Friday, 20 August 2010

Sharing the benefits of a 'Social Event'

It wasn’t that long ago that I was trying to convince a client of the benefits of Twitter. They claimed it wasn’t a relevant media for their industry but were open to being convinced. We had a further discussion about a major conference and asked whether it was using twitter and was hash tagged.
The client said it wasn’t – but after brining the conference webpage up, the first eye catching thing on the screen was “follow this conference on Twitter”.
Social media is gaining popularity in events but you need to understand why social media can help improve an event. Equally, you should not be frightened of using social media no matter how small your event is. You don’t have to be hosting the next major conference event to use social media.
The benefit of using social media is to be able to hold a conversation without boundaries. This means you can have a simultaneous conversation with multiple people at the same time or have a discussion with one person thousands of miles away in real time. These conversations can be stored, returned to or discovered by people you would never normally be able to find. Integrating this principle is the first stage to making it work for you.
How else can you know whether your thoughts are similar to others or different? You couldn’t talk to 100 other people in this depth.
Equally, what is an event? My definition is when people come together to share ideas and discuss issues. This covers internal meetings, collaborative web-chats, networking events, festivals, conferences and much more. Also, how do you want to communicate?
• Informally to delegates
• Formally to inform delegates of the programme/etiquette
• To create discussion
• To ask for feedback
• To share information
Before an event social media can be used to attract an audience. Twitter can spread the word that an event is taking place, allied with a Facebook page or blog describing the programme, date and time. You can gauge your potential audience by adding open source event ticketing software like Eventbrite, for example. Creating a hashtag (the # symbol and an event identifying code used on twitter) will also allow people to discuss the event even before it has begun, but check it isn’t being used for another purpose. Create a community of attendees using a platform like Ning.
During an event you can continue to use a hashtag to open up an event. May be you could welcome guests, invite them for a pre-event drink, start a discussion by asking a question. If it’s a real event, you can project a twitterfall of the hashtags onto a screen. May be you can use polling or survey apps to help demonstrate or discover the answer to a question as part of a presentation.
Events can be recorded for those unable to attend or for future discussion. Flickr can hold pictures, Vimeo can hold videos of key speakers and Audioboo can capture up to 5minutes of audio. May be your event brochure could be made like the Skittles website – a series of links to other sites. Why re-write someone’s biography when it already exists on Linkedin, their blog or their website.
It is not just about content – it is about demonstrating the atmosphere of the event.
After an event there is more that can be done. Invite people to give their feedback using facebook, twitter or online surveys. Invite them for a drink at the nearest bar. Ask more questions using the hashtag. Create a review on a blog, Audioboo or facebook site and then share or encourage others to share their reviews.
After the event you can look at the data collected by collecting the survey data, hashtag responses and comments across social media. Use this to create press releases and share your peer’s view of the world. You can also share this information on the event page or your blog.
Here are some examples of events I’ve been involved with. The first category is online chats – a much underused tool that can bring vertical markets or different people together to discuss real issues. Deidre Breakenridge’s #prstudchat is a monthly event which brings together PR students, lecturers and professionals from across the world.
It works by asking anyone to submit questions. At a set time, the discussion starts and single questions are asked over the state of the PR industry and hot topics. It is useful for the professionals to gauge industry thought, while the students learn, ask additional questions or put forward a fresh look on a topic. People identify the question and whether they are student, lecturer or professional.
A similar chat event on twitter is #edchat for the education industry where a diverse set of questions is posed on a Tuesday. Further closed discussions sometimes carry on using Google Wave.
The social media is used for Barcamps I’ve been to, with promotion exclusively through facebook and twitter. At the events a twitterfall has helped gain an impression on what is going on and created discussion on presentations. Delegates are encouraged to bring laptops/ smartphones to engage in the un-conference.
I noted that an internal meeting of the CWDC used Flickr to display the results of training sessions and brain storms online so that the material could be stored and used in future. The images are used in future work.
All these elements feed into many TED events with presentations videoed for those unable to attend and a strong virtual discussion from those not attending as well as those who are there.
The events don’t have to be massive though. A local development organisation, Wakefield First, have started using hashtags to promote their monthly networking events - creating a community of local businesses through Facebook. This concept is extended by profiling delegates in a rolling presentation, allowing people unfamiliar with delegates to identify and find those they want to get in contact with.
A good conversation is always positive and that’s the benefit of social media, but if you can extend this into a community – you’ll find a small event could be turned into something really valuable and special.


  1. Hi Thomas,

    We completely agree.

    We hope to create a community of businesses who are passionate about Wakefield and we can see that incorporating events with social media is a great way to engage and encourage connections.

    We've just been discussing your blog post in the office and plan to take on your advice on how to further engage delegates at events.

    Don’t know if you saw it but last year The Gadget Show compared the effectiveness of Twitter and Facebook when organising a ‘flash’ meet up/event in London. Jason Bradbury used Twitter to promote the event – he was able to attract significantly more people (around 300) than Suzy using Facebook through the use of a hashtag. (Yes I watch The Gadget Show. Yes I'm a nerd!)


  2. Thanks for the post Megan. I'm not suprised Twitter was found to be more effective but I'd have liked to have seen that edition of the gadget show.