Social Media Club Sydney accused of ‘commercial infiltration’

social-media-club-sydneyPlans for Sydney’s social media community to hold a monthly night get-together have developed into a digital spat with one of its opponents accusing the organisers of participating just to impress clients.

As Mumbrella revealed earlier this month, the first Social Media Club Sydney event will be held on Monday April 27 with the two main speakers Leslie Nassar – the man behind the fake Stephen Conroy Twitter profile – and Adam Ferrier, who works at Naked, the agency behind the fake girl with the jacket video. When bookings for the free Social Media Club Sydney event went online last weekend, all of the places were snapped up in around 24 hours.

But Social Media Club has been drawing hostility from some quarters. As Mumbrella reported, digital marketer Jye Smith had previously expressed some reservations. And today digital specialist Fi Bendall went further, writing a post for Marketing magazine saying the club is run by “self-designated individuals” and accusing them of “commercial infiltration”. She said:

“Initially I actually thought the concept could be good. I submitted ideas for speaking topics, etc. Then I started to see the manifestation of it and like Gavin Heaton who withdrew from nomination on the Social Media Club board, I ditched the idea as a bad one.”

She added: “I actually smell a PR sell to clients, ‘Oh yes Mr. Client I set up the Social Media Club and chair the board’.” And she went on:

“Social Media Club I envisage will soon be publishing industry guidelines, then charging and telling us of all the benefits of paying to join their club and to follow their pre-determined rules to enforce us to behave in the way they want us to. Pre-program the masses to behave, there is loads of money in it, and just wait for the pay-to-attend SMC Conference, the regional Chapters of Social Media, it is like a setting up a religion and I believe there is loads of money in that too!”

Her posting triggered a reaction from social media strategist Stephen Collins, who also writes the Acid Lab blog. In a question to Bendall, he asked:

“Did you call or email any of the (pretty easily contacted) Aussies to ask what we are about? I’m pretty trivial to contact, as is Des or any of the Sydney folks. Nobody is looking to be anything more than social and friendly, and by making some pretty big assumptions, you’re choosing to crap all over those efforts. That’s pretty bad form. I think you’ve fired before thinking here.”

The debate between the pair also spilt over onto Twitter, with Collins posting a message aimed at Bendall saying: I’m not upset, I’m disappointed. You didn’t fact check and there are several omissions and assumptions. You look half-arsed.”

A few minutes later, he added: “Thought for the day – no wonder there’s low respect for social media when we fire half-cocked and fail to fact check. We look like idiots.”

Bendall responded with messages including: “I actually was on twitter about this and to be honest it is not particularly g8t for SMC when you see the post on Mumbrella last week.”

She concluded: “so we can all have something to say, me incl. Wish you the best with it, it is simply not for me and others can agree or disagree.”


  1. Kim Jacobs
    9 Apr 09
    7:57 pm

  2. It seems to me that the only one getting personal publicity out of this whole pointless debate is Fi Bendall. I didn’t think she needed it so badly.

  3. David Yates
    9 Apr 09
    8:47 pm

  4. It seems to me that the SMC are being way too defensive over their motives for something they claim to be just a coffee morning

  5. Stephen Collins
    9 Apr 09
    9:15 pm

  6. Hey, Tim. Wouldn’t have really thought this was news. Quiet day? 😉

    David, the only thing I’m defending is the integrity I think this community needs in terms of it presenting accurate and well-researched information. That sort of integrity gets us in the door with big, important clients (if only I had some).

    As an ex-journalist (way too far back to really care) and someone who trades on my reputation, I get a little miffed when people make unfounded claims.

    Everyone involved in social media – me, Fi, and the rest of us – have a hard enough time being seen as reasonable and credible rather than idealists and dreamers. I’d have defended SMC even if I hadn’t been involved in the Canberra part (which is very casual). Internecine feuds fueled by speculation and opinion do nobody any good.

  7. ANON just to be contrary
    9 Apr 09
    9:31 pm

  8. Hmm david defending you’re facebook mates huh?

  9. David Yates
    9 Apr 09
    9:49 pm

  10. ANON. I have more than enough opinions of my own. I am happy to declare an interest insofar as I have worked with Fi and ask her if you want, I have probably disagreed with her more than agreed with her over that time. But my own opinions are not determined by her, I make them myself and put my name to them.

