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On PodCamp, Epic Parties, and Brand in Flames

Over the past few days, I’ve received lots of feedback about PodCamp Boston 3, and I’m thrilled people had such a good time, had such an educational time, and came away in some cases transformed, ready to take on new challenges and make themselves and their communities more powerful. I want to highlight one shift that has also been noticed at PodCamp Boston 3, well said by David Fisher:

Perhaps I missed a thing or two, as you can never capture 100% of what is happening at Podcamp, but also there was an absence of epic parties, and just the raw excitement. I would describe the vibe best as more mature and more professional, which isn’t bad thing but certainly a shift.

David, thank you so much for noticing! That was exactly one of the goals of this PodCamp, and I’m glad we achieved it.

A few thoughts on this.

First, epic parties are the responsibility of PodCampers, as is all content. Whitney Hoffman, co-organizer of PodCamp Boston 3 along with the rest of the team, helped me to understand why epic parties are definitely something best left up to the wisdom of the crowd. In case you didn’t know, Whitney’s also an attorney, formerly of Madden & Patton LLC and author of Public Facility Law, and has a JD from Dickinson School of Law. There’s a thing, apparently, called dram shop laws, which essentially make any organization that serves alcohol liable for the behavior of its customers. Additional court cases expanded this scope to include social organizations, which means that if someone gets blitzed on drinks paid for in part by PodCamp, we the organization become liable and can be sued into next week.

This, by the way, does not extend to venue rental, like we did with Tequila Rain. The venue is responsible under dram shop laws, unless we contribute money towards drinks. The moment a dime from PodCamp as an organization goes to a drink, liability spreads like disease.

In past PodCamps, generous sponsors like Jeff Pulver have opened the bar and performed other acts of social kindness for PodCampers, but in those instances, Jeff would be liable for someone doing something stupid on his dime. Silly, but it’s the law, and it’s an area we refuse to get entangled with.

Second, and most important, as David noted, PodCamp is maturing. It’s growing up, becoming more professional – and by that, I don’t mean owned by businesses, but rather the folks who came to PodCamp Boston this year were far more focused on learning, sharing, growing, getting the most of the experience, and finding new ways to understand all of this stuff. Socialization, realspace social networking, and enjoying the company of your community are all super-important, but we as a community are understanding just how much reach we have, and the consequences of that reach.

One of the lessons I learned by watching SXSW from afar is how easy it is to damage your reputation when you’re caught up in the manic energy of a massive crowd who are encouraged to party by the conference. I jokingly called SXSW the single best opportunity to ruin your personal brand this year, as some of the drunken tweets of folks – respectable folks that we all know in our online community – wouldn’t even be fit for an episode of Taxicab Confessions. At the MITX forum, Mike Volpe of Hubspot dubbed this “Brand in Flames”.

When it came to planning PodCamp Boston, we made the conscious decision to deliver the best possible venue, the best possible schedule, with the most free space and freedom we could give participants, and then get out of the way. While we had and have no desire to inhibit any kind of more casual social interaction, we also don’t have to enable certain less responsible habits by promoting partying. Instead, we promoted and focused on learning, sharing, and growing your new media skills – and left the partying up to you.

We’re seeing things like podcasting leave the “ooh shiny!” phase and enter the professional, educational, and non-profit communities as useful, valid, important tools that contribute to an overall media strategy. The people who make up the PodCamp community are wonderfully positioned as veterans of these new media tools and technologies. With the right amount of focus on results and professional behavior, we will see folks we know well as friends in the new media community become true powers in their organizations, helping to enrich the opportunities for ALL of us to do what we love in a professional capacity.

That can’t happen if you Google yourself and the first result is a photo of you laying naked in your own vomit with a caption of “OMG PODCAMP BOSTON WAS AN EPIC PARTY MAN!!!!! FTW!”.

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