Don't Panic has won a reputation as a talented event company that has led the way in explaining social media to a sometime sceptical PR world.
Today saw the latest in the series, held in the cavernous Barbican Centre in the City of London. Any of the delegates wanting to try out citizen journalism couldn't have had a better venue, as just a mile away the police had their hands full handling demonstrators against this week's London G20 summit! First speaker Marshall Manson from Edelman remarked it was like Saigon with helicopters everywhere.
How times change. When I went to the University of Sunderland's Delivering the New PR event in London in 2006, managed by Don't Panic, the speakers had to explain what a blog was - and ran a 'try blogging yourself' session. Today, The Guardian's April Fool story claimed the paper was to publish exclusively via Twitter. It didn't fool anyone, but the fact it chose a microblogging site as the subject shows how far we have come.
My favourite sessions at today's conference were by people working in the public sector. Simon Wakeman explained how Medway Council in Kent has tried new ways of communicating, including podcasts and Twitter. he convinced sceptical councillors and officials about the value of using Twitter by showing how 'retweets' - others forwarding the council's Twitter messages - had widened the audience Medway was reaching with its opposition to a new airport in the Thames estuary.
Mark Payne from West Midlands Police joked he was the only policeman in the City today not in riot gear. But he had a serious message: that social media enables the police to engage with younger audiences indifferent or hostile to the police. He also told the tale of the murderer caught when the police found a video of the scene the killer had posted on YouTube. "As a seasoned detective, I thought that was a clue!" Mark admitted police bureaucracy was a barrier at times - he had to send detectives home to search for clues on Facebook and YouTube as access was blocked at work.
The speakers were passionate about the potential of social media, but sensible to tell us to think before diving in. As Wolfstar's Stuart Bruce said, "You can do a lot of damage in 140 characters!" (The maximum Twitter message.) And above all, they agreed social media isn't about the technology. The medium isn't the message. Craig Elder, the Conservative Party's head of online communities, suggested that Barack Obama may not be the social media role model some have thought - after his prolific stream of tweets on the campaign trail, 'he' has posted just four since taking office.
I'll leave the last word to Robin Wilson from McCann Erickson. When Robin began, I thought we were in for a useful if a little dry session about measuring the impact of social media work. But he then launched into a tale about female orgasms, prompted by a campaign his agency had handled for Durex's female lubricant. As Nicky Wake from Don't Panic observed, today's event was a little x-rated!