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June 11th, 2010

MassTLC’s Social Media Summit: Echo Chamber vs Diversity, and Yes to Measurement

Mass TLCLast week, I attended the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s Social Media Summit at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge.

A little background: two years ago, the Mass TLC held their first social media “unconference” event. What was fascinating then was not that a group of established New England technology masters mingled with some of the newer “social media” set (they didn’t- not enough of the social media folks showed up), but that this group took to the unconference format and made the event a success on their own. considering that group including one of the inventors of the spreadsheet and the founder of Avid, should we have been surprised?

Last week’s event was a much more traditional format, with several planned interactive panels on current topics, and a morning keynote from David Weinberger, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak live for the first time. Weinberger made some great points that should be obvious (but apparently aren’t) about the difference between old media’s fallibility (evident but not discussed) and that of new media (part of its fabric, with Wikipedia as a prime example).

Weinberger also discussed the problems of the echo chamber- ok, we talk about that a lot in social media circles (among ourselves, natch), but he talked about all the different echo chambers as being “anti-diversity.” Are we self-selecting ourselves out of a more holistic information pool, and creating more hardline idealogues and (though he didn;t say this) making people stupid because the news is no longer homogenized?

One of the panels that best caught my interest was one on “advanced listening” led by Mike Troiano of Holland Mark and Alan Belniak of PTC. A few of the things that caught my ear from that session (aside from the point that it is a relief to see more advanced discussions of social media techniques):

@miketrap & @abelniak at #masstlc

Mike Troiano and Alan Belniak

  • Forums and discussion boards remain great places to find conversations. The forum is one of the oldest forms of Internet-based social media (if not THE oldest), yet I have been aware for some time that some of the best conversations– especially in the tech world– still take place there. Most of the “social media platforms” companies have their roots in these older technologies, so it’s really not a surprise. Belniak certainly is seeing lots of forums and discussion boards in his work with PTC. Old platforms will not die as long as the community remains (and let’s remember the community is the people not the platform, just as a church is the congregation not the building).
  • “Dismantle your professional persona and just be,” said Troiano. That statement certainly needs context and refinement based on your particular case. However, it’s a great reminder that if you want to participate in dialogue, you need to talk like a person. A company needs to decide how the balance between the corporate voice and the people behind it will take shape, and let it happen.
  • I was a bit disappointed in a seeming deemphasis on measurement. The message seemed to be steering toward “you can’t measure engagement,” so I chimed in with two points:
  1. You can’t justify your program in many companies without some form of metrics
  2. You can measure engagement. It’s not some touchy-feely abstract, but it is something made up of smaller, measurable pieces: comments, sentiment, frequency, just to name a few. It’s all measurable once you agree on what you want your outcomes to be.

My final point: the Mass TLC is a venerable organization embodying the technology knowledge of a lot of long-time leaders in the diverse New England business ecosystem. “Social Media” folks would do well to support the organizations in their cities, beyond (in addition to, of course) their Social Media Clubs and Social Media Breakfasts. There is still lots to learn- and teach.

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

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