10 great things about ActionCamp San Antonio 2011

On Friday, October 28, 2011, I attended my first unconference, ActionCamp San Antonio 2011, which was presented by Action San Antonio and the San Antonio Nonprofit Council. The focus of ActionCamp is to bring together non-profit organizations and educators who are interested in the effective use of social media. I have been curious about “unconferences” some time, so I was really excited about the  experience. Utilizing this type of approach for a conference or workshop requires a different style of organization as at least a potion of the content is generated by the attendees. Although some sessions were already established, there is still space left on the schedule for others to add to the agenda based on their interests and experiences.

When “campers” arrived at the venue, we were given a card to mark down session we were interested in attending, and encouraged to add to the agenda. There were about 150 attendees and all gathered in one room to start the morning. The “camp counselors” (aka, organizers of ActionCamp 2011 including @colleenpence, @MomonMars, @fransteps, @lukelibrarian, @themollycox) provided an explanation of how the day would function  and things to keep in mind. This included to feel free to move between sessions to fit your interests.

In short, it was a FABULOUS day overflowing with learning and networking opportunities. While my mind is still buzzing from all of the new ideas and new things I want to do, I thought I would capture some of the greatest things about the day. So, in no particular order, here are 10 great things about ActionCamp San Antonio 2011.

1. The ActionCamp “camp counselors” did a great job in coordinating the day. They did great job coordinating the event, but perhaps most importantly, they facilitated an environment that was fun, relaxed, and welcoming. They set the tone that everyone is knowledgeable about some aspects of social media and  a new learner in others areas.

2. The blend of educators and non-profit organizations is a terrific mix of company. Many of their interests are similar, so networking is easy and fun!

3. You didn’t feel bad for being on your phone during sessions. I have been to a number of conferences in past few years in my own discipline and I am one of just a few people on their phone or computer during the sessions. This makes me feel a bit awkward as I would guess others nearby are assuming I am not interested in the content. But of course, that’s not it at all. So it really was fun to be at a gathering where engaging with others via social media was not only encouraged, but expected!

4. Seeing examples of best practices. It seems like every few days there is a new tool or app available. As exciting as that is, sometimes it makes you feel like a hamster on a wheel in that you will never catch up! But seeing things in action gives such a clearer picture of how it could work for you. Even better, seeing an example of a tool you are already familiar with used in a new and different way makes you leave feeling like you could implement a similar project to suit your interests. For instance, @pagetx demonstrated how she has used flickr to host photo contest as well as gain wonderful images for use in other aspects of her social media activities for the Lower Colorado River Authority.

5. Learning about new resources. My typical habit at conferences is to keep a separate list of all of the resources I want to look up after the conference. I have come to judge the utility of a conference for me by how long the list is by the end. Two to three new resources is fairly typical at this point. So how many items were on my ActionCamp resource list? Goodness, I am still counting but probably about 15!!! Everything from blogging resources, to templates, to hosting options, to a company that will help you build mobile apps! All of this gathered in a span of about seven hours! Now if that isn’t worth the unbelievable low registration fee of $25, I don’t know what is!

6. Meeting people you “know” but have never actually met. One of the greatest things about social media tools like Twitter is interacting with people in your community. However, a number of these may be people who you have never met in person but connected with over a shared interest. But since ActionCamp attracts people in the community who are very active users of social media, you get to meet some of the people you are already following. (Of course, you meet lots of new people too which only enhances the day!)

7. Learning from what others have tried that didn’t work as they had hoped. Pamela Price of @redwhiteandgrew presented a session on her experiences of attempting to replicate a national public campaign with a strong reliance on social media on the state level. The goal was to establish a victory garden at the Texas Governor’s mansion, similar to the one that was established at the White House. Given that no such garden has been planted at the governor’s mansion, you can guess how the campaign went. But what was so interesting was Pamela’s reflection on what factors impacted the process on the state level, and what she would do differently in hindsight. While it was very interesting to hear of her experiences, it made me realize how valuable it to learn not only from the successes of others, but also the things that didn’t work out as well. I tuly commend her for her refelction and willingness to share her insights..

8. Opportunities to just ask questions about aspects of social media. There is so much to learn about the everr-changing world of social media, that you don’t always know what the next step should be. So sessions like a Q&A on digital tools such as the one facilitated by @colleenpence and @LuisSandovalJr are really, really helpful. Come. Ask questions. Get answers. How great is that?

9. Crowd sourcing questions.  I had never seen this done at a conference before, and I have been to A LOT of conferences in my professional lifetime. Essentially, attendees were encouraged to write their questions on sticky notes at the beginning of the day and place them on the wall in the main meeting room. Then, if a person’s question was answered during the day, he or she was to remove the post it. At the final session of the day when everyone regathered, the camp counselors reviewed the remaining questions, grouped them, and made sure the areas of questions were addressed. It was such a great way to ensure that everyone ended the day with their primary questions being addressed.

10. Great door prizes…um…I mean sponsors. Drawing for door prizes is always fun throughout the day. Although I didn’t win a door prize (…sniff….sniff), they included books (yup, that’s on my resource list from #5), gift cards, and Sea World passes. The sponsorship of ActionCamp 2011 undoubtedly defrayed expenses, and in return, the sponsors received recognition throughout the day as well as many thanks on a variety of social media tools. So thanks again to@SeaWorldTexas, @constantcontact, @TWCable, @rackspace, and @ssfcu.

I know that I will be able to implement many new activities as a result of the things I learned at ActionCamp 2011. I am already looking forward to ActionCamp 2012!

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