I will admit, when the evening began with everyone in the room passing the mike and giving their elevator pitch, I was worried. There were over 60 women in the room and, one by one, they shared their name, job, employ—in many cases their own small business—and their twitter handle. I feared it would take all night but in a few minutes it was over. I found the exercise creepy; there was something evangelical about it, but I succumbed and came to realise that this spirit of promotion and openness was at the heart of the event.
The MC introduced the night saying this was a forum created for women to build confidence and share knowledge. There are no gurus here, she said, you can ask any question. As if there were an imminent threat, she declared this place is safe.
Kate Curruthers was the special guest. Her presentation on private and public boundaries online was about negotiating the terrain of social media from a personal and business perspective. Her central thesis for the night was that nothing is new. There are real world parallels to all online behaviour.
Kate Curruthers spoke of the changing attitudes towards privacy over time and how social networking has taken everyone back to the village. Now, like before, everyone knows each other’s business. Curruthers spoke of how the web quickens and amplifies communication and of the risks of social media engagement:
- reputation—and the lack of control of others content about you
- job risks—personal and professional boundaries blurring
- personal safety—what information you should disclose publically; and the sometime vitriolic nature of dialogue online.
Her advice to those in the room, wanting to engage with and use social media was don’t do online, what you wouldn’t do offline.
Carruthers also spoke of the benefits of always being connected: convenience, friendship, guidance and business benefits. The new digital divide, she said, was not whether or not you have a computer but how connected you are willing to be. Her most pressing piece of advice for the night was around the use of social media in the workplace. She warned that one should not question a young person’s right to be always connected. An audience member recommended that all businesses have a social media policy (and referred the audience to Telstra’s social media employee guidelines). Kate agreed and added that you cannot discipline employees for misuse of social media if you do not have rules in place.
At this point the talk opened up into a forum where problems, anecdotes and advice were shared. This was the most interesting aspect to the night. The event delivered on its promise of being a safe place where people can ask anything. Questions were answered by guest speaker and by audience members alike. This made me see the whole point of the introductions at the start of the event. Everyone had a sense of what each other did, be that PR professional, journalist, accountant, business coach, stylist or small business owner—and knowing the people in the room made everyone comfortable to talk.
Social Media Women sits somewhere between a digital industry get together and a business networking function. Many did learn a lot of new information. I learnt about the questions, fears and apprehension some people have of social media, no doubt thanks to the thought provoking presentation by Kate Curruthers. I’ve been to a lot of industry events. The diversity in the audience and the range of discussion about using social media made this night the most authentic and refreshing forum I’ve attended for a while.