I attend a fair number of seminars, conferences and workshops in a given year. I’ve put on my share of meetings and conferences myself. I’ve observed attributes of the events that successfully leverage social media. Social media offer opportunities to expand the impact and scope of an event beyond its finite spot in space and time.
The two most important things you can do to get the most from social media at your event are as follows and in order of priority:
- Define a Twitter hash tag for your event and communicate it often during your conference. Make sure the opening speaker or organizer mentions it in her opening remarks. Display it prominently on any collateral you hand out at the event. Include it in the footer of your presentation template if you have one.
- Have wi-fi available for attendees. While most attendees at a tech-oriented event are going to have smart phones with 3G or even 4G connectivity, having wi-fi available democratizes this connectivity and makes it easier for people who prefer to use their laptop or, increasingly, tablets such as the iPad. Laptops and tablets may not have their own wireless connections.
The Twitter Effect (or is it “The Twitter Affect?” Probably Both.)
At some events I’ve attended I’ve been happy to see back-channel conversations taking place on Twitter. Sometimes these conversations have turned in to real-world connections. These new connections are of tremendous value.
Creating a Good Event Hash Tag
A good conference planner will create a unique hash tag for her event and communicate it clearly and often. The hash tag should be unique enough to be clear with what event the hash tag is associated. It should also be short enough to be re-tweet-able. Twitter messages have a limit of 140 characters, and your event’s tweets will have to fit into that space. Subtract from 140 characters for the originating Twitter ID (mine is @8of12, most are longer), the characters “RT” to designate that it is a re-tweet, the “#” and then your hash tag itself. That gives you the total number of characters available for any given tweet to be re-tweet-able. For the 2010 SCIP conference we chose “#scip2010.” We could have also gone with “#scip10″ for greater brevity. Both of thee are more re-tweet-able than #strategyandompetitiveintelligenceprofessionals2010conferenceinwashingtondc.
Use TwapperKeeper to Archive Tweets
Twitter does not make all of the messages shared by their platform available permanently. If you run a Twitter search you’ll only see results from the last three months (or less). You’ll want to create a permanent record of the tweets from your conference, both for your own reference and for your attendees. Create an archive for your hashtag at the site TwapperKeeper. This will create a permanent record of the tweets sent with your event’s hash tag. You can also download those tweets to an Excel spreadsheet. As a complete aside, TwapperKeeper is created by my MBA classmate John O’Brien.
Promote Your Event and Hash Tag In Advance
Before your event you will want to send some promotional tweets that include your hash tag. Make sure that your promotional messages include key vernacular terms related to your topic. This will make your tweets more likely to show up in search RSS feeds and alerts that those interested in your topic may have created to monitor chatter on Twitter. For example, if you include “competitive intelligence” in your tweet it will show up on my RSS feed that I have created specifically to show me all tweets that use that term.
At the conference itself its likely that your attendees who are actively tweeting will also tweet those keywords, increasing the likelihood that awareness of your conference will permeate the virtual world. Ideally leading authorities on your topic will re-tweet a message for their own audience. Thus begins a growing awareness of your event within the broader community of interest. This creates connections for your attendees and gives you a broad base to which you can market your next event.
Other Social Media Tools
So far this blog entry has focused on Twitter. That’s because the platform lends itself to the real time communication that can create an active back channel for an event. You may have goals that go beyond the back-channel, including establishing a platform for on-going conversation and connection. Here are a couple choices:
Create a blog: It’s easier than ever to put up a quick blog on WordPress.com (my platform of choice), Blogger, SquareSpace or another platform. These do not require advanced technical skill. Here you and other authors can add posts of interest to your community. Make sure to open up comments so your attendees can provide feedback and add on to your postings. A blog is particularly useful if you want to expand the community around your concept or idea and if your community is willing to share their thoughts in the open.
Create a group on LinkedIn: It is the rare professional who is not on LinkedIn. You can create your own open or closed group on LinkedIn. A closed group will create an administrative overhead for you to approve people for access to your group. This overhead may be worth it if you want to engage in a more focused or limited discussion around your topic, create some level of exclusivity or your participants will want to keep their opinions less public.
Create a dedicated social network on Ning: This is a very involved option and will require considerable effort on your part. There are also fees associated with creating a Ning community. This should be considered a viable option if you expect there to be a particularly large and dedicated community around your concept that will need to connect with one another and communicate in multiple modes. The social network can be as open or closed as the administrator chooses.