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On day one, we sat through two painful presentations: one very disorganized and one with some inaccurate and outdated information.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.
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 hashtags.org 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.