The social side to online media
Most people today have at least one social media identity, but is spending so much time online, rather than going out and communicating face-to-face, antisocial? Not any more. Hongkongers have hopped aboard a growing trend of meet-up groups sprouting from social media, from cyberspace into bars and cafes.
Run by Napoleon Biggs, Web Wednesday (webwednesday.hk) was one of the first to start. 'Through it, people have found jobs and funding; it's part of why I started it,' says Biggs.
His position as senior vice-president of digital at Fleishman-Hillard resulted from a recruiter finding him 'on the map' after he had organised Web Wednesday.
Typically, says Biggs, a hot-seat interview directs the conversation best, giving the group a focus. A Battle of the Apps contest occurs every four months: 10 local developers present their apps and the audience vote for their favourite.
Taking place the first Wednesday of every month in varying locations, Web Wednesday draws an eclectic mix of about 150 people. 'If you interview a start-up, that community will come. The Hong Kong itinerant effect is fascinating,' says Biggs. 'About 40 per cent are regulars - developers, digital types, journalists and brands. The other 60 per cent are interested in the topic or learning about the industry, or visitors looking to plug into Hong Kong's digital world.'
HK Social (meetup.com/HKSocial and on Twitter at #HKsocial) is led by some Social Media Week advisory board members, including Jay Oatway, Jocelyn Liipfert and Sai Pradhan. They aim to keep participants ahead of social media trends, but also say it's a good place to make friends.
Around 70 of the 530 registered professionals, entrepreneurs and students attend an early breakfast in SoHo the first Friday of every month. It's a relaxed atmosphere, and networking doesn't overtake the agenda. 'Members want to bring social media into their careers and be on top of trends,' says Pradhan. 'We invite cool start-ups and smart professionals to speak. It's fun education in a field of perpetual positive flux. We learn from each other because it's interactive.
'Gone are the days of geeks sitting at their computers in darkened rooms. Social media is everywhere - not confined to niche groups.'
The question 'how do we keep going when you leave?' prompted Dave McClure, founder of Silicon Valley's 500 Startups, speaking at a start-up conference, to reply simply, 'meet at a coffee shop'. Casey Lau, after hearing these words, decided to do just that. StartupsHK (startupshk.com) involves a community of more than 2,500 entrepreneurs, investors, students, programmers and designers. 'We bond over trying to do one thing - change the world,' muses Lau.
StartupsHK attracts varying business interests, making it useful for finding a business partner, testing ideas and business plans, and meeting entrepreneurs. There are designers, programmers and marketers who could be helpful for a start-up. 'In 1998, there was a group that helped me succeed,' Lau says. 'I want to usher in the new generation. I want Hong Kong to become a hub for creative entrepreneurs.'
For the mathematically minded, there's Web Analytics Wednesday (hongkongwebanalytics.com). The last Wednesday of every month brings together students and professionals from all industries, focusing on data and analytics.
'The Beijing chapter started in 2006, gathering more than 50 people. In 2009, Hong Kong had nothing similar,' recalls Kenneth Kwok, the founder. 'Hong Kong was three years behind China and five behind everywhere else.'
It isn't just about crunching numbers. 'There's a lack of resources. We gather professionals, share knowledge and nurture skills and new professionals.'
For those with a passion for style, the author of dressme.blog, Jasmine Webster, started the group #HKFashionBloggers (DRESSMEFashionStylist on Facebook) earlier this year to introduce the fashion blogging community to public relations, boutiques and designers. 'We want to strengthen friendships, make connections and mentor members to become more effective,' she says.
About 50 members aim to gain greater recognition and professionalism in fashion blogging, seek career opportunities and advance within the fashion and lifestyle industries. The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month, continuing online in a well-managed Facebook group reserved for genuinely active bloggers.
Unlike most meet-ups, Twitter Drinking HK (#TDHK, facebook.com/TwitterDrinkingHK) came about by accident. Jamie Suen saw her birthday as 'the perfect excuse' to arrange a tweet-up of more than 20 online friends she'd never before met in the flesh. Realising the potential, she started hosting monthly #TDHK events in September. 'It was a great chance to finally put faces to Twitter handles. We became good friends,' she says.
Thanks to cross-media posting apps, users of Google+, Instagram, Facebook and Weibo also attend. 'Many are bloggers or editors, or in PR, marketing and digital development. I see faces from StartupsHK and Social Media Week.'
Suen met Lau at her first #TDHK, and the pair sometimes combine StartupsHK socials with #TDHK.
Thanks to social media, there are more and more offline meet-ups in Hong Kong. The website meetup.com, which HKSocial use for notification and event registration, has a range of other meet-ups, not limited to social media. Meanwhile, StartupsHK's LinkedIn group regularly offers new ideas for meet-up groups, including a franchise of GeekGirlMeetup.
The message is clear: don't be a basement geek. If the meet-up doesn't exist, use your online networks to make it happen.