Twitter Trumps Online Conference – Six Steps For Using Twitter For Your Conference Or Event

In this post Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt) tells the story of using Twitter at a conference and then proposes some tips for Conference and Event planners wanting to use Twitter to enhance their events.

I recently attended the American Society of Association Professionals (ASAE) three-day online conference for small staff associations. With 22,000 members, nearly 50% of them from small-staff associations, many consider ASAE the “go-to” association for association leaders.

For three days, I joined coworkers in our “War Room” (conference room) to view the PPT on our large plasma screen (ASAE chose not to use the webinar portion), interact with the live chat, listen to the audio on the conference phone and talk with one another during the presentation. Many of us brought our mobile devices too so we could answer email, chat and send tweets as needed. This was a familiar setting and situation, as I plan similar events for our own members.

Once the conference began, the dynamics in the room were amazing: we were listening to the presentation, debriefing comments as they were being said, typing in the live chat and sending tweets. Those walking by our War Room saw a frenzied team in hyper-overdrive, on high alert, working and talking at once.

On day one, we sat through two painful presentations: one very disorganized and one with some inaccurate and outdated information. Both of these presentations dealt with low-cost or free technology strategies and web tools.

On day two, we decided to turn to the Twittersphere to see if other social media mavens and gurus agreed with what ASAE was presenting. As we tweeted ASAE positions or statements, the Twitter and social media pros began to respond to us with facts, data, reports and articles contradicting what ASAE had said. Some of their responses were:

  • @ replies (replies directly to us) or
  • DM (private direct text messages).
  • And some were RT (retweets) where I reposted their tweet to the entire Twittersphere.

I was hoping someone from ASAE was listening, following our conversations, or had their Google Alerts or TweetBeep set so they would know we were tweeting about them. No one from ASAE replied.

While this conversation occurred on Twitter, something else was happening in Facebook (FB). My Twitter updates my FB status with each tweet and my 180+ friends were posting comments on my FB page about my online conference experiences. My friends, family and colleagues–many nonprofit employees and volunteers themselves–started sharing their negative feelings about ASAE. The floodgates had been opened.

On the final day of the online conference, we live tweeted the presentation and watched the power of Twitter at work. The final presenter, more polished and charismatic than the others, began to make broad brushstrokes about generational behavior and offended two of my colleagues. It went down hill from there as his slidedeck contained information that was three-ten years old, especially when discussing social media applications.

The passion in the room was hot. Two of us immediately begin to tweet statements by the presenter. Here’s where the magic and mystic of the Twitterverse began. The following are some of the tweets I posted and received during the last two days of the ASAE conference.

My Tweet: ASAE Online conf presenter: ASAE feels need 2 control Peer2Peer conversations & social media on website so they limit it. Huh? Really? Sad.

Response Chirp, chirp: DMA nonprofit social media conf last week top tip: get past fear not bing n control Ur passionate fans will support U said a tweet from Austin.

Chirp, chirp: Mobile media to reach and engage people, success stories said a tweet from DC with a tinyurl to a video of a presentation from 1/09.

Chirp, chirp: Brand should involve customer engagement, transparency, listening, honesty said a tweet from United Kingdom with a tinyurl to an article written that day.

Tweet: ASAE online presenters: Recommending listservs & vbulletin 2 small nonprofits 4 way to max webiste? How 1980’s. ASAE: time 2 reinvent urself

Chirp, chirp: Your kidding, right? WordPress would be a better choice than that said a tweet from Chicago

Chirp, chirp: Here’s a list of free or low cost website platforms that are better than listservs said a tweet from NYC with a tinyurl to a blog posting.

Tweet: ASAE presenter recommends tell a friend link on every pg of website 4 sm nonprofits. Hmm perhaps he means widgets like share this?

Chirp, chirp: Soc Media tie 2 behavior & revolution n trusted references not tell a friend said a tweet from Atlanta with a tinyurl to a presentation from a recent Social Media Conference in San Francisco.

Chirp, chirp: Disagree. Better ways to “share this” info than “tell a friend” said a tweet from tech guru in OKC.

Chirp, chirp: Disagree. New tools to use for sharing information said a tweet from Singapore with a tinyurl to a list of references.

Tweet: ASAE online conf mrktg session promoting gen differences 4 mrktg = creating diff mrktg pieces based on audience age. Agree or disagree?

Chirp, chirp: Disagree. Check 12/08 report from Pew Charity &Trust on tech use by age said tweet from San Francisco that included a tinyurl to the report.

Chirp, chirp: Disagree. Social media crosses all generations. Myth that it’s only for youth said a tweet from a Florida researcher with a tinyurl to a 1/09 PPT presentation.

At the end of the last day, we were all amazed at our Twitter experience. We felt connected to a new breed of professionals, the Twitterati, like never before and we saw the amazing power of instant feedback from social media applications like Twitter.

Looking back on this experience, here are some tips that I recommend for those planning conferences and events both online and face to face.

1. Embrace and use DIMTY and WIIFM from the beginning!

Attendees are more finicky than ever and will not sit passively if you try to sell outdated, poorly organized or inaccurate information. If they don’t experience DIMTY (Do I Matter To You: survey them before you create the content) and WIIFM (What Is In This For Me) quickly, they will leave. Use Twitter to start collecting information early. Ask followers questions and ask them to RT your questions to others. You’ll get replies from people with real time information. Use PollDaddy to set up Twitter polls and get results. This will benefit your content development and help establish more followers as well.

2. Establish a hashtag for your event so that your followers can easily watch and search the conversations.

Hashtags are a pound sign followed by a term. Example: MPI established #meetdifferent for their recent MD09 conference. Hashtags help keep track of tweets that are all part of a single subject, event or topic. First, follow @hashtags on Twitter. They will follow you back automatically and your hashtags will be tracked. Next, start using hashtags in your tweets, preceding key words. It can be helpful to do a little research first, to find out if the subject you’re tweeting already has an established hashtag. You don’t need to do anything special to use a hashtag, just make one up and tell folks to use it if you want them to tag their tweets for your event or discussion. If you head to Twitter Search and type in the full hashtag, you can track all the tweets related to that term. Or go to and put in your hashtags words and follow the tweets using that hashtag.

3. Start using Twitter weeks, even months, before your event to build followers, buzz and energy. Use it during and after the event as well.

Link your Twitter account to your Web site and include it in all your electronic and print marketing materials. Invite people to begin following you and send tweets with information more than just press releases or marketing several times a day. Start retweeting (RT) what some of your followers tweet. A RT is like paying someone a compliment and will get you passionate, avid supporters. Send tweets during the event as reminders, announcements and any changes. Ask the CEO and Executive Director to tweet a couple times a day as well to their followers.

4. Encourage your attendees to tweet during the live event.

Encourage your attendees to send tweets during the event and create a TwitterFountain which mashes Twitter tweets and Flckr images, collected with your established #hashtag. Put your TwitterFountain on your event home page for everyone to see. As Tweeps tweet their thoughts and comments about your event, they’ll build more followers for you and they’ll engage in Peer2Peer learning as well. Also, consider projecting the live text or Twitter stream during the presentation with an application like Wifitti. (They have a beta that’s even cooler.) All you need is a live internet connection, laptop and LCD projector and you’re set to project everyone’s comments and questions. We’ve used it successfully for large meetings to engage our audience with immediate

5. Let your employees have a personality as they send tweets.

Assign your Twitter account to one employee and empower him/her to tweet for the organization. Don’t assign multiple people to one account, your audience will see that and cry foul. Turn your employee into your evangelists and ask them to help you in the process. Associations and companies, it’s time to drop the top-down reign of control and allow your employees to have a personality and share it with the world. Let them have a sense of humor. Don’t try to control the brand because you can’t with Twitter and most social media apps. If you do try to control it, your Tweeps will turn on you.

