Manchester’s Social Media Cafe marks its second anniversary tonight – a milestone occasion as I wrote elsewhere yesterday.
For that PDA blogpost I talked to the three people most active in organising tonight’s event at BBC Club – here’s their complete answers to the questions put below.
Unfortunately work commitments will keep me from celebrating at the event tonight however, if anyone wants to submit a guest post from the proceedings, please do get in touch, email is SarahMancunianWay At Googlemail.com.
Have a great night all!
1. When and why did you get involved in the social media cafe?
Josh: I got involved with the Social Media Cafe at the first meeting which I heard about via Twitter. It was held during the first week that I’d moved to Manchester to start a new job in the digital sector and it seemed like a good place to get to meet the city’s digital community. The atmosphere was very friendly and I felt like I’d managed to make a number of positive connections.
Following that, I kept coming back and ran a session quite early on, sharing some knowledge I’d learned about using video and social media. I guess my persistence paid off, as I eventually become more involved with running the event, initially by maintaining the online community side of things at socialmediamanchester.net.
Julian: Originally got the idea for the Social Media Cafe after following a blog by @sizemore who is a screen writer. It was there that I hooked up with Martin. You can see the comments here it didn’t take long http://www.sizemore.co.uk/2008/10/06/one-door-closes/#comments
I felt that it was needed because it seemed that there was a lot of cool stuff being done in Manchester but there was no regular event for people to get together and discuss social media and technology at the time. It was then that I met you by coincidence.
Martin: It all started back in autumn 2008 at a time when Twitter was starting to gain a wider audience and new technologies like live video streaming were being experimented with by geeks, bloggers and reporters. I read a blog post by Mike Atherton, AKA Sizemore, about the Tuttle Club in London. This weekly Friday meetup of people involved in social media sounded great and I left a comment saying
that it was exactly the kind of thing I’d want to go to if it happened in Manchester. Julian Tait, who I’d never met, left a similar comment and Mike replied saying that if we wanted it we should build it.
A couple of meetings later, we’d assembled a group of like-minded people to help set up a Manchester Social Media Cafe. Typically for Manchester, we did it our own way. Rather than a Friday morning coffee
event, we chose to hold it in the evening do so that we could attract people whose day jobs wouldn’t allow them time off to hang out with a load of geeks. It’s not so true now but at the time the number of
people making a living from social media in Manchester was minuscule.
When 80 people turned up on the first night we knew we were onto something. It quickly became a focal point for like-minded people across the northwest whether they had a professional or personal interest in social media.
2. Why do you think it has lasted?
Josh: Despite a rapidly developing digital scene, I think the Social Media Cafe has endured because it’s a dynamic and changing event that keeps up with what the community wants it to do. Though there are a few of us who play a co-ordination role, it’s really up to the community as to what they want to hear about each month; every event, we ‘crowdsource’ the agenda which means we’ll always have something of interest to most people, and something that’s usually quite topical. For example, in the run-up to the last election, we had a talk from Openly Local, a project seeking to open up local election data. That spawned a piece of work by Trafford Council to apply those principles across all their data sets, which is something I’m really pleased to be able to point to as a tangible benefit from getting involved in the Social Media Cafe. This month, we have the team behind the Greater Manchester Police’s Twitter experiment, which created headlines all over the world.
Julian: There is a really nice supportive community that has developed around the Social Media Cafe and I think one reason why this has happened is that I think no-one has tried to take ownership of it. It can be what people want to make of it. I think the format of the event has been such that it reflects the diversity of its audience. This has come about through an evolution of its format from panel discussion through to unConference.
3.What’s your highlight from the past two years?
Josh: It’s tough to pick out a highlight, but something that’s stuck in my mind is the crowdsourced video that was made by Social Meida Cafe participants about their memories of Ceefax. A slightly obscure topic perhaps, but there were some great reminders how Teletext changed people’s lives, and the interactive element that was the message boards: one of the early examples of social media.
Julian: Over the last two years the highlights, for me have been some of the more left field presentations. From talks about Emoticons through Mertz Web and Literature. It also has been crucial to starting a number of initiatives such as the regularly attended Social Media Surgeries, Manchester Aggregator as well as being key in helping Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council releasing election data after Chris Taggart spoke at SMC.
Martin: I don’t really have one highlight but what I’m most proud of is how it’s helped all sorts of projects bloom across Manchester, from social media surgeries for businesses to transmedia storytelling projects.
Many more digital community events have sprung up since like we started and it’s great to have been there, helping Manchester’s digital scene develop in our own small way.
4. Has it had any impact on other parts of your life – new job perhaps?
Josh: Getting involved in the Social Media Cafe has been a great way to network with the local digital community, which has given me access to the skills and knowledge of some incredibly talented people. It’s been really useful to know who to call to solve a problem, who might be available for work or who might want to tender for a project that I’m working on. I also feel that the community is a really collaborative one that looks out for each other – and in a climate where jobs are hard to come by, and more people might lose their jobs, I feel that my future prospects are stronger by having been involved. By taking on the online community management aspect of the event, I also feel that I’ve developed new skills that I can market to future employers.
Julian: It has impacted in numerous ways. For a start Littlestar, my company was supporting the Social Media Cafe with equipment and time at the beginning and through it I came to work for FutureEverything. I have also met many people who I now regard as good friends through the Cafe it is after all a very sociable place
Martin: Social Media Cafe really signalled the start of a new chapter in my
life. The network of people I’ve met through it helped me move from a
job that had run its course for me to one directly involved in social
media and digital content. I’m not the only one though, seeing people
go away from talks feeling inspired and trying new things is really
5. What does the future hold for Manchester’s social media cafe – hopes or fears?
Josh: I think the Social Media Cafe has been an incredible catalyst, bringing together Manchester’s digital and creative community in a unique way. Our attendee list is so diverse every month – comms, PR, journalists, developers, designers, techies – and beyond – teachers, lecturers… I could go on. This has meant we’ve spawned some incredible collaboration and spinoff events, like the Social Media Surgeries, Connecting 2.0 Communities; and been involved in bringing people together to start projects like Inside the M60, the MadLab and the Manchester Aggregator.
However, this has meant that we’re competing for space in a slightly more crowded digital sphere! I feel though, that this has presented an opportunity and, over the last 12 months, I’ve been working with Julian and Martin to develop the online network. Social Media Manchester is centred around the Social Media Cafe, but is a place for everyone and anyone interested in social media to get together, collaborate and start new things. It takes the discussions and the collaboration that happen at the event and lets it happen online. We’re coming up to almost a 1,000 members, and I think this just demonstrates what a strong and enduring digital community that we have in Manchester.
Julian: I would hope that more people get involved with the running of the Cafe which I think will happen, the more people involved with the running the more representative and relevant it will be. It does take work to manage it, especially with finding venues and sourcing guest speakers.
Martin: Although social media is far more mainstream than it was two years ago and the novelty factor has gone, the event still draws big numbers each month and I can’t see it dying any time soon. It’s a good starting point for anyone wanting to get involved in the local scene. We might have to tweak the format but from time to time but it’s such a huge area, with lots to debate and explore that there’s sure to be a role for it for a long time to come. The only thing we’d like is more people to volunteer to help run the event. Julian, Josh and I are all
really busy, meaning that some months end up being organised a little more hurriedly than we’d like.