Despite blogging on and off since 2001, I don’t think I have ever actually attended a proper “bloggers meetup”. Last night, I finally got the chance to rectify that by attending the Manchester Blogmeet, organised by the excellent Kate Feld of Manchizzle.
It was also my first time at Cord, a venue tucked away in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Heading down the slightly precarious steps to the Basement, I couldn’t help notice the gorgeous tiling that, at first glance, makes you think that you may have accidentally ended up in the toilets; but once the space and soft furnishings sink in, it really is a very cosy space. According to Frankie Roberto who asked the staff on a previous visit, the tiling is because it was formerly used to store fish!
The bar at the event was kindly sponsored by Creative Tourist, a new online magazine dedicated to promoting Manchester’s diverse cultural offer to tourists. In return for my gin and tonic, Susie aka Travels with My Baby said a few short words outlining what the site was about and how we could get involved.
As a ‘new’ Mancunian, the site’s a great place to read about what’s happening in the expansive cultural sphere right on my doorstep. I’m personally passionate about photography so the Photo story section is something I’ll be particularly keeping an eye on. I’ve already decided to go and catch the last weekend of Natalie Curtis at Urbis.
But beyond the (short and sweet) sponsored bit, it was a great opportunity to catch-up with friends and meet people from the blogging scene, including Richard ‘The Asparagus’ and RebeccaWho. I probably didn’t speak to as many people as I would have liked, and I’m hoping the proto-beard isn’t the reason for that! But also, having rushed from work, I was a bit worn out.
The event was really enjoyable and pleasantly relaxed – genuinely a chance to meet new people over a drink, with the shared background of blogging. I look forward to the next one – thanks again to Kate!
As I wrote earlier today, the September 2009 meeting of Manchester’s Social Media Cafeis tomorrow (Update: is tonight! But it was tomorrow, when I wrote this). Slightly later than planned, I’ve written previews of the upcoming sessions, so if you’re still not sure which of the sessions you’d like to go to, or just want to find out more, then I hope that the below ‘preview’ blog posts are helpful.
A topic that’s been floating around for a while is the ongoing debate about how social media and search engine optimisation can interact. To that end, regular social media caffeine-addict David Edmundson-Bird has proposed a debate: “This house believes that social media represents the end of search”.
This is a prescient debate.
SEO has been built on the premise that, despite secretive protocols for ranking pages and the dominance of a single search engine superpower, content can be engineered to score highly in search results for the chosen keywords – while keeping it largely readable.
However, the emergence of user-generated content that is searchable, but where the results cannot be easily optimised, arguably represents a great challenge to the search engine optimisation industry. Now, we have masses of fresh content, often generated in real-time and linked to local, national or global events, which can be instantly indexed and queried for the thoughts of the human hive-mind.
And this content is eminently rich in context, in opinion, in thought and often in multimedia, notably with the rise of smartphones such as the iPhone. It represents a treasure trove of information valuable to marketers, such as opinions on brands, people, places – all the sort of thing you would want to access and to influence in order to promote your clients’ messages.
Until recently, applying well-understood search engine optimisation techniques was a key method for influencing that opinion. Getting your search results high up on Google – on the first page, in fact – was seen as key to put your business or messages on the map for users to click-through to. But influencing search engines can take time, is potentially expensive and very rarely instant.
Now, you can tweet, have that picked up by Tweetmeme, Mashable or Stephen Fry and find that you’ve generated hundreds of thousands of page views for your latest product or campaign within hours.
Debate: This house believes that social media represents the end of search – David Edmundson-Bird @groovegenerator
I caught up with David over email. He currently holds the position of Director of Executive Programmes (Digital & Creative) at MMU Business School and Course and Director for the Econsultancy Suite of Masters Programmes. He’s also a council member at Manchester Digital.
The debate is now being held after the other two sessions, so “anyone who is interested in hearing the debate between “traditional” search approach and the newer social media led approach to information discovery” can now take part. Considering many of the attendees are marketers, this should be of “particular interest [to them]…whether traditional, digital or social”, he says.
