As the majority of my virtual community has descended upon Austin for the annual pilgrimage known as South by Southwest Interactive, I can't help but have pangs of jealousy. As a total music fanatic that represents a few budding singer-songwriters, I've been interested in the music festival for years. And now as a total social media junkie, I'm head-over-heels with the idea of meeting some of my favorite virtual "friends" in person.
But wait--what IS the purpose of SXSW and similar conferences, Tweet-ups and events, large and small? Is it to indulge in self-congratulatory, insider chit-chat? To become even more insular and more exclusive? To party 24/7 with several thousand of your closest friends? Or is to network, to build new relationships and maybe, just maybe, learn something new?
I know that when I attend events like this in Atlanta, I have to be honest with myself about why I'm going. Because nine times out of ten, I'm dealing with the usual suspects. All wonderful, amazing, intelligent people, but people I know. People I already have relationships with. The insiders. And there's nothing wrong with having an adult beverage, kicking back and enjoying some great conversation. But I don't delude myself into thinking I'm networking, giving back, making new friends or building my business. It is what it is--socializing with friends.
But if we're true ambassadors of social media, of openness and transparency, of building quality relationships or inclusion, shouldn't we be indulging in fewer SXSWs and Tweet-ups and doing more hanging out in local coffee shops, more reaching out to people we don't know, more sharing what we DO know?
And yes, I'm still adding SXSW 2011 to next year's agenda. But I hope I go into it with open eyes and open arms.