A review of #Cong14 and the magic of talking to strangers

3rd December

So, what is #Cong14 ?
Gather a bunch of folk who are interested in all things socially digital. Invite them to blog their way in rather than pay for a seat. Put their names in a hat and draw up groups of less than 10. Pack them off to have animated conversations in a series of cafes, book shops, hotels and bars around the town of Cong in Mayo. Shuffle and repeat! I was lucky to be there this year.

Cong14 - a social media 'un-conference' in Cong, Ireland.

I broke the journey by staying with a friend somewhere near Castlebaldwin (Thank you Martha). Open Street Maps took me on a magical foggy trail through skinny, (thankfully deserted) roads. When I finally saw a sign for Cong, I felt elated! I parked with a few minutes to spare before the 10am registration in Ryans Hotel.

Cong, Mayo, Ireland,

Everything about this event could be summed up in three words – generosity, informality and fun. There were friendly hellos, name badges and numbers, steaming cups of coffee and a schedule which looked like a bingo card. I have a memory of Eoin being very tall – maybe he was standing on a chair or a stage but he warmly thanked us for coming along – I felt like it should have been the other way around!

After that, we ambled off in search of our first session. Mine was in The Hungry Monk Cafe. The day was split into four hour long sessions, with a break for lunch in the middle. There’s a magic in being ‘thrown’ together with a bunch of strangers! A facilitator and time restraint helps too but a bit of messiness makes it fun. In each session, one or two people shared their opinions on a topic which we all responded to. Sometimes you hear a familiar idea presented in a new way and it just clicks with you. Here are some thoughts from the day:

Alastair Mc Dermott reminded us that it’s ok to have a love/hate relationship with social media and to take time out if you’re changing direction or busy with other aspects of your work. “Some people should get off social media”.

In a discussion about whether we can make choices about how we consume our media, Joy Redmond spoke about the difference between creation and curation of content. Many people rely on sharing other people’s content only. We talked about the lack of coherence when we get our media from different sources (and whether that matters) and how it’s possible to remove mainstream media from our lives completely. I’ve stopped reading newspapers and watching TV and I feel liberated! I have banished ‘news terror’ and what I call ‘reporter-acting’. I seek out my own mix of news.

In another huddle, we chatted about the difference between online and offline networking and the importance of meeting in person. Karen McCarthy spoke about the issues of trust and being open to new situations and people. She is a couch-surfer host and traveller, host to ‘wwoofers’ and has mostly enjoyed her online dating experiences! Kingsley Aikens mentioned how we need to get over ‘Stranger Danger’ and talk to more people we don’t know.

Here’s a snippet from Karen’s post.
“Attending networking events and conferences is where the online and offline world meet, connections are nurtured, advocats created, leads discovered, new ideas and information is shared with visible human interaction and emotion.”

I presented a discussion on how we can make our businesses more human on the web. I was in the coolest room in the Rare and Recent bookshop (See pics above) Thanks to Robert for opening up his shop. And thanks to the friendly and welcoming audience.

Finally, here are some posts that I really enjoyed reading (I’m still making my way through the list). Eoin will be releasing the complete E-book in a couple of weeks.

Don’t let the gurus bring you down by Mary Carty.

Read Mary’s post.

“I often wonder if today is the day, someone will blow my socks off. You may ask am I following the wrong people? Good question, but I really don’t think so. I follow folks from all sorts of disciplines and industries.
There must be better ways of gaining my attention and appealing to my whole self. Top 10 tips don’t cut it, I need something more. I need depth and character and shades of grey; discord, harmony and a touch of chaos. Some magic please, to help me stay.”

Mary Carty

In a follow up tweet referencing Mary, Roseanne @enormous threw in the fabulous phrase ‘beige content’! Billy gets the credit for this one apparently… I’ll be sharing this video for a while to come.

Beige text

Good content – and what I’ve learned on a reluctant journey towards social media engagement by Simon Moynihan

Read Simon’s post.

“I’m writing about writing here because that’s what I know. But there’s loads of other ways to create great content. Like to talk? Create a podcast. Have actual tangible products? Do video reviews. Good with a camera or know your way around the layers in Photoshop? Well, then you’ve got the makings of some very powerful content indeed.”

Simon Moynihan

Catching Wildfire: Staying unsettled from rec.humor.funny to Twitter by Dermot Casey.

Read Dermot’s post.

“I realize that I’ve been learning to be unsettled for 20 years on Social Media. I’ve used it to challenge and to extend my thinking. I’ve used it to keep me honest. I’ve used it to frame my thoughts by engaging in conversation. People continually challenge me and educate me. And recently I’ve grasped that it in these environments that we can generate dynamic intersections of thought that are at the heart of innovation and knowledge creation. The skills we most need in the 21th century.”

Dermot Casey

Knowing your Content Strategy from your Content Strategy by Elaine Larkin

Read Elaine’s post.

“If you have your social media content strategy and content marketing content strategy in place, that’s all great. But what shape is the material on your website or elsewhere that you’re bringing your target audience to? This is where your “Content Strategy” content strategy comes into place.”

Elaine Larkin

A huge thank you to Eoin Kennedy for organising this event for the second year! I met a bunch of really interesting people and the conversations are only just starting. Kingsley’s thought is my new mantra – let’s start talking to more people we don’t know. That’s where the crazy magic starts! Bring on #Cong15

The sponsors deserve a huge mention too – thanks to Blackknight and MKC Communications. And finally all the venues around the town that opened their doors to us!

More information:
The CongRegation website
Eoin Kennedy on Twitter and the CongRegation Twitter account.

Edited to include a link to a collection of audio posts read by attendees at Cong!

4 Responses

  1. Looks like a wonderful experience. it’s so important to get out there and shake things up with people who challenge us to think differently. I can’t wait to see how this experience influences your work!

  2. Eoin Kennedy says:

    Hi Aisling,
    I am always fascinating by how other people describe Congregation and how much better articulate it when they experience and feel it. So much more powerful than my sterile versions. Thrilled you had the experience I have had imagined in my head since the beginning. Stick Nov 28th in your diary for #cong15
    Now back to the day job;)
    Hopefully we will meet for coffee before November.

  3. Aisling says:

    Thanks Jess – that’s exactly what is fun about these kind of events. ‘Stranger danger’ rocks and gets us to look outside our current world view!

  4. Aisling says:

    Hi Eoin – thanks for your comment. The weekend was inspiring on lots of levels. Hoofing around Cong from cafe to bookshop to pub really added to the magic. There was also a huge generosity of spirit from everyone who came along. Thanks for organising it – I look forward to the next one!

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