Monday, July 11, 2011

Silicone Bitch: South Florida Social Media Day and the Bigger Picture

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

mashable social media day key west 2011Our neighbors in Key West also had a Social Media Day meetup and this photo was one of 10 chosen from around the world along with Miami's. Not bad for South Florida! Stacy Green, Director of Communications at Mashable, was present in the Monroe County gathering. More photos at Mashable.

Recent online discussion between Carlos Miller's post about Social Media Day at Miami Beach 411 and a lengthy comment thread at South Florida Daily Blog got me thinking about a few things that perhaps bear repeating in this column, so here we go.

If you're not familiar with the subject at hand, it boils down to this: Social Media Day is a worldwide meet-up day promoted by Mashable, a top source for news on social media and digital culture, "to celebrate the revolution of media becoming social." In Miami, Jimmy'z Wynwood Kitchen offered Social Media Day attendees freebies and discounts on food and drink while Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill did not. Apparently, some people got pissed at the latter and Miller wrote about it, capturing some of the bitching on video.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A BROAD NETWORK

What happened with Sugarcane barely reflects the overall social media community in South Florida and I hope that Miller's article doesn't sour people to what that community is really like. We are a group of professionals, largely from fields involving communications, who use social media in a variety of ways: for fun, career purposes, personal branding or all of the above. Some of us even get paid to help individuals or companies figure it all out.

Actually, just go to any Social Media Club South Florida meeting and you'll see more than communications specialists. You'll also see a cross section of people from various walks of life and different industries -- from doctors to lawyers and scientists to teachers, athletes and more -- all gathering to learn and share. These aren't purely social gatherings but mini-conferences during which a moderator and a carefully selected panel discuss their best practices and field questions from the audience.

We are not a bunch of whiny brats complaining about expensive drinks. We move and shake and make things happen in the community at a grassroots level. We are really good at networking. We build bridges between businesses and community. We espouse good causes and get people excited about good things that make South Florida a better place. It isn't just about the parties.

Let me also add web and soft tech groups that overlap with social media here. Refresh South Florida and New Tech Community, to name just two; we are all connected because the geeks make the tools we use for social media and the geeks "get it." Add to this SFIMA (South Florida Interactive Marketing Association) and The Startup Forum (an entrepreneurship forum focused on, but not limited to, the tech sector) and you see that the overlapping network is broad reaching. The social media community is way more than just a circle jerk of a few cronies. (Although there are circle jerks out there, believe me.)

WE DO NEED MORE SOCIAL MEDIA COVERAGE

One article about a meet-up barely scratches the surface on what is really going on. No one, to the best of my knowledge, is properly covering the social media and web tech scene both locally and nationally (national topics that would interest South Florida readers) on a consistent, exhaustive basis.

I did it for eight months at Miami New Times under Silicon Beach, posting three times a week. I resigned because I couldn't justify the amount of time it took to properly cover the beat at a meager level of compensation. (Nothing against Miami New Times, I loved working with my editor Duran and publisher Strouse, but I just couldn't afford it, and this, sadly, is true for many publications and writers out there.)

I started Silicone Bitch on this blog because I wanted to at least continue covering as much as I could without the pressure and time suck.

To thoroughly cover the scene, you need to make yourself available to attend many meetings, panels, conferences and of course social gatherings hosted by various groups. In recent years, the field has grown to the point where there is something going on almost every day. Factor in drive time in the tri-county area and you're looking at -- not kidding -- about twenty hours a week at least. Also, you need to connect with and interview many people deeply immersed in the industry on a national level, which means you are always "on" in your online and personal social networks.

And finally, you also need to remain as unbiased as humanly possible. This is one reason why I have never been a board member of Social Media Club even though I have been involved with it on some level since day one. It is important to be part of it while remaining somewhat detached. You shouldn't be too quick to judge, because you are dealing with many different layers of complexity in the social and business arena.

In my experience covering this scene, I have found it important not to burn any bridges because I am, ultimately, representing the community at large -- I'm supporting it because I appreciate what it's doing.

This doesn't mean I have to cover up a mess or paint a pretty picture. (This column isn't called Silicone Bitch just because it's a catchy title.) It simply means that I understand the intricate ties among the community, the insider stories, the rumors and what not, and that being a voice, I'm careful to not jump to any conclusions. I would encourage anyone else who is writing about social media in any community anywhere to really get their feet wet first.

