10 Tips on Social Communications for a Conference
By Read Holman
Today you don’t have to be physically present at a conference to get value out of it. Therefore, every event planning committee should be asking: How do we share the value of the conference with the rest of the world and in real time?
While video streaming the event allows for the speeches and formal presentations to be broadcast online, conferences have another powerful (often more powerful) element: The conversations between attendees at the conference.
So we have a second question: How do we expand the conversation sphere so that people not in attendance can listen and contribute?
Here are some lessons learned from the 2nd Annual Health Data Initiative Conference at the Natcher Auditorium of the National Institutes of Health held just a couple weeks ago.
- Include the #hashtag with all promo materials.
The #hashtag defines the virtual conference room that your online participants will enter. It needs to be easy to remember, not too long, and included in press releases, blog posts, the live-streaming page, the agenda, your forehead.... everywhere. Does each breakout session warrant its own hashtag? If, so put those on the agenda.
- Have ‘announcement updates’ pre-populated.
Turns out that most of the official tweets can be written out before the conference even begins. While you’ll need to be flexible in case things change, having updates prepared can ensure that you’re timely. Build this out in a wiki for easy maintenance.
- See yourself as a hub.
Ten universities from across the country held their own ‘viewing parties’ where they gathered people to watch and discuss the event themselves. Recognize that these off-shoots have different perspectives, often more local and practical than presented at the conference. Ask leaders of these viewing parties to be active participants in the online conversation.
- Have a communications “War Room”.
A handful of people sitting in the same room monitoring online outlets, and discussing the play-by-play of the conference can go a long way to getting a streamlined operation. This is not a new concept, per se. But recognizing the prominent role of the web during the conference, and building around that, is an essential piece that helps the rest of this list truly work. Elements of this might include: conference stream on a wall; white board with relevant hashtags; the agenda made available. From here you can easily solicit and filter questions from the online audience.
- Define a core communications team.
There should be a small team whose role it is to share the event’s activities with those who can’t be there. They run the twitter accounts. They monitor the networks for questions, concerns. They mostly live in the War Room, perhaps bouncing between breakout sessions. Depending on your conference, this team may include non-feds
- Give multiple people access to the official account(s).
One person may tire during the day, and how are they supposed to be at all the breakout sessions at the same time? Giving multiple people access helps diffuse the burden. Just be sure you know which account you’re tweeting from.
- Add value to the conversation.
Simply posting what is happening is important. But by including links to background information or a website referenced, your updates can augment a presentation or a speech. (This gets back to customer service.)
- Know your megaphones.
Some people have accounts with 44 followers, others with 44,000 followers. Recognize who the key influencers are and connect with them before the event. Ensure they know what the #hashtag and official accounts are.
- Personal vs Gov’t accounts.
This one gets tricky. For the most part, we kept @HealthDataGov as a push tool, for the now-this-is-happening kind of tweets; the kind that can mostly be pre-populated. However, when people online ask questions or make comments that need to be addressed, for example noting that the volume is low on the live stream, we reached out to them on our personal accounts to either get more information on the problem or let them know that we were working on it.
- For the participants, have all the assets in one place online.
Our hhs.gov/live page included the live video stream, a twitter fall of our @HealthDataGov account, a link to our Ustream feed, a way for them to email in comments (in case they don’t have or don’t want to use a social network), and an HTML-coded agenda full of hyperlinks. This is a true opportunity to provide excellent customer service to those looking for information. As much as possible, anticipate the information that someone may need and provide it there. Don’t make them search for it.
In the planning of any conference or event, decisions of priority and feasibility have to be made. Events that are not live streamed have an even stronger call for a social presence. In the end it comes down to providing great customer service with the time and tools at your disposal.
Did you attend the event? What did you notice? Watch it remotely? What worked and what didn’t? Missed the whole all-together? Check out what one of the participants put together.
(Why are we linking to others' content? Bonus lesson: Ensure that the afterlife of your event is as much in the planning as the event itself!)
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