December 13, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Hashtags: Coming to a conference near you

Hashtags: Coming to a conference near you

‘”New Comm Road Map” was the name of a regular segment of my former communications podcast, New Comm Road.

A few days ago I received an e-mail informing me that feedback from a presentation I had given a month earlier was on its way .. by snail mail.

What a far cry from conferring with the back-channel Twitter commentary for instant gratification, huh?

But then, not every conference or event is like South by Southwest, PodCamp, or a Social Media Breakfast, where lively online conversations, fact-checking, irreverence, and criticism (some of it justified, some of it not) unfold publicly over Twitter — and in nonstop earnest — from the very moment a speaker takes to the stage.

And in a way, that’s a real shame, because it isn’t only the audience members who are learning by live-tweeting; speakers and event organizers stand to gain, too. Here’s my road map that lays out how all sides can benefit from the Twitter crowd.

Nail down the hashtag(s)

As soon as a conference or event is announced, a primary Twitter hashtag — a phrase, leading with the hash (#) symbol, that users add to their tweets to identify an event, meme, etc. — should be established. The best hashtags are short, logical, and easy to remember — like #PAB09 (for tweets about the upcoming Podcasters Across Borders conference), #SXSW (for all South by Southwest-related tweets) , and #RedSox (for all tweets about the famous baseball club from Boston).

Organizers should encourage speakers and registered participants alike to include that hashtag in their Twittering, even days or weeks before the event itself, as a way of generating buzz and online discussions. Hashtag tweets can also link to blog posts, podcasts, the registration page, and other relevant content that has been published.

For larger conferences, each session or presentation can also be assigned a unique hashtag. SXSW handled this structure reasonably well, making it a cinch to review specific tweets about, say, the “New Think for Old Publishers” (#SXSWbp) panel.

Consider the possibilities!

Some presenters are unnerved by the prospect of their every utterance being twittered out to the world, when they should be viewing this scenario as an opportunity for a richer, more meaningful interaction with their audience. To wit:

  • Twittering a presentation is similar to note-taking — only the white board is out in the open for all to see and contribute to! — and can actually enable participants to better remember and synthesize a speaker’s remarks.
  • Much like open criticism of a company or brand in a blog post or comment, negative tweets are often a reflection of what people are already thinking or would otherwise mumble to each other after the presentation. Why not tap a non-speaking panelist or helpful audience member to monitor the hashtag during the session itself, so that objections or negative feedback can be addressed immediately?
  • Live-tweeting actually extends speakers’ audiences beyond the physical walls of the rooms they’re presenting in, often generating questions and insight from Twitter users following the tweetstream from another session or even from their own desks/mobile phones at locations hundreds or thousands of miles away

Reflect on the feedback

Once the conference has ended, organizers should aggregate all of the hashtagged tweets and parcel them out to the appropriate speakers and panelists. At the same time, the Twitter feedback should be studied to help sort out what worked and what didn’t, and what might be improved for the event’s next go-around. Was the registration desk understaffed? Were too many presenters unprepared? How many blog posts were generated from the conference? Could there have been more power outlets for the laptop crowd? Was there enough time for Q&A? Were there trends that should have been included in the program?

From connecting participants and keeping speakers on their toes to giving organizers invaluable real-time feedback about their conference, Twitter has emerged as a critical component at many live events. That trend isn’t going to reverse itself, so here’s hoping still-skeptical conference teams will embrace the new reality, and the potential for good that public microblogging holds.

Bryan Person is the social media evangelist at LiveWorld. He blogs at BryanPerson.com and can be found on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/BryanPerson.

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