Next week marks the launch of the fourth annual Social Media Week, a global event with discussions about media use. I'll be covering some of the events here on AiP. We'll return to our regularly scheduled program on Feb. 20th.

The online social world is rapidly developing around us. And there is no longer a choice about participation—not if you hope to be heard. The social media tools that constitute this landscape are diverse and plentiful. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, however, by the number of services you can find yourself maintaining, easy to feel that it's impossible to keep up, and easy to give up. But giving up carries a heavy weight. It means reduced connectivity and reduced access to information. And while some may insist that they can get along without these channels, data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project suggests otherwise:

  • Four in five American adults (82%) own and carry a cell phone.

  • Half of all adult cell owners (51%) have used their phones to get information they needed right away.

With the launch of digital government initiatives, like New York City's @311NYC, email, and text alerts, people can get and share information on-the-go about traffic, school events, weather warnings, or crime. As we increasingly grow accustomed to processing data this way, we're also beginning to increasingly use it as a means of communicating with each other:

65% of adult Internet users are on a social networking site, like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn.

And we can't overlook Twitter: there were 13.7 million Super Bowl-related tweets—a number that should give even the staunchest social media critic pause.

The return of Social Media Week for its fourth installation is another indicator that these measures can no longer be viewed as fleeting trends. Our methods of communication are changing, as are our methods of collecting and digesting information. In all areas. Don Tapscott, keynote speaker and author of Macrowikinomics, views social media as a new means of production. "It's not a means of hooking up online," he said. "It's a platform to self organize; to get us out of the industrial age to a new age." Indeed, social media has been at the root of revolutions and major instances of change. And this year's theme, "Empowering Change through Collaboration," captures this sweeping social spirit with an eye toward the future.

From February 13th through 17th, Social Media Week will be observed in 12 major cities around the world with panel discussions, networking events, and parties that are largely free to the public, though registration is requires in many instances. The open conference setting is important in overcoming one of the largest hurdles we face in the technical age—the double digital divide—by inviting everyone to join the conversation. Events are hosted throughout the City (there are more than 350 planned in New York City), and are organized around central themes including art and culture, advertising and marketing, business and innovation, global society, health and wellness, and social and environmental change. And while event coverage has always been readily available on Twitter, this year global partner Nokia launched a real time infographic tool that can offer targeted information about cities and panels. It's pretty neat, and if you aren't planning to attend, it might be worth a look because it hones users in to specific panels and events around the world. To help keep participants organized, there's also an app they can download (though I have mixed feelings about conference apps, since they seem to lose their usefulness post-conference).

As a Social Media Week attendee who has watched this particular event grow successively bigger while retaining its definition and increasing its inclusiveness, it is heartening to see the new discussions that are beginning to happen. Last year, the science community put their toes in the water, and this year, health and wellness will have its own content hub hosted by Saatchi and Saatchi Wellness. There are many hurdles to social media participation in health and wellness, but there is also a need to communicate with people in ways that are accessible to them. Saatchi and Saatchi's Ned Russell hopes that the Social Media Week collective can offer some guidance on how to go about incorporating these forms of media into the delivery of health and wellness services. He hopes that where the FDA has been vague, collaboration between so many different types of expertise can offer practical suggestions to put a plan into action.

Also new this year is an exercise in deploying online social networks. "Can Man Survive on Social Media Alone?" is a social experience that tracks two individuals—Daphne from Singapore (#CanManSG) and Martin from London (#CanManLondon)—as they trade cities and try to survive with little more than help from their networks. You can follow along on Facebook ( or or the hashtags above on Twitter. The exercise is reminiscent of the ways travellers found help after being stranded following the Eyjafjallajokull eruption.

Registration is still open for SMW events, though I imagine they are filling fast. Can't be there in person? Many events are streamed live. And you can always follow along on Twitter @socialmediaweek or #smw12. And if you see me, say hello—let's connect offline for a few minutes.


For some of my additional reports on previous Social Media Week events, you may also want to review: