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GLOBAL – This week is Social Media Week and the headline sponsor for the entire week’s events is once again, Nokia. As it kicks off today, we’ve caught up with Craig Hepburn, Nokia’s global director of digital & social media to see what’s in store for anybody wanting to take part and make the most of this extended social event.

What is Social Media Week all about?

Social Media Week (SMW) is a global platform that connects people, content, and conversation around emerging trends in social and mobile media. Delivered primarily through a network of internationally hosted biannual conferences and online through social and mobile media, Social Media Week brings hundreds of thousands of people together every year through learning experiences that aim to advance our understanding of social media’s role in society.

Social Media Week was held for the first time in February 2009 in New York City, and was launched as a “distributed conference”, with events taking place in locations throughout the city with organizations such as the New York Times, Wired, Razorfish and Nielsen. Over 2,500 people attended over forty individual events, and thousands more participated online.

There was also a Social Media Week in February this year, why are we doing it again?

There was such a huge demand across the world from cities to host events and discuss the impacts of mobile and social media building upon the momentum of SMW in Feb that the founders decided to host the event twice annually. Nokia also found that employees and local markets who had been involved previously noticed increased engagement levels around social media and local brand advocacy, so requested that we maintain our support of the event.

In February 2010, they expanded SMW from one to six cities, reconvening in New York while adding London, Berlin, San Francisco, Toronto and São Paulo. The multi-city evolution of Social Media Week attracted more than 7,500 attendees across 200 events, nearly all of which were made available for free to attendees thanks to sponsorship from a number of global brands but primarily Nokia who led the global partnership to develop the event across the globe and provided technology and marketing solutions to enhance the experience to participants who attended and viewed online.

Why should people participate?

SMW not only provides completely free participation across the world in local cities, it also attracts some of the best thought leaders and speakers on the subjects of technology, social media and mobile innovation across the world. What is truly unique about SWM is that it empowers anyone in the host cities to create, manage and run their own events which will be showcased and promoted through the website. However the real value of SMW is the ability to truly provide local conversations that can be amplified globally across a whole range of topics spread across a week of world class events which participants would normally have to pay a substantial amount of money or travel across countries to get involved.

What are the benefits for people who know each other online to meet offline?

With the rise of Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and other social networking platforms it’s increasingly likely that people will build up a massive following or connected network of friends or acquaintances that they would normally not have the chance to meet face to face. We at Nokia experienced this in Feb where we were able to actually meet up with some of our biggest brand advocates, fans and consumers across many cities and hang out with them at sessions and evening events. Contrary to perception, Social Media has actually driven an increase in offline engagements and provide many opportunities for people, companies and brands to network in the real world and build offline connections which in turn creates stronger relationships. SMW has certainly proven this over the years with the number of connections and friendships created across the many participating cities.

What can people do on their phones to keep up to date with what’s going on?

You can register and keep up to date with all the conversations across the globe starting today for Social Media Week and participate in the conversation by registering for the #NokiaConnects app.

You can create your feed, manage your events and also navigate the globe for conversation in each city based on location and event.

There are currently 557 events registered to take place in 12 cities over 7 days with over 19,000 tweets posted so far driving the conversations and Nokia are proud to be leading the partnership with the SMW team. We anticipate over 200 Nokia employees to be getting involved directly during the course of the week with many more driving the conversations and tuning into the Nokia sponsored live streams.

Finally we’re also excited to announce that we have been able to bring together our partnership with CNN and SMW to harness the iReporter program which promotes citizen journalism along with mobile technology to showcase the Nokia E7 and N8 devices with the outstanding iReporter App developed by Nokia. We anticipate some excellent responses from the assignments with strong advocacy off the back of the program. Keep up to date with the latest from SMW with CNN iReporter coverage of the event

Have a great social media week folks and I hope to see you all tuning in over the week!