ that has been a tremendous influence on my life in social media. Nevertheless, Peter’s talk was very good and I will be taking the learnings back to the data geek in our team 😉
The morning sessions finished with a panel debate, and as with most (if not all) panel debates, questions from the assembled were never REALLY answered and a lot of platitudes and buzz words were thrown around to placate the crowd.
Lunch was an extremely pleasing beef stew followed by chocolate cake. Unfortunately seating was at a premium so it wasn’t the most relaxing meal I’ve ever eaten, although I fared better than those who had to eat on the floor.
The afternoon was split up into a series of themed seminars. My first seminar, and by far the highlight of my day, was about the Robin Hood Tax. Hannah Cameron from Portobello Studios and Anna Nolan from Oxfam did a superb job of running through the various steps that were undertaken during the campaign and were refreshingly honest when it came to answering my questions afterwards. This was what I believe a case study presentation SHOULD be. By taking us through the processes behind each decision and describing some of the unplanned events that took place it was possible to see how our campaigns might take shape. It was also fantastic to hear from those who took part in the actual doing. So often these kinds of studies are presented by ‘Heads Of’ or ‘Directors’ who had very little to do with the actual day-to-day work involved (more about this later).
My second seminar saw me listening to Polly Gowers, Founder and CEO of Give As You Live. This was clearly one of those corporate pitches wrapped up in a learning exercise type of seminars, but I can see the value of the system. My main concern, other than wondering what percentage Give As You Live take, is the issue of trust. For such a ‘no-brainer’ idea, I feel it can only be an issue of trust that stops the majority of people and organisations from signing up. I know that I feel a little dirty about the idea of asking our supporters to buy stuff so that we can get a percentage.
Lastly came, what I though might be the most relevant of the seminars, the RAF Benevolent Fund talking about how they went about attracting a new and younger audience for their charity. Dean Benton, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Ann-Mari Freebairn, Head of Communications, talked about the ‘1940 Chronicle’ social media campaign. Now the campaign itself was great, although some did question how it repositioned the charity into the modern world, but the presentation and subsequent Q&A offered no real insight into how the RAFBF were going to retain and engage this influx of younger supporters. To me, this seminar was representative of a lot of presentations I have seen where individuals briefly take you through what they did (with very little explanation as to why) and then flick through a series of numbers. What can anyone learn from this?
Any successful case study is simply a snapshot of a moment in time that cannot be repeated. Unless the presenters talk about the processes behind the decisions and there thoughts about what comes next there is nothing that we, the audience, can take away to think about and discuss. My feeling is that this is a symptom of what I mentioned earlier, those that actually do the work are NOT the ones who talk about it.
I’m going to end this brain dump now and head off to bed as it’s another early start for #NFPSM Day 2. All of the above is obviously just my opinion and I’d be ecstatic to be proved wrong, that’s what makes life exciting, so please feel free to add your thoughts and opinions in the comments below 🙂