This is one thing that was reiterated constantly at the recent National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference. In online media, it's important to be right, not first. It's important to build trust in your audience. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

IF YOU GET IT, SHARE IT

The original motto for Social Media Club, the mothership organization with members all over the world, is: "if you get it, share it." Most people in our social media community do get it and do share it. We're about bringing together and connecting, not creating division or antipathy.

I'm saying this because there are some naysayers out there who want to poo-poo on social media. That's ok. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But social media is only doing what humans have done since time immemorial, it's just that now we harness the power of the internet to share and stay connected. (I philosophized about this extensively in my post about yoga and social media.)

Just because you don't use Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare doesn't mean you aren't using social media. Guess what? If you are reading this, you are already using social media. If you blog, you are part of the foundation for social media. And if you don't blog but read and comment on blogs, you're still riding the wave.

Trying to avoid social media if you're part of any digital communication space is like trying to outrun a tsunami. There are ways you can use it to enhance (but not takeover) your life. A lot of good has come from social media for individuals and businesses. Maybe a list of that warrants another post.

EVENT PLANNING 101

I have already discussed tweetups extensively elsewhere on Silicone Bitch and in my former column at Miami New Times, but to repeat here: not every tweetup is a social media gathering; sometimes "tweetups" are events put on by a company to attract customers. Calling something a tweetup when it's not is a big pet peeve of mine. I won't get into it here and yes, I sometimes find myself obligated to attend those corporate events, too.

But let's take a look at social media event planning for a moment. I'd like to encourage anyone who plans an event to assume that everyone reading the invitation is a moron with ADD. Assume the least common denominator here. Even people with razor-sharp focus are busy and frazzled. Your guests need all the information they can get in an easy, digestible format.

I have been to many social media events where the details were unclear or missing. The parking thing annoys me to no end. Do not assume that people are going to know where to park or how much parking is going to cost. Put everything in writing.

A case study ...

There was some talk about Sugarcane not living up to its drink specials on Foursquare Day back in April. Here's the event invite, which was copied and pasted to various websites and retweeted ad nauseum. I'm not sure who wrote this invitation, by the way.

"The Miami area Meet Up will start at 4:16 PM at Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill. There will be a special $4.16 drink specials and a 4SQDAY certificate of official recognition from the city of Miami Beach. Stop by to celebrate before 8 PM for some one on one time with your foursquare friends."

Not only is the phrasing grammatically incorrect "a special $4.16 drink specials" but there is nothing to indicate what the specials are. As it turns out, $4.16 was only for specific drinks. What the invitation should have read is this:

"There will be $4.16 drink specials from [insert start end end time] on [drink names] for Foursquare Day."

Or, in the event that drink specials were TBA when the invitation went out: "Ask your bartender about particular drink specials."


This may sound like a really petty thing to focus on, but communication needs to be clear between the restaurant and the event organizer as well as the event organizer and guests. And guests, you too should not assume that the restaurant and the organizer have their shit together. As a rule, any time I go to any event, I always ask the server what the specials are anyway.

(My comments here aren't meant to criticize @alexdc and @sebrusk, who tried their best to put Social Media Day together at Sugarcane in a very short time. Not having drink specials really wasn't a big deal and nowhere on the invite did it say there would be drink specials, so there were no surprises.)

THE EXCEPTION, NOT THE NORM

While Sugarcane may have not been up to speed on drink specials this Social Media Day, it has been supportive of other gatherings in the past. And I want to add here that this particular event by no means overshadows the dozens upon dozens of restaurants and venues that have collaborated with social media, web tech and other related groups. Just look at the list of events that have taken place and you'll find everything from burger joints to five-star hotels in South Florida that have gotten involved sponsoring everything from food, drinks, staff, meeting space and more.

I'm not trying to single out Sugarcane as the one venue that doesn't care. What I am trying to say is that what happened on Social Media Day is not indicative of what happens at large.

APOLOGIA

Lastly, I want to apologize to Sugarcane for putting my face on Miller's video. When I walked into Jimmy'z, the chant was going on and I got sucked into it. I really thought it was a joke at first and I regretted it almost immediately. I didn't think Miller was really going to post it; he records a lot on his Flipcam but only a small percentage of it ends up online.

I also didn't think the article would be published on Miami Beach 411, a website that I've contributed to for about six years and which I believe does a great deal to build community in a constructive, diplomatic manner.

Miller had, I believe, a more appropriate outlet for a rant. Earlier this year, he created a funny, tongue-in-cheek website called Social Media Puto in which he writes in the third person with brazen sarcasm, making fun of everything that is laughable about social media.

For the record, Miller is a good friend of mine. Even though we disagree on some issues and our individual ways of handling them, we have shared many a beer and done some great projects together. He is entitled to his way of seeing the world and just because we may sometimes be polar opposites in our sensibilities doesn't mean I don't respect the great work he has done, especially in the photography and first amendment rights field.

But since I have been writing about the local social media scene for some time now, I felt it was necessary to widen public perception and offer the blogosphere a bigger picture.

And finally: I personally have worked with Sugarcane in the past and have no issues patronizing the restaurant in the future (try their chicken and waffles and beet mojitos and you'll see why). Yes, I did experience bad bartender service on Social Media Day but that won't keep me from patronizing the restaurant.

7 comments:

annush said...

Very well written :)

Jeff Cohen said...

Great post!
At the end of the day it's about the social media community, not which drink specials were offered.

Lori said...

Maria, Thank you for taking the time to write this post.

As of late, I have chosen to not participate in a lot of the social media and tech related events, for a few reasons. Mainly, I've limited myself to Broward-only events since I no longer live and work in Miami. The events in Fort Lauderdale have unfortunately not fit my schedule or interest as of late.

While I had not participated in this year's Social Media Day, I was a bit astounded when a colleague of mine who is a social media startup CEO who is new to the area attended the Sugarcane event after I gave it my blessing and he came back to tell me how alcohol-focused the South Florida social scene was. He had been there to get a feel for what our community was like (which would ultimately help him in his fancy business decision making). My reply was "Really? You gotta go to one of the regular events to get a better feel for it. TRUST ME. THERE ARE PEOPLE WORTH KNOWING HERE." Anyway, I had stumbled onto the drama after hearing his reaction and watching it explode online after Carlos posted to MB411. I hadn't taken the time to really figure out what went down and I simply wrote it off ...

It's kind of funny because I'm not sure if you're familiar with how I first became involved with our local social community. It was after a similarly bad fist experience, attending a Refresh Miami event where @alexdc specifically was calling out the traditional media organizations, which I worked for, for not covering them enough. Ultimately, it left a sour taste in my mouth and I took my reaction to the comments thread which exploded nastily. I was persistent that I wasn't going to let the harping and complaining stop me, and my voice was heard.

Sorry for the rambling ... Anyway, back to the case at hand: Maria, you are ultimately the South Florida's best asset when it comes to social media. I don't generally like blowing smoke up someone's ass, but you've proven to be a relentless champion for our community, an unwavering voice helping to get out the word to the non-techies about what we're doing here, and you've done it all with your own style and flare. All while remaining unbiased, a challenge that no one else has been up to. We owe you a lot, Maria. Thank you so much.

Alex de Carvalho said...

@Maria - thank you for this great post.

@Lori - I'm surprised you called me out in the comment. As you know and as I have explained to you, at the time, none of the local media covered our events, despite their apparent success. Specifically the meetup you attended was RefreshMiami, not SMCSF -- it was at a gallery in Wynwood. Pointing this out had nothing personal to do with individual journalists that were present, but with the apparent policy of media organizations largely ignoring the positive work we were doing. I may have reiterated my disappointment with local media at another time, I don't recall. This all changed many months (a year?) later when Maria got a column at Miami New Times, and when Bridget and Niala started their Poked blog. At that time, yes, our local tech and social media community started getting more attention and coverage from the media.

Lori - I'm surprised because I thought this was water under the bridge between us.

Cross-posted to Facebook.

Squathole said...

I learned more about social media in this post than I have after plowing through literally hundreds of essays, blog posts, comments, news articles, etc., which always seem to take for granted a level of knowledge and familiarity with jargon that just isn't explained anywhere. It's maddening.

I'm involved in several endeavors now which lend themselves to promotion through these media, but mastering the tools and grasping the underlying principles has been impossible. This helps a lot and now I have some new links to look at.

In other words, Thanks!

Blanca Stella Mejia said...

Maria, you said it like a pro!

Maria de los Angeles said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Lori -- we have discussed elsewhere :-)

Squathole -- your comment was truly flattering. Thank you so much. Feel free to pick my brain any time. You know how to reach me.

Here is an article about how Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza is using social media.