    By the way, since you are casting doubt on my integrity, who are you?

  11. Stephen Collins
    9 Apr 09
    9:50 pm

  12. So, like I said, internecine feuds aren’t helpful… Play nice, etc.

  13. David Yates
    9 Apr 09
    10:03 pm

  14. Stephen

    Fair point. I should not simply knock a point without making one also.

    I too work in social media I’m usually the guy contracted in to make it all happen for the named agency. I have had involvement in large government projects as well as viral based lobbying and commercial activity and straight design. My observation of the web is that it is an amorphous space which defies regulation. Attempts to regulate it tend to make all our jobs harder – whether it is the Chinese during the Olympics or Microsoft and their technical ‘standards’. They are all contrived to paint us into corners where our potential to make a difference is impaired.

    The concern is not that the SMC is a benevolent club – who could object to that. The concern is that it might be something regulatory in disguise. I personally don’t think it will succeed if that is its aim, but it might do a bit of damage along the way. There is no harm in testing the motives of people who might seek to do this. It is not the questions that should concern you, it is the answers that come back.

  15. TTFKAS
    9 Apr 09
    10:04 pm

  16. The Antisocial media club?

    You know, as an outsider with a deep interest in social media I signed up to attend in the hope that we’d actually see something useful develop but on reading this I realise that it’s going to be the same old domineering and shouty web marketing entities all attempting to take ownership of something that does not belong to them.

    Folks, if you want to include people like me in these events then you all need to get off your high horses and start to be inclusve – that starts by putting aside this nonsense.

    I couldn’t give a rats about Fi or Stephen’s shorts getting in a bunch.

    This just puts the rest of us who do care about social media totally off in getting involved in the conversations.

    Think I’ll give the night a miss now. Enjoy your catfight, or circle jerk or whatever you’d like to call it.

  17. anon
    9 Apr 09
    10:21 pm

  18. Right on TTFKAS!

  19. Stephen Collins
    9 Apr 09
    11:41 pm

  20. TTFKAS, please, give the Sydney guys a fair go. You’ve been quick to criticise. The people involved aren’t shouty media types or domineering (or any of the other possibilities).

  21. Kristie Wells
    10 Apr 09
    1:22 am

  22. As the founder of Social Media Club (SMC), I would like to set the record straight.

    SMC is a non-profit. It is a community ‘project of love’ I started with my husband back in July 2006. We do not receive a penny of compensation. Neither do our chapter leaders. It is all done out of volunteer efforts to support the community of Social Media practitioners and help expand media literacy.

    SMC’s only real *rule* is ‘no one should be excluded from participating’. We do have a paid membership model as it does cost money to run SMC and support chapters around the world. We also have an open membership model. There will absolutely be extended benefits for people who support SMC financially, but we also give 70% of what we have away to the general public. Have any of you even looked at the website to see what we do?

    We will be seeking funding from grants and sponsorships to help support our missions, some of which can be found at – we are finding creative ways to work with one another. We are not your typical association. Never want to be.

    Most SMC meetings are free to attend. Some charge $10+ to help cover costs (venue, food, beverages). Some chapters get local businesses to help support their activities. Others do not. It is the beauty of SMC, your local chapter can be morphed into what your local community needs it to be, but again, the main goal is to eliminate any barrier so everyone who wants to, can attend.

    It is true that by association, some of the local team organizers will be seen as ‘leaders in Social Media’ and may get business out of this. So will anyone who comes to a meeting/networking event and shares their knowledge with someone who needs their help. There is nothing sinister about this. Put the pitch forks down people.

    I am pleased with the team we have leading the Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Gold Coast and Melbourne chapters. They are committed to extending the SMC brand and make sure we meet our goals. I don’t know what is going on with the personal politics down there, but it needs to stop. Focus your energy elsewhere. You will all be happier for it.

    If you submitted a session to talk at one of the chapters, great! Work with the local team to make that happen, but do not take it personally if they already have something else scheduled. There are 12 months in a year. Everyone should get their turn.

    I am happy to discuss SMC in detail with anyone who wishes to talk. You can reach me at kristie [at] or via skype at kristiewells.

    Just stop spreading false information. Do your research. Talk to people who started it. Talk to people leading it in your local community.


