The Twitter crowd can be a tough one to please – just ask Umair Haque. But this week I spent a few minutes doing something I’ve never done before, and that is actually following some tweets live from a couple of conferences whilst being cocooned far away in Madrid. But before I get into a bit of mild criticism of the whole social media industry, let me pick out a couple of people for some praise – balanced criticism is very difficult in 140 characters, but the blog lets me be much more contructive.  

The first person is social business consultant and Headshift UK founder, Lee Bryant. A comment like the one below might put him in Bishop Shelby Spong class of heresy amongst his peers (ie. asking reasonable questions, but stepping on the toes of too many vested interests), but this is what makes it all the more impressive.

An issue to consider here is that practitioners are in danger of getting too far ahead of clients in their thinking around social business. If it takes, as I suspect it might, 3-5 years to really have an impact on the way large businesses are structured from a social business perspective, then people who simply write about this field are in danger of racing ahead of practice and becoming disconnected with business realities.

The other person, and I’ll be clear that I don’t know either one of them from a bar of soap, is Tim Burrowes. His post was titled:

Why I’m over live blogging (and I’m not sure about live tweeting either)

His thoughtful piece started with: I’m falling out of love with live blogging, and indeed live tweeting, from events. Too often, you end up being little more than a snarky dictaphone.

Tim’s article is highly recommended reading for all the people who were this week at a conference and who spent more time engaging with their smart phone than anything or anyone else! Not very smart in my opinion.

The two social media events I was keeping an eye on were the Eye For Travel event in San Francisco (a few of my work colleagues in attendance), and the Social Business Summit held in Sydney on Thursday (a couple of people I hold in high regard in attendance). Search Twitter for #swtravel or  #sbs2010 to see more, but in short, I’m a little concerned that on Twitter there is too much navel gazing amongst the “in” crowd who “get it” and occasionally a condescending attitude to many of the people they actually want to work with as clients.

John Lonergan as head of online sales at Qantas was presenting in Sydney. Here is a guy who is probably in the top three airline employed eCommerce experts in the world, especially if peer opinion is any measure, but someone who would have been an unknown to most of the crowd in Sydney. A couple of the tweats I picked up on his presentation follow (and no names, as I’m not into starting a flame war – besides, the tweets are more relevant here than whoever was making them):

Person 1: Qantas social media leaves a lot to be desired. Their FB stuff is a torrent of ads, @qantas doesn’t exist.

Person 2: David Lonergan from Qantas: “I am not a Social Media Expert” … amen. #sbs2010

Person 3: Qantas social media =”teen sx stage”- fumbling,groping in the dark, we’re very keen but not there yet. #sbs2010

Person 3 wasn’t actually being critical – I gather it was a joke John made, but the other two just shooting off quick comments via twitter gives no context or justification, other than implying that either a little dose of humility or not having an @qantas Twitter account means you don’t have a clue and shouldn’t be speaking on such a hallowed topic as social business. I think Person 2 is actually setting up his own metasearch site, so maybe that partly explains his apparent antagonism toward Qantas. But not quite sure how to explain his calling John by another name – maybe I’m missing an “in”  joke!

Regular readers of this site will know that I push the social angle more than most in the airline IT industry. If you are not a regular reader, here are a few links. Where do I start? Can airlines learn anything from Foursquare?, Guest Post: Martinair on Twitter, Living Social?, The recession has been great for social marketing, Moment of truth – Did any of my 2009 predictions come true?, What constitutes an airline “not getting social media” is extremely subjectiveQuestioning an Airline Social Media StrategyPossible clues from Gist on the future of social networking or maybe So much money still sitting on the table in travel social networking. OK, some might seem a bit dated, but this space is moving so fast that occassionally last weeks post becomes todays fish wrapper. I’m hoping that my public record in this area at least entitles me to ask the same question as Lee Bryant posed at the top of this piece without being labelled as someone who “doesn’t get it.”    

The Eye For Travel event  tweet stream had a much higher level of incestuous navel gazing  – SBS in Sydney didn’t have a hope of competing. No need to lift individual tweets, but when you get the converted preaching to the converted and telling each other how the end of the world (ie. businesses that don’t do exactly as they say) is coming and it is they (ie. people who tweet a minimum of 10 times a day, each and every day) who will inherit all, you get this seemingly self fulfilling prophecy where anyone who raises the slightest question faces being burnt at the stake of social insanity.  

I’m sure a lot of very interesting stuff was being presented, but also I suspect that a lot of it was lost on those in the crowd who were more interested in blurting out inane tweets at a rate of knots. If you disagree with me, and didn’t read Tim’s article above, then please go back and read it before leaving a comment here that tries to burn me on that same stake. I am totally convinced that social is big, and will only get much bigger, but let’s not lose our objectivity in our quest to bring the broader population on board – it is OK to not slavishly follow every single hyped up trend and still squeeze the word “social” into your job title. 

To wrap it up on a lighter note, the tweet coming out of the Eye for Travel conference that almost made me fall of my chair with laughter is the one below – what more can I possible say! 

Person 4: Wait. Where is everyone? Is this thing over? I am still sitting here tweeting. Why didn’t anyone tell me!? #smtravel

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