Social Media & Society 2013: Five ingredients for an amazing conference

Now that I’ve got your attention, just a quick shameless plug that I’ve updated all the pages under the Research tab with the findings of studies I conducted this past year. Have a read about Facebook’s perilous governance practices, what people think their Likes indicate about them, and how LGBTQ young people deal with context collapse on Facebook.

Right, now to talk about the Social Media & Society 2013 International Conference that took place at Dalhousie University just a couple of weekends ago. Despite that this was my first time presenting at an academic conference, accompanied by much nervousness and constant slide-editing, I was still able to notice many fantastic aspects of the weekend. I’ll share my presentation slides and notes in a subsequent blog post but first I wanted to give kudos to the conference organizers for having everything come together so well.

Here are 5 ingredients from Social Media & Society 2013 that were key to such a great conference:

1. A range of fascinating topics. With themes including identity, online communities, academia, marketing, and politics, this conference had something for everyone. This was a good reflection of the diversity of areas in society affected by new information and communications technologies (ICTs). It also captured the interdisciplinary work of the academics studying this field. Presentations about mommy blogging, PR disasters on Facebook, Occupy Wall Street, and many others were interesting in their own right but also held valuable insights or methodological approaches with possibilities for application to my own work.


 (Elizabeth Dubois on Identifying the Opinion Leader)

2. Knowledgeable speakers. This goes hand-in-hand with the first point in that the conference’s diverse speakers were very engaging as they shared about their areas of expertise. I was particularly impressed with the opening keynote by Sharad Goel, a senior researcher at Microsoft, as he talked about his cutting-edge research on virality. Everyone wants to know how something like The Fox gets over 60,400,000 views, but it’s not a simple question when both broadcast and person-to-person media play a role (papers and more papers).


 (Sharad Goel on virality)

3. An exciting host institution. A tour of Dalhousie’s Social Media Lab was offered on both conference days. I jumped at the opportunity to check out their interactive screens and Big Data processing power. Even more impressive were the tools running on those screens. The lab has developed a number of tools for analyzing digital data with one of the most notable being Netlytic, an application for social network analysis. This app aids the interdisciplinary development of ICT research as it combines computer scientists’ coding expertise into a tool that researchers without a programming background can use to make sense of social interactions online.


 (A sample visualization from Netlytic)

4. A sense of community among scholars. Throughout the weekend, there was a sense that you could freely chat with people about their research. This was fostered by little touches: name tags, suggested lunch venues, available speaker biographies, and evening mixers. Never underestimate the importance of a coffee break!


(Post-conference dinner at the habourfront)

5. Connections beyond the conference room. Although this ingredient feeds #4, it’s significant enough to stand alone. Conferences with Internet researchers tend to do this one really well. The organizers put everything together on a fantastic site, which was integrated with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, to connect everyone weeks before the start of the conference. This, combined with lively tweeting on the conference hashtag (#SMSociety13), meant that participants were able to find others researching similar areas of interest and connect with them over social media. Not only did these additional ways of connecting eliminate the pesky, “Uhm, what was their name again?” post-conference predicament, it also allowed attendees to share feedback, resources, and encouragement.


 (Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd, Director of the Social Media Lab analyzing connections on the #SMSociety13 Twitter hashtag)

Now that you know this is not an event to be missed, you should probably keep an eye out for #SMSociety14 and murmurs about next year’s conference!

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