    Kristie Wells
    Founder and Preisident, Social Media Club

  23. Barb
    10 Apr 09
    8:51 am

  24. something ironic in this intense debate … against the very principles Fi says she stands for…principles she says controls the web. Surely in an open, free environment, people should be allowed to gather where they please for their own purposes. If there is sufficient interest to draw a regular crowd there must be something of value in the exchange. Why all the drama around it, why the need to attack?

    I have to say I have seen this before from Fi – i.e. when someone else takes a strong voice in her space she goes on the attack. Not very journalistic to do that in a magazine and not really in the spirit of what she is saying in the article to do so either.

    If she is getting a harsh response back, I think its deserved.

  25. TTFKAS
    10 Apr 09
    10:15 am

  26. @Stephen Collins, thank you for replying to me directly.

    Yes I have been quick to criticise, but as someone who has been a Twitter user for over two years and a blogger for six, I think I’ve earned the right to be critical – unlike so many in the socmed sphere I listen more than I shout and hold on to a healthy skepticism about the nature of the media and the individuals who would lay a claim to ownership of it.

    But I take your point on a fair go, so out of respect to those who are taking the time and effort to build something worthwhile, I’ll show up and observe, quietly, beer in hand, the direction this takes.

    Enjoy the long weekend.

  27. Fi Bendall
    10 Apr 09
    11:35 am

  28. I am copying my response on
    It is great to see such passion and that I am sure will bode well for SMC. As you all say we can share thoughts and ideas. I have a view and I understand it may not suit everyone or sit well with everyone. I prefer the casual get togethers as opposed to an organized club and I personally think that suits the fluidity of the evolvement of social media. I obviously knew this would stir up debate, and that is cool. [Kristie, I had no idea Mumbrella picked up on this] until I read your post, [and now] but there you go, more debate. I have had both the positive and negative feedback to my view, it is par for the course. I understand SMC defending their position it is only natural and putting your proposition forward. People can think it is for them or not. I am entitled to my view.

  29. Simon T Small
    10 Apr 09
    12:51 pm

  30. I’m a big believer in social media and digital marketing, having been a digital strategist for 6 years, it’s my job. Also, I’m a big fan of everyone in this debate, having met most of them (either on Skype or in person) they’re all pretty wise people.

    Kristie and Chris the SMC founders are also lovely people, having invested years of time, energy, passion and money into it, giving away so much to the world.

    In no way am I a social media expert, having only had a blog for 6 months, but as a marketer I’m very interested in leveraging the channel to build relationships between brands/businesses to their customers in a win-win environment.

    In Australia social media marketing is undefined and very young, with only a few campaigns truely utilising the space.

    In my mind the people who will come out of all of this as leaders and respect in the business community will be those with experience, track record and actual results.

    As with any not-for-profit group, if you don’t like the way a club is forming, then don’t join it, and maybe form your own. If others like your idea, they will join.

  31. Des Walsh
    10 Apr 09
    1:26 pm

  32. OK, declare interest. I am a member of Social Media Club and at a conference a year before last Chris Heuer suggested I start a SMC in Brisbane. In the fulness of time that happened, then Canberra without any doing on my part, then Gold Coast, then Sydney and Melbourne. Maybe people see a need here? Maybe people like the SMC motto – “if you get it, share it”? People are giving their time voluntarily for the community. I haven’t seen any signs of people using SMC for some nefarious purposes. There are Social Media Clubs all over the US and some in Germany, France and the UK. Did anyone bother to look at and find out what has been achieved alread? I find all this bizarre and I’m a bit saddened. And anyone who takes the trouble to check will find that Chris and Kristie have dedicated themselves to this cause in the most generous and unself-serving way and don’t deserve patronizing comments from here or anywhere. They are highly respected by everyone I know who actually knows them. Looks like we are the first country to turn an attempt by a few people to help the rest of the Oz community get some sense of what social media is about into a story of a conspiracy! Can we all settle down and let those of us who want to associate, learn and share get on with it?

  33. Matt Moore
    10 Apr 09
    2:42 pm

  34. I am going to start my own social media club – with blackjack! And hookers!*

    Those involved in the SMC probably have a mixture of motives – some altruistic, some selfish. We can surmise this because they are human beings and human beings tend to have a mixture of motives for everything they do.

