Friday, September 17, 2010

Social Media in Rural Massachusetts...Did I Connect?

I decided to attend the final day of the inaugural Berkshire Forum in Pittsfield, MA last week. I've been seeking ways to connect & reconnect with the western part of the state and this looked like a perfect way to do it. For those of you not familiar with the geography of Massachusetts (or the Northeast for that matter), Pittsfield is the economic hub of Berkshire County, the western-most county in Massachusetts with CT, VT, and NY its borders to the south, west, & north. The city's seen a bit of a resurgence over the past few years, and the county is well-known for its cultural institutions like Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Jacob's Pillow (International Dance Company), the Berkshire Int'l Film Festival, Mass MoCA, The Clark, Shakespeare & Company, and William's College (I am sure there are others I'm missing). Areas of the county still suffer from the mass exodus of manufacturing jobs that started in the 1970's with the Mass MoCA as an interesting example of adaptive reuse; what to do with one of the old mills vacated by a large employer.

But I digress...

I decided to use twitter to log my impressions of the forum as it went along, and to draw upon the other posts using the conference's hashtag of #berkforum for reflection. The forum's organizers had defined the hashtag ahead of time, something of great value for those interested in sharing what they saw and heard. This extends the reach of the event in small chunks for people that could not attend. The stream can also be a great way to mine data about the event after the fact for insights that may have been missed as the event transpired. I took good ol' fashioned written notes as well...just couldn't help it.

I was interested in the content of the Forum (always seeking stimulating ideas) and I was curious about how many people would be utilizing social media technology to generate the secondary information flow from the people on the stage.

From the sessions I had the opportunity to be a part of, covering topics like creativity in education and our everyday lives, cleantech's role in sustainable communities, Bob Dylan, Cowboy Yoga, career development, and running a successful business in rural America here are my key observations from each:
  1. Educational reform: Caught in the quagmire between political, social, economic, and moral issues. There were some cynical comments about the educational system being the place where students are prepared for the current economic system by helping businesses determine who will follow orders. Standardized testing was berated, and people informed that boycotting is within their right. It was an interesting panel.
  2. Creativity is as much the result of practice than anything else. As Kevin Sprague commented, "Why is creativity referred to as a gift instead of a skill we develop?"
  3. We're still not thinking about the over-arching systems that influence the challenges of renewable energy, one of which is our cultural short-termism. Also, I heard a bit too much techno-babble optimism; it is important, we need energetic and optimistic minds at work, and we need to rethink the "more is better" way we think.
  4. I had no idea that many of Bob Dylan's songs have roots that can be traced to biblical stories. The examples I heard was "Blowin' in the Wind" and "All Along the Watchtower". I like Jimi Hendrix's version of Watchtower.
  5. I laughed at the Cowboy Yoga video...and then wondered what the satire was telling me, if anything
  6. Depending upon one's age, there are many decades of employability left, that's the key phrase "employability" not employment. See Carole Hyatt for details
  7. For some reason the one phrase that stuck out to me when the panel of Berkshire County business owners/luminaries were asked what they would do with a magic wand to make it easier to do business was "build a bypass". Nothing would do more long-term harm to the very quality of life they so enjoy and would like to preserve than building a highway bypass. (Note: I have NO background in this local issue, I recoil at the same old thinking about development - build a road)
  8. Go to events that intrigue you, that have the potential to help you look at things differently. I did not experience an epiphany, but connected and reconnected with new concepts, optimism, and people
  9. This tweet gave me something to think about from the session on media that I missed. I want to learn about "consensus curation".
A few quibbles:
  1. Moderators should moderate, if they have expertise in the subject, that's great and they must seek to control their passion and and share the stage. If they use it as a platform to spout off, they should not be invited back.
  2. If you say you want to engage the crowd, engage the crowd. Of course, the crowd might be more engaged virtually than is readily apparent.
  3. Where is the online access to the content that was presented?
From the secondary information flow, I looked back and saw about a dozen people tweeting or retweeting content from the event (including myself). How might you measure the participation in an event like this from the social media perspective?
  • Number of tweets
  • Number of blog posts
  • Number of twitterers
  • Number of online conversations
  • Facebook mentions and likes
  • Human connections initiated through virtual interaction?
Here's what socialmention had to say about "Berkshire Forum"

Not quite Greenpeace's Unfriend Coal Facebook campaign, but better on the passion and sentiment measurements.

As an interesting take-a-way, I completely blew it on attempting to meet the people using twitter in person. Reasons:
  • Avatars were sometimes difficult to translate into a real person (NOTE: I'll be changing mine to make them a bit more comparable to real life since I wrote this):
  • I didn't raise my hand and say, "Hey! tweeters! Let's connect f2f."
  • Some folks were not at the event and chiming in remotely
For brand owners/managers your avatar is something to pay special attention to. What do you want it to say? What's the mission of the account? Does the avatar support that mission?

So, Did I connect? I'd have to say and offline.

For some additional comments on The Berkshire Forum check out this great local blog from Kaitlyn Squires.


Kevin Sprague said...

Thanks for the nice review on the Berkshire Forum - I just tripped across it following a link to my site. Let me know if you are in the area sometime and would like to meet up and talk social networking, communications, etc. Thanks, Kevin

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reading. I liked the event and only wish I could have attended both days. It would be great to connect some time and talk about the future of The Berkshires.

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