I think the debate format itself could be particularly interesting. While I have recently become far more used to an informal style of discussion, I’m interested to see how ‘140 Second House rules‘ plays out. David explains:
“Using the 140s House Rules, each speaker has 140 seconds to put his or her point across. At the end of both sides speaking, the chair will open up the debate to the floor with questions – these can only be 140 seconds long, and responses from each side can only be 140 seconds long. After questions, one person from each side makes concluding remarks lasting 140 seconds.”
We’ll then vote on who has ‘won’ the debate.
I have to admit, I initially felt the 140 second rule to be a touch ‘faddy’. However, I remember now that school debates only allowed 180 seconds for responses and comments and, when I chaired my student union debates, I’m sure I allocated much less – and we managed, just about!
I asked what David thought participants – and we as a community – would take away from the debate:
“Hopefully, [participants can take away] an informed view from both sides of an argument. Search and Social are often polarised and people may not be exposed to the argument from both perspectives. There are vested interests in both, but it will be a first opportunity for any to see arguments put head-to-head.”
He admits that it will be “a fairly pro-social crowd, but the Social Media Cafe has been seeing a lot of interest from the marketing industry”. Judging by the attendance list, he’s not wrong.
I’m really pleased that the debate has been moved to after the sessions, giving everyone the opportunity to listen in and potentially pose questions. I, for one, am still mulling it over and I look forward to a really exciting debate that will happen live and on the backchannel tomorrow evening.
Digital Games and/as Social Media –Professor Ben Light @doggyb
Prof Light (or Ben, if I may!) is Professor of Digital Media at the School of Media, Music and Performance, University of Salford. Which is a pretty cool title. Personally, I’m excited that lecturers (professors, no less) are using social media, let alone lecturing in the subject. In my days at university (not that long ago!), the concept of an electronic presentation was still alien to some of the lecturers who taught me.
Ben will be looking at media convergence: how it happens, why, and some of the implications arising for users and designers. Since March 2006, Ben has been engaged in programme of research that has focused upon how users and designers are making digital games and social media work for them on an everyday basis.
This might sound a tad daunting, but he says, “the session won’t be technical”:
“You don’t need to understand the nuts and bolts – it’s suitable for anyone who has an interest in social media and digital gaming.”
…which sounds like a lot of the people I know who go to SMC. I certainly have been enjoying my Wii of late.
Talking of games consoles, Ben’s bringing an exciting twist to the meeting: SingStar on PS3! He’ll be using it as part of his presentation, which will include a lot of photography and video. I wondered why he was bringing along the popular karaoke game for the PS3:
“SingStar is one of the games I have been studying.”…”I’m bringing it along to demonstrate it and the online community [associated with it] ‘live’.”
I hope the BBC wifi holds out and I have no doubt that we have some secret SingStar fans in the crowd (ahem @realfreshtv!)
I know Ben’s putting his final touches on his session this evening, but I asked him what he hoped participants would get out of the session:
“It’s very much about knowledge: how are people using social media, how it’s linked with games. Who are the developers in social media/gaming environments and who are the users – it’s not as obvious as it sounds.
“What ethical issues arise in such spaces? For example, I could talk about ‘grief play’, identity work and social inclusion/exclusion.”
Intriguing. It sounds like Ben will be covering a new area for the Social Media Cafe meetups and doing it in a novel and engaging way. I, for one, can’t wait to get involved.
The September 2009 meeting of Manchester’s Social Media Cafe is tomorrow. Slightly later than planned, I thought I’d write previews of the upcoming sessions, so I caught up with those running the sessions by email. If you’re still not sure which of the sessions you’d like to go to, hopefully the next few ‘preview’ blog posts will help you decide.
Julia, pen name, Julie Delvaux, is planning to run an intriguing series of sessions entitled ‘SocMed Actually’. The aim of the series is to help illustrate which different social media channels are being used and are successful in various different sectors of industry.
“By day”, Julia heads up a social media department and devises social media strategies. Her background is as a writer and poet, translator, historian, with wide-ranging experience in media and digital marketing.
Julia’s sessions are aimed at a wide audience: “everyone interested in the return on investment (ROI) of social media, as well as everyone interested in how to use social media/online PR to generate the maximum effect.”
