Connect, share, engage: how to amplify your conference with an online experience (part 1 of 3)

By Posted in - Social Media on April 29th, 2010 0 Comments
This is part one of a three part series on creating an online presence to enhance the conference experience. In the first post, I outline needs for information and to connect conference goers which these tools can address. In part two, I’ll list my  digital tools of choice and then in the third segment I will discuss a simple strategy for using these tools.

Last year I attended Mesh 09. That was the first conference I’d been to where I think *everyone* had a Twitter account. Sessions were filled with people tweeting and live blogging. I followed the conference hash tag to keep up with what was happening, sometimes switching rooms because of what others were posting. Events that use social media like Twitter and live blogging amplify the value of the “hallway conversations” that are often the best part of conferences. The conference felt more alive, and in turn I got more value from going.

Over the past few years I’ve volunteered to help a number of events use social media to amplify their value and impact on participants. From experience I can say that with a little effort and knowledge, integrating social media into the conference experience does not have to be onerous or expensive. All the tools I use are free, and there are ways to automate part of the effort. Remember, too, once there is an environment in which everyone can participate and share, you don’t have to generate all the content – grab your paddle and jump in the content stream with others.

If I were in charge of social media for a conference, I would start first by identifying the needs people have around information and connecting. For this round of research I sat down with myself for an in-depth interview. Well, I was available and close by.

I see four stages participants go through related to a conference. For each stage I’ve identified needs. While some needs span across stages, I refer to them once to avoid unnecessary duplication. I know you’re busy.

Should I go to the party?

AKA deciding whether to attend the conference or not

  • Sessions: where can I find more detailed information about them? What do others think of them?
  • About presenters: where can I find more detailed information about them? What do others think of them? How can I contact presenters with my questions?
  • Network: who else is going that I might want to meet?

Dress up: getting ready for the party

Getting closer to the event

  • Network: contact people in advance, organize meet ups, discuss what is coming up
  • Sessions: decide which sessions to attend. What sessions are other people going to, especially people I know?
  • Accommodations: find someone to share a room, airport taxi. What lower cost alternatives are there to the conference hotel?

Party time

Ok, we’re there.

  • Network: find people to connect with in real-time, organize meet ups
  • Sessions: decide which sessions to attend. What sessions are other people going to, especially people I know?
    • last minute changes to schedule, sessions
  • Feedback: timely, useful session feedback to presenters and conference organizers
  • Conversation: what are the hot topics? What are people thinking/doing/sharing? What stories are being told by the people at the conference?

The morning after

  • Feedback / telling the story: what are people saying and sharing about their experience of the conference?
  • Network: find for those people you met but don’t have contact details for to continue discussions, follow up on opportunities, request copies of incriminating photos.

My experience is conferences not social media savvy don’t address these needs well, and miss some entirely, especially when it comes to connecting people with each other. Fortunately, all it takes is a reasonable effort and cost to bridge the gap. In the next blog post I’ll list the tools you’ll want to use to become a conference social media superstar.

How does this list compare to what you need? Have I missed anything important? Add your comment below.

This is part one of a three part series on using digital tools / social media to enhance the conference experience. In the first post, I outline informational and connecting needs conference goers have which these tools can address. In part two, I’ll list my  digital tools of choice and then in the third segment I will discuss a simple strategy for using these tools.

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