Back at the start of the year WeCommunities held it’s own “Conference” – I put this in inverted commas as it was more like a get together (WeGetTogether) than a conference in the traditional sense of the word – anyway, I am diversifying slightly (nothing new there!) the point is that through the WeGetTogether I learnt so much about the art of the possible regarding social media and conferences. I have been to many conferences and witnessed so many more via Twitter and I feel that we have somewhat lost the plot when it comes to why we use social media during conferences.
I have long since thought that in order to make social media work for us and our organisations we have to look beyond just being on social media and ticking that social media box and look to our purpose here. Correct me if I am wrong, the purpose of a conference is to:
- Share information and knowledge,
- Bring people together to enable them to network
- Bring people together in order to make decisions or forward plan
Soooooo my question is … why is it acceptable to merely associate a hashtag to a conference and then flood the timeline with a whole heap of useless noise and selfies !!! This is particularly frustrating if you are watching the conference from afar, as a conference that has a “tick box hashtag” serves no purpose whatsoever, and, in fact, is counter productive as it just frustrates and annoys people. Some of the things I have seen as recent as this week, that are a direct result of “tick box hashtags” (and yes it is only Monday!) include:
- Multiple hashtags for one conference (causing confusion for conference goer and conference watcher alike)
- Conference hashtags streams full of selfies – even promoted by the conference organisers themselves! (whilst I like a good selfie there does need to be balance here!)
- Useless information – eg Joe Blogs is now speaking …. Arrrggghhhhh !! We would love to know what he is saying !!!
- Not enough links to live streaming – by which I mean that it is tweeted once at the start of the day and not promoted enough throughout the day for watchers to find
- Ignoring tweets coming in to the conference – no mechanism to ensure that those watching the conference are included
Believe it or not I could go on … isn’t it time that we put a little thought into this? Isn’t it time that we revisited the purpose of conferences? And the purpose of using social media at conferences? If we want to hold a conference to share information, to bring people together and to forward plan why on earth are we not putting more thought to the people who are outside of the four walls of our conference?
When we put together WeGetTogether we had three aims (I would love to call it a triple aim but alas that title is already taken!)
I cant admit to getting it all right first time but some of the things we did worked very well indeed:
Broadcasting / Taking the inside out – we used multiple social media including Twitter, Blogs, Vines and Periscope to engage people. We made our agenda short, sociable and shareable. We had student volunteers who Tweeted out informative and relevant tweets and were active role models for engaging. We held concurrent Twitter chats that sat alongside the agenda topics. We made sure that the hashtag was visible – on every slide and on all of the literature. We shared speakers Twitter handles.
Listening / Bringing the outside in – We had people whose specific job was to listen to social media and feed points back into the room. We held Twitter chats and fed the main points back into the room. We had large and visible Twitter walls – that were uncensored. And, again, student volunteers really helped with listening to what was going on in social media and actively engaging.
Networking / Helping people to network – We had QR codes on each badge that people could scan to follow newly met friends. We encouraged people to follow the people in the Twitter hashtag stream
If you are holding a conference it is not longer acceptable to just create a hashtag. The social media part of the conference is as important as the conference itself – it spreads your message, it enables ideas from inside and outside of the room to be shared, it helps to make your audience feel valued (as opposed to the privileged few who can make the conference) and it enables both watchers and conference goers to network before, during and after the event. Doing social media well means ensuring that information and opportunities are accessible to all … it’s disappointing when all we see is a half-hearted hashtag with a stream of selfies!