Social media only works because it's social.
Let me explain a little more. Social media, at its heart, is about connecting with others who have like interests. If there is no human with which to connect then social media simply doesn't work. That's why people react so harshly to bots. Despite the eternal hopes of the Turing Test, humans like interacting with humans. They don't want to be tricked into thinking that they're talking with a computer.
But as humans we are also hard wired to prefer face to face contact. Sarcasm, for example, never plays well on IM or email because it requires vocal intonation and cultural resonance to work. Visual and audible cues are central to understanding the people on the other side of the conversation. That's why some great minds are trying to make technology more human-like; not to replace humans, but to make our interactions with technology more sociable.
Where social media excels in in helping start or maintain relationships. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn let us search for those who have similar interests, then seek out those people for contact.
This is where most people lose social media. Simple events, like Tweetups, are key to the whole process. Some can be complex, like huge trade shows, while others can be as simple as getting together for coffee.
Here in Boston we're blessed with an active networking culture that enables us to reach out on almost a daily basis. If you're around here, take a look at BostonTweetup, a great resource run by Joselin Mane. In fact, you can usually find Joselin at a number of the different events and connect with him face to face.
But for those who live and work locally, here are a few events that I find particularly interesting and useful:
- Mass Innovation Nights: Started earlier in 2009 by Bobbie Carlton, Mass Innovation Nights happens on the second Wednesday of each month at the Charles River Museum of Innovation and Industry in Waltham and showcases companies that are doing something innovative in Massachusetts. It's a great chance to meet entrepreneurs, investors and hear about new and up and coming companies, not just those in the technology space.
- Web Innovator's Group: Taking on more of a DEMO tone, WebInno has grown from just a handful of people to one of the see and be seen events in the Boston tech community. The 23rd event brought more than 1000 people to the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. The companies here tend to be a bit more established and mature than those at Mass Inno.
- Mobile Mondays: One of my favorites. A worldwide event with an outpost in Boston, Mobile Monday brings together mobile developers, entrepreneurs, investors and service groups (like lawyers) to talk about the future of mobile technology. One of the few free events with an open bar (beer and wine), which doesn't hurt!
- Boston Solo PR Coffee: Yeah, OK, a bit self serving. I host this event each Tuesday in Newton. But the only reason I showcase it here is to demonstrate how easy it is to set up such an event. Using Twitter and my own passion for caffeine, I put out a call for solo PR pros to gather each Tuesday at 9am with the idea that as we get to know and trust one another, we can call on each other for support, help and growth. The group shrinks and grows depending on the week, but I've met some wonderful people this way. Plus, Alison Kenney, who came to the Newton event, just started another on the North Shore. My wife is part of a similar group for lawyers that meets over dinner.
So don't just Tweet, get out there and meet!