Tips from the Trenches: Q&A with Social Media Week Founder Toby Daniels

“Be purposeful in what you do. Think about the why of every action you take, every piece of communication you share and every interaction or new relationship you forge.” — Toby Daniels, Founder, Social Media Week

When we met Toby Daniels, founder & executive director of Social Media Week (SMW), and CEO of Crowdcentric, we were instantly impressed with his vision of how the world could be better connected through the power of social media — as well as live interaction – and wanted him to share some of his wisdom with us here.

Since Daniels founded Social Media Week in 2008, it has become a major global conference reaching more than 100,000 people in 26 cities around the world, aiming to connect people and brands around emerging trends in social and mobile media. In order to build SMW into what it is today, Daniels and his small team have done a great job leveraging word of mouth – and, of course, social media – to spread the gospel worldwide.

SMW 2013 kicks off on February 18 in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Lagos, Miami, New York, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo and Washington, DC. Join the worldwide conversation by posting on your own social media platforms with hashtag #SMW13.


When you first started Social Media Week, how did you promote it to the world?

Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and outreach through my personal network were my primary outlets. One of the most important things I did early on with SMW was establish an advisory board of key influencers, community leaders, academics and luminaries in the emerging media and technology space. When we announced the conference in early 2009, they were a key factor in helping to get the word out.

Since then we’ve refined our approach, but even to this day, our most effective form of promotion is through our community, which in four years has grown to more than 100k professionals worldwide.


What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

Two slightly conflicting pieces of advice:  1) No one does PR better than you and 2) Let your community do your PR for you.


What are your top three tips on how to network, either through social media or in the real world?

Networking is a critical part of building meaningful relationships in business and in our personal lives. Open technologies have afforded us a new way to meet and interact, however the principles of networking are no different whether you’re engaging online, through mobile or offline and in person. Here are a few principles which I believe are important:

1) Proactively forge new connections on behalf of others. This is a great way to create value and build social capital; however, connecting people for the sake of it can often be counter productive. If you make an introduction, make sure it’s something that will really make a difference. Do your research.

2) Don’t network; collaborate. Figure out what you can work on together, what you can create or what idea you can develop. Breakfast meetings, a quick coffee to catch up, and networking events are mostly a waste of time.

3) Be the signal, not the noise. 
Spend five minutes on Twitter and you’ll quickly become overwhelmed, not just by the quantity of information, but also by the amount of noise being created by self promoting, self-aggrandizing and self-important Twitter “enthusiasts.” Measure your own output and try to ensure that what you share is meaningful, valuable and something that people actually want to see or read. I was in an office recently and saw a great sign “stop tweeting boring shit.” Amen.


What’s your advice for developing a relationship with someone you don’t know?

Do your research, ask them questions that allow them to talk about their work and their accomplishments, and figure out a problem or challenge they are experiences which you might be able to help with. Do this, and I promise the people you meet will remember you forever.


How important is it to break through the clutter when you’re trying to stand out—and what’s the best way to do so?

Be purposeful in what you do. Think about the why of every action you take, every piece of communication you share and every interaction or new relationship you forge. People rarely think about the “why” of something, only the “what” and the “how.” We are all generally more fulfilled when we live purposeful lives, so stop and think about this, and you will become immediately more interesting to others and stand out as someone who matters.  Also, see my previous answer because, if you want to stand out, you have to also be curious about other people.


How can someone use social media and the Web to market themselves or further their career?

Technology innovation is accelerating and it’s creating a skills gap in our workforce and inhibiting people in their careers. The problem is we can’t adapt quickly enough and formal education and our universities are not equipped to offer the kinds of training our future workforce needs.

There is light however. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a wave of new education startups that are attempting to open up opportunities for students and young professionals to gain new skills through massively open online courses (MOOCS).  We also saw this as an opportunity and in September 2012 we launched The School of Emerging Media & Technology. The School’s mission is to connect the world’s greatest leaders and experts with professionals whose daily jobs and activities require a basic-to-advanced understanding of the tools, technologies and best practices that are driving change in industry.  Through this initiative, we aim to help people to become proficient in tech and social media so that they can adapt more quickly to technological change and advance in their careers.


Lots of recent (and not so recent graduates) continue to struggle to find a job. What is the one piece of advice that you wish you knew when you were seeking your first job?

I started my first company as  teenager; my second in college; and for my final year, I worked 30 hours a week doing marketing for an events company.  By the time I graduated I had a decent amount of experience.  I always knew my degree was of secondary importance, but unfortunately the education system is built on the myth that a degree guarantees you a job when you graduate.

Today our graduates feel they are at a disadvantage, but they’re not. I work with at-risk inner city kids in the Bronx who are more disadvantaged than most and yet we have established a way for them to have more work experience going into college than the average student.  The organization is called CampInteractive and through their technology and leadership programs, we place high school kids in internships in New York-based technology companies.  After a summer of working alongside inspirational entrepreneurs these students are equipped with the knowledge and experience to go on to do anything they want.  My message to graduates is if you want to succeed, you have to go out and work for it.  Your degree is becoming increasingly irrelevant.


What is the guiding principle or mission for your business and/or how you engage with your employees?

Crowdcentric’s mission is to connect people and ideas through collaboration. We’re a collection of passionate individuals who envision a future where openness and ubiquitous connectivity will lead to a more information-abundant, prosperous and sustainable world.

We deliver our expertise through a range of services including worldwide conferences like our upcoming Social Media Week powered by Nokia; news and publishing; education and training like our School of Emerging Technology; and through a range of client services including Experiential Marketing, Open Innovation, Event Design & Production and Community Management.

In terms of our guiding values we are:

Open: With an attitude of ready accessibility and with freedom and frictionless access
Developing systems, tools, frameworks and methodologies for working together to realize shared goals
With a shared philosophy of accountability, operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions we perform
Striving to achieve heightened levels of output and creativity through iterative and incremental development solutions which evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams
Unleashing the potential of networks by dismantling hierarchical structures and by embracing new forms of distributed innovation


How have you been your own best publicist in promoting Social Media Week?

I’m sure I could be a much better self-publicist but, to be honest, I’m not really comfortable being hugely self promotional. We’ve taken a bit of a different approach over the years; one, which given the fact we’ve grown to almost 30 cities in just four years, seems to be working well.

The key is not to be a promoter but rather an architect of structured collaboration. This allows others, who are also invested in the success of the brand to become the biggest and most important advocates of what you do. Our mission is a shared one, and we bring people and partners on who are likeminded and deeply collaborative. There’s not a publicist in the world who can compete with that.


What’s the biggest challenge when you’re trying to build a brand and create buzz for it?

Having a terrible product that no one cares about.


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