As I said in the introduction, I attended the annual meeting of a major religious denomination last week to give a presentation on social media and one of the attendees came up and said he finally understood what the social in social media meant. The day after that, I met with a colleague who told me I need to write a book on how I define social media because it "seems much clearer" when I talk about it.
Maybe not a book... but definitely fodder for this blog.
In the terms of this denomination, these ministers gather every year to hear about the state of the denomination. They meet for three days, renew old acquaintances, meet new ones and learn some stuff. Most of the people they meet they won't hear from again for another year. In the terms of most industries, company representatives attend a set number of annual events where, over the course of one or more days, they gather to hear the state of the industry, renew old acquaintances, etc. Same basic thing. In many of these events, both in religious denominations and industries, there are people that come to sell stuff. During the course of these exhibitions, the vendors renew old acquaintances, etc...
This has been how business has been done since trade shows and industry events were invented. During the rest of the year, the participants go about their regular business in hopes they will retain some significant portion of the information and connections they got at the event. Most of the time they do not, which explains why the programs and subject rarely change year to year. But it's the way things are done.
A few weeks ago I ran across a great blog post called How Facebook Killed the Church. It was the insight of this blog that crystalized something I've been trying to put into words for some time. The article pointed out that the Millennial Generation (Gen Y) is the first generation to no know what it was like to be without some sort of wireless tether or internet connection; that this generation has learned how to create community using technology; and that this makes Gen Y the first generation to not need the church for community (I'll let you read the entire post to get the rest of that story.)
But in the same vein, Gen Y is also the first generation in business to not need industry events to keep up with the industry developments. In fact, the young the industry member is, the less they need trade shows. It use to be that six trade shows a year were the minimum a company had to go to to keep visible. Not anymore. You can go to one, if you really think it's necessary, make your contacts and maintain them more efficiently over the course of the year than you can attending five other conferences. Social media hasn't eliminated the need for face-to-face human interaction, it has just made it more efficient.
There is no longer the need to renew acquaintances, make new connections or gather information once a year at the conference. You can do all of that from your desktop every single day. You can use that interaction through social media to better plan out what you are going to do at the conference, make plans to meet with your old and new connections and share information with colleagues over drinks and never have to look at another dreadful sales pitch masquerading as a technical presentation.
There have been several statements in various industry discussions about how there seem to be fewer and fewer fresh young faces and major trades shows -- except those looking for jobs. By and large, the young people I engage with are at meet ups, spontaneous gatherings and, if they are at a trade show, finding ways to avoid being on the floor. My relationships with young business people far out number those with my age peers because, well, what is going on in their circles is far more interesting than what is going on in my age group.
What I am amazed at though, is that they welcome my participation. They ask for my input. They actually want me hanging around with them. Why? Because they have read and listened to what I have put out in social media and think they have found someone who is hearing them. I'm in a conversation with them, 24/7/365.
That's social media. More later.