Over two years ago now I started the Ealing Tweetup in London. It's a regular social media get-together in west London that has always been marked out from the usual social media fan-boy events by involving people who are not involved in the IT industry. It is true, real people do use Twitter.
Though I have now moved from London to São Paulo, the Ealing tweetup continues and took place on Thursday night this week, with live music and some free welcome drinks at the pub to tempt people along.
It's the first Ealing tweetup I have ever missed, which is a shame, but I am in Bangladesh this week working with the UN International Trade Centre and local IT trade association BASIS on a number of initiatives to try helping small IT companies out here.
One of the first things I tried was organising a local tweetup in Dhaka - to try getting some thoughts and views from the local bloggers and social media users. I put an event on LinkedIn and just mentioned it on Twitter last week. I never really managed to do any more promotion for the event because I was travelling for several days this week, but even so a group that filled a good-size meeting room came along to say hello.
We talked for a couple of hours and they gave me some really useful insights into the development of social media in Bangladesh - insights that will help me during my work here for the remainder of the week. A few of the takeaway points were:
• Facebook is by far the biggest and most used social network in Bangladesh, for both personal and corporate use. LinkedIn is growing and Twitter has support from the IT community, but only Facebook has across the board use.
• Smartphone adoption is still fairly slow, and mobile data plans are very expensive so most people still access social networks from a computer with a broadband connection. The mobile web has yet to happen, though there are signs of growth in the smartphone market.
• There are many companies using social networks for marketing, particularly in the business-to-consumer environment, but there are not many examples of business-to-business initiatives yet.
• Social recruitment has yet to take off in Bangladesh - if you expect an employer to hire you based only on a LinkedIn profile then you might be waiting a long time for a job.
• Freelance and contracting culture has a long way to go, even in the IT industry where many professionals are experienced at using job auction sites like oDesk to pitch for international contracts. In fact, there are some deep cultural issues underlying this dislike of perceived instability by freelancing - many at the tweetup said that it would be impossible to get a father to agree to let you marry his daughter if you were seen as an IT freelancer, because it's not seen as a safe and stable profession, no matter how much you earn!
I spoke this week at an event that is aimed at helping small businesses to benefit from the use of social media and later in the week I will deliver a couple of conference talks that are a part of the huge eAsia event here.
I'm really pleased with the way that this informal tweetup went though - all my other contributions to the debates in Dhaka will be better informed thanks to this group of experts coming together - just because they saw a tweet online!