This article is a bit more stream-of-conscious than my usual pieces. I’m sitting at the Atlanta Airport waiting for my flight back from the Social Shake-Up and these are the thoughts going through my mind as I reflect on the past three months of planning.

In June I was tasked with programming the Social Shake-Up conference in Atlanta. This involved handling 38 panels each of which, for the most part, contained 4 panelists. An overwhelming task to put it lightly. But over the following 3 months I was blessed to meet the most amazing individuals from Social Media strategists at major brands to renown thought-leaders across all areas of Social. I was privileged to be a fly on the wall for each panel’s rehearsal chat. Often the panelists knew each other by reputation but had not come together in person. I listened as these brilliant minds grappled with the topic we’d assigned to them. Jealous? You should be.  I wouldn’t trade these past few months for anything in the world!

As you can imagine, after 38 rehearsal calls and many more email exchanges, I got my schpeal about the event down to a science. “The Social Shake-Up is a conference like no other” I would say. “We’re bringing together industry experts from thought-leaders to B2C/B2B brands to analysts and sitting them down together on a panel to talk about the future of social media.” But it took the physical actualization of the event for the true meaning of these phrases to really sink in.

Based on my experience in this conference, I believe that the Social Shake-Up is first and foremost an experience. Those of us in the Social Media industry often talk about how hard it is to explain our jobs to friends and family. To this day I tend to just say that I help brands figure out how to make use of Facebook and Twitter better. While that’s true, what I really do is so so so much more.

I dream. I strategize. I look for opportunities– the next big thing that will facilitate communication and bring people closer together. I always bristle at the articles talking about how social media is driving people apart. “Everyone is staring at their phones” I hear people lament. What they don’t get or choose not to get is what people are doing on their phones. If I’m on a social network, I’m sharing experiences, I’m creating a whole set of memories. I’m networking. You may see the physical me sitting by myself in Starbucks staring at my phone but I’m not alone. I’m chatting with friends from across the country about everything from politics to sports.  “These aren’t real relationships” is something I also hear. To that I have to simply laugh and what happened at the Social Shake-Up is a perfect counter to that complaint. People who have communicated for years on Twitter met up in person. An online community came together to share an incredibly offline experience. The coolest thing- a true “Social Shake-Up” is the familiarity with which you can interact with your friends on Twitter when you meet them offline.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Social Shake-Up is about relationships. Whether it’s a brand reaching out to a customer or a big data analyst trying to capture better metrics of conversations, at the heart it’s about what social media provides us as individuals. We live in an increasingly fast-paced world. While it’s true that that takes a toll on relationships—that’s only true offline. Our online relationships are flourishing. But it is true, relationships that are purely online do leave something to be desired (that’s one reason that online dating often hits a wall.)

So the Social Shake-Up is about taking these online relationships and creating offline manifestations that feel genuine. It’s about establishing trust. We’re not there yet. In many areas, such as higher education, the social media journey is just beginning. There’s no roadmap. No master guide to “Best Practices”. Only trial and error. “Make More Mistakes Faster” was the name of one panel and that’s really a great mantra. You don’t know what works until you try.

For those of us in social media we should be inspired to always look to the future. And for those of you who think social media is cool but are worried about the implications for your brand or field—my advice is to start small. Tweet out a photo- see what happens. Finally for those of you who are skeptical of social media and keep writing those disparaging articles, I urge you to take a second look. Our society IS changing. You may think that all of this is drivel but you at least need to acknowledge that it’s having an impact and that there are many cases where these online interactions have had amazing results.

We had 38 panels and 3 keynotes and the constant message was: ignore social media at your own risk. So, my fellow social media geeks, it’s clearly time to seize the day!

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