SocialMediaCamp London 09: A Few Lessons Learned

New mothers apparently say that after they hold their newborn in their arms, they forget almost all the pain of the laborious process (literally!) that preceded. I think this week, I can see what they mean.

On Saturday, April 25th, the second SocialMediaCamp London was held at Wallacespace St Pancras after a long gestation period. The event itself is fairly simple; BarCamps are “unconferences” and therefore there are no speakers to book and manage. smcstart-1The venue is fabulous and the team there make my life incredibly easy by being such a well-oiled machine. The only pain was the sponsorship issues I encountered, which was resolved by making the event a single day instead of the original intended two days.

In general, the event was fantastic; there were some stellar presentations, on topics ranging from “What to do with a corporate Twitter account?” to “Porn & social media: A practical guide to working with ‘adult’ content” and a discussion on LARP to one on how to help PR agencies collaborate better with bloggers (“PR agencies want your soul”). The weirdness of presentations can pretty much be summed up in a single photo by Neil Crosby.

The day was topped off by what I hear was a comedy Scavenger Photo Hunt, organised by Kat Neville. “I hear” because by that point, my knees had turned to Jell-O and so had my brain, so I had to skip on the photohunt, as brilliant as it seemed.

A few days from the event now, and I’m still basking in the glow of a great day, filled with new and known faces, creative ideas & suggestions. I’ve pretty much forgotten about the faff of the weeks leading up to the event and am already thinking about doing it again.

As  far as the homepage of my blog is concerned, this is where the post ends. If you’re interested in a few contentious aspects of the event, then read on.

So you’re still here then?

There are a few comments by some attendees, new and old, that I’d like to address to clear the air about *Camps, rules and attitudes. [Note: This isn’t a moan about this event in particular, or to make those who skipped it feel bad for me specifically. I’m a big girl, I can cope. This is an observation on free events in general.]

Ticketing & attendance

This was a bone of contention for a number of people; tickets for SMCLondon went in 9 minutes the first time, and 2-3 the second time. I was gobsmacked that so many people wanted to attend, and slightly alarmed at the size of the waiting list that resulted from it.

In the interest of transparency, here are the numbers:

  • Over 130 tickets were allocated through the official Eventbrite signup for Saturday (through the 2 waves of tickets)
  • I handed out another dozen tickets in the 2 days that preceded the event
  • We had about 10 volunteers & sponsor tickets who I’m not counting above
  • We had a waiting list of about 40 people

Wallacespace can accommodate up to 120 people, but we had aimed for attendance of 100 or so. Based on the numbers above, that’s over 150 tickets handed out. I simply couldn’t hand out any more tickets, in case everyone showed up. According to the signup sheet which I asked the volunteers to use to track how many people came, we had just over 85 people come to the event. That’s an attendance rate of 56%.

Honestly? That’s crap and that’s demotivating.

I appreciate that the sun was shining that day and that BBQ’s were a very appealing way to spend the day. I also know that a handful of people were either ill or working very hard to finish projects over the course of the weekend, and most of them had the courtesy to let us know they couldn’t attend as early on as possible so that someone on the waiting list could get their spot.

One recurring suggestion is to charge a minimal cover fee of £10-15 for attending; proceeds could go to charity or, as a Scottish friend suggested, “Charity?! Put it towards the bar tab!” I have no doubt that there’ll be some moaning that I’m committing a cardinal sin by suggesting payment for a *Camp, but it is one possible solution.

Others will say that we should charge then reimburse those who do turn up. This one is good in theory but I’m not willing to handle the logistics of that for all the jam donuts in the world.

Is it that *Camps have become a commodity and people sign up “just in case”? I doubt it’s because people “forgot” about the event, as we sent 5 emails to attendees in the weeks leading up to it. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this one, because it’s left me puzzled.


Other attendees seem to have much more of an issue with this than I do. Kat, amongst others, raised the fact that many people chose not to present on the day.

The issue stems from the following:

  • *Camps rely on attendees presenting in order to exist. No presentations = no *Camp
  • Being required to participate forces newbies out of their shell, allowing them to grow and learn faster than if their comfort zone hadn’t been challenged

I put my hand up here and admit that I didn’t hammer on about this as much as I did before the first SMC London, where I wrote a few posts specifically to explain how BarCamps work and how to get around the nerves of presenting for the first time, so there clearly were newbies who had no idea what to expect.

To say that everyone must present on their first *Camp would also be hypocritical of me. My first one was MobileCamp London a couple of years ago and, I admit it, I didn’t present a thing. In fact, I was completely and utterly bewildered by the concept and probably didn’t say an awful lot during presentations. Regardless, I met some awesome people, heard many new ideas and left with a real buzz.

When we noticed the lack of willing volunteers this time, I should have encouraged people to lead discussions or partner together if they wanted to share the spotlight.

In summary: Participate to the best of your abilities, as a presenter, volunteer, vocal participant in discussions or just a handy pair of hands throughout the day. Every tiny bit of help is appreciated, as the organisers are volunteers and are merely human.

So what’s next?

At the end of Saturday, everyone was asking when the next SMCLondon was going to be held. The answer is “I don’t know”. I’m one person, and I need to juggle my own business as well – However fun they may be to host, solely running volunteer events won’t pay the bills.

There will undoubtedly be another SMCLondon in the near future – no dates decided yet – and I’m hoping that more volunteers will crop up early on next time to help plan the event so that we can share the hours.

Alongside a few friends, I’m also getting the ball rolling on Cambridge Geek Nights, to make a difference in my more immediate community.

I am also planning a weekday series of workshops and talks for business folks that want to talk about the topics we cover at BarCamp events but may not be so new meedja as to want to spend their weekend with a bunch of geeks! Think your boss or your team will be interested? Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to tell you/them more as soon as I can announce the details.

Beyond this, I hope that events like SMCLondon have inspired others to do good in their community. This isn’t about who hosts the biggest or the best event. It’s about making a difference; in your workplace, in your friendships and in your head. So what are you waiting for? Apply what you’ve learned and spread the quirky, mad and creative spirit of *Camps around you!

5 thoughts on “SocialMediaCamp London 09: A Few Lessons Learned

  1. Pingback: Why did I go to Social Media Camp? » Blog Archive » The Code Train

  2. Laurence

    Vero thanks again for organising such a fab event. Agreed, the attendance was disappointing – I think it’s just plain rude to book a ticket and no show up at the last minute.

    I will definitely do a talk at the next event and also happy to help you organise the event!

    Thanks again!

  3. Max

    I wonder if it would be worth doing what is usual practice for TV and Radio ticketting – oversubscribe the tickets massively (rather than slightly) to ensure you have an audience, and then make it “the first X at the door actually get in” where X is the capacity of the building. Perhaps it would turn even more away. It really is a case of “it’s free, therefore doesn’t have much value” to some people and they take on the off chance that they will feel like attending on the day. I have no idea how over/under subscribed Radio 4 comedies are, but I have seen people turned away and I have seen half empty theatres, depending on the show being recorded. There’s always a risk, though, that it would make even more not bother to turn up if the ticket wasn’t a guarantee of entry.

  4. Pingback: SocialMediaCamp London ‘09 / we are social

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