Students lounging by the campus center with their MacBook Pros, stalking classmates on Facebook while simultaneously tweeting about the new Coffee Bean pumpkin latte and searching Yelp on their iPhones might think they are already well-versed in the Internet.
But that’s the thing about social media — no one can ever fully master it. Social media is a fluid platform with continuous transformations that only get progressively faster. And that’s what Social Media Week, which officially kicked off Monday in five different cities around the world, seeks to celebrate and discuss.
Social Media Week had its first conference in New York City in February 2009. It was a hit — more than 2,500 people attended the first conference.
The second conference was held a year later in February 2010, but this time expanded to six different cities worldwide: New York City, London, Berlin, San Francisco, Toronto and São Paolo. This event attracted three times the crowd at 7,500 attendees and reached more than 100,000 online viewers.
This fall, Los Angeles joins four other cities in hosting the third Social Media Week conference, with USC serving as one of its sponsors.
Social Media Week is not your average conference. Unlike a typical gathering where the time, location and participants are rigid and restricted, Social Media Week embraces the very essence of social media by unbarring all reservations to its events.
“What we wanted to do is kind of reinstate the conference setup, because we think it’s boring to just sit people in a hotel for a few days,” said Ben Scheim, global director of Social Media Week and vice president of Crowdcentric, an organization that aims to connect people across the world via collaborative platforms that founded Social Media Week.
Instead, Crowdcentric selects cities suitable for Social Media Week by looking for what it calls a city partner, which is primarily the presence of a connected network passionate about engaging the community. This city partner will be made up of different organizers who have a wide base of contacts and are willing to put up events in their own venues.
That means that instead of a single committee dictating the course of events, a spectrum of different brands and companies create various events at all corners of the city, from casual Hollywood bars and Whole Foods Markets to public libraries and formal auditoriums at KCET Studios.
The event topics also range from serious panel discussions about technology or business to fun meet-ups such as group yoga sessions — but all pertaining to the uses and impact of social media. And the best part is that most of these events are free.
This wide range in the event menu showcases just how much social media has infiltrated all levels of society. It is not just for the young and hip, but rather encompasses all generations and activities. And many companies are taking notice, including major media companies like The New York Times and LA Weekly. In fact, these companies are just two of the many sponsoring Social Media Week.
“All these companies are very invested in the 21st century and the next 15 years to come,” Scheim said. “They have embraced social media and are very much activating journalism trends with it.”
Ironically, the same cannot be said of most students, who are social media pros on the surface only.
The majority of USC students aren’t strangers to social media. During any given lecture, more than half of the students can usually be seen browsing some kind of social media platform. But for people who are serious about social media, popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have long been considered old school.
“A lot of students use social media, but they’re not equipped or haven’t been taught to analyze social media and to think of it as something to study,” said Sonia Seetharaman, Program Coordinator for the USC Institute for Multimedia Literacy, which hosted Social Media Week events. “An important point that Social Media Week aims to address is how we, both students and professionals alike, can learn to leverage new and burgeoning social media technologies.”
And that is one of the reasons why the IML invested in this event, Seetharaman said. By enlightening students on the academic uses of social media, the IML hopes students will be able to enrich their work with the new dynamic tools that are available.
But many students have yet to discover how to use social media outside of their social lives.
“Social media has an academic and professional potential that most students don’t realize,” Seetharaman said. “You can use your iPhone for so much more than texting and talking and playing games, but this potential tends to be ignored by many academic communities.”
By bringing Social Media Week to campus, organizers hope students will become more aware of the current social media topics and trends, and be able to not just utilize them in jumpstarting their career paths and professional images, but also to enliven their education.
That’s what true education should be like, Seetharaman said. Students shouldn’t be just absorbing information, but creating and disseminating information as well —which is made easier through social media.
“Social media gives everybody equal access,” Seetharaman said. “Everyone needs a voice to be heard, and that’s what social media allows you to do, no matter who your social status, economic status or political stance. It’s an equalizer. It brings people together who normally wouldn’t be in the same space. Using social media can give rise to new theories, new discourse and new points of view because you can access people and viewpoints you normally wouldn’t be able to access.”
Correction: A previous version of this story ran with a caption that misidentified Neil Joglekar. This version has been corrected to reflect the change. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.