Conferences should be about insight, not obsessive Tweeting!

Last week marked Social Media Week, London, a series of events, seminars and conferences marked not only by the hashtag #SMWLDN but also by thisisnotaninsight.tumblr – an excellent collection of some of the most inane, illogical, ill-thought through, and downright nonsensical tweets.

No don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about such initiatives as SMW, but the torrent of banal tweets and half-baked (and by the look of it, half listened-to) hashtag repetitions of the presentations and panellists, overwhelms – yet would be brilliantly ironic if it was intentionally crap. Having seen the tumblr above do the rounds across twitter to much hilarity, and talking about this with Neville Doyle, digital planning director at agency BBDO in Auckland, it’s obvious that it’s not just me being a miserable git about it.

As Neville pointed out when we spoke, it’s not necessarily the fault of those being called out on the tumblr that they’re spouting nonsense – they’re repeating what they’re hearing on the stage after all; but surely there comes a moment as you’re typing something so mind-boggingly obvious it defies belief where you think ‘am I sharing this because it’s insightful, or because I want to show I’m listening?’... (or rather ‘I should show people I’m networking at a social conference’). A brief look through This Is Not an Insight will demonstrate endless examples of this.

One of the problems is that it seems sharing what you’re listening to is as important as understanding what you’re listening to.

However, there needs to be an understanding at the organiser level that the onus should be on the insight not the platform through which it’s shared – a worrying anecdote from Neville brings this starkly to life: “I was doing a keynote talk at a conference the other day and someone tried to talk me into making sure I had plenty of 'tweet length bites of wisdom,” he says, before adding, “I’ve no issue with people tweeting from conferences, but it will be a cold day in hell before I tailor what I say in order to make it as easy as possible for people to put up on Twitter, rather than make sure what I am saying is of genuine value to the audience beyond just soundbites.”

You’d never find this elsewhere – broadcasters demanding that footballers being asked to perform some more enigmatic moments and quick moves that can play a better role in highlights packages… “I'm sorry, that flowing 22 pass move that led to the goal was too long to cram into a vine. Could we go more route 1 next time?", as Neville put it.

Conferences remain an integral part of knowledge sharing and learning programmes, and social platforms are a core part of sharing this insight, certainly – but lines need to be drawn in whether you’re sharing because people are genuinely listening, or whether you’re sharing because you want to be seen as clever-by-proxy. Neville sums it up nicely: “Conferences seem to have gone from 'consider and learn' to 'just tweet as much as you can so people back at work think you are getting lots from it’.”

Initiatives such as SMWLDN need to remain true to their core purpose, if they’re not to disappear ironically up their own behind by people inadvertently sharing nonsense over the very platforms they’re supposed to be learning best practice about. It just makes the whole industry look stupid.

Article by Chris Owen, director at PR firm Grayling

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