Last week I was in Boston attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference. I felt that the conference was well attended (all things considered) and very well put together. My hat's off to the organizers. It was fun to see both customers and my co-workers, both whom I typically only see in a virtual sense through email, blog and wiki posts and chat sessions.
While the bulk of my time was spent on the vendor expo floor talking to people about our latest product offering, Open Text Social Media, I did have a chance to sit in on one session. The session's theme was Social Media in the Enterprise. The session's flow was crowd sourced, with the audience members choosing the content to be discussed from a top 10 list. The topic that was of most interest to me was how to measure the ROI of Social Media. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before we recognize that the value of Social Media is really served up in the way that we can connect people to people to content and that the need for measuring the ROI will eventually fade away into the fabric of collaboration. Is there a ROI for bookkeeping? No. Is there a ROI for facilities management? No. Is there a ROI on producing business cards? No. All of these things are accounted for as a cost of doing business. We may start asking instead, what is the return on ignore? What will happen if I don't embrace social media? That may become the easier thing to measure.
What struck me while I sat in the one session I made time for was how far we had come from last year's conference. Last year Twitter was fairly new to most of us, but this year Twitter seemed to be the stream of concise for the conference itself. Even though I was unable to leave the expo floor, I was able to catch all of the highlights simply by reading through the tweets specific to the sessions. Each session was given a unique hash tag that allowed me to search through tweets by that specific tag. This back channel form of communication really brought a lot of value to me this year. It was interesting to read the different highlights and perspectives on what was being communicated by the presenters as well as the audience themselves.
It's funny since last year it may have seemed rude to be typing away while listening to a presenter, but this year it appeared as though having a laptop with you and making notes was just a natural way to absorb and share the content we were receiving.
As Chris Stubbs wrote in a recent blog post entitled "Making a Game of the Back Channel";
"There was a time not too long ago when, as a presenter, looking out on an audience and seeing this would have lead to the emotional equivalent of being hit in the face of a rotten tomato...Thankfully (or perhaps not so thankfully, depending on your view of human social evolution) seeing a crowd full of faces illuminated by the radioactive glow of their laptops or smart phones is no longer the symbol of disrespect that it once was. It can be, in many cases, the new look of engagement."
What amazed me was the ability of people to multi task in the sessions by both listening to the presenter, tweeting thoughts and perspectives, or simply re-stating a presenters point; as well as taking photos of the slides themselves. Myself, I think I need to practice my skills as I found it very difficult to do all these things at once. I guess I am just one of those people that can't chew gum and walk at the same time.
It made me question whether this behaviour will spill over to other areas such as the class room or the boardroom. It reminds me a little bit of passing notes back in grade school. I am interested to hear others thoughts on the value of back channel communication and your stories about using the back channel to stay informed.