    The question is not: is it pure? But rather, is it helpful? And the fact that scads of people want to turn up to this event indicates that it is probably helpful.

    If anyone starts claiming to offer “standards” or “certification” in social software then I’ll be reaching for my shotgun. Until then, I’m keeping my powder dry…

    *10 years later and that remains one of my favourite Futurama gags.

  35. lucio ribeiro
    10 Apr 09
    3:46 pm

  36. Do you know? What a great loosing time.
    What could be a great opportunity became a lousy discussion.
    I respect Fi and many more around here like Simon and Des,
    I also respect Kristie Wells who is a great person.
    Kate (marketingMag) beautifully kicked off Melbourne Chapter and since them I’ve been meeting interesting people and having interesting conversation. Honestly sometimes I sold my services but also bought services from people there. I visit the breakfast with intention of talk to friends and get to know new ones, but if I have the chance to do business why not?
    I can’t understand all the fuss about.
    Just let it go.
    Some people just look like fanatics withou a cause!
    Good fortune for those who initiated and exercised leadership.
    Churchill one said: ” I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.” and i think is pretty clear.

  37. Ben Shepherd
    10 Apr 09
    4:50 pm

  38. Smart pageview generator Tim … will keep the stats ticking over the Easter break 😉

  39. Fi Bendall
    10 Apr 09
    4:53 pm

  40. As I posted I expected this article to create debate and also expected the negative as well as positive feedback. Kate, editor of this blog, who has set up the Melbourne SMC was interested in these views to suggest a piece and publish this article, which is great for openness of the debate of the role of SMC. SMC has presented their case heartily and shared their views most candidly which is what this is all about. It is great that everyone feels they can contribute whether in agreement or not with the SMC approach. On the negative post backs, thanks for sharing your most negative views of this blog post as it certainly has provided me with lots of insights into the roles of associations / clubs for an emerging social media channel. A media channel that has it unique place in openness and candid debate / feedback from individual users on the net about any issues they want to discuss or lobby for.

  41. inspiredworlds
    12 Apr 09
    1:04 am

  42. i’ve been casually observing this debate since it started on twitter. for me, i’m going into SMCSYD with an open mind and i’m not going to make any judgement until I’ve been to at least one.

    i’m encouraging a couple of my friends to come along who don’t work in the digital industry but are really interested in social media. for them, they don’t really have the chance to engage with social media people and hear about social media. but its obviously a topic which everyone wants to know about and to learn how to engage this medium.

    if it just turns out to be marketing exercise or not very insightful, then we won’t go again. i just hope that it doens’t get shot down before i even attend one of them!

  43. Leslie Nassar
    12 Apr 09
    8:47 am

  44. “Commercial Infiltration” sounds filthy, like some kind of military-industrial Hentai.

  45. Lucio Ribeiro
    12 Apr 09
    8:51 am

  46. Here at Melbourne SMC we named Chuck Norris as board member to prevent such thing

  47. Jye Smith
    12 Apr 09
    9:03 am

  48. @Leslie: lol. best simile. ever. hehe

  49. Stephen Collins
    12 Apr 09
    9:12 am

  50. @Leslie – with that, you have successfully pointed out the ridiculousness of this whole thing.

    For everyone, turn up or not – it doesn’t matter. But I reckon you’d be welcome. And, if we’re going to talk about industry happenings, we should all be sure we have our facts straight and know who we’re talking to and about – Conroy impersonators, commercialism of events or otherwise, ladies and jackets, etc.

  51. William Felt
    15 Apr 09
    9:59 pm

  52. Did it “gr8” on anyone else to see “g8t” used as an abbreviation?

  53. Ben Shepherd
    27 Apr 09
    9:44 am

  54. This is tonight yeah? is anyone planning a summary – I want to hear how Adam’s talk goes and the response at the actual event (versus the hash tag response on twitter which will no doubt be critical)

  55. Doug Chapman
    27 Apr 09
    9:53 am

  56. Ben,

    There will be a pod cast of both talks available within a couple of days.


  57. Graham
    1 May 09
    3:07 pm

  58. For those that couldn’t make it, or decided it wasn’t for them, you missed a great evening. Good debate, good speakers, a multitude of opinions and from my perspective, no commercial infiltration. For those that want a snippet of what they missed, see video via


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