Julia will be making a presentation to introduce the topic followed by a discussion. There are some key things that she hopes participants will take away:
“Although Social Media is free, the ‘Susan Boyle effects’ don’t always happen out of nothing. You need to promote what you’ve created; so we need to take the minimal costs into account and dance from there.”
“My session is going to talk about both those measurable and immeasurable values [and help illustrate them] with some calculations.”
“Social Media can be measured and the ROI can be leveraged!”.
The session should be particularly interesting, as it’s followed by a debate on social media vs search, at which one of the key topics will no doubt be the ability (or otherwise) to measure the impact of social media.
There are a few things over the next couple of months that I hope to get along to. No doubt they will lift one’s spirits as Manchester’s traditionally wet August gives way to a wetter Autumn.
(OK, perhaps I’m over-egging the wet thing – but check out some of the events below).
Update: there are loads more events going on than just the few I’ve listed here – but these are the ones I hope to get along to, with a bit of commentary. Check the foot of this post for how to find out about other events!
Social Media Cafe Manchester
After the August hiatus, Manchester’s Social Media Cafe returns on 8 September from 6pm and in a slight change to its usual slot, this is the second Tuesday of the month. It’s being held again at the BBC, complete with subsidised bar which no doubt will help swell the already large crowd of regulars. Sign-up to make sure you don’t get left out.
As a (relative) newbie to Manchester, one of the best ways that I’ve found out about things to do and see is by tapping in to Manchester’s extensive network of bloggers. Their first-hand reviews, advice and tips have been invaluable in helping me settle in and find out where to go and what to do.
So, it’s exciting to see their contribution recognised in the community-led Manchester Blog Awards, to be held on 21 October at the curiously-named Band on the Wall venue. At £4 a pop it’s hardly a stretch, so I hope to go along and meet some of the talented writers on whose blogs I lurk quietly.
While ‘most verbose microblog’ isn’t a category (for which I might in with a chance!), they’ve also got updates on Twitter @mcrblogawards.
BarCampManchester2 is the second BarCamp to be held in Manchester and will happen in November. I’ve not been to one of these events before, though I did attend BarCampUKGovweb09 in January, aimed at public sector digital types.
The atmosphere at these events is great – everyone is keen to learn and get to know others who could help out with projects of mutual interest. Right now, the event is still in planning stages but it’s looking to be an exciting two-day gathering which means late-night geekery and gaming. Ideal for me, who seems to exist in a perpetually nocturnal timezone to the chagrin of my early-rising colleagues.
It’s not exclusively a techie event (which is great for me) so I hope that a wide-range of people will go along. It’s slated to be held at a weekend in November, though not firmed up yet probably on the weekend 7-8 November, at the Contact Theatre on Oxford Road. Keep on eye on organiser Ian’s twitter account (@cubicgarden) and the Twitter tag #bcman2.
The event has a clear majority of females and guys are only allowed if they have a date who invites them. This gives it a unique atmosphere and the fact that it is a ‘dinner’ is different to the other types of geek networking events I’ve attended (the food was also really good last time).
So if you’re a girl and a geek, go check it out. A fiver gets you a meal and a drink. And if you’re a guy, well, you’ll have to see if a girl geek takes pity on you. You can also follow the event on Twitter @mancggd.
Are you coming along to any of the above? Perhaps I’ll see you there – leave a comment below or tweet me @technicalfault.
Updated: other geek events
A couple of people kindly tweeted me to draw my attention to a few other events. There a whole series of GeekUp events, which come to Manchester on a monthly basis. And if you want an extra dose of BarCamp goodness, check out BarCampBlackpoool on 17 October.
Dominic “The Hodge” Hodgson has setup a really useful calendar of these events, called Where’s the Geeks? which aims to cover geek events UK-wide. This is probably a good starting point for all the other events in Manchester and beyond. There’s also the North West Digital Communities email list, which is quite helpful for keeping tabs on nearby geeky goings-on.
Thanks to Tim and Gill for their useful feedback. Their thoughts were that the BBC offered a great opportunity to properly set up sessions in different parts of the space, with presentation facilities and much, much better sound.
