Revisiting #SLS13

I'm back from the Social Learning Summit (SLS) at American University, and AU's Social Media Club continues to put on one of the best conferences of this type.

It seems like just yesterday, I was at the first SLS in 2011 - a lifetime ago in tech. In 2011, I didn't own a smartphone, I barely glanced at my LinkedIn profile, I didn't have a website or a blog, I thought Twitter was completely stupid, and my main concern with Facebook was how to lock down all privacy settings so that no one saw anything. Now three years later, all of that has changed and going to SLS - being exposed to the ideas and conversations it generates - was a bit part of changing my thinking in these areas.

Like the summits before, SLS13 was equal parts inspirational, educational, and entertaining.

  • Inspirational: It's hard to ignore the obvious fact that everything involved in SLS13 from the planning, to recruiting speakers and sponsors, to marketing were all done by students in the AU Social Media Club - months and months of work on top of their regular lives of being AU students. Even something as small as name badges (they had some name badge issues early in the day, reminding me of the same trouble I went through months earlier producing name badges for the 2012 ASPO-USA Conference) is evidence of the amount of dedication the Club poured into this project.

    And it's not all altruistic. I'm sure some of the AU Social Media Club (AUSMC) alums have gone on to great jobs - in part because of their work in this conference. At one point I overheard Zach Molinaro, Digital Strategist for MWW Group, speaking to AUSMC president Ben Loeb - telling him how impressed he was with the Summit. It was high and well-deserved praise. Molinaro took a very early flight from New York to arrive to speak on an online community panel - and he was clearly blown away by the quality of the conference. Involvement in this endeavor is a great flag on the AUSMC members' resumes.

    For the students in attendance, the inspiration came from the theme repeated throughout the Summit: that it's really easy to reach out to people on social media.

    In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss famously asked a group of 60 students at Princeton to contact three impossible to reach people and convince one of those people to answer three questions. 20 students took him up on the challenge - none succeeded. He asked the students in the Spring of 2005, but the Spring of 2013 is a totally different world. And it's so much easier for the students of today to throw an "@" in front of someone's name and send a message directly to them, cutting right through middlemen, helpers, and employees. Combined with Facebook and LinkedIn, the ability of students to reach out and hi-five anyone they want has never been easier. And I'm glad this theme was communicated constantly.

    For the rest of us (read: old people), the inspiration came from the simple knowledge that ANYONE can jump into social media tools new or old and the endless stories of how social media transformed people's lives, companies, and education gives one the motivation to jump right in.

  • Educational: I like to think I'm young enough to still be cool, but old and wise enough to know that I should hang around college students from time to time to see what's new and interesting. It's the main reason I go to SLS, just to get a sense of what young people are into.

    So my pen was flying as I took down notes on how the AUSMC handed tweetcasting (something we considered for the 2012 ASPO-USA Conference), how they set up the conference materials, and of course - info from the sessions themselves.

    No single session was more educational than the keynote by Gadi Ben-Yehuda, Director of Innovation and Social Media at IBM. His talk was on the six books to help you understand social media, and all of them are worth a look. One of the books, "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society" is one I absolutely have to read since that's near and dear to ASPO-USA's work - because lots of people have deeply flawed beliefs about energy and their "selective exposure" to only the channels they want, means their false beliefs are never challenged.
    Another book, "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World" reminded me a lot of Seth Priebatsch's TED talk, "The game layer on top of the world" - the gist being that if we think about gaming motivations, we can engineer better outcomes.

    Ben-Yehuda's keynote gave me a TON to think about - and to be honest, a keynote of its quality wasn't something I expected when I walked into SLS13.

  • Entertaining: Finally, SLS13 was just a good time. It's hard not to crack a smile at all the good vibes and livetweets. As BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner and Huffington Post's Ethan Klapper reminisced about covering the 2012 election - the live tweets behind them were filled with #bindersfullofwomen references.

    Shana Glickfield shared more than a few entertaining stories including the time Foursquare got her in trouble when she checked-in during a very late night out before not being her best at a morning meeting with a client who happened to follow her on Foursquare. As a sidenote, I realized that I ran into Shana once before, at Ignite DC, this is where FOMO became a part of my vocabulary (and yes, while I was at SLS13, I couldn't help thinking about how I was missing the Sakura Matsuri, the Cherry Blossom Parade, and how I was going to balance the evenings' pub crawl in Columbia Heights vs the friends in Clarendon - FOMO)

    Twitter's Design Director, Martin Ringlein, gave - hands down - the most entertaining keynote of the afternoon. In that off-the-cuff style that truly only comes after hours of planning and speech prep, Ringlein jumped into a talk about how old people are resistant to change, it's not new, it happens to all of us, even someday to the college students sitting in the room. At one point, Ringlein recalled a camping trip with his father where he pulled out his iPhone to figure out where to go and his father criticized him for it, before producing a map. He of course comically pointed out that his grandfather likely criticized his father for using a map/compass instead of the stars - and that both father and son would be in the same boat without their iPhone/Map/Compass.
    Speaking on the amazing things Twitter has been part of, he mentioned the DC Earthquake, and how people in New York read the tweets about the quake (which took 7 seconds) before they felt the aftershocks of the quake (which took 30 seconds). To me, the DC Earthquake was really one of my first experiences in Twitter - and the snark and commentary during and after the quake remains some of the funniest stuff I've ever read on Twitter.
    But the key point of Ringlein's talk is that change is disruptive, we can never predict where it comes from, we're hardwired to resist change, and we have to acknowledge and guard against that resistance.

    That in a sentence is why I continue to go to SLS, to open my eyes and ears and let people a decade younger than me teach me the new stuff I need to know, and help me embrace positive change rather than instinctively resist it.