6. Use transparency and honesty, and apologize quickly when you’re wrong.

Attendees will no longer swallow their truth when angered or frustrated and will turn to social media to let everyone know what you’ve done. On the flip side, do it right, and they’ll become avid supporters. If you offend an attendee, hide behind a brand, spin poor planning or don’t engage the attendee, don’t expect them to keep quiet. WOM has moved to WOI (Word of Internet) and there are many more eyes that can read what’s being posted. Apologize quick and fast or risk the wrath of many.

Use these tips and you’ll see a new kind of buzz emerge for your conference and event. The Twittersphere is very patient to beginners so go ahead and give it a try.

By the way, I’ve been an ASAE member for two years and a constituent of their services for more than 12 years. I also recently signed up to follow ASAE’s Twitterfeed from their Technology Conference, which was “outed” by members for not being transparent, honest or having a personality. (See Why All The Secrecy? A Story Of Attempted Brand Jacking for ASAE’s ongoing failed attempts at using Twitter in social media.) We’ll see if they get it right for future conferences or events.

About the Author: Jeff Hurt is Director of Education & Events for National Association of Dental Plans and has worked in events/nonprofit arena for more than 20 years including Keep America Beautiful as a consultant/trainer/writer, Keep Texas Beautiful, Education Coordinator, Professional Development Manger for Meetings Professional Internationa and Professional Development Manger for Promotional Products Association International. He has also served on the Board of Directors for Black Tie in North Texas and as a volunteer for several other local charities and organizations.


  • February 28, 2009

    Great post. Very useful information.

  • February 28, 2009

    I always find it frustrating when people are using more than one #hashtag for an event.

    It really helps when events themselves have twitter accounts and can promote a #hashtag well in advance.

    Other tips for avaoiding #hashtag confusion would be good.

  • February 28, 2009

    Wonderful post! Great info! I’m passing this on to our conferences and education dept at my job!

  • February 28, 2009

    Ones more whit this pots we could see how or another way that we could use twitter to improve oar, communication in all sort of situation or moments.

    Than you for the post.

  • March 1, 2009

    Awesome post–love it!

    What did you think of the Great Ideas twitterstream?

  • March 1, 2009

    GREAT post! Before I moved into not-for-profit I did six years in the B2B conference industry. The industry has a LOT to learn about leveraging social media and encouraging dialogue between presenters, attendees, sponsors and other stakeholders. Thanks for giving me some great food for thought.

  • March 1, 2009

    Thanks for a bit of the link love! I will say that after I wrote that ASAE was VERY responsive about my concerns, though at times I felt that the answers were a little too controlled, a little too formulated, but at least they were answering me, right? I was surprised to see that they didn’t check back in on the conversation that developed between you and me about your experiences.

    I do commend ASAE for diving into these new waters, but I agree that sometimes they play too much into trying to control the information. They just need to let go a little bit more, but as membership associations we depend on being able to offer our members value that we don’t offer to other groups. This is something that we association professionals will constantly run into while playing in the social media space and is something I ask myself about on a regular basis. Is there a balance between letting go of control and still serving our members who are the reason we exist?

    ASAE has 2, 3 & 4 working for them. They also experimented with #1 by having their unsession on Volunteerism.

    #5 they do & don’t do. Some individual employees have their own accounts and find those way more personal & interesting. I understand the theory of having an “official” stream for the conference (@GreatIdeas09), but I think the personality gets diluted when all the individuals when they all tweet from the same account.

    You’ve given me things to make sure that I do for our conference coming up in May. Thanks for the thoughts! :)

  • March 2, 2009

    Very well thought through and complete. Has my mind spinning with possibilities for the 100+ marriage conferences that we do each year. Thanks for the good work.