I completely agree – this is a big benefit of a space like the BBC, and the advantage is that we can access it without necessarily paying the rates of renting office/conference space in Manchester, which at this stage would make the meetup unviable.
However, in a totally unscientific poll on this blog (which received a paltry 17 votes) 82% (14) suggested we reserve the BBC for ‘special events’. 3 votes were cast to try and remain at the Beeb where possible. No-one disliked the BBC as a venue.
I think this is telling. The BBC is obviously a great place to hold events, but perhaps some regular attendees – including myself – may feel that it may not be suited to having regular meetings there. This was the thrust of what I wrote last time.
It certainly has benefits over the slightly awkward layout of The Northern (and bar prices are thankfully cheaper). But, I’d like to see different venues explored – coffee shops or other pubs with function room spaces. Perhaps suggestions can be noted in the comments?
It’s also worth noting that not everyone can access a space that serves alcohol or one that doesn’t have disabled access. Not something we always think about but something we should try and consider, even in informal meetups.
I have to admit, when I first saw the press release from Manchester City Council, my heart sank. The press release, regrettably, reads a bit like the classic ‘public sector tries to do social media, misses the point’ with a smattering of buzz words: ‘flash mobs’; ‘user generated’; ‘unique event’, complete with manufactured quote from a director. It’s unfortunate that this was the first piece of publicity I saw.
What I saw next, thankfully, was a pretty darn nice website, complete with integrated socialmediaPR campaign that picked up some great coverage online. This was followed up by a ‘blog launch‘ at the Bay Horse, suitably bribing people with the offer of a free pint in exchange for a short (and painless) presentation from the team.
I think this quickly shattered my misconceptions. Though not my misgivings.
In the end, Cutting Room Experiment turned out to be just that, a bold experiment, blessed by the usually control-hungry public bodies that sponsored it and one that achieved its key successes – 400 people there, extensive media coverage, and awareness raised of the location (though these GPS co-ords are not the square).
However, while I’ve already alluded to degree of hyperbole that did surround some of the marketing (‘biggest’ user generated event? ‘world first’?) the presentation was refreshingly honest when it reflected some of the highs and lows of the exercise. In particular, David (Ear to the Ground) pointed out that “It’s hard to turn a devoted online audience into a vibrant offline one”.
And this is a key problem for any online social marketeer. It’s easy to make people sign-up to an event and click through, but will they actually turn up? I ‘counted myself in’ to a couple of events, even posted my own (slightly tongue-in-cheek) event – but I didn’t go. My main aim was to see the alka seltzer rockets, provided by the Manchester Science Festival team but unfortunately I missed the slot.
From my own personal experience, I imagine that a risk of this sort of ‘user generated’ process is that some people just won’t go unless they’ve got one killer event and that might be the event that they themselves organised, or for which they had some personal buy-in (e.g. employee/volunteer). Perhaps the truth is that an online community where ‘buy-in’ is limited to ‘agreeing to the possibility that you might attend’ is a difficult one to convert.
Cutting Room Experiment though, had the benefit of a local community and they did tap in to this with flyers; the killer piece of info that was perhaps missing from the presentation was being able to know how the attendees (who weren’t staff or volunteers) had heard of the event – online, or offline. I suspect it was the former, whereas arguably you needed more of the latter, particularly those who lived locally.
To conclude, it’s hard to criticise something into which a whole lot of people put a lot of hard work, and which produced some stunning results. However, I have to wonder whether this experiment, conducted largely online, needs to have much more of an offline aspect in order to make sure that the numbers for the ‘real world’ event does materialise.
The venue – keeping it social
Finally, the BBC was a great one-off venue and I, like many young (ish) meeja whores, am naturally excited by anything taking place there because of the weight that the BBC as a brand can lend to it. However, the Social Media Cafe, despite being less than a year old, has definitely established itself as a key hub of digital networking and knowledge sharing. Stopping in at the Beeb every so often would be great, but I think the social aspect of the cafe would be better served by sticking with a venue where turning up late without being signed-up (for example) won’t cause any organisational stress for those who’ve worked hard to secure those spaces.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment or vote in this non-scientific poll: