When you’re immersed in social media 24/7 it’s easy to lose sight of what the rest of the world thinks of what we do. That’s why it was so refreshing to attend two great conferences this past month, Mesh’09 and SXSW’09. Being able to connect with like minded people, all struggling to wrap their arms around this thing we call social media, gave me a well needed shot in the arm. Yet, though some of the brightest minds in social media were in attendance at these conferences, there were no real standout moments for me at either one.
The lack of meaningful case studies and customer success stories doesn’t really surprise me though because I think everyone is still a lot more interested in discovering the next Twitter or listening to the vision of the thought leaders in the space. As a result, we end up with a lot of Social Media 101 presentations and workshops where some very smart people talk about what they are planning to do, not what they’ve done. Unfortunately, the real success stories are not glamorous and don’t make for good conference presentations. They are usually the result of hard work, commitment and a determination to fundamentally change the way an organization communicates. It means constantly working to get invited to meetings and included on distribution lists. It means always having to justify your presence at the table with marketing, communications, legal and, often, other traditional agencies. It means managing the pressure of providing the next big viral campaign while delivering lots of small incremental wins. It means having patience, confidence in your beliefs and a very thick skin. It does not mean the creation of a social media department but rather the integration of social media into the very fabric of the company’s DNA. I call it Applied Social Media and ,when allowed to work, it has the ability to change the very core of a company’s culture.
Personally, I would love to hear more presentations from customers who have ventured into the world of social media either because they were caught in a digital firestorm or through the courageous vision of their executives. Like Scott Monty at Web2.0 or Bonin Bough at Mesh’09, I know there are a lot of companies who have successfully or, perhaps even more importantly, unsuccessfully embraced social media and it’s their stories that I really want to hear at these conferences, because these are the stories that will ultimately shape the success of social media in business.