The Future of Social Media Cafe Manchester

SMC at the BBC

Josh and Martin said they would write up what happened a while ago. I didn’t know but Martin wrote up the evening on the Social Media Cafe website, some time ago.

Last week, a good 25 or so people joined us at Common to discuss the future of Social Media Cafe Manchester. We thought it would be good to give you a bit of an update on what was discussed and what happens next.

A number of successes for Social Media Cafe over the past (almost) three years were noted. Particular highlights included the way it’s spurred a wide range of projects and other events around the city, the debate about the impact of the iPad, and the talk by Greater Manchester Police about their Twitter experiment.

However, there was a general agreement that the event had lost a lot of its edge of late and that ‘social media’ was now such a commonly used term that the event’s name was heading towards irrelevance – you might as well have a monthly ‘Email Cafe’. Therefore, whatever Social Media Cafe becomes, it needs to capture the zeitgeist of digital culture and continue to attract a diverse crowd of professionals and hobbyists while welcoming anyone who wants an introduction to the Manchester digital ‘scene’.

There were mixed feelings as to the ‘professionalism’ expected from the event. While some felt there should be more time put into arranging ‘headline’ speakers weeks or months in advance, others felt that the relaxed, ‘human’ aspect of the event was more important than any ‘professional’ image.

With regard to a venue, there was a feeling that a regular, predictable home would be beneficial, allowing people to always know where they’ll find it. The Northern Quarter (including The Castle), Ancoats and Salford Quays (the BBC) were mooted as possible locations for venues, although there was a debate as to whether or not people would be willing to travel to the Quays.

Branding for the event was given some thought, with a suggestion that changing the name may ‘throw the brand out with bathwater’. Others thought a new name was a necessity, although there were no suggestions as to what that might be. Another change suggested was simplifying the online presence – suggesting that “The Ning” (this site) was perhaps not focused enough.

Thanks to everyone who came down to take part – it was really encouraging to see so many people turn up and offer their input. Julian, Josh and I will be meeting to make some decisions informed by the discussions we had last Tuesday and we’ll be posting an update soon with more information about what happens next.

There’s a whole number of comments from people but I’m not sure most of the people who were at the meeting even know the post went up sometime ago. I only found it when I was wondering if I could sign up to talk at the next one.

A lot of people don’t know but Social media cafe is based on Lloyd Davis’s Tuttleclub which was based on Ian Forrester’s London Geekdinners. So I’ve got form in this area…

So my thoughts are…

Yes keep the name, social media cafe Manchester works but I like even better the smc_mcr shorten version. Maybe moving away from the social media part by using smc_mcr could work?

A mix of headline and adhoc speakers seems to make sense, this does require more preparation but this can be a shared responsibility between a small group of people. Not the 25 who showed up but maybe 20-30% so 5 or so people, could share the responsibility. Different speakers attract different crowds of people, as I discovered doing Geekdinners, of course some will regularly come turn up no matter what. In Manchester and surrounding area there is plenty of talent so there’s plenty of space for dual tracks or a a single track. I personally could find something to talk about at every smc_mcr, sometimes it would be work related and sometimes it would be personal.

Having dual tracks is better but I’d put up with a single track of 3-4 speakers if they were short and kept the time for presentations down to about 10mins. Something like a double length ignite may work.

Moving it to Media City UK makes a lot of sense to me. I know people say its too far but frankly its once a month. If you can’t make it there because you can’t be bothered then, maybe Smc_mcr doesn’t actually need you. But I’m also thinking it should switch between venues (alternate). Sounds a little crazy but it could work and its certainly better than 3months one place, 1 month in another then another 3 somewhere different before having to find somewhere else. Smc_mcr is a good enough event to travel for.

I also don’t but this argument that there’s no venues in Manchester… Why not use Home sweet Home (which just opened up next to Commonbar), Speak to the people at Drip cafe and ask if they can stay open longer once a month, now Moon bar is open again I’m sure they will be looking for a regular influx of people. I’m also sure there’s been quite a few venues I’ve wondered pass who would love regular events like smc_mcr. My biggest bet was on the new vivid lounge which has a delayed opening once again. Point is, I’m sure with a little bit of work, I’m sure we’ll find somewhere suitable, it may not be in the Northern Quarter, but it will be within the city centre. Theres places like Rainbar which could be ideal.  I refer to the Manchester map

Something which never got talked about was charging for smc_mcr? No I don’t really like it too, but it means the venues in the city centre will be much more open to hosting such an event. Most bars do drink minimums, which can be easily hit with 50+ people. It might put some people off, but for the sake of having a quiet room with a projector, I’d certainly give it a shot.

What ever happens, its rapidly heading to the first Tuesday of the month… I got plenty of stuff to publicise including barcampmediacity.co.uk and salfordcinemaclub.wordpress.com.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.