SAScon 2017 – back to the present?

SAScon 2017 – back to the present?

The Engage Web team went off to Manchester at the end of last week for another year’s SAScon event. Probably the premier event of its kind in the north of England, the two-day conference gathers speakers from around the world sharing their knowledge and tips from the world of search, analytics and social media.

There was a change of venue this year, with Manchester Metropolitan University swapped for the Contact Theatre a little further down Oxford Road, and this in itself somehow gave the event less of an aura of education, and more one of performance and entertainment.

In terms of content, what surprised me the most about SAScon 2017 was how focused on the present it was. As you can see from last year’s write-ups by Alan and myself, the tone for 2016 was rather futuristic, with plenty of talk of virtual and augmented reality, customised advertising and the ‘Internet of Things’. Perhaps with 2016 being such an odd year on so many fronts, it led experts to take a step back and think “yes, the future is exciting, but this is where we are now.”

Talkers who encapsulated this concentration on the here and now included Charlie Whitworth from Banc with his bang-up-to-date guidance on Google’s Fred update and what it means to websites. In what was one of my favourite talks of the event, James Lowery from Compeller Digital brought topical events like Brexit, Donald Trump and the rise of ‘Corbynistas’ to his presentation on the ‘echo chamber’ and how people’s thoughts and viewpoints can become reinforced by the social media bubbles in which they enclose themselves.

The grounded nature of the topics didn’t mean that talks were dry and unimaginative though, and one speaker who certainly embraced his theatrical surroundings was TBC Global founder Jon Burkhart with his Thursday morning keynote. It was one of those loud, enthusiastic, action-packed morning speeches where you have little choice but to wake up and get involved. I decided to get my interaction for the two days out of the way early on, and share with everybody my ‘pig-headed’ and deeply unpopular opinion that films are better with advert breaks, and even won a customised Poundland squeaky pig for my contribution:

Just to clarify, I don’t love adverts, or even watch them – I love breaks, and time to myself. I think two hours or more is a long time to gawp at a screen, and I like having a bit of time to boil the kettle, chat, mess with my phone and digest what’s just happened in the past 20-30 minutes. Just my opinion, and I know nobody agrees with me, which is why I mentioned it!

I’m sure there must have been more than one Jon Burkhart at the event, as wherever you were, you seemed to be able to see him or hear his voice, whether he was trying to recruit team members for a game of on-stage dodgeball (I’m not sure Alan was too disappointed that health and safety put paid to his plans) or slapping people high-fives. On the Friday morning, myself and Alan were roped into a game of Pig Pong, although I think typical competitive sportsman Alan failed to realise that the object was to get a rally going, not to win the points!

So, aside from realising that I’m rapidly losing hair and need to wear a tighter belt, what was the main thing I learned from the event? I suppose it was that even though our industry moves ridiculously quickly, it’s still important to take it one step at a time and not try to run before we can walk. We need to have an eye on the future, but our priority should be to thoroughly understand what’s happening right now, and to perform as well as possible with the current opportunities and limitations. This ties in with a common theme of SAScon – just because we can doesn’t mean we should – and those in the search and social media industry who forget this are only setting themselves up for a future of misery.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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