Social media success also breeds risk

I’ve occasionally used this blog to document my social media journey and in that spirit it would be impossible not to mention last week’s epic Social Slam event.

By successfully gathering 600 social media friends and fanatics and highlighting some of the coolest speakers and topics anywhere, this must be considered a milestone, a signature moment. And while I am filled with joy and pride for this event, I could not be honest with you without saying that the week was filled with trepidation. You see, success on the social web also breeds increasing risk.

Gini Dietrich kicks off Social Slam

Although Social Slam was spectacularly run by the Knoxville Social Media Club, my name is inexorably associated with the event as its founder and the person who puts the program together.  Leading up to the event, I shuddered each time I saw somebody tweet that they were attending “Mark Schaefer’s conference.”

Ten years ago, if something went wrong at a conference, the damage would be limited to a little grumbling. If something failed at Social Slam, the news would spread though millions (yes, millions) of possible social media impressions. If the room was too cold, if the wi-fi didn’t work, if the lunch was awful — that is what would be recorded, that is what would be remembered. Potentially, that is what would go viral.

No person or company receives any direct financial gain from Social Slam. It is an entirely non-profit initiative so that we can keep the prices at a point where anybody can attend. In fact, that is our vision. If you attended an event featuring speakers such as Mitch Joel, Jay Baer and Gini Dietrich in New York, it would easily cost $1,500.  Unless you’re working for a big company, who can afford that?  You could come to Social Slam for $79 and get a whole day of content, networking, breakfast, lunch and an after-party to boot.

And yet, I realized that although this was entirely volunteer-driven (even the speakers donate their time) we would be inevitably compared to professionally-run events in big cities. In the era of the social web, there is no room for error any more.

Tom Webster in the process of making statistics hilarious

As it turned out, I don’t know how it possibly could have been better.  Here is the best indicator of success — You know when you go to conferences and see people milling about outside the main room doing emails and phone calls? During Social Slam the halls were empty. Everybody was stuck to their seats because the content was so amazing.

Yes, the wi-fi worked. The room was comfortable. The lunch was delicious. The parties were a blast. The speakers rocked. The social web hummed with positive comments.

And yet mid-way through the morning, the weight of the #soslam hashtag attracted the attention of porn spammers. The stream of “Mark Schaefer’s conference” was quickly hijacked with hundreds of disgusting tweets automatically produced by bots.  Other companies, not even in attendance, tried to sell their wares by adopting the popular conference hashtag like little social media leeches. And unbelievably, even individuals in my home town (who I have never met) sat on their couches at home and threw darts at a conference they have never attended in a pathetic attempt to feed their need for attention.

The grotesque irony is that the better we are, the bigger the target becomes. The bigger the target I become, too.

Mitch Joel pushed the crowd to think of social media in new ways.

And this leads me to the inevitable question — Why?

Why put myself through it? My business is thriving without it. My books are selling without it. My friends and students love me without it. Why work all these hours just to become a target for creeps?

Here is the lesson of taking big risks in the social era. Even if it pays off, you put yourself, and your brand, increasingly at risk. Success breeds hate and corruption. It always has, but now it’s automated and it’s amplified.  So if you want to take a step on to the national stage, you better have a helluva thick skin.

I am still driven by this idea of creating an entirely new kind of social media destination.  Of creating an event centered on relationships instead profit, on content that breaks new ground instead of re-hashing the most popular themes, on showcasing worthy new voices instead of the same 10 middle-aged white guys. How far can our passionate band of volunteers take this thing?

So, this is my way of saying thank you for your support … and yes, I’ll see you at Social Slam next year!

There has been a lot of content developed following Social Slam 2012 and here are some stand-outs I found:


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  • The room was warm. The wi-fi was smoking fast. The food was smoking good. Mission accomplished 🙂

    The best part? We finally got to meet in our meat forms 🙂

    It was an awesome event… thank you for inviting me!

  • Mark,

    Here’s a little simple wisdom that was passed to me and I feel compelled to pass it along to you… 

    “Haterz Hate…” 

    That’s what they do.

    Don’t sweat Haterz… 

    Never make a decision based on Haterz. 

