MediaShift has been in existence since 2006, and has a vibrant, engaged community that has grown over those five years. But where is that community of readers and contributors in the real world? How can they connect, get to know each other and network face-to-face?
That’s been the conundrum for me as the founder and executive editor of the site. I know many of the folks in the MediaShift community who I’ve met at various conferences, but I’ve also been on a longtime search to find meaningful ways to bring them together without having the typical panels and keynote speeches.
I’ve taken some baby steps, with a “tweetup” at the Online News Association conference in San Francisco a couple years ago. I only promoted it via Twitter, and invited people to come to a nearby wine bar after the day’s sessions at ONA. The wine bar was overwhelmed with people, and the wine tab busted my budget — but it felt good, and I could tell people supported MediaShift and each other. Last summer, I had a small happy hour gathering in New York at the Grace Hotel and Bar, which featured a quirky swim-up bar.
But this month I was ready to take the next big step by having a larger gathering in New York with a MediaShift Mixer, which was going to be the kick-off party for the We Media conference. By all accounts, that party last night was a big success, with attendees braving near-freezing temperatures to come out for drinks and to meet colleagues.
7 Social Lessons Learned
So I figured it would be a good idea to get down the lessons learned from the mixer, to help others who’d like to create similar gatherings, and to get feedback from people who where there (and to give me a place where I could share some photos from the event!).
1. Piggyback on an existing event.
I have to give huge kudos to MediaShift marketing and sales guru (and native New Yorker) Dorian Benkoil, who has been the point man for continuing MediaShift events. His idea was that rather than start with our own stand-alone events, we could piggyback on an existing event. In this case, it was with We Media, an established conference that would be in a perfect location, New York. We estimated that about one-third of the attendees of our mixer were going to We Media, and that included speakers such as Craig Newmark, Rafat Ali and Susan Mernit.
2. Pick the right place.
This is an important one, especially when you’re in New York where you could spend a ton of money — or find a great deal with some inside knowledge. Again, Dorian came up big with the Solas Bar, a place centrally located in the East Village (the We Media conference was downtown) and that let us use about half the space for free — if we could guarantee a certain number of attendees. Our great turnout meant that the bar was happy and so were we.
3. Get out of the way and let people meet.
My first thought about the party was that I could have special speakers or perhaps do a live version of the 5Across video show or some other special programming. But instead I decided to follow the edict to Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) and get out of the way and let people just connect, talk and meet each other. I made a very brief speech, thanking everyone for coming, as did Dorian. Afterwards, a few attendees said it was one of those rare times at a party in New York where multiple people came up to them to introduce themselves. That’s exactly what I was hoping for.
This was probably another good thing about Solas Bar. It was a nice place, but not the kind of place that was imposing or had a major attitude. There was no velvet rope that night, no bouncers and there were tables set up if people wanted to break into smaller groups.
4. Name tags with Twitter handles are a must.
This is something I learned from the Gnomedex conference a few years ago, where they had badges that included names and Twitter handles. Name tags were obviously a must so people could get to know each other easier, and having their Twitter handles meant they might recognize others from their time on Twitter. Plus, it would make it easier to name-check people on Twitter during the event. And we told everyone to use the #mediamix hashtag on Twitter, which to my surprise, people did.
5. Give volunteers a stake.
We got a great group of volunteers (pictured at right) to help us run the event: Patrick Wall,
Tierney McAffee, Eliza Ronalds-Hannon and Lisha Arino. They are all students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and were motivated to help us out and meet other people at the mixer. They ran the door, registered guests, handed out name tags, and took photos and video. We also made sure to rotate their shifts at the door to give them ample time to enjoy the event and make important contacts.
6. The drink ticket guy with the hat.
That was me. We offered to “buy the first round” of drinks for people at the party. How would we pull that off? I bought a bunch of drink tickets and decided to give them out to people as they arrived. This meant that nearly everyone at the party had to meet me, even just to ask for a drink ticket. That way, I had a good idea of who was there, how they found out about the party, and to make sure they at least knew what MediaShift was about.
7. No late night artichoke pizza.
There is something called “artichoke pizza” in New York and it is a very delicious treat, basically a rich, creamy artichoke dip and cheese on top of pizza dough. Late at night after having a few drinks at a mixer, artichoke pizza sounds great — and tastes great. At about 3 am, in the middle of the night, when the alcohol and artichoke pizza have spawned an eye-watering heartburn that keeps you wide awake, you reconsider the idea.
If you attended the MediaShift Mixer, share your thoughts about the event — what worked and what didn’t work. And if you have put on similar parties, let us know what you learned.
UPDATE: Dorian Benkoil emailed to tell me his big learning from the event: “I learned that people have a special affection for MediaShift that goes beyond a simple following. It is a community of people who feel connected to the site, and to each other through the site.” Awww.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.