Indian sunset by Asa Aarons

If the phrase "always on, always connected" doesn't give you anxiety, then it just might give you inspiration. At least that's what the organizers of Social Media Week (SMW) are hoping.

The theme of this year's global event, happening right now in eight cities on four continents, is The Future of Now … and yes, you guessed it. Now is defined as constant, pervasive, unstoppable hyper-connectivity. Think about it, from the perspective of the SMW organizers:

Communication technology unites us, relays news equally with opinion, transports us to worldwide events and shrinks distances between our relationships. We’re tuning into events that we’ve never before been able to access and witnessing other people’s experiences unfold in real time.

It's enough to make your head swim … or your heart sink. What's it all about? Can I create infinite connections without burning out?

So Much Data, So Little Meaning

Information is ubiquitous, immediate and immersive. What are we supposed to do with all this data that alternately seizes our attention and scatters it, invites us reflexively share the smallest details of our lives, and stokes equally intense feelings of acceptance and anxiety?

The question is no longer, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

The question now is, "If we immerse ourselves in information but never slow down to think deeply about it, does it create anything more than background noise?"

It's hard to argue the obvious: Social media and mobile technologies have changed the global communications paradigm by shrinking the world, accelerating time and extending the possibilities of relationships and connections.

The SMW team notes that "these technologies help us multitask, search news and browse several activity feeds at once. Although we’re unable to extend time, we’re doing our best to pack more into every second, reacting and responding to natural disasters, self-organizing at an incredible speed. Furthermore, businesses and brands can more quickly react to customer complaints, address supply chain problems, and engage new consumers."

Do you understand the new realities, and, more importantly, are you capitalizing on them to advance your life, your career and the companies and brands you represent? Odds are, you're not — and Social Media Week wants to help.

A Worldwide Event, Local Presence

Social Media Week runs today through Friday in eight cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America: Bangalore, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Lagos, Milan, New York and Tokyo.

Learning Opportunities

Taking place twice a year (in February and September) for the past six years,Social Media Week was created to explore the social, cultural and economic impact of social media. The host cities change but the mission of SMW remains the same:It's help to "help people and organizations connect through collaboration, learning and the sharing of ideas and information."

So why go? That depends on whether you're more interested in beer pong and Morning Yoga or Navigating Internet Subcultures: Reddit, Tumblr, Snapchat and Twitterand Building Essential Products for the Social World. The agendas are collaborative and co-curated, meaning the programming and content reflects the interests of the local market.

No matter where you attend, you'll find companies and brands that are experimenting with new ways to promote themselves, sell products and enhance their reputations by using social media. The bottom line message: Social media is here to stay. Unlike gourmet cupcakes, a cultural and economic phenomenon that peaked in 2011, social media shows no signs of fading away.

It's actually becoming more integrated, expected and accepted.

So go to SMW if you're interested in the ways technology has changed social bonding and created new appetites for things that are new, unique and authentic. You'll learn social media has less to do with technology than people and have an opportunity to put some faces behind those virtual social thought leaders, executives and entrepreneurs.

7 Still Relevant Take-Aways

What are the most important things to understand about social media? Here are some still relevant takeaways from SMW in New York City last year.

  1. Recognize your impact: The comments you make on social media drive both opinion and behavior. Don't encourage bad behavior, including things that are risky or unhealthy. Candy salad, anyone?
  2. Drop the negativity: People are more likely to share things that are positive, emotionally provocative and make then feel not only smart, but in the know, like LOLcats
  3. Check your facts: Groupon recently celebrated Presidents Day by honoring Alexander Hamilton and offering $10 off of all local deals above $40. "The $10 bill, as everyone knows, features President Alexander Hamilton -- undeniably one of our greatest presidents and most widely recognized for establishing the country's financial system," the Business Wire release read. But as any elementary school history student knows, Hamilton was never President of the United States. You don't want stupidity to drive your brand recognition on social media.
  4. Read more than your Twitter feed: People who exist in virtual vacuums do not generate smart conversations.
  5. Keep it personal: There has been justifiable backlash against some Olympians who have turned over their social media accounts to sponsors, agreeing to quotas of postings on Twitter and Facebook and letting other people send commercial messages in their name. Don't fall into that trap. You lose your connections to your audience when you turn over your social media to paid professionals, including public relations firms.
  6. Theft is still theft, even in the virtual world: Social media should be shared, not stolen. If you use something from another site, credit the source.
  7. Listen. Then Respond: Whether it's negative or positive, embrace feedback.  Listen, learn from it and, when appropriate, respond or revise your strategies based on it.

Title image by Asa Aarons (all rights reserved).