Friday 9th of September is the day of “Our Social World”, a one-day conference in Cambridge. It describes itself as:
Our Social World is for business leaders, PR experts, technologists, investors, and people using blogs, wikis and other online communications tools. It’s about enabling conversations between businesses and their customers using the new tools made possible by the WWW. You’ll find new ways of letting your customers set your direction, ask you questions and understanding your market propositions.
Hmmm, ok. That’s exactly the kind of stuff I’m involved in. It goes on:
You’ll find out how people are using tools like blogs and wikis, and which niches are ready for innovative approaches. You’ll learn how new tools for communication are experiencing explosive growth. You’ll meet people using these tools to hold conversations with customers or other stakeholders, and have the opportunity to find out what works well and what doesn’t.
So here begins my issue – I already know that all that. I’m not saying I know everything – but it’s core activity as part of my day-to-day work at the BBC. backstage.bbc.co.uk is all about using blogs and wikis to hold conversations with our customers (well audience, same difference). Not only do I run that everyday, but I helped successfully convince other people in the BBC it was a good idea. So why do I want to go to a conference that is going to tell me stuff I already do?
But of course. You don’t just go to conferences to learn stuff, do you? You go to be seen and to network. Some would even argue that you don’t go to conferences that are about stuff you don’t know – far better to find out about it behind the privacy of closed doors.
A bit of me would love to become a conference whore (I use that term sarcastically and light-heartedly rather than offensively), and big up “Brand Ben Metcalfe”. But it just doesn’t seem right. I’m not sure why, but I’m just not comfortable with it and it’s not something you will find me doing. If you meet me at a conference, I’m far more likely to be talking to you about what we’re doing at the BBC in general.
And that’s not through jealously or because I can’t go… I probably could get the budget to go on this and loads of other conferences if I wanted to, and of course I would get paid to go too (which also flies in the face of my last post about the BBC saving money).
My (naïve) ethos is that I’d much rather let my work do the talking. My hope is that it does, but if I’m honest, deep down I know that it doesn’t.
I look around me, and I see that it’s the ‘personalities’ who are well known that get ahead, get mentioned, get the next lucrative job Yahoogle, etc. Not the person who puts their head down, gets on with the job at hand and doesn’t do any active ‘self-PRing’ at conferences, etc. I’m not saying that the people who do a lot of conferences don’t also put in the work, some do, but my point is doing the work just isn’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like attending conferences – but you’re far more likely to see me at slightly off-topic conferences such as PodCastCon (Sat Sep 17th) which are based around stuff I don’t know enough about. If I do speak at a conference, again, it’s because I feel I have something new and interesting to say; something that moves the conversation forward… I’m not into conference speaking for the sake of it, to big myself up.
PodCastCon is in fact a great example of the type of conference you won’t find many of the professional conference circuit regulars attending. I know a few people who have snubbed that one because it’s “just £30”. There’s certainly a good reason why even one-day conferences such as “Our Social World” cost £350 + VAT to attend – it’s the element of exclusivity that is also desired by people who do the circuit… It’s the “who will see me?” effect.
One of my roles with backstage.bbc.co.uk is to be an advocate and evangelist for the work we are doing to “open up the BBC”. But I think it’s far more successful to do that with new people who may not know everything we are doing at the BBC, rather than attend conferences with the same old crowd and effectively be “pushing at an open door”.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I would much rather attend a conference and have a conversation with our audience, rather than attend a conference to find out how to have a conversation with out audience!
I know this post should be categorised as “a post you shouldn’t write”. It will no doubt get the backs up of the many people who do make a roll for themselves as being a “conference regular”. If that’s you, and many of them are my friends and colleagues, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments of this post to put your side of the coin. I’m very much up for you putting the other side of the story and I’m genuinely interested as to why people do it.