  • March 2, 2009

    Jeff’s post is very timely, but I recently wrote that the people tweeting need to understand a few things as well…

  • March 3, 2009

    I wonder when the scale will tip and the number of employees–particularly higher-ups–at associations will begin to think more like Lynn (and probably the rest of us) so the more personal/conversational/community-focused way that is the real point and benefit of social media. I’m not sure how many members/staff ASAE has (sorry–lazy on my part not to look it up!) but I’m presuming it’s many. Seems to me the larger the association, the longer it’s going to take to get buy-in from the top to not only start using social media but start using it more than totally conservatively.

    It’s a big enough battle to get the higher-ups to finally say ok, go ahead and try this or that, but I would imagine it will be a whole different story when it comes to making it more about individual personalities and interactions rather than more formal, controlled “dabbles.” Nothing wrong with heading in the right direction, but I know that I, myself, am not the most patient person in the world and it is definitely frustrating to have to move at what is sometimes a snail’s pace because before you can do anything you have to sell it to a million upper-staffers. I guess I should count myself as lucky, though, that they have agreed to go forward with it at all and that the people I work directly “get it.”

  • March 3, 2009

    Thanks for the candid and detailed feedback. As our (and our members) use of social media evolves, it is feedback from members like you that help us learn and grow. We appreciated the extensive dialogue provided to staff when we connected with you after hearing your initial posts through twitter. Based on the input provided from you, our Social Media Task Force, and others, we made modifications to our approach for the Great Ideas Conference in February, which we were pleased to see garnered better results.

    Your post illustrates a great example of how twitter and other social media tools can be used to extend and inform sessions in real time. Thank you for that. It certainly broadens the discussion. We hope you will help us engage twitter to extend our sessions like this moving forward to creating a more meaningful learning experience for all and to help us ensure the content of these sessions meets both your needs and the needs of your fellow attendees.

    We look forward to continuing the conversation.

  • March 5, 2009
    Dan Scheeler

    Good post – thanks. I realize I’m late to the conversation, but I’ve been thinking about Lynn’s and others’ thoughts on @tech09. As an attendee, it didn’t bother me in the slightest that I didn’t know who was posting, or that posts were coming from multiple people, as long as I was getting pertinent, accurate information. For example: the General session starting late due weather; issues with WiFi; the reception is starting.

    I understand the benefits of back-and-forth engagement that Twitter can offer, but I’d argue that there are also conference attendees, who, if we can persuade them to use technologies such as Twitter at all, would rather have the option to follow one official stream where they can get session updates, room changes, etc., rather than having to find and follow all of an association’s staff on Twitter. I see a place for both approaches – individual staff accounts, hashtags, and the like for those more engaged in social media, and an official account for those getting their feet wet in the Twitter stream.

  • March 6, 2009


    I think that’s what the hashtag provides, one stream of the entire conference aggregated into one. I think the reason I’m against the individual account is that usually what was coming from the @Tech09 didn’t really enhance my experience. What made the twitter interaction exciting was just that, the interaction. Whether that be with colleagues or staff from ASAE, when they interacted and didn’t just broadcast at me is when I as an ASAE member felt engaged. I do understand the desire to have an “official stream” of sorts, but I would expect that if something is really important, it will spread virally by retweeting. Sometimes I think there is a lack of trust with these tools in general (not referring to ASAE specifically). Trust that your audience is smart enough to figure it out, the tools aren’t hard, they are just different. The same way you engage in person is the same way you engage online. ASAE doesn’t have just one end-all-be-all person as a figurehead, you can go to multiple people to get your questions answered. We all understand that, so why wouldn’t we be able to understand it online?

    As I’ve said before, I support ASAE and applaud them in engaging in these tools. I just think they need to let loose of the control a bit. Don’t be scared, those members that use the technologies are here to support.

  • April 23, 2009

    Great Article. Thanks for sharing!

  • January 20, 2010

    I have put together a tutorial on creating tweet archives for event activity logging / tracking. Check it out here:

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