Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Was #Likeminds the best gig ever?

If you're not a Pixies fan - or even if you're a little bit of a Pixies fan - you might not know 'Into the White'. The song appeared on the B-side of 'Here Comes Your Man' and had enough energy to power Exeter for a week. For about a year the Pixies used to open with it religiously and I saw them play it about 5 times in a row at the Town and Country club between 1988 and1989.

They used to fill the stage with dry ice, shine spotlights through the fog and kick in with that unmistakeable bass line. Each time it was utterly electrifying, unique and played just for the fans. We used to tumble out of those gigs go home and play the live gigs on Maxell 90s - bought off some dodgy goth outside the venue - at full volume for hours. Those nights are some of the most memorable of my life.

Last Friday as I got into my car to drive home from Likeminds, I reached for my iPhone plugged in the MP3 jack and scrolled to Surfer Rosa by the Pixies and turned up the volume to max. and drove 100 miles (way too fast) up the A303. That says an awful lot about how good the day was.

Walking out of Likeminds felt like you'd been exposed to something utterly unique, something special, something raw, but at the same time very slick. In short it felt like you'd seen one of the best gigs ever.

Some reasons why it's up there with the best

1. It had a string of amazing support bands and the main act didn't quite play by the rules.

Of course the term support bands is pretty derogatory in this context, but it can't have been an accident that Chris Brogan was on last.

Jonathon Akwue opened with a great story around the parallels between the rise of hip hop and social media. I think he also helped to set the tone for the entire day. His examples of how public bodies were reaching out and creating spaces for people, run by people, really added some clarity to how important it is to be available, authentic, real and empathetic. Many of the insights he shared I know I can take away and apply to highly commercial organisations.

John Bell outlined a fantastic approach to socialising an organisation and how to structure a truly far-reaching internal training programme, something I certainly need to apply within the spheres I'm involved with.

Joanne Jacobs gave everyone a master class in not just how to use new social technologies smartly and appropriately but, also how to be an engaging presenter. No matter what she thinks of Paul Clarke's photos of her, they captured the passion with which she delivered her subject.

Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder) laid out the case for re-structuring an organisation around what he termed 'social communications' a really thought-provoking piece moving the conversation away from social media and towards more social businesses.

Yann Gourvenec explained how Orange had approached the social space. Refreshingly though he helped us understand that what customers are looking for is appropriate levels of engagement. It's not about the channels, it's not about sitting and pondering about social media, it's about getting out there and engaging appropriately. Listening and acting consistently.

And last but not least. What can I say.

Chris Brogan came on almost broke his mic, came very close to knocking over the on-stage table and went on to break the swearing embargo within 15 seconds (something that even Joanne Jacobs had managed to avoid). He then went on to outline his theory around guest experince design as opposed to customer service, a brilliant piece of shared thinking that has made me completely reappraise a proposal I already had in the pipeline.

2. It made you think you'd do things completely differently from now on.
Little of the content was brand new, but the focus that Scott Gould and Drew Ellis had put on the theme for Likeminds - 'people to people' - really helped to refocus thoughts away from the tools and mechanics and towards the real point of social media - the participants. The real conversation is the one that happens person to person and develops real value - not just commercial value, but emotional value and that has to be central to future thinking.

3. People came away feeling they'd been part of something special, but all had a different and unique story to tell.
Which have been very usefully curated by the Likeminds crew here.

4. It left you wanting more
I had to shoot pretty much straight after it finished, so watching from afar, as the post-conference get togethers and satellite events bubbled away was extremely frustrating, but just went to show how productive the whole event was.

5. The venue was mysterious, but perfect
Likeminds took place in a conference hall that none of the local taxi drivers realised was there and you had to get in the queues early to get the best seats.

6. It had it's very own beflowered roadies
Stuart Witts picked up Chris Brogan from the airport and transported him to Likeminds and according to Stuart they spent three hours shooting the breeze about comics and films. Sounds like a damn good use for three hours on the road.

7. You had to be there, but if you weren't there's a lasting legacy

The whole event felt like a highly participative gathering. Likeminds is a perfect title for such an inclusive, informal but informative event, but within the framework of that intimate gathering, the lunchtime sessions allowed you to get even more in-depth. It was a fantastic way of putting something back into the local Exeter community.

By holding 20 separate events at different venues and all within 10 minutes of the venue, it put a different slant on things. My particular lunch hosted by the lovely Kate Day had a great balance of banter and sharp eyed insight. Teamspirit the company I work for has always based our internal briefing around story-telling so how that applied to social media really resonated with me.

8. It was hyperlocal, national and global all at the same time.
What struck me was the number of local Devon business people that were there. I met some fantastic people for which Likeminds had ignited a completely new way of doing business. It felt that Likeminds had spawned a networked community that simply hadn't existed prior to the first event in 2009.

At the same time I was able to finally meet with a lot of the people I was following already and hadn't met in person and put a face to an avatar (by the way Avatars are confusing) and of course the buzz that Likeminds created meant it was a global trending topic at points during the day and that Twirus had it in the top five UK hashtags two days running. Successful in so many ways.

So was it the best gig ever?

It was definitely pretty close, I bust one of my car speakers as a result, so that has to notch it up in the rankings.

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