    Just keep creating!

    Ryan H.

  • Mark, as I said to you at the after party, this is THE BEST conference of any type I have EVER attended. Who cares about the haters. As my mother used to tell me in elementary school when someone teased me for being “too tall” or “too smart” or “too something” “they are just jealous.”

     How wonderful for a relative newcomer and an almost complete outsider to be able to listen to AND TALK TO some of the greatest voices in social media today. I have even put some of the new knowledge to work: Today a few friends were chatting on Twitter from a medical conference about how they wanted to start a medical education in social media group. And I took Jon Moss’ advice and started it on Linked In. Voila! Just like that. We have a whopping seven members so far. I am pumped from the inspiration I received by attending Social Slam. I am so happy I got to finally meet you. And I hope we stay friends for a long time. You are brave, you are kind and you are smart. Those are wonderful characteristics, and quite rare to be present simultaneously in one person. Thank you and the Knoxville Social Media Club for a wonderful conference, and a lasting memory.

  • Mark,

    Good to know that the conference went fine. I missed it (Being in India, it’s not easy nor is it affordable to come over for such conferences even though it’s awesome). How about making a video of it available?

  • Anonymous

     I prefer Ellen’s “My h8rs are my motivators.” Heck yeah!

  • Very nice!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mark,

    I had a lovely time at #soslam this year, just like last year. You were a great host.
    Personally, I think the only risk with social media success is that you have less time to be social – I’m ripping someone else off here but I don’t remember who said it. And remember, if you ever do become corrupt, the old guard of {grow} will cut you down to size!

  • Rosemary

    I’ll chime in as well and say it was awesome! For anyone out there who’s reading this wrapup (like I did last year) and feeling jealous, go ahead and do it next year.  I will be.  All of the people involved, from Mark, to the speakers, to the volunteers, to the people of Knoxville, were gracious and welcoming.  (Not to mention that I got to witness the “Gini and Sean” show up close and personal.)  And I’m working my way down an excellent ‘action item’ list today 🙂  

  • Couldn’t have done it without you!  Thank you! 

  • OK. Now that is one inspiring comment. Thank you Alice! 

  • Videos of the entire conference will be available in a few weeks once the editing is completed.

  • Well said, and I’m sure you will!!! 

  • Anonymous

    Congratulations Mark! To you and everyone involved. I followed a lot of the action from afar, and was buzzed, I cant imagine how exciting it must have been to be there in person.
    I am even more excited for our kind of ‘tribute’ to your Social Slam in Wales in September!
    Speaking from a postion of relative ignorance, I hope you can see how the risk you identify is offset by the enormous good you and the gang are doing for people? And I hope we can achieve a smidgeon of that in September.

  • This was a great conference Mark. The speakers were amazing, the content was plentiful and had great take-away, and people in attendance were so gracious to you and the #SoSlam team for putting it all together. I told you this in person, but thanks again. I learned a lot!

  • Was so great to meet you Rosemary. I know it took a lot of effort to get here and I’m happy it was a great experience for you! 

  • There is no doubt that the conference in Wales will rock. It is coming from the same spirit of volunteerism and dedication to quality.  Can’t wait to be there!

  • What a terrific conference Mark.

    While I attend quite a few local Chicago Social Media events, I have only traveled to a few other cities to speak at social media events.

    Somewhere during Social Slam I realized I was meeting all these amazing people for the first time in person. In fact, by my count, I had only met THREE of the attendees in person prior to Social Slam (Gini Dietrich, Margie Clayman and Jayme Soulati) – Bu the room was filled with so many people I KNEW from twitter and facebook it didn’t matter that we had not met in person until that moment. I still felt like I knew them.

    I knew Tom Webster and Mitch Joel would rock the stage. I knew you would be warm, humble, intelligent and passionate about the success of the conference. I knew that Stephanie Wonderlin and Chuck Hemann would be intelligent, energized, witty and creative. I knew that Amy Howell and Anne Gallaher would be funny, professional, driven women business owners who were passionate about the success of their business. I didn’t know Jay Baer would be nearly as tall as me though, That was a surprise. 😉

    But I did know I would have an amazing opportunity to solidify relationships that began on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. I knew we would share similar values – similar passions.

    I suppose what I am trying to say is THANK YOU! Thanks for allowing me to play a small part in this year’s conference. I had a terrific time, met amazing people. My only disappointment is there wasn’t enough time to really get to know everyone who attended – which I suppose is the same problem at every conference.

  • Peter Marcus

    God bless social media ego – clearly still alive and well on this blog.

  • Mark,
    Wonderful post.  It’s a great cautionary tale.  Also, I’m always impressed that instead of being slick and constantly in sales mode (as many social media luminaries are), you are very down-to-earth and talk to us as friends rather than “little people”. 

    As always,

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  • Alys Drake

    Your goals of providing powerful content and building real relationships were met at SoSlam. Bots, hashtag hijackers and trolls are the losers here.

    Thanks for the wonderful conference!

  • Jay wears heels, though.

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  • I applaud your courage Mark, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on the joy, the outrage, the pain, and the sadness of success!  Yes I’ve been there, and know the feelings well. 

    Congratulations on what I’ve read about “the social media success” I missed…

  • There I am, second row — black and red top! Hi!

    You and your team did a bang up job, Mark. Another hearty congrats and onward to next year. The faculty did a marvelous job and the takeaways for me are never stop learning.

    Seeing everyone IRL was the biggest reward; I hope others come next year…it’s a can’t miss.

  •  I enjoyed listening to you, Alice; so impressed with your qualifications and now you’re a social media rock star! Fabulous.

  •  We know who’s real, don’t we, Alys?!

  •  So when you read my post today, DON’T take it wrong…you’re flying a plane, Bud.

  • Anonymous

    Mark,  the funny thing is I had totally forgotten about the hackers & haters until I read this!!  I can’t agree with Alice more.  As a small consultant, I have a very limited budget for conferences and travel, but because of your mission to make it accessible to all, I came away from Knoxville feeling very fortunate that I was able to attend this first-rate conference.  Thanks to you, the Knoxville SMC, the sponsors & volunteers.   Mission Accomplished & hope to see y’all again next year!!

  • Anonymous

    Alice, it was really nice to meet you and it is terrific what you’re doing with social media in the healthcare arena!!

  • What a ride.
    I’ve thanked you and the SMC on my post today.
    I can see for miles now…

  • Thanks for serving as our case study today Peter. 

  • Thanks Anthony. I’m grateful you attended!

  • Awesome Sean. Thanks for being an important part of the event!

  • Shhhhh.

  • Would never even occur to me. “Friends” is a preferred mode! : ) 

  • LisaBhella

    Sounded like a fabulous event. Will you be taking this show on the road and heading West (AZ/CA) at all in the future?

  • I’ve had several offers to repeat this type of program in other cities. For me to do that, it would have to be profit-making (I can only do one of these for free every year!) and we would probably have to hire people to run the thing. That would change the dynamic and the tone of the event significantly. I don’t know how to move this into profit mode without Social Slam losing its soul. That’s not just talk. I believe most people you talk to would agree that there is something different here when it is run from the passion of volunteers.  But I do hope you’ll attend next year. We had people come from as far away as California.

  • No worries Jayme. I didn’t take it the wrong way at all. I think it’s a tough topic to cover well right now in terms of “how and what” instead of “why.”  You know I’m always happy to chat personally about specific questions that might come up. 🙂

  • During your SoSlam talk, I realized the hair product I was wearing came from Klout. They sent me a free sample of AXE spiking glue a while back. I liked it and bought a bottle when the sample ran out.

    Social Slam 2012 was great and IS great for Knoxville. I heard some fantastic feedback about the conference and our city from people who traveled to get there.

  • Not a “thick skin”, maybe a belief in something larger than you that fills you up when you need it- which you have. Thanks, Mark.

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  • I had a great time and the learning is continuing as I review the tweets and blog posts. I enjoyed seeing long distance friends again. I liked being at the sign-in table and meeting many of our local social media folks as well as long distance for the first time. Who’d have thought my favorite discount grocer would be there (United Grocery Outlet). Lunch from Bush’s Beans was fantastic! I’m getting a VIP ticket next year! No need to take this show on the road, let’s just keep showing everyone what Knoxville is made of (and this from a relative newcomer)..

  • I have never fully understood the extent to which hastags can be
    hijacked before reading this post. It gives a great insight into how social
    media’s relationship building, connecting potential can be used
    to such a detrimental effect. As you say, it has always been the case that success
    breeds jealousy and corruption. However, just as social media acts
    as a catalyst for positive social interaction, it can also be used for deceitful,
    unethical behaviour.


    Could the phrase ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ be
    adapted to fit this situation and frame it in a more positive light?!

  • Honestly, this was shocking to me. We had a little nefarious activity last year but nothing like this. At one point I would say a third of the tweets were from spammers! Then, just as weird, it all stopped suddenly. I’m sure the volume on the hashtag did not go down but it had run its course. After about an hour or so it seemed to settle back down but boy was it aggravating! Who does this for a living? Thanks for the comment Clare. 

  • That too : ) 

  • Thanks for sharing that story Chris!

  • Anonymous

     I’m so glad I attended, especially since I got to meet you, Alice! It was great to hear from someone who was coming from the angle of health possibilities through social media.

  • Anonymous

     I’m glad you attended too, Mr Roller Derby!

  • Thanks for being one of our volunteers Brad! Much appreciated! 

  • Mark,

    This is what separates you from a lot of phonies out there… You CARE! It’s not weakness. It’s not unnecessary emotion. It’s truly caring. It’s what I mentioned in my recap… The conference took on your energy and the vibe of all the volunteers. Like Billy Delaney said, it’s about love and respect and that’s what I felt in the room.  

    Love you brother and thank you again for telling me about Social Slam.

  • Mark, this year managed to top last year. I really enjoyed the standing room only breakout session # 2 with @samfiorella @seanmcginnis @ericpratum on social search with a focus on Google +. The amount of information was amazing and the speakers were excellent.

  • I commend you for stepping up and taking that risk. I hope you ran this event with a checklist of major/minor housekeeping details that needed to be addressed so that this success can easily be replicated at your next event. I, myself have a love/hate relationship with checklists; I hate being told what to do (even if it’s only by a piece of paper hahaha) but I love having a recipe for success and watching great preparation reap great rewards.   

  • This was truly an incredible conference Mark, and you and SMC Knox deserve a lot of credit for putting on such a flawless production with an all volunteer force! The impressive cross section of presenters really made sure that there was a message that could resonate with anyone at any stage of the SM journey.

    Mostly, it was great to meet you and so many other people that I have been getting to know for over a year through SM!

  • I kept busy flagging & reporting the spammers to Twitter that I found in the #SoSlam feed. I know @alysdrake of @HowellMarketing was also doing this because we tweeted back and forth about the volume of spammers.

  • I know this was a big trip for you Adam and I’m so grateful that you made it so we could all meet. Look forward to seeing you next year!

  • Thankfully, I am surrounded by volunteers who pay attention to every detail. They do an incredible job and have already cranked out a list of improvements for next year!

  • Thanks for adding your comment Jason. It was great to see you at the event!

  • Many thanks for the kind support and for making the effort to drive to Knoxville for our event!  Sorry I didn’t get to spend more time with you Chris!

  • Wow, busy trying to write my recap – and see how many others I’ve missed. Interesting to see what everyone got from the event. Great to see you again Mark.

  • Always a delight to see you Davina.  Thank you SO MUCH for coming in for the event.

  • That is so nice that you guys did that.  I was trying to concentrate on the event but what a learning that was!  As far as i know there is really no way to stop it.  What a world.

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  • Thanks Jenn. It was great for me to meet so many wonderful, open, real people. Glad we connected.

  • Thanks so much for your kind comments. Hardly a rock star, but thankful that folks have found my story a bit inspiring. I do believe that through social media we can help so many. I am so grateful for the support I have received from the community here. THANK YOU.

  • Hey Liz. Thanks for the comment. This was a turning point for me, I think. 

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