Cultural Conversations, social media and communication

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I was recently invited to share my insights on social media at an unusual new event in Leeds.

I say unusual, but in reality Cultural Conversations was just a different format to what I am used to – a format that really reflected the nature of social networks.

This wasn’t an event where I spoke to a captive audience, rather I helped facilitate conversation ‘hubs’ and hopefully shared some useful insights. It was a really refreshing process that I felt not only reflected the structure of social networks, but also provided a really effective way of communicating ideas.

Usually events of this kind are dominated by one or more speakers who either fascinate or bore you silly. The structure of Cultural Conversations, and the great turn out (around 70 people) meant that attendees could gravitate towards conversation groups where issues or topics were discussed for around 30 minutes.

These then fed into a final session with all delegates where topics of interest were developed further. This organic approach, which closely follows the way conversations spread on Twitter (check out this project, called revisit, for a brilliant visual representation of Twitter conversations), was intuitive and engaging.

So why don’t more events adopt this intimate format? It’s often said that the most interesting elements of conferences take place away from the main halls, when delegates get together and talk. In my opinion there’s a lot to be said for flipping the standard event format on its head and enhancing what people feel is most useful. What if break-out sessions were the main focus and not an afterthought?

I’m not an event organiser. I don’t have the skills or energy to put on a major event. But if I were organising any sort of business event I’d think about going back-to-basics and consider how people communicate, both online and offline, and shape the event around that.

Social networks have afforded us considerable insight into human communication (this is a great presentation by a Google usability expert on the topic),  so why are we not always harnessing those insights offline?

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  1. Illiya Vjestica said on August 24th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Great post Joel, I’m loving that photo of you and Karyn by the way!

    Certainly, it sounds like a very interesting and worthwhile concept, I definitely agree with you that these kinds of events shouldn’t be dominated by one or two speakers.

    You sort of posed this question in your response ‘Why do we go to conferences in the first place?’ most conference/ event attendees go to make connections and network with other people rather than just listen to the appointed speakers.

    It would be very refreshing to see a conference that encouraged organic ‘conversation hubs’ as you put it, to take place at the event so that everyone could contribute their knowledge, experience and spread ideas rather than listening or following a traditional speaking event setup.

    Social media certainly has a ‘BIG’ part to play in taking a online conversation and transforming into a real connection offline. The best users of Twitter are already doing this successful, I feel we still have a way to go before this become a naturally expected action.


  2. Joel Turner said on August 24th, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Thanks Illiya,

    Great thoughts on this. I’d agree with your assertion that most people go to events for the networking opportunities (and the parties). I think this idea of flipping conference structures is an interesting one.

    The level of social media interaction you now see at events (tweetstreams etc) hasn’t really been harnessed in a meaningful way yet either. It still feels like an ‘add-on’ or commentary, rather than part of the conversations taking place.

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Hello! We are Karyn Fleeting and Joel Turner . We are both directors at Tinderbox Media: a digital PR agency specialising in business blogs, which is based in North Yorkshire, UK. On Corporate Blogger we write about our observations, experiences and ideas drawn from working with our corporate clients on various web-based projects.

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