Go forth to the launch party of Social Media Week SG, said my editor, for I wish to know what happens when a bunch of social media geeks get together in a social setting.
The answer? It goes something like this: There is loud music with thumping bass music. There is a profusion of food and drink, courtesy of the night’s sponsor, Johnnie Walker. Most of all there are people eating, drinking, carrying out enthusiastic conversation over the force of the bass, and generally having a good old time. There isn’t any more social awkwardness than there usually is at mingly networking events like this, which may or may not disappoint my editor.
Sure, there are subtle touches to emphasise the night’s social media roots. A large screen lords over the area by the bar, refreshing itself the very instant someone tweets something tagged #SMWsg (the official hashtag for the weeklong event). Small clusters of people gather at corners, their faces lit by the glow of their phone screens. But that’s nothing too different from any social gathering I’ve been to in the past few years. I would even venture to say that there was actually more talking and less mucking about on Facebook and Twitter than there normally is at non-social-media-related social gatherings I go to. As a matter of fact, I feel kind of churlish sitting in a corner, typing this out on my iPad. I want to dive in and join the conversation.
Despite the widespread popularity of social media and online communication, there still seems to be the persistent impression that people who do everything on the Internet are somehow a class apart from ordinary people, as can be seen by the periodic use of the phrase “Netizens” in traditional media.
But is that really the case? Speaking from personal experience, “the Internet”, and social media platforms, are populated by pretty much ordinary people who simply use the technology available to communicate with each other. Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean that it’s any less genuine than real-life communication. While the early adopters of social media platforms may have been geeks, this is the reality no longer.
At the party, I managed to speak with Martin Pasquier (@SMWLoveMessengr), one-half of the social media experiment Can Man Live On Social Media Alone? where he, hailing from London, arrived in Singapore and would attempt to survive for a week using only the goodwill of other people on social media platforms to get by. He’s only been in Singapore for three days, yet he feels like he’s learned a lot about the different cultures here– “Chinese culture, Malay culture, Indian culture”– than he would have thought. Even with the extreme nature of his quest, he said that it was the human element that mattered to him most. “For me the most important part is the interaction, meeting people. Social media is just the means to do it.”
And perhaps that is the ultimate power of social media, the reason why brands and companies and otherwise-traditional publishing platforms are investing so much time and energy into it. It is no longer just a set of shiny new tools, the new kid on the block. It’s become a means to do things. And although we have Social Media Week to acknowledge the power that social media has over us now, it is more than just that. It has become a way of life.