I’m a sucker for a good conference, particularly when there’s a vibrant hashtag to keep me entertained. The ability to discuss the presentations with other delegates as they happen is extremely powerful.
On one level, there is a child-like thrill to swapping comments during a live event, akin to passing notes back and forth in class. (Yes, this can sometimes include heckling the speaker on stage.)
On another, the discussion can enhance and support the content being delivered, particularly if the audience crowdsources extra information such as: finding links, adding fresh viewpoints, confirming statistics, or sharing full case studies only mentioned in passing on stage.
Last year, I was invited to deliver a keynote talk on social media at an annual conference for conference organizers (yes, very meta). In the afternoon, I also co-hosted a breakout session on social media for events with the awesome Adam Franklin. What surprised me was how few delegates were active on social media. For many, social media just sort of happened at their events, neither endorsed nor embraced. Slapping a hashtag on the promo materials might be as far as their thinking went.
Yet, with a little planning and preparation, social media can make a huge difference.
Social media for organizers
These days if an event doesn’t have a hashtag (or the hashtag isn’t promoted well enough), the audience will usually create at least one or two before morning tea. Unfortunately, having a number of improvised hashtags may mean none of them achieves the necessary momentum to take off.
The hashtag is also a great way for organizers to answer queries, make announcements, promote the upcoming agenda, gather feedback, monitor reactions, and, of course, join in the fun. That’s why it’s best to have a dedicated staff member or trusted volunteer to constantly monitor and interact with the various social media channels throughout the event.
If a hashtag really does take off, it might live beyond the event itself, continuing to build momentum. It may even go on to promote and support future events and brand activities, snowballing one year into the next. One of the best examples is CMI’s own #CMWorld hashtag, initially created for the first Content Marketing World conference. The hashtag is never #CMWorld2016 or something similar because that invites redundancy. By keeping the hashtag generic, it stays relevant for all CMI events, no matter where or when they may be.
Since it launched five years ago, #CMWorld has evolved into a vibrant discussion channel 24 x 7 x 365 even for those who’ve never attended a CMI event.
Unfortunately, some event organizers squander this social media momentum. Leading up to the event there might be plenty of content and discussion, maybe even a LinkedIn or Facebook group; but once the chairs are stacked and the bar tab is paid, the social media activities are packed away as well. Nine months later, when it’s time to ramp up promotion for the next event, they’re back trying to jump-start a cold audience. If you’re going to use social media to promote and grow your event each year, you need to be active all year round. You can’t expect an audience to stay interested if you only show interest in them when there are tickets to sell.
Event apps are becoming more common too, allowing delegates to access the agenda, view profiles, and, of course, share updates to other app users in a single place. It’s usually a simple process for updates shared within the app to be pushed out to social channels with a tick box or two. However, I’ve yet to see an event app that can pull in updates shared directly to social media so delegates can catch the full conversation in one place. Invariably some will share to social media and others will share to the app (with only a few bothering to share to both), leading to fragmentation.
Event apps have their place, particularly when dealing with confidential information or more sensitive topics that don’t belong in the public sphere. If social media is inappropriate or off-limits, a dedicated app can provide the same interactive opportunity for delegates to network and share comments within the group.
Just don’t expect an event app to keep the conversation going beyond the event.
Social media for speakers
If you’re speaking at an event, there are a few things you can do to boost social media activity during your presentation.
It’s easy to miss the next slide or two while struggling to summarize a long and rambling point down to 140 characters including hashtag and attribution. Make it easy for the social media commentators in the audience by punctuating your presentation with regular, quotable sound bites and build your slides around them.
To boost #socialmedia during presentations, build slides around sound bites & images says @kimota
When I build a presentation, each slide is a single image accompanied by a pithy caption of 10 or so words. I craft the caption to be tweeted and the image to be snapped. These photos often drive more engagement on the hashtag by standing out in people’s feeds, stretching the reach of my talk into other networks like Instagram. When I’m back in my hotel room reviewing the hashtag, I’m always keen to see which slides attracted the most attention. Plan your slides to look great even if snapped on a camera phone from the back of the auditorium.
Andrew Davis goes even further. I first experienced Drew’s mad energy at Content Marketing World in Sydney last year. As he began to speak, an automated tweet went out from his account using the hashtag. “Just took the stage at #CMWorld in Sydney. I know I move fast so here’s a #TweetSheet for you http://bit.ly/inspiredcontent”.
The link took me to a simple landing page that summarized the key points of the talk as a series of tweet-sized nuggets, each accompanied by a handy click-to-tweet button. As I followed along, whenever Drew said something I thought was worth sharing, the tweet was already there, ready for me to hit the button.
When I was invited to speak about social media for events, it seemed a perfect opportunity to demonstrate Drew’s TweetSheet idea to an audience keen to learn new tricks. I contacted Drew for the lowdown.
“The TweetSheets are unbelievably effective at increasing the level of interaction and sharing for my sessions,” he told me. “Making the content easy to share certainly helps the audience share more than they normally might. I’ve noticed that with a socially engaged audience the TweetSheet increases the volume of tweets from one of my sessions 50-fold (or more).
However, putting a TweetSheet together does take time and preparation. There’s building the page, crafting the quotable messages, and scheduling two or three tweets to go out at appropriate times to promote the link (Drew uses Hootsuite while I swear by CoSchedule).
Drew is keen for others to experiment with TweetSheets. “The more standard a TweetSheet becomes, the more effective mine would be,” he says. But he also has a warning: “It’s not worth it if the audience you’re presenting to isn’t already engaged online. There’s nothing more depressing than spending a couple of hours creating the #TweetSheet only to realize literally no one from an entire 200-person event is tweeting.”
I experienced Drew’s warning firsthand. While my keynote audience of conference organizers was certainly interested to hear about TweetSheets, only a handful even visited the page.
That realization led to one of my biggest soapbox-moments in the afternoon breakout session. Social media is no longer a trivial extra. It is increasingly an inextricable part of any event, whether you planned it or not. But if you want to guide those conversations, nurture more effective networking, and amplify that content, you’ve got to get involved.
#Socialmedia is no longer a trivial extra. It is an inextricable part of any event says @kimota
If you’re still not keen to participate in social media at your own event, that’s up to you. Maybe you’re not interested in what people really think about your event and your speakers. Maybe it’s easier to just hope there are no hecklers sharing their jibes with a much larger audience.
Or, maybe you could work with your audience to create a truly memorable interactive social event. Just a thought.
Want to hear more from Jonathan Crossfield? He’s speaking at Content Marketing World this September. Register by May 31 for early-bird savings and the opportunity to win prizes. Use code BLOG100 to save an extra $100
This article originally appeared in the April issue of Chief Content Officer.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute