Friday, February 26, 2010

Does Your Conference Need a Twitter Backchannel?

The headline in AdWeek yesterday said “Big Biz Embracing Twitter.” Seems reasonable to assume that people who work for big businesses, and small also, are Tweeting on behalf of themselves, their products and their companies—right? That makes Twitter a way of reaching B2B customers and prospects about subjects that are directly relevant to them and to their work.

That’s especially important in a world where trade show and conference attendance has become expensive and hard to justify in many companies. People who do attend want to get the most from it—both from the presentations themselves and from the networking that goes on before and after hours.

Enter the Twitter backchannel. I wrote some time ago about creating a Twitter archive, essentially for notes taken at a conference. Multiply that by all the conference attendees and you have a Twitter backchannel. According to a study by European academics, that’s a good thing not a distraction. Positive aspects include encouraging participation, community building and better sharing of information. Read the study for yourself; it’s interesting.

There are several stakeholders here; the audience certainly, the conference organizers, and the speakers. The latter are going to have to learn to present in a different environment!

First conference organizers:

• In order to use social media to promote your conference, you have to start early. It’s important to stimulate and organize conversation. Helpful activities at this point include posting questions and starting discussions on the corporate or conference LinkedIn and Facebook pages. This helps conference planners understand the expectations of attendees and better meet their needs.
A hashtag is essential. It is the key organizing tool for the Tweeting. Tweeting also needs to begin early. It should be the product of an identifiable individual, perhaps the conference organizer.
• Be sure your conference venue has the necessary infrastructure to support live Tweeting from the event. Maybe that should be the first step!
• Encourage attendees to Tweet during the conference, including presentations. That will drive unprepared presenters nuts; more about that in a minute.
• Follow all the rules of the social media world, being personable, open and transparent, and correcting any mistakes honestly and quickly. This is an imperfect world of human beings after all.
(1, 2, 3)

Conference presenters must be prepared for the live Tweet environment:

• Obviously you start with a well-crafted presentation that fits your audience. All the rules of good presentation—and much more—apply.
• Be prepared for both negative and positive Tweets. That’s life in the social media world.
• Understand whether there will be a live Twitterstream and how much control you have. Can you turn it off while you’re talking and just turn it back on for Q&A, for example?
• A moderator to keep up with the Twitterstream for you may be a good idea. Some speakers take a “Twitter break” and check the stream themselves.
• Respond to Tweets during the Q&A and learn from them after the event.

A disaster that’s quickly become a classic happened at last fall’s Web 2.0 Expo. Here’s a brief description of what happened and the speaker’s response. There’s a lot more, but you get the point. In order to avoid your own personal debacle, read a good set of tips or a detailed post by Olivia Mitchell; she covers preparation and management issues beautifully.

Let’s come full circle to the audience again. First, I can just hear conference organizers worrying that a Twitter backchannel will cut down on conference attendance. Nonsense. If a person has time and can afford it, he or she will attend the conference in person. But if the customer can’t attend, second-hand is better than nothing—much better if it’s well done. You are sharing the time and effort of the conference—and the expertise of your speakers—far beyond the physical auditorium. That has to be good for your brand—maybe even for your sales!

So engage your audience early and often. Make them active participants, not passive bystanders. Here are two great examples:

The South by Southwest Music & Media Conference is in high gear well in advance of its March 12 kickoff.

Since their beginning about a year ago, Twestivals have taken place around the globe. Twestival Global 2010 is building buzz and will soon announce the nonprofit beneficiary of this year’s event.


Anonymous said...

Related to the speaker being prepared for tweeting -- and being unable to control tweets, we had a recent experience in a higher education environment where a speaker's "confidential" talk was being tweeted by an audience member who was sharing the remarks with an organization hostile to the speaker.

Our learning moments were that:

1. We can't possible control the message anymore, and any attempt to do so would have likely had even worse results from a PR perspective.

2. Speakers may be unaware of this new environment, and should be briefed on the possibility that their words may be broadcast beyond the confines of the room without consent or knowledge.


MaryLou Roberts said...

Thanks to MAK. Yes, it's more than the conference organizers; it's the conference attendees--good point!