It had been 8 months since I'd last visited Henley Business School on the Whiteknights Campus at Reading University. Back then I'd just landed my first big deal with Playboy Club London a month after setting myself up in business and was still a relative newcomer to presenting and speaking. So when Lecturer of Entrepreneurship, Stuart Morris, contacted me last month and asked me to contribute towards another of his lectures for MBA students I jumped at the chance.
When I arrived for the lecture last Friday, I was even more excited to learn that I'd be in such esteemed company on a Q&A panel of social media experts. As you can see from the photo, I had the pleasure of being in the company of my friend and mentor Alan Donegan of Enjoy Presenting, Nicky Kriel author of 'How to Twitter for Business' and Pete Doyle founder and CEO of the Social Retail Group. After a quick coffee and a brief chance to get to know a little more about each other, Stuart ushered us in to the lecture hall, casually telling us that he was expecting around 180 students to attend. So, no pressure then!
There's always a great buzz at Henley Business School, whether it's walking the halls, with their clean lines and modern architecture or just sitting in the communal areas for a coffee listening to the low level hum of laptops and students discussing potential business ventures and coursework. It's an environment ideally suited to the cultivation of business ideas and inspiration and I always look forwards to visiting. There was an air of expectation as we took to the stage, perching precariously on the particularly high stools that Stuart had put out for us. He introduced us to his students with a few fond anecdotes of how he knew us and why he'd invited us to speak, before allowing us to introduce ourselves in a little more detail and kicking off the Q&A.
The early questions from the students were focused on how social media could be monetised or how those of us on the panel earned a living from social media. It was interesting to see the cross-section of answers to these questions. Some of us had made a career from teaching people how to use social media, others used it to sell our services or products and some, like me, did both and actively managed social media accounts for others. I think some of the students were genuinely surprised that we were doing business on and about social media successfully and perhaps hadn't quite realised how viable social media was or how it could be used to further their own business ambitions.
As the session went on, it became increasingly clear to me that many of the students had dabbled on social media platforms without really considering their true applications. One student openly admitted that she purely used Instagram to find pictures of food, as this was an area she was interested in going into business. However, she hadn't considered reaching out to food bloggers on Twitter nor had she thought about how Facebook could be used to grow a community of food lovers under her banner. I hope our answers gave her more of an idea of how social media could have a huge impact on the growth of her potential business.
The session produced some interesting questions and from my point of view it was great to see how each of us answered them from differing view points, clearly influenced by our own focus and how we use social media ourselves in our everyday lives and businesses. What struck me the most was that almost half of our audience didn't use Twitter at all. I think I was slightly shocked, as I'd always taken Twitter to be the business person's platform of choice, outside of Linked In, providing a feed that they could take or leave whilst contributing their own tweets. I have to admit to wondering whether the wheel had turned once more and that what we deemed mainstream platforms were falling out of favour with the next generation of business. Had they moved on to more indie platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest or Ello, perhaps?
As it turns out, the wheel hasn't turned that far at all. The students I spoke to after the event were simply not engaged with social media to the extent that we were. Some clearly saw the benefits after they'd had their questions answered satisfactorily, whilst others still remained skeptical that it was a useful investment of their time. Are the next generation of business falling out of love with social media? Or are they just typically indifferent to platforms that don't suit their lifestyle? What do you think? It would certainly be interesting to revisit the same MBA group in a few months to see if their views have changed.
You can find all the experts on Twitter and on their websites:
Stuart Morris - @stuartlmorris - www.stuartlmorris.com
Alan Donegan - @alan_donegan - www.enjoypresenting.com
Nicky Kriel - @NickyKriel - www.nickykriel.com
Pete Doyle - @socialretail - www.socialretailgroup.com