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Paul Trueman

Why Social Media Week needs to stop doing social media

One of the best things I saw during last month’s social extravaganza in London was ‘A Series of Provocative Statements’ at the National Gallery, hosted by James Whatley of Ogilvy and his ex-client Rebecca Williams (pictured), one of many valuable sessions hosted outside of the main ‘campus’ of Victoria House. The two of them put on a thought-provoking session, cross-talking us through four or five provocative statements, also referred to as ‘dragons’.

From ‘Social Content is the New Viral’ to ‘No One Cares About Your Hashtag’ they attempted to slay each one by reframing the statement. It was SMW at its best – thought-provoking, funny, clever and inclusive. It certainly got me thinking about a dragon I’d like to see slain.

There’s a host of these type of sessions if you know what to look for, which also means knowing what to avoid too: press release announcements dressed up as Q&A sessions, thinly-veiled product demos masquerading as masterclasses. We’ve all been to them – when the truth dawns a few minutes in and you start looking for escape routes.

Social sound and fury

The other reason I loved the Whatley/Williams double act was the absence of the laptop typists you see at far too many SMWLDN events, people in the room acting as social stenographers, tweeting every other presenter’s sentence through a tweetdeck that’s lit up like Oxford Street in December, furiously hammering their keyboards – and twitter - into submission.

Which brings me back to the large, scaly fire-breathing dragon I’d like to slay. Who are these people and what are they doing? I’ll tell you. They’re ‘doing’ social media. Badly. And they need to stop.

Tumblrs like thisisnotaninsight have delighted agencyland since starting up a few years ago, (scroll the images above for a couple of examples). They feed on the second-by-second inanities churned out by those people in the audience who seem to think ‘live tweeting’ a 45-minute session on ‘How to reach Millenials’ has some kind of intrinsic value.

The result of all this social sound and fury is a perfect excuse for the advertising old school to seize on it as a way to mock what they see as voodoo marketing. Or for the event as a whole to be dismissed as a hermetically-sealed love-in.

The truth is that social has come a long way in the last 10 years and there are plenty of examples of powerful, effective campaigns, showcased during the week to halls full of nodding people. It’s just ironic that lots of them are nodding along whilst banging out as many tweets as they can per minute simply to get on the SMW screens showing who’s trending on the #SMWLDN hashtag.

Slaying the dragon

And it’s a shame, because at its best a few days of SMW can inspire genuinely new thinking and offer genuine insights that last much longer than a tweet. But that can get lost in the social blah generated during the week itself.

So what’s the solution for slaying this particular dragon? Banning anyone who encourages social noise by asking the audience to ‘get this session hashtag trending’? Ban anyone bashing away at a laptop? Frog march anyone out of the hall suspected of tweeting the bleeding obvious?

Mmmm. Could get messy.

So how about this? Instead of slaying the dragon, let’s take a leaf out of Whatley and Williams book and reframe the original statement instead.

Instead, what about: ‘Why Social Media Week needs to use its social media to show what’s brilliant about the industry, rather than encourage a worn-out stereotype. And that probably means less typing and more thinking.’

What’s that? That won’t fit into 140 characters?

Sounds like a good start.


Paul Trueman is a Digital Copywriter at Bray Leino. To find out how we can help you enhance your digital strategy, contact:

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