The speakers of Swarm – My conference overview part 1

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to attend this year’s Swarm Conference after winning tickets through Yammer (thanks again guys). I do believe that your perspective on an event changes depending on whether you had to pay for it or not, so with that in mind I believe this is a conference well worth paying for. This will be the first of a small  handful of posts about the experience (for the record,  these posts are not done at the request of Yammer or Swarm organisers but are my own honest and unsolicited reflections).

In this post I want to discuss the quality line-up of international and local speakers, all leaders in their fields. Credit to Venessa Paech and Alison Michalk for pulling them all together. I had been watching the Swarm website for a while before I got my tickets, doing so with more than an ounce of envy at those who were attending. The speaker line up was wonderful on the page and did not disappoint in the day.

Opening keynote was from Maria Ogevna of Yammer with a gorgeous analogy relating community management with The Wizard of Oz. We followed her down the yellow brick road (sorry, couldn’t help myself) step by step:

  1. Know your goals and purpose
  2. Know your resources and people
  3. Design the right environment – ownership
  4. Commit to educating

While Maria’s perspective was for customer communities, the lessons are applicable across all communities. For the detail check out Maria’s slides.

Justin Isaf of Huffington Post fame (and self-confessed Twitter Luddite) was next up and did not disappoint. By the end of the event there was an posse of Justin fans on Twitter discussing the best way to build a community around his awesomeness. What they are doing at Huffington around the pre-moderation of comments is beyond exciting. While some of it was very specific to their medium, there are some things that they are doing right at the core which can be applied in any community context:

  • hiring the right people
  • leveraging technology
  • specialising roles, but collaborating across teams

Their model for managing comments is a well-oiled machine and Justin’s team is built to manage it, but also innovate to deal with future demand.

Next up Matthew Allen went all academic on our asses, switching up the vibe of the day in a positive way. I was very interested in Matthew’s commentary on how people feared that the internet would destroy community as a concept in the world, but how it has in fact enriched it. Communities originally were built are geographic locations, but now online is the new location and the communities are richer by being able to easily group on a shared purpose.

Before lunch David Hood changed things up yet again by dragging me out of my comfort zone (and I am sure some others) by breaking the conference into groups and giving us topics to discuss. The theme was about how we as community managers spread ourselves too thin, the risk of burn-out and the difficulty in balancing work and personal life. It was great to hear the experiences of others, understanding that we weren’t alone in the struggle to balance the demands of our jobs, the demands on ourselves and the demands of our personal lives. The message is, slow down, pick some small things to focus on that will improve or add to your lives.

After some seriously fantastic lunch (subject of future blog post) the fabulous Laurel Papworth shared her insights and experience on the business of community management. She warned us that we as community managers were the “warriors of the coming shitstorm” referring to current events where legislation is dictating how communities should be managed and that we should be making a stand to protect the future of online communities. She also shared with us her 9 Step Social Media Strategy with a distinct community management flavour.

Craig Thomler shared some research conducted with community managers in order to shed light on whether being a community manager is a profession or a task. The results of his study are due to be published soon, keep a look out for them. Not only was the insight into the profile and personality of the average community manager interesting, but the conversation around the room and on Twitter about how we actually describe our job to people, many of us (myself included) having difficulty defining our roles to people outside of the online industry.

By the end of the day my brain was stretched and will to tweet was waning but the finale Panel of Justin Isaf, Jane Rawson and Alison Michalk did not let us down. Beverages in hand they tackled issues s wide ranging as how to handle the contentious topics that never go away, and the importance of Klout scores (or lack thereof).

After a huge day I managed to hang on a little longer to have a few wines and chat with some of the fantastic attendees before heading home for much needed sleep.

Check out the Swarm Conference Blog  for detailed posts about each of the speakers including the second day workshops and Dialogue Consulting’s Storify collection for the tweet-by-tweet action.

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