Michael O’Neill (@mikeoneill76) is the program administrator for the Rensselaer Alumni Association social media accounts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was the wide-eyed newbie in the front of the room at my first CASE Social Media Conference. I was already using social media in my personal life but the thought of running accounts and creating content for Rensselaer’s alumni groups seemed daunting. Fast forward three years and three CASESMCs later—and I’m still the wide-eyed guy in the front of the room… but mostly because I have terrible distance vision.
In the span of the past three conferences, I’ve grown more confident in my abilities as a social media and community manager. So why, if that’s the case, do I keep coming back to the conference year after year? There are a few reasons:
- Unicorns. I mean, let’s be honest, you gotta love a professional conference where the material relates to unicorns. In this example, Jeffrey Martin from The Advisory Board Company compared social media to a work horse that needs to be taken care of and trained. It’s not the mythical beast that people think it is.
- Backchannel. Throughout the conference, there is a healthy, on-going, backchannel conversation on the #casesmc hashtag on Twitter. If you think of the conference as a diamond mine, then the backchannel is definitely your local jewelry store where only the best gems are sold. You’ll find quotes, recaps and sometimes pictures that are picked, chiseled, polished and on display for anyone to see. There is a lot of information in each session and it’s really hard to capture everything on your own. I use the backchannel to:
- Help me remember details of what was said in the sessions so that I can use the information when I get back to campus.
- Read up on what happened in the sessions that ran concurrent to the ones I attended.
- Discuss interesting presentations and information with other attendees (perhaps the most important way I use the backchannel).
Which leads to three other reasons I keep returning year after year:
- Social. Obviously, a conference on social media would have to be social or it would be the worst conference in the history of conferences. However, I think it should be said because some of the most important interactions I’ve had during these conferences were in person. To be a social media manager, I think by nature, we have to be social creatures and even though we “get to know” some of our colleagues online, it’s really helpful to attach a face/voice/personality to that @username. Meeting a colleague in person breaks down the digital barrier and gives us a chance to realize that we’re all in the same boat. We share ideas, commiserate or just talk about the latest memes all while tweeting and eating lunch.
- Context. Going back to the example of the conference as a diamond mine, sometimes you miss the smaller gems if you’re not there to sift them out yourself. Although good information is available on the backchannel, there really is no substitute for being physically present at a session. Not everything makes it to the backchannel, and if you’re not in the session, you can miss the context in which a topic is explained.
- Did I mention unicorns?!? In this case, the mythical beast I’m talking about is the social media manager who has learned everything. Just like the unicorn, such a beast doesn’t exist. I consume news, tips and knowledge about social media like it’s my job (pun intended) but I’ll never know everything about it. This is why I keep coming back—there’s always something new to learn.
Next year, I look forward to attending the CASE Social Media and Community Conference again. Not only to recap the year with old friends but to learn from new ones.