Seven years in, Social Media Week New York is suffering through an identity crisis.
Social Media Week's global theme and year-long initiative is "Upwardly Mobile: The Rise of the Connected Class." As far as themes go, this one seems recycled; "on the rise" may have sufficed several years ago and "upwardly mobile" was 2014's ("The Year of Mobile") most overplayed play on words.
While globally the theme holds water – 3 billion people are projected to come online by 2020 – in speaking to a diverse body of media-literate professionals in New York City, the idea seems stale. Is this the best they could do? I imagine program directors were flummoxed as to how they could fit the week's varied schedule under one umbrella theme.
There were, however, several highlights during the week, which ran February 23-27 at Highline Stages in the heart of Manhattan's Meatpacking District. Michael Zimbalist, SVP Advertising Products and R&D for The New York Times, kicked off the second morning of the conference with a particularly memorable session. In Measuring Attention and Intention, Zimbalist identified the sustained flow of marketer dollars into digital as reflective of a paradigm shift.
Zimbalist argued that while digital advertising has long been attractive for its capacity to measure intent, the media has morphed into a means of capturing attention. Zimbalist asked, "whether or not attention is valued for its own sake or ultimately only valued for the discernable outcomes it can deliver." The answer "will dictate the economics of every company in the business of creating content."
Economics came into play on Thursday afternoon with several sessions aimed at understanding the digital economy. John Collison, CEO and co-founder of mobile and online payment operator Stripe, spoke to the need to remove barriers of entry in the global ecommerce space, pointing out that only 2% of global consumer spending currently happens online. Collison was followed by a dry but important panel discussion on the future of the digital currency model, bitcoin.
Don Tapscott, CEO of the Tapscott Group and major thought-leader in innovation, media and technology, gave a stimulating lecture on "the age of network intelligence." Tapscott surmised that while the Internet has existed for the last twenty years as a Worldwide Web, it will spend the next twenty as the Worldwide Ledger: an account of everything from who owns what to who married whom.
From podcasts to drones and connected cars, Social Media Week covered a range of topics with little tactical strategic application for marketers. One session, The New Millennial Model for Business, was critical of social media in its most rudimentary form. In regards to gender bias on the Internet, Randall Lane, Editor of Forbes, called social media "a coarse place" and Elise Andrew, Founder of IFLScience, referred to a website's comments section as "a cesspool."
Martha Stewart, the week's keynote speaker and an early tech adopter, expressed wonder that the computer, intended to be the world's greatest time saver, has become its greatest time suck. Based on audience reaction in the room, Stewart's assessment may have been the most resonant of all of Social Media Week. It is worth noting that Stewart came armed with cupcakes, a 3-D printer and drones – which seemed a fitting metaphor for Social Media Week's miscellaneous curricula.
There were interesting takeaways from the varied discussions but the most interesting takeaway may have been this: social media in and of itself is an anachronism. The "age of networked intelligence," which Don Tapscott so well-articulated, transcends any delineation between social media and non-social media (which is what exactly?).
Social Media Week may have tried this conjecture as its theme. Or assume a title change – "Thoughts on Hot New Things Week" might have sufficed. With programming that took such a broad, disjointed approach to understanding innovation, technology and media, next year's Social Media Week must redefine and settle on its purpose.
Charlotte Lipman is Member Services Coordinator for MyersBizNet. She works to provide MyersBizNet member companies with the resources to achieve their business goals